Peyton, who was born and raised in County Mayo, Ireland, grew up praying the rosary with his family. As a young man, he had a strong desire to be a religious priest, but was rejected by several orders. He then decided to move to Scranton, Pennsylvania and sell real estate. His father made him promise to remain faithful to God.
Unable to find employment in his desired field, Peyton was hired as a janitor by the local cathedral, and his dreams of priesthood were reawakened. Peyton entered Holy Cross Minor Seminary in 1929 to become a missionary priest.
In 1938, Peyton had professed temporary vows with the Holy Cross order but had not yet been ordained when he was diagnosed with advanced tuberculosis. He was encouraged by a priest and mentor fervently to ask the Blessed Virgin Mary for a cure. By 1939, he was sure he had been cured, and his health returned. In 1941, Peyton was ordained a priest. Because of his miraculous recovery, which he credited to the intercession of Mary, he felt called to spread devotion to the Blessed Mother.
After World War Two ended, Peyton began a radio show in New York to pray in thanksgiving for peace. His show reached wide audiences with his passionate calls for family prayer, and it featured prominent public figures, from President Harry Truman to New York's Archbishop Spellman. A strong proponent of the rosary and a firm believer in its power, Peyton had each guest pray the rosary for the world to hear.
The show even attracted contemporary film star Bing Crosby, a Catholic who frequently played a priest on screen.
"With [Crosby's] name on it, it really got the nation's attention," Father Willy Raymond told CNA in 2018. Raymond is the current Holy Cross Family Ministries president and previous director of Family Theater Productions, both founded by Peyton. Peyton's radio and then television and film projects also included stars like Grace Kelly, Ronald Reagan, Lucille Ball, and Frank Sinatra.
Along with promoting prayer in his radio shows, Peyton held more than 500 "Rosary Rallies" around the world - from Peru to the Philippines to Papua New Guinea - earning him the title "The Rosary Priest." According to his obituary in the New York Times, Peyton traveled to six continents, and his evangelization programs are thought to have reached an estimated 27 million people.
After years of promoting the rosary, Peyton's health was failing and he went to live with the Little Sisters of the Poor in California. He died at the age of 83 on June 3, 1992. His last words were "Mary, My Queen, My Mother."
In 2017, Pope Francis recognized the heroic virtues of Fr. Peyton, declaring him "Venerable." The priest's information is currently under review for further advancement toward canonization.