Superheroes have always been popular in comic books and movies, and the genre has even highlighted the “super” quality of faith by featuring various Catholic saints, including St. John Paul II. The latest “Catholic” comic book highlights Venerable Father Patrick Peyton, “the Rosary Priest,” in a book-style graphic novel called The Tale of Patrick Peyton.
The comic highlights major events in Father Peyton’s life, from his birth in Ireland in 1909 to his death in 1992. Beginning with his early family life and religious stirrings at home, the story follows him emigrating to America to make it big in business with his brother, but, instead, he was unable to find work. After suffering a life-threatening illness and receiving a miraculous cure, he revisited discernment and headed for the priesthood. The story follows his great leap into bringing the message of Mary, the Rosary and family prayer to millions via radio, television and immense rallies, before again being sidelined by illness. But he was soon back to work, meeting the likes of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and influencing people one at a time before his death in California.
“He’s a real-life superhero,” emphasized Holy Cross Father David Marcham, the vice postulator for the canonization cause of Father Peyton. “When we talk about a cause for sainthood, we’re talking about heroic virtue and sanctity of life — a great tie-in with that language. We’re talking about a real human being, how he was heroic and lived his life for God and God’s people.”
The comic has gotten loads of thumbs-up from initial readers. Father Marcham has heard from youngsters and teens, as well as from those in their 20s through their “50s and up” who also say it’s a good read.
“This is a format so accessible to young people and those young at heart,” he explained. “Whether a comic or graphic novel, we’re attracted to the artistry and [the way it] tells the story in a concise manner.”
This new-media venture by Holy Cross Family Ministries in North Easton, Massachusetts, continues the ministry of Father Peyton, a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, in conjunction with Voyage Comics.
Father Marcham sees Tales of Patrick Peyton as valuable “because you might be drawn to the format and artwork, but when you start to read it, you’re drawn into the life and world of Father Peyton.” He hopes “it will inspire you to draw closer to God, pray the family Rosary, and then want to learn more about his family life. In a way, this could be the first step for someone to grow in their faith.”
Along with her four children, who range in age from 6 to 16 years old, Carolyn Astfalk found the graphic novel educational, saying it was “so great … seeing someone who lived a saintly life but in a contemporary context.” She added: “It made me think more about saying the Rosary with the family more faithfully.”
The Astfalk children also became immediate fans.
“I really like it,” 12-year-old daughter Felicity said after the first reading. “I didn’t really know about Father Peyton before, but I did know he said, ‘The family that prays together stays together.’” She found it interesting that “he worked a lot with Hollywood actors,” and she liked the illustrations. Her favorite part was when “he finally turns back to find his vocation.” That happens after “he comes to America and couldn’t find jobs. That’s the turning point in the book.”
Eight-year-old Miriam also shared her favorite parts. She “liked the part where he got tuberculosis and said prayers, and he was healed.” She also liked how he returned to seeking out his vocation and how the graphics “tell you what’s going on in the book.”
Father Marcham says the book underscores the different challenges people face in life and the various decisions that need to be made via discernment, to “see with God it’s possible to do his will as long as we stay close to him.”
The Idea Takes Root
Holy Cross Father Willy Raymond, president of Holy Cross Family Ministries, saw a number of comics from Voyage Comics & Publishing and called the founder, Philip Koslowski, to discuss the possibility of Koslowski writing a comic book about Father Peyton.
It was a good partnership because, as Koslowski told the Register, “With Voyage Comics we focus on stories that are both entertaining and inspiring.” Voyage Comics has produced such stories as The Mission of Joan of Arc. Koslowski continued, “We went about to translate the life of Father Peyton into a comic book that would be enjoyable for children but for adults, as well.” The principal artist, Koslowski explained, was Jim Fern, “a veteran with about 30 years’ experience with Marvel and mystery comics. He helped shape each page.” At Marvel, Fern worked on several Spider-Man titles, as well as X-Men and Transformers. At DC Comics he worked on titles including Adventures of Superman and Batman.
In the process of making sure the drawings of Father Peyton looked like Father Peyton, Fern aimed “to give it a comic-book style while still trying do his likeness,” adding that he had to avoid “the line between too cartoonish and pseudo-realistic and make it look like Father Peyton on every page.” And when creating the the comic panels about the Peyton family, because “there were only grainy resolution photos of his family,” Fern said he made “Father Peyton’s father look like an older version of him.” Fern is happy to work on such sanctifying subjects: “These are real superheroes.”
Koslowski himself learned more about Father Peyton. “I was surprised how active he was, particularly in Hollywood in the 1950s and ’60s, and how he used the modern forms of communication to present the Gospel.” The “Hollywood” element of the comic features such actors and actresses as Bing Crosby and Loretta Young — and Jim Caviezel of The Passion of the Christ fame, whose 1991 encounter with an elderly priest who he did not realize was Father Peyton until a decade later was life-changing for him.
And Marian devotion through the Rosary is also a key element.
Father Marcham explained: “We’re always looking for ways to share the Good News — first, about Jesus Christ and our Blessed Mother. Then we also need to find creative ways to share stories of inspiration, stories of holy men and women — to draw us into the faith and inspire us.”
Overall, Father Marcham explains that the young-at-heart format of a comic book “reminds us of the hopefulness of our youth. And that's something that God always wants us to have, a vibrant hopefulness and trust in him. Whether we're aware of it or not, this type of reading experience reminds us we're still children of God no matter how old we are. God helps us to remember so that as adults, we can carry that youthful sense of hopefulness and peace with us. He wants us to have our whole lives, not just our youth, be ones of hopefulness and peace.”
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.