Thursday, November 02, 2006

Family Theater Productions - Furthering God's Presence in Hollywood

By Hope Frances

Father Willy Raymond is the National Director of Family Theater Productions. His organization hosted the 2006 Angelus Awards that was held recently in Hollywood, CA. After attending the awards ceremony, I became interested in finding out more about the history, goals and mission of this wonderful organization that hosted the event.


Family Theater Productions, part of Holy Cross Family Ministries, was born out of a blessing in disguise. In the 1930's a young immigrant from Ireland, Patrick Peyton, was diagnosed with terminal tuberculosis while he was studying for the priesthood. Essentially, he was told to prepare for the end of his life.

According to Fr. Willy the young seminarian, "prayed to God through the intercession of the Blessed Mother that if it were God's will he would be healed through her prayers and her assistance." His recovery was nothing short of a miracle. The doctors were "flabbergasted."


In 1941 Patrick Peyton was ordained a priest and with his new lease on life, Fr. Peyton was on a mission to spread the message that "a world at prayer is a world at peace."

In pursuit of his passion, on Mother's Day 1945 Fr. Peyton produced a special half-hour program on the Mutual Broadcasting System. He used a popular medium - radio - to evangelize.

His inaugural show on that Mother's Day included Bing Crosby, President Truman and the mother of the Sullivan brothers who had lost five sons in World War II on the same ship. Families were led in praying a decade of the rosary on that very first broadcast. It was so well received that Mutual offered him a weekly half-hour show.

In 1947 Fr. Peyton moved to Hollywood and started Family Theater Productions. Each performance included a major Hollywood personality. A huge success, the radio series lasted 22 years and included over 400 Hollywood actors from Grace Kelly and Loretta Young to Bing Crosby, Raymond Burr and Ronald Reagan.

It was the longest-running radio broadcast in Mutual's history.


Fr. Peyton was also involved in film and television. James Dean got his first on-screen credit with Family Theater in a one-hour television drama called "Hill Number One." And Grace Kelly's final television appearance before she died was in a Family Theater program.

In 1992 Fr. Peyton died in San Pedro, California at the age of 83. He has been named "Servant of God" and "his cause for beatification has been introduced in Rome."

After Fr. Peyton's death, Family Theater Productions went through "a succession of priests who came out here and would last 9 months or a year."

Finally in September of 2000 Fr. Willy Raymond took the helm in an effort to carry out the work that Fr. Peyton started. Prior to his role as National Director, Fr. Willy worked as a priest in higher education at Stonehill College and in the leadership of the Holy Cross Eastern Province.


"It's really a ministry of the Catholic Church and I think it's so important to be right in the middle of Hollywood," Fr. Willy said.

"Film and the media are shaping the popular culture all around the world - sometimes for good and sometimes for evil. And we think that because film is so important in shaping our culture that we should be engaged, especially with young people who are involved in this industry, because they're the future of Hollywood. Many of them would love to know about the Good News and about Jesus, the Holy Trinity and the Catholic Church. So, we try to invite them to programs have outreach to them to make sure that they know they are welcome and that there's a place right in the middle of Hollywood where they can come safely and go deeper into their faith."

The Angelus Student Film Festival has been a huge success and has helped pave the way for many of Hollywood's future filmmakers. Another major project for Family Theater Productions is their national billboard campaign which furthers one of Fr. Peyton's slogans, 'The Family That Prays Together Stays Together. '


Family Theater also sponsors a special RCIA program for people in the entertainment industry. Additionally, they host a program based on Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body and a seminar series entitled 'Going Deeper' which is "an attempt to present the Catholic faith in its fullest to those who want to know more about it."

Also, once a month on a Wednesday night there is a Prayer and Pasta gathering where people in the entertainment industry can meet and share their faith with other Catholics.
Family Theater Productions also offers individual spiritual direction and can help steer young people in the right direction to continue their faith life in pursuit of their Hollywood goals.

According to Fr. Willy, "Most of the programs are for Catholics and they emphasize how they must bring their faith to work with them and not leave it at home."

The hard-working Family Theater staff of 10 full-time employees works out of a building located in the middle of Hollywood, which has its own screening room, recording studio and chapel. A noon mass is held at the chapel on weekdays as well as a holy hour every Thursday from 4 - 5 pm. The public is welcome to attend both the mass and the holy hour.


In addition to the Angelus Awards, the national billboard campaign and all of the outreach programs sponsored through Family Theater Productions, they also produce radio broadcasts in Spanish for both domestic and international markets as well as film and television shows.
One of the biggest challenges for Fr. Willy as National Director is "trying to do all of those well and still be available to Catholics and others in the entertainment industry that need a spiritual home."

He continues by saying, "You shouldn't check your faith at the parking garage when you go to your executive office or onto the production set. So our purpose of being involved, especially with the young filmmakers in the Angelus Awards, is that we know they're the future of Hollywood. We want to be in a relationship with them that encourages them to really take seriously their faith and to bring that to bear in making choices about what kind of films they are going to do, how they're going to treat people on the set and how they're going to honor the human dignity that we all share."

When asked what his biggest success has been thus far, Fr. Willy said, "I think the biggest success is the growing awareness that Family Theater is here and that all these different individuals and groups of young people in Hollywood kind of see it as a home that you can come to for advice."

As for the long-term goals of Family Theater, Fr. Willy said, "I would like to make sure that Family Theater is always at the service of the mission of the church. The mission of the church in the simplest rendition is to evangelize. That's what Pope Paul VI said. That's what Pope John Paul II said. That's what Pope Benedict says and that's what Vatican II said. That's what Jesus said. 'Go forth and baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.' That's the essence of the church."


Fr. Willy adds, "The most powerful medium that I know of on earth today is film. Whether it's television or the large screen or the internet, film is reaching into every corner of the earth and I think it's so important for Hollywood and the film industry to be responsible in a way that uses all of the resources it has and the incredible wealth that is here in this town. This is the media capital and really the film capital of the world. What we do here is I think among the most important missions of the church in the world."

"If we are faithful to exploring what is really truthful we end up at the feet of this good God."

Again... God shines brighter than all the stars in Hollywood!

(For more information on Family Theater Productions and how to become involved in faith life in Hollywood, please visit their website by clicking here.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Awesome article Hope! Keep it going!