Comfort The Shipwrecked: Titanic Priest A Model Of Mercy

The Catholic Spirit, April 13, 2016
by Christina Capecchi

Father Thomas Byles was 42 when he boarded the Titanic with his second-class ticket and portable altar stone. He had made arrangements with Captain Edward Smith to secure space on the ocean liner to celebrate Mass. Even on vacation a priest is never off duty, he knew, but the Catholic convert would have it no other way.

At 11:40 Father Byles was on the deck clutching his breviary and praying Night Prayer when the Titanic struck the iceberg.

Father Byles met the haunting sights, sounds and smells with an otherworldly peace. “A few around us became very excited,” Ellen Mocklare, a young Irish woman, later told reporters, “and then it was that the priest again raised his hand and instantly they were calm once more. The passengers were immediately impressed by the absolute self-control of the priest.”

Survivors said Father Byles was offered a lifeboat twice but refused it, determined to minister to passengers in their hour of greatest need, even though it would cost him his life. He heard confessions, gave absolution, offered blessings and led prayers, including the Hail Mary, whose back-and-forth recitation provided a steady measure amid chaos. The words “Holy Mary” rang out loud and clear.
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