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Sainthood Campaign Begins for Priest Who Stayed on Titanic to Pray With Passengers Instead of Saving His Life

Titanic
A photo of the Titanic, thought to be the last known image of the ship, as she sets sail from Queenstown for New York. The White Star liner, touted as "unsinkable", sank in 1912 with the loss of 1,523 lives. |

A sainthood campaign has started for Father Thomas Byles, the Roman Catholic Priest who in 1912 decided to stay to pray and comfort the passengers of the RMS Titanic as the ship was sinking, instead of fleeing on a lifeboat to save his life.

"He's an extraordinary man who gave his life for others," said Father Graham Smith of St. Helen's Church in Essex, U.K., according to BBC News.

"We need, in very old parlance, to raise him to the altar which means that the Vatican will recognize him as a martyr of the church. We are hoping and praying that he will be recognized as one of the saints within our canon."

Byles was St. Helen's priest when he boarded the famous British passenger ship over a century ago at Southampton, aiming to attend his younger brother's wedding in New York.

Over 1,500 people on board lost their lives when the ship sank on April 15, 1912, following a collision with an iceberg, making it one of the deadliest disasters of its kind in history.

Byles, who had performed mass for second and third class passengers on the Titanic, twice refused the opportunity to join one of the limited number of lifeboats in the midst of the tragedy, and continued to pray with the people as the ship sank.

A website dedicated to the memory of Byles shares the testimonies of survivors who witnessed his deeds on board the ship:

"One sailor ... warned the priest of his danger and begged him to board a boat. Father Byles refused. The same seaman spoke to him again and he seemed anxious to help him, but he refused again. Father Byles could have been saved, but he would not leave while one was left and the sailor's entreaties were not heeded," said Helen Mary Mocklare, a third class passenger.

"After I got in the boat, which was the last one to leave, and we were slowly going further away from the ship, I could hear distinctly the voice of the priest and the responses to his prayers. Then they became fainter and fainter, until I could only hear the strains of 'Nearer My God, to Thee' and the screams of the people left behind," she added.

Agnes McCoy, also third class passenger, added: "I first saw Father Byles in the steerage. There were many Catholics there, and he eased their minds by praying for them, hearing confessions and giving them his blessing. I later saw him on the upper deck reading from his priest's book of hours. Survivors, especially a young English lad, told me later that he pocketed the book, gathered the men about him and, while they knelt, offered up prayer for their salvation."

After hearing news of the Titanic's sinking, Byles' brother, William, said that as a priest, his brother could not have abandoned the people.

"It was his duty as a priest to stay to the last. He knew his duty. He must have gone down with the ship," Byles said in an article printed in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle on April 17, 1912.

Pope Pius X, who was head of the Roman Catholic Church at the time, has also praised the actions of St. Helen's former priest.

There are no known miracles attributed to Byles, while at least two are needed for canonization within the Catholic tradition. Smith shared his hopes that people around the world will offer prayers to the priest if they are in need, and if a miracle occurs, then the process toward sainthood can move forward.

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