Three Catholic priests were on board the Titanic when it officially departed Ireland for the New World on April 11th, 1912. The construction of this ship, the selection of it’s captain, the shortage of life boats and ultimately, a potentially dangerous situation hidden below the deck of this great vessel (which if known would not had passed inspection) are just a few of the many questionable dark secrets, most of which perished with the 1,516 passengers deep in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I, myself have always been so drawn to the mystery of the Titanic – who hasn’t? Newsmax TV recently aired a very interesting documentary called Titanic Arrogance which brought to light many of the careless decisions made before and during the infamous maiden voyage by individuals such as Captain Smith, crew members and some of the engineers. I was surprised to learn how Edward Smith was chosen as captain mainly due to his social status with the First Class passengers rather than his skill. One glaring example was the series of warnings sent to the doomed ship of “icebergs ahead” and the arrogance of his ineptitude of truly believing that “nothing can take down the Titanic”. It must have been part of the reason why Smith ordered the crew to carry on at “full speed” while he went on to attend a fancy dinner with elite-ranking members of the staff and guests. It is important to note at this point that large ships of this size need a good three miles to make a complete full turn and because these iceberg warnings were ignored, even scoffed at, a disastrous decision unfortunately led the captain, its crew and more than half its passengers “full speed ahead” to their chilling deaths!
With only 710 survivors and a shortage of lifeboats, we find out later that not only were some of these boats not loaded to their full capacity, but First Class adult men were chosen over second and third class women and children. This particular part of the story is heart-rending; however, I made a fascinating discovery – one that should fill the reader with hope. Perhaps it’s already known and spoken of, but I have never heard of it until today and maybe you haven’t either…
Before I proceed further, I would like to provide a brief background summary of the three priests I previously mentioned. They were undoubtedly heroes and an immense source of hope and comfort to the remaining passengers who would not be chosen to climb aboard the already short supply of lifeboats. Father Thomas Byles (German Benedictine), FatherJosef Peruschitz and the Lithuanian Byzantine-ritepriest, Father Juozas Montvila, each celebrated The Latin Mass each day onboard (in Father Montvila’s case, it was the Byzantine-rite).) On that fateful, final day for second and third class passengers denied any invitation of fleeing to safety, these three priests were all said to have been hearing confessions prior to the sinking of the mighty vessel. The information below is taken from Wayside Words: Titanic Martyrs blog):
1.) Fr. Josef Peruschitz OSB, aged 41, was a Benedictine monk who taught mathematics, music, physical education and shorthand in a school attached to his monastery in the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising, Germany. In 1912 he had been appointed Principal of the Benedictine school in Minnesota where he was traveling on a £13 second- class passenger ticket when the iceberg struck the Titanic. He died in the sinking; his body, if recovered, was never identified.
2.) Fr. Juozas Montvila, a Lithuanian, was only 27 when the Czarist regime forbade him to practice his ministry. He therefore decided to emigrate to the United States. After the collision, eyewitnesses reported that the young Lithuanian priest served his calling to the very end by refusing a place on one of the lifeboats, “choosing to administer his priestly duties and offering solace to his fellow travelers.” His body, if recovered, was also never identified. Revered as a hero and martyr in Lithuania, he is currently under consideration for canonization.
3.) Most information seems to be known of Fr. Thomas Roussel Byles, a 42 year-old Yorkshireman, convert and the eldest of seven children, who eventually became the parish priest in Chipping-Ongar, county of Essex, England. A member of the Catholic Missionary Society, Fr. Byles was traveling to America for his brother’s wedding. Since the Titanic held insufficient lifeboats for the number of passengers on board, there was no provision for steerage passengers, who were expected to fend for themselves. Frighteningly, the recovery ship was charged to first bring aboard the bodies of first and second class passengers, dumping those of the poorest – third class – back into the ocean until later.
These clergymen, recognizing their religious responsibilities and embracing rather than abandoning them, banded together; they heard last confessions, gave absolution, led rosaries, bestowed final blessings and were faithful, quite literally, to their duties to the very end. When I was specifically reading the story of Father Byles, it was hard to do so without becoming teary-eyed. I was especially moved by the fact that he was reciting the Divine Office when the alarm officially sounded that an iceberg had came into contact with the ship. Whoever wrote this article (though I am not sure how he or she could know this man’s inner most thoughts) went on to say that this fatherly shepherd felt that all of his life had prepared him for this exact moment; he had souls to save on the Titanic. THIS was the mission God had reserved and prepared for him throughout all of his life – and no doubt the other two faithful priests as well. Providence had certainly played a part in his ticket being transferred from the White Star Line ship to the Titanic at the last minute. Although he had been going to the New World to officiate at his brother’s wedding, destiny led him to guide the souls on this voyage to heaven, rather than to America. Survivors say that Father Byles died just prior to the arrival of the recovery ship, Carpathia; before drawing his last breath, he was seen swimming among the succumbing passengers, hearing last confessions in the Atlantic waters before finally dying of exhaustion.
Nothing is coincidental with God. This was confirmed when I learned how Father Byles some years prior to his boarding the Titanic, wrote a short commentary with the Catholic Truth Society publication on none other than Saint Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians describing his own shipwreck:
This is where my favorite part comes in; that conclusion I discovered. Although the Titanic and all her two sister ships the Britannic and the Olympic would all be destined for doom, I believe the passengers who perished on this particular voyage, were led into the Hands of Our Lord’s Divine Mercy. This clue was revealed to me as I read this one short sentence on the article written about Father Byles:
On Saturday, April 13th, he was hearing confessions for hours in preparation for the next day: Low Sunday.
What is Low Sunday you might ask? Although the name of “Divine Mercy Sunday” would not be given that official title until the year 2000 at the canonization of Faustina Kowalska, this feast of “Quasimodo” or Low Sunday has always existed. Low Sunday IS Divine Mercy Sunday. The propers, including the Epistle (First Letter of John 5. 4-10) and the Gospel (John 20. 19-31) from this particular Mass celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter WAS in fact Divine Mercy Sunday – even back then. These readings from Quasimodo Sunday are all about the wounds of Christ, but more specifically, those in His Sacred Heart. This is not a new revelation; perhaps the promises are, but not the feast. How do I know this? We need only review the exact words Our Lord revealed to Saint Faustina as recorded in her diary:
Faustina: I am very surprised that You bid me to talk about this Feast of Mercy, for they tell me that there is already such a feast and so why should I talk about it? And Jesus said to me:
‘And who knows anything about this feast? No one! Even those who should be proclaiming My mercy and teaching people about it often do not know about it themselves.’
Ask yourself: before this feast day was officially recognized in 2000 with the new title of “Divine Mercy Sunday”, did you know that it already existed, rather under a different title? If the answer is “No” then we can be assured Our Lord’s words can be confirmed as accurate when He said, “and who knows anything about it?” Saint Faustina of Poland was born in 1905; she was only seven years old when the Titanic set off on it’s first and final voyage. In her short life of only 33 years, Our Lord revealed His mission for her: secretary and apostle of His Divine Mercy “in this life and the next”. It was her specific and predestined undertaking to spread this devotion of God’s mercy throughout the whole world by means of the official institution of the feast (or rather, bringing Low Sunday to light). He would reveal to her the image that He wanted painted: a portrayal of His Heart depicting the flow of blood and water pouring from It to be venerated by man-kind. Along with this image would be the accompanying chaplet and of course, the promises given to those who embrace devotion to His mercy on the particular feast day itself:
I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and a shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy.
We can be assured of the fact that the three priests and all the faithful passengers on board the Titanic knew nothing at the time of their deaths about what promises would later be proclaimed for souls who do everything Our Lord requires to obtain His mercy. Without knowing it, they had done exactly what He asked:
The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion on (or before) this day shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment (no purgatory). On that day are opened all the divine floodgates through which graces flow.
There was not only daily Latin Mass on the Titanic (during the three short days before the sinking) celebrated by these zealous priests, but remember when I stated earlier that April 13th was spent with Father Byles hearing hours and hours of confessions? He was doing this prior to knowing anything of the Titanic striking an iceberg. In fact, his homily given on Low Sunday (aka Divine Mercy Sunday) was said using such a phrase as “lifeboat of faith in the ever changing waters of life”. These words quite literally came true hours later when the alarm sounded in the middle of Father’s recitation of the Psalms at 11:40 p.m. when all the hours following depended on lifeboats as a means of survival. As we would see, not all were able to claim safety onto an actual lifeboat, but a “lifeboat of faith”. Was Fr. Byles perhaps saying Matins for the next day when the alarm sounded? The point is, the faithful souls who received holy communion and received absolution from the sacrament of penance indeed fulfilled Our Lord’s requests before and on the actual feast of Divine Mercy! We can be assured the priests did as well since being three of them, they were most likely able to hear each other’s confessions and of course receive Our Lord in the Eucharist before distributing Holy Communion to the passengers on board. I also particularly like to imagine the possibility that many non-Catholic passengers made the decision to become converts in those final hours seeing that their deaths were so imminent!
Sidenote: While I am a faithful and devoted attendee to only the Latin Mass, many traditional Catholics reject the authenticity of the message of Divine Mercy because it was instituted by a Pope John Paul II who ignored Our Lady’s messages at Fatima. Quite honestly, I will NOT hide the fact that I have my own issues with this pope merely because he did not do what Our Lady asked and was found to have never to taken the Fatima Message seriously – until he was shot on the anniversary of the apparitions, May 13th. But the feast of Low Sunday, Faustina’s mission and Our Lord’s desire for His mercy to be embraced is so much bigger than John Paul II. Low Sunday – as I showed you – was there even before it was given a new name. This pope still had the power to “bind and lose” in his papacy and in this case, to bind the message of Divine Mercy despite his human frailty while in office.
With the Titanic, it is more than symbolic that Our Lord calls His Divine Mercy devotion an “Ocean” of mercy; these souls in their final moments perhaps no longer saw the horrors of the chilling Atlantic waters, but Our Lord’s OCEAN of mercy – literally! I like to believe with all my heart that rather than dying in fear, they died enveloped in Our Lord’s great and unfathomable OCEAN (Atlantic) of mercy. Because Our Lord, living outside of time, was aware that these promises would be instituted later and still be valid in 1912; he would know that these precious souls desperately needed the tenderness of God in that dark hour of so many deaths caused by disastrous decisions. Although the carelessness in the construction of the Titanic and the haughty choices made by the captain, crew and engineers, “good out of evil” still was brought forth in this treacherous shipwreck involving so many human beings lost. However, in this new “Divine” light lives were lost, but were souls? Rather than seeing it as hundreds of souls perishing on this glorious feast, in theory wouldn’t it actually be hundreds of souls won in Our Lord’s Ocean of Mercy? As Our Lord promised, let us also remember:
I want to grant a complete pardon to the souls that will go to Confession and recieve Holy Communion on the Feast of My Mercy.
For the first time, let us see the disaster of Titanic as not that of a voyage leading to doom, but as one led by three holy priests leading their flock to the one, true home- Heaven. Perhaps in those last few minutes, these brave souls who went down with this great vessel could proclaim the words of St. Therese:
This world is thy ship, not thy home. ~Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face~
- God reward you, Phyllis Schabow for inspiring this post from an article you shared many years ago about Father Byles. (Phyllis’ dear husband, Don also went to Our Lord on Divine Mercy Sunday!)
- Also in honor of my friend Tracy’s Father, who passed away on the feast of Saint Joseph a few days ago; myself and Tracy prayed our own separate Divine Mercy Chaplets for him, and he passed away during none other than the hour of Divine Mercy- 3PM!
- Our Lord’s “Ocean of Mercy” and the Titanic