Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Titanic Saint? Father Thomas Byles

The BBC reports that a cause for canonization of Father Thomas Byles, one of the three Catholic priests on board the Titanic, is under consideration at the parish he served in Essex:

A campaign is under way to have the Catholic priest who stayed on RMS Titanic instead of fleeing on a lifeboat made a saint.

Father Thomas Byles, of St Helen's Church, Chipping Ongar, Essex, boarded the ship at Southampton to attend his younger brother's wedding in New York.

But when it sank in 1912 he twice refused to join a lifeboat and instead remained with passengers to pray.

The current priest at St Helen's Church said Father Byles should be canonised. . . .

His actions before perishing with 1,500 others aboard the Titanic were praised by Pope Pius X.

Father Graham Smith, current priest of St Helen's, said: "He's an extraordinary man who gave his life for others.

"We need, in very old parlance, to raise him to the altar which means that the Vatican will recognise him as a martyr of the church.

"We are hoping and praying that he will be recognised as one of the saints within our canon."

There were two other priests on the Titanic who also refused to leave their flocks, notes this 2012 story from CNS:

Three Catholic priests, including one hailed by Pope Saint Pius X as a martyr for the faith, were among the victims of the Titanic disaster remembered during its 100th anniversary on April 14-15.

All three of the European-born priests – Father Juozas Montvila of Lithuania, Father Josef Peruschitz, O.S.B. of Bavaria, and English rector Father Thomas Byles – are said to have declined lifeboats in order to offer spiritual aid to travelers who perished in the shipwreck, which claimed 1503 lives.

An eyewitness account of the 1912 sinking, published in the Jesuit journal “America,” described how “all the Catholics on board desired the assistance of priests with the greatest fervor.”

The priests led passengers in recitation of the Rosary, and “aroused those condemned to die to say acts of contrition and prepare themselves to meet the face of God.” According to the eyewitness, they were “engaged continuously giving general absolution to those who were about to die.”

Father Byles was a convert to Catholicism, having been born and raised in a Congregationalist family--his father was a minister. Byles attended Balliol College at Oxford and according to this website:

Soon after his arrival at Oxford, he was received into the Church of England. He was quite interested in the writings of the Fathers, apologetics, and ritual. He was also very ascetic, and as such, made a daily meditation and went to "confession" to an Anglican clergyman.

His brother William became a Catholic and soon Byles began to follow Blessed John Henry Newman's path:

The first sign that Roussel was again searching for the truth was in a letter he sent to his brother William on February 24, 1894. The letter began with a birthday greeting, but it ended with the following short paragraph:

"Do you know I have had some trouble lately? The fact is I find myself unable to recognize the Anglican position. I do not, however, feel myself any more satisfied with the Roman position. I have given up going to Anglican communion, and have postponed my ordination as a deacon."

His search for the truth led him, at long last, into the Catholic Church. On May 23, 1894, he was baptized sub conditione at St. Aloysius Church in Oxford by Father Joseph Martin, S.J. His sponsor was Francis Urqhart of Balliol College.

I could not find any information on the diocesan website about any formal setting up of a cause for canonization, which would require the bishop of Brenthood to appoint a postulator and request permission from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to begin the process of gathering information about the deceased.

According to the CNS story quoted above, there is another cause for canonization among the three priests:

The youngest of the three priests, Fr. Juozas Montvila, was born in 1885. Ordained in 1908, he secretly ministered to Eastern Catholics in Lithuania, whose faith had been outlawed by authorities of the Russian Empire.

Under government pressure, Fr. Montvila was forced to leave the country in order to continue his priestly ministry. He boarded the Titanic in Southhampton, England, with the intention of emigrating to the U.S.

Reports from the sinking ship recounted how the Byzantine-rite priest “served his calling to the very end.” Since then, there have been efforts toward his canonization.

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