Father Patrick Peyton features in the new RTÉ documentary ‘Guns and Rosaries’

Father Patrick Peyton’s rosary crusade was secretly funded by the CIA in a bid to fight communism, a new Irish documentary reveals.

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‘Gun and Rosaries,’ narrated by Irish American Martin Sheen, premiered last week on RTÉ in Ireland and tells the story of how one Irish priest’s star power was used in the fight against communism in the mid-20th century. 

Originally from Co Mayo, Father Patrick Peyton emigrated to the US at 19 years old and trained to become a priest in the 1930s. Within a decade, he had gained great media attention for his Family Rosary Crusade.

“An encounter with serious illness while studying for the priesthood in America led him to dedicate his life to promoting the Family Rosary," said ‘Guns and Rosaries’ producer Peter Kelly.

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Kelly explains that Fr. Peyton “embraced the media age” and began his career on radio in the mid-1940s with his famous slogan ‘the family that prays together stays together.' From there, he built "a media empire" in both television and film.

As part of his Rosary Crusade mission, Fr Peyton recruited some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Maureen O’Hara, as well as Bob Newhart, who is interviewed for the documentary.

The Irish priest hosted ‘Rosary Rallies’ that attracted millions of people around the world, including an audience of around 400,000 people in Ireland in 1954.

Such star power caught the attention of the White House and the CIA in an era when communism was spreading around the world, notes Kelly, who said the American government felt “Fr Peyton’s call to prayer could become a rallying cry against ‘Godless communism.’”

Kelly says: “We now know that Fr Patrick Peyton was involved in a covert campaign, funded by CIA dollars, to combat leftist political movements in Latin America in the early 1960s.”

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The Irish Times says that in 1954, the CIA began to fund Fr. Peyton’s mission in Latin America with a special on focus on Brazil, “especially after Brazilian generals approached the US seeking backing for a military coup.”

“The CIA’s ‘Operation Brother Sam’ got underway, with the Family Rosary Crusade a part of it.”

Fr Peyton in Rio de Janiero in December 1962 (FatherPeyton.org)

Fr Peyton in Rio de Janiero in December 1962 (FatherPeyton.org)

“Fr Peyton held a series of major rallies in Brazilian cities, culminating with a TV special from Rio de Janeiro in December 1963. It was a prelude to March 31st, 1964, when Brazilian generals staged a coup.”

“They later credited Fr Peyton’s crusades with their success and paid tribute to their influence in helping mobilize Brazilian Catholics against communism.”

“Fr Peyton himself said: ‘I consider the [Rosary] crusades in Latin America throughout the decade of the 1960s as the most significant and the most effective.”

Under direction from the Pope in 1965, Fr Peyton stopped receiving CIA financial support. The Irish priest continued his media work until his death in 1992.

In 2017, Fr Peyton was elevated to 'venerable' by Pope Francis, making him one step away from sainthood.

Watch the trailer for 'Guns and Rosaries' here: