By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor
NORTH EASTON, Mass. — When Holy Cross Father Wilfred “Willy” Raymond was a young lad in Downeast Maine, he prayed the Rosary, in French, with his family. He also was very inspired by several parish priests during his boyhood; inspirations that would subsequently lead him to the priesthood.
He didn’t know then that one day he would be ordained to the priesthood and eventually become president of a worldwide ministry founded by the “Rosary Priest,” Servant of God Holy Cross Father Patrick J. Peyton, whose mission it is to advocate family prayer, particularly the Rosary, as a means of bringing the faithful to Jesus through His mother Mary.
“It was completely unexpected,” Father Willy told The Anchor during a recent interview at his office at the Holy Cross Family Ministries worldwide headquarters in North Easton. “I’m very positive about this and delighted to be here.”
Father Willy took over as president of HCFM last month following 18 years of leadership from Holy Cross Father John Phalen, who will in November become director of Novices to the Holy Cross Order in the Chosita Diocese, near Lima, Peru; one of 17 countries worldwide the order ministers to through the HCFM family, consisting of Family Rosary, Family Theater Productions, and the Father Peyton Institute in Peru and hopefully one day in India.
Father Willy, who speaks Spanish and French, said that he hopes to maintain the hard work ethic of his predecessor, and to cultivate the seeds sown by Father Peyton, and continue to sow the seeds of family prayer across the world and in the Diocese of Fall River.
“My hope is to be of service to the family,” he told The Anchor. “To be of service to the family for their Spiritual lives through the Rosary, retreats, and events. Prayer is the glue that holds the family together; through good times and bad times.
“As Father Peyton so famously said, ‘The family that prays together, stays together,’ and ‘A world at prayer is a world at peace.’”
HCFM has already instituted a Holy Hour for families every Friday from 3-4 p.m. at the Father Peyton Center and there is the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation every day from 3-4 p.m. for anyone to stop by for Confession.
Father Willy also said he will continue efforts for Father Peyton’s sainthood cause. “Should that day come, we’ll have to prepare a place for people to make pilgrimages in respect of Father Peyton,” Father Willy said.
He also said that HCFM wants to be involved with and have a great presence at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September of 2015.
As a boy in Maine, Father Willy attended Catholic school and was inspired by several of his parish pastors. “As soon as I was able to become an altar boy, I did,” he said. “I was in ‘competition’ with a friend of mine to ‘raise up the ranks,’ of altar boys more quickly.”
Father Willy’s first encounter with the Congregation of Holy Cross was when he attended St. Joseph’s College in New Brunswick, Canada.
“When I was a sophomore, my Spiritual director told me he felt I had a calling to a vocation as a priest,” he said. “I talked to my diocesan priests back home and they got me accepted to a seminary in Montreal to become a diocesan priest. My brother drove me up there, and shortly before we got there, I told him, ‘Turn the car around.’
“I wasn’t ready at that time. But the Congregation of Holy Cross made a major impression on me. I loved their joyful, committed lives. I asked if there were any Holy Cross priests in America, was told there were and I made the decision to go to seminary with them. My parents were very supportive of me. I was one of 12 children.”
Father Willy was ordained a Holy Cross priest on April 3, 1971, and was assigned to teach at Notre Dame High School in Fairfield, Conn. He was later appointed director of Vocations for the Eastern Province, and then came to Stonehill College in Easton where he was a campus minister and director of Resident Life. “That’s where I started to go gray,” he quipped.
In 2000, he was appointed national director of Family Theater Productions in Hollywood that evangelizes culture using mass media to entertain, inspire and educate families.
Begun by Father Peyton, Family Theater Productions went through a transition period following the Rosary Priest’s death in 1992. “Family Theater had several directors over the next eight years,” he said. “In Father Peyton’s last years of life, he was sickly and couldn’t keep up the pace he did in the early years. It went through a period of instability.”
Father Willy brought back that stability. “I expected to be there only a couple of years.” Over the years there, he and his staff produced dramas and documentaries for broadcast on television, film and the Internet; produced Spanish-language radio dramas, documentaries and public-service announcements; released 500-plus digitally-re-mastered classic radio dramas from the golden age of Hollywood; managed a nationwide public-service outdoor advertising campaign with spiritual messages; and supervised “Hollywood Prays,” a series of outreach efforts to young Catholics and others in Hollywood that included a monthly Prayer and Pasta, RCIA, Going Deeper and Theology of the Body.
In the spirit of Father Peyton, Father Willy enlisted the help of Catholic actors and athletes to help get the message out. He’s worked with actors Jim Caviezel, Eduardo Verástegui, Patricia Heaton, and Matthew Marsden, to name a few; and former Major League Baseball players Mike Piazza, Mike Sweeney and Jeff Suppan.
During his time at Family Theater, Father Willy enlisted the late Ricardo Montalban and Dolores Hope, wife of Bob Hope, both of whom had worked for Father Peyton, to speak to a new generation of actors, directors, producers and writers. “They told these young people that Father Peyton, ‘was like a pastor to them,’” said Father Willy. The audience was spellbound by the messages they were hearing from “stars” of a generation past.
“The culture in Hollywood has changed since Father Peyton’s days,” added Father Willy. “The business is more spread out with filming done not just in Hollywood any more. But with the production of ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ it opened the door to more faith-based films such as ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Chronicles of Narnia,’ both of which have very Catholic messages. The young people have been inspired by Mel Gibson and Jim Caviezel’s portrayals of the Passion. There are many young Catholic actors coming to Hollywood wishing to use their faith and spread it.”
While in California, Father Willy also became chaplain of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Over time, Father Willy established a Sunday Mass at the stadium for the home and visiting players, the sports writers, broadcasters, and staff. “Many of these people had such busy Sundays, they couldn’t get out to go to Mass, so we brought it to them,” said Father Willy. “Legendary broadcaster Vin Scully [who just signed on for his 66th year of broadcasting Dodger games] would be the lector at the Masses. We would even have a presence at spring training, be it in Florida or Arizona. We established a network of 10 to 15 priest chaplains to minister there.”
Father Willy has embraced his new position as president of Holy Cross Family Ministries. “The Church in southern California is young and growing,” he told The Anchor. “I want to bring that here to this area. It’s been tough for the Church in the northeast because of scandals and other problems. We have a presence in 17 countries across the world, and many of them are poor. Yet their faith is much richer. They are a blessing to us and we want to continue to support them. And to bring an new energy to the Church in this area.
“Since I’ve been here, I’m amazed at the quality of the staff here. I started by just listening to them. I’m inspired by their commitment to the Holy Cross Family Ministries mission and by their energy in their faith.”
Father Willy has an active presence on Twitter @FrWilly and on Facebook.
For more information on any of the Holy Cross Family Ministries family visit hcfm.org.