Father Thomas Byles, Hero of the RMS Titanic

Father Thomas Byles was born on February 24,1870 in Leeds, Yorkshire, England, UK to Reverend Alfred Holden Byles, a Congregationalist minister and Louisa Davids. His family was a devout Congregationalist family and young Thomas was religious his entire life. Between 1885 and 1889, he attended Leamington College and Rossall School, Fleetwood, Lancashire. In 1889, he went to Balliol College, Oxford, to study theology and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1894. While at Oxford, he converted to Anglicanism. He and his brother later entered the Roman Catholic Church. In 1899, he attended Beda College in Rome to study for the priesthood and in 1902, he was ordained a Catholic priest. After his ordination, he was assigned to St Helen’s Parish in Chipping Ongar, Essex in 1905. He remained there until his death in 1912. In April 1912, his brother, William fell in love with a woman and asked his brother to officiate the marriage in New York City. On April 10,1912, he boarded passage on the RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage. On the Octave of Easter, April 14,1912, he said Mass for 2nd and 3rd Class passengers. The sermon was on the need for a spiritual lifeboat in the shape of prayer and the sacraments when in danger of spiritual shipwreck in times of temptation. At 11:40 pm, that night, the RMS Titanic collided with an iceberg off the coast of Cape Race, Newfoundland, Canada. At the time of the collision, Father Byles was on the upper deck praying his breviary. When the ship was sinking, he assisted many 3rd Class passengers up to the boat deck to the lifeboats. Twice, he refused to enter a lifeboat. Toward the very end, he recited the Rosary and other prayers, heard confessions and gave absolution to more than a hundred passengers trapped on the stern of the ship after all of the lifeboats had been launched. At 2:20 am, April 15,1912, the liner sank and about 1,500 people died. Father Byles was among the dead. His body was never recovered. After his death, his brothers had a door installed in his memory at St Helen’s Catholic Church in Chipping Ongar, Essex. Pope Pius X declared Father Byles as a “martyr for the Church”. In April 2015, Father Graham Smith, the current priest of St Helen’s Church along with the support Bishop Alan Williams of the Diocese of Brentwood, began the process for the first steps to make Father Byles a saint.

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