London, England, Dec 22, 2015 / 05:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When the Titanic began to sink on April 15, 1912, Father Thomas Byles had two opportunities to board a lifeboat.
But he forewent those opportunities, according to passengers aboard the sinking ocean liner, in order to hear confessions and offer consolation and prayers with those who were trapped aboard.
Now, a priest at the former church of Fr. Byles in England is asking that his beatification cause be opened.
Some 1,500 people died when the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank in the Atlantic Ocean in 1912. Believed at the time to be “unsinkable,” the ship lacked adequate lifeboats for all the passengers on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City.
Fr. Byles was traveling on the Titanic to preside at his brother’s wedding in New York. The 42-year-old British priest had been ordained in Rome 10 years prior and had served as a parish priest at Saint Helen’s Church in Essex since 1905.
Miss Agnes McCoy, a third class passenger and survivor of the Titanic, said Fr. Byles had been on the ship, hearing confessions, praying with passengers and giving his blessing as the vessel sank.
McCoy’s testimony, and that of other passengers onboard, has been collected at www.fatherbyles.com.
Helen Mary Mocklare, another third class passenger, offered more details about the final hours of the priest’s life.
“When the crash came we were thrown from our berths … We saw before us, coming down the passageway, with his hand uplifted, Father Byles,” she recalled. “We knew him because he had visited us several times on board and celebrated Mass for us that very morning.”