Essex Priest On The Titanic
The brave priest whom Ongar mourns was last seen leading a group in prayer on the second cabin deck of the Titanic when that ship sank. On the morning of the day the boat struck the iceberg he had preached to the passengers in the steerage, and most of them knew him by sight. At the hour he was to have officiated at his brother’s marriage his requiem Mass was sung.
When the Titanic struck the priest was on the upper deck walking backwards and forwards reading his office, the daily prayers which form part of the duties of every Roman Catholic priest. After the real danger was apparent, Father Byles went among the passengers, hearing confessions of some and giving absolution. At the last he was the centre of a group on the deck where the steerage passengers had been crowded, and was leading in the recitation of the rosary.
Miss Agnes McCoy, who is a patient of St. Vincent’s Hospital told a reported of the “New York Sun,” that she and her sister Alice was with their brother in the steerage. The two girls were put into a lifeboat and saw their brother swimming in the icy water. They called to him to get into their boat. He tried to grasp the side of the boat, but one of the sailors beat him back with an oar. In a minute one of the girls had reached the sailor and held his arms while the other sister pulled her brother aboard.
“I saw Father Byles when he spoke to us in the steerage,” said Miss McCoy, “and there was another priest with him there. He was a German and spoke in that language. I did not see Father Byles again until we were told to come up and get into the boat. He was reading out of a leather bound book” – his priest’s book of hours, “and did not pay any attention. He thought as the rest of us did that there wasn’t really any danger. Then I saw him put the book in his pocket, and hurry around to help women into the boats. We were among the first to get away and I didn’t see him any more.
“But there was a fellow ion the Carpathia who told me about Father Byles. He was an English lad who was coming over to this country with his parents and several brothers and sisters. They were all lost. He was on the deck with the steerage passengers until the boat went down. He was holding to a piece of iron, he told me, and had his hands badly cut. One of the explosions threw him out of the water and he was picked up later.
“He said that Father Byles and another priest stayed with the people after the last boat had gone and that a big crowd, a hundred maybe, knelt about him. They were Catholics, Protestants, and Jewish people who were kneeling there, this fellow told me, Father Byles told them to prepare to meet God and he said the rosary. The others answered him, Father Byles and the other priest, he told me, were still standing there praying when the water came over the deck.
“I did not see Father Byles in the water. But that is no wonder, for there were hundreds of bodies floating there after the ship went down. The night was so clear that we could see plainly and make out faces of those near us. The lights of the boat were bright almost to the last. They went out after the explosion. Then we could hear the people in the water crying for help and moaning for a long time after the boat went down.”