The priest who went down with the Titanic while hearing confessions


Amidst all the tales of chivalry from the Titanic disaster there is one that’s not often told.

It is that of Fr. Thomas Byles, the Catholic priest who gave up two spots on a lifeboat in favour of offering spiritual aid to the other victims as they all went down with the “unsinkable” vessel.

A 42-year-old English convert, Fr. Byles was on his way to New York to offer the wedding Mass for his brother William. Reports suggest that he was reciting his breviary on the upper deck when the Titanic struck the iceberg in the twilight hours of Sunday, April 14th, 1912.

According to witnesses, as the ship went down the priest helped women and children get into the lifeboats, then heard confessions, gave absolution, and led passengers in reciting the Rosary.

Agnes McCoy, one of the survivors, says that as the great ship sank, Fr. Byles “stood on the deck with Catholics, Protestants and Jews kneeling around him.”

“Father Byles was saying the rosary and praying for the repose of the souls of those about to perish,” she told the New York Telegram on April 22, 1912, according to the website devoted to his memory,

In the words of the priest’s friend Fr. Patrick McKenna, “He twice refused the offer of a place in a boat, saying his duty was to stay on the ship while one soul wanted his ministrations.”

Read more.


  1. This is extraordinary. I don’t know how the process of canonization works, and what is all required to get the ball rolling. But this is the sort of thing that should at least get people talking about it, no?

  2. Fascinating. Had never heard of him. Thx, Dcn. GK.

  3. Thank you for sharing this story with us.

  4. A beautiful story. God rest his soul — and all of their souls.

  5. What an inspiring story, I had never heard of him before.
    I would think he would be a good candidate to consider for canonization.

  6. Max Lindenman says:

    I agree with Nate. Father sounds like one of those newfangled martyrs of charity to me.

  7. Wonder how many souls were cleansed of mortal sin by his last ministrations? It’s something to save a life, but of another magnitude to save souls. It’s hard not to see the Hand of God in his presence there.

  8. What a wonderful story, thanks.

  9. Like many people, this is the first time I heard of this story, although I am not surprise. There are countless, needless to say, but the overwhelming majority of priests are holy, generous, and good priests but often not reported, they are truly unsung heroes. All we hear again and again is the “filth” committed by a very minority in the priesthood, systematically exaggerated in the bias media. For example, how many people know a generous Catholic Priest used his inheritance to pay for J.R.R Tolkien’s education, without this generosity there may not be “The Lord of the rings”. We must continue to faithfully pray for the priests in the world.

  10. What a amazing man i look up to him

  11. I wonder how many people can do the same today? This is a brave man of God.
    He should be declared a Saint for the discouraged Priests.

  12. Thanks for the inspiring and informative story, Deacon. A young lady recently wrote a book about Father Byles, titled “A Titanic Hero: Thomas Byles.” It’s available through Amazon for $12.99 ( Seems like something you might be interested in. :)

  13. Thank you for this information about the heroic action of Fr Thomas Byles. The website of his former parish at Ongar, Essex, England and websites associated with his education and work have more information about him. It seems that there was no chapel on the Titanic and Fr Byles had to preach his Sunday sermon in one of the lounges. Interestingly, his last sermon was about ‘spiritual lifeboats and lifebelts’! Two other priests were also heroic in faith and commitment to those doomed to die, one German and one Lithuanian.
    Another Christian, very heroic and self-sacrificing was the Baptist minister Rev Harper who, after putting his daughter onto a lifeboat, swam back to help others and gave away his lifebelt to one ‘unsaved’. RIP

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