Father Patrick Peyton, the Rosary Priest

Patrick Peyton was born on January 9 1909 in Attymass, Co Mayo, one of nine children. When they were growing up, the rosary was central to their lives. His family were subsistence farmers and unable to afford to send him to a seminary, so for a number of years he worked on the farm to help them earn a living as his father was too ill. Then he and his brother emigrated to America. They eventually entered a seminary in Notre Dame to study for the priesthood, but their hopes of being ordained together seemed to be dashed when Patrick got TB. The doctors told him his only hope was to pray, and pray he did, to the Blessed Virgin. He promised her he would dedicate his ministry to her and to the family rosary if he was saved. And so it came to be the two brothers were ordained as Holy Ghost Fathers together on June 15, 1941.

The following year Patrick founded the Family Rosary Crusade with the motto, “The family that prays together stays together.” He was a bit of a media pioneer and utilised radio, films, outdoor advertising, and later TV to get his message across, often with the help of Hollywood stars. He toured the crusade for the first time in 1948, travelling around Canada. He used to draw enormous crowds, 83,000 people in Wembley, 80,000 in Melbourne, 250,000 in San Francisco, two million in Sao Paolo and Manila.

He brought the crusade to Ireland in 1954, starting in Tuam Stadium, then on to Clifden, Knock, Ennistymon, Loughrea, Ballaghdereen, Roscommon, and Sligo, and he also went to other venues around the country.  A great crowd turned up in the Square in Gort on May 4 to hear him.

On Sunday May 9, some 30,000 people filled the stands and the general enclosure at the racecourse in Ballybrit for a rally sponsored by the bishop. Headed by a cross bearer and acolytes, a procession which included the mayor and members of the corporation in their official robes of office, members of the Galway Harbour Board, the county council, professors and staff of UCG, a large gathering of the Diocesan Chapter, the secular clergy, and members of the various orders followed by Father Peyton and the bishop, marched up the racecourse to Our Lady’s altar which had been erected opposite the grandstand and close to the Mass Rock.

Children of Mary, in their blue veils, formed the letters BVM (for Blessed Virgin Mary ) in front of the altar. They stood out vividly from the crowd as you can see from our photograph, which was taken from the stand. There seemed to be an extra one to form a ‘full stop’ after each letter. There are groups of schoolboys lined up at the railings behind them, and to the left of the altar, two bands are assembled. You can see some of the large crowd walking across the course towards the stand. Some of the flags over the altar are the Tricolour, the papal flag and the American flag.

Father Peyton returned to Galway in later years on a private visit. He died in 1992.

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