The Real Love Story of the Titanic

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Much has been written and said about the sinking of the Titanic these past 100 years. There are books and movies and books about the movies; yet none of these popular tales capture the truest story of love that rose above the sinking of a luxury liner – the Titanic. And how can one be surprised? In this age of promiscuity, how does one expect the story of a truly heroic figure to rise above the titillation of a beautiful young, albeit imaginary, couple and their ‘true’ love infatuation?

Yet there was such a story! This relationship of true love began when Rousell Davids Byles, the eldest of seven children to a minister, went off to Oxford to study theology. While at Oxford he converted to Catholicism and took on the name, Thomas. After having attended seminary he said ‘yes’ to the Call…and the Church became his Bride. Fr. Thomas Roussel Davids Byles spent around ten years as a parish priest in England before receiving an invitation to come to New York. His brother, William, wished for him to officiate at his wedding and this intent placed him on that fateful journey.

While on board, Fr. Byles served the people of every class by saying Mass and fulfilling other priestly duties. His homily on that fateful morning would be ironically relevant…it concerned ‘the need for a spiritual lifebelt in the shape of prayer and the sacraments when in danger of spiritual shipwreck in times of temptation’.[1][2] It is said that he was above deck, reading from his Breviary, when the iceberg was struck. As the fate of the ship and those on board became evident, Fr. Byles repeatedly refused the use of life saving measures and instead gave solace to those facing their demise. He heard confessions, gave general absolution and prayed the Rosary while encircled by members of all faiths.

Much is said about heroes and love these days. The current definitions fall far short from the pure intent of these words, however. A hero is someone who would give up his life for the good of another. Jesus showed us that on His cross and others have emulated Him ever since. The great St. Maximilian Kolbe comes to mind as one such hero. Fr. Byles is surely another! This type of heroics beautifully illustrates the truest definition of love – in its purest form. Love of God above all others and love of neighbor as oneself! On this, 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic AND Divine Mercy Sunday, let us reflect on the true meaning of love and heroes. Allowing Jesus to drive our desires and actions will speak of a great love – the love of creature for the creator. And in all things, surely we can do no less than to say, ‘Jesus, I trust in You!’.
[1] Fr Thomas Roussel Davids Byles – Titanic Biography – Encyclopedia Titanica
 The Scotsman and Extracts from the Diary of Father Patrick McKenna 

7 Replies to “The Real Love Story of the Titanic”

  1. Love that Birgit focused on one of the spiritual “heroes” of the Titanic tragedy. After all the yrs. of watching/hearing about the disaster, I was so elated to know that PPL ON board facing their immortal fate had a genuine spiritual adviser to help them in their moment of great need. Never would I have had this thought if it weren’t brought to my attention. My reply when I saw her. (Birgit) post on the article was: He, (Fr. Tom) was right where God wanted Him to be. What a beautiful image when everything was so sad and hopeless: God’s hand in the beauty of passing from this life to life eternal.

  2. What a beautiful story! I knew nothing about this priest until tonight. What an amazing example of faith and love! Thank you for sharing his story. God bless! 🙂

  3. Thanks for your article. So true, we need real definition of what true love and heroism is. Fr Byles, pray for us. God indeed does not forsake us of the needed spiritual strength and consolation in our last moments.

  4. I had not heard of Fr. Thomas Byles until April 14. He is a true inspiration for me, a new hero in the priesthood.

    Late last year, when I was looking ahead through 2012 in my liturgical desk calendar, I was struck by the fact that Divine Mercy Sunday, which we celebrate strongly in my parish, was to fall on April 15, the exact 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking. Ideas for a homily that connected the Titanic and Divine Mercy Sunday immediately buzzed in my head, so I wrote the word “Titanic” in the space allotted for April 15 so I would be reminded to continue preparation and research along that line of connection for my homily, when then was still months away.

    Somewhere in the intervening time, I caught a bit of the 1997 movie, Titanic, when I was channel-surfing one night. I was struck by the fact that, in the movie, there was a scene depicting a Protestant worship service taking place on the morning of Titanic’s final day at sea, with the camera zeroing in on some of the main characters singing, “O Savior whom the Father sent / To spread abroad the covenant / Oh Wind of Heaven by thy might / Save all who dare the eagle’s flight / And keep them by thy watch with thee / For those in peril on the sea.” This got me to thinking about days of the week as they lined with the dates of 1912. So I googled “all-time dates for Easter” and discovered that in 1912, Easter Sunday was April 7. That means that not only was Titanic’s final day afloat a Sunday, it was the Octave Day of Easter, the Second Sunday of Easter. And while it would be another quarter century before the Lord Jesus commissioned St. Faustina Kowalska as His Apostle of Divine Mercy with the desire that the Octave Day of Easter be proclaimed by the Church as Divine Mercy Sunday, the Gospel passage proclaimed on April 14, 1912, was John 20:19-31, the same as it is presently.

    In that passage we find the Risen Christ instituting the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And we find our Lord drawing the doubting Thomas nearer to Himself, to where Thomas proclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” From that I alluded to the final song of the Titanic orchestra’s impromptu deck concert to calm the passengers on the “unsinkable” sinking ship, “Nearer My God to Thee.”

    I also discovered that upon taking command of the Titanic, Captain Edward J. Smith, said, “I cannot imagine any condition that would cause the ship to founder. I cannot imagine any disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” One member of the crew famously said, “Not even God can sink this ship.”

    All these were elements around which I built my homily for Divine Mercy Sunday 2012, on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. That is, until I learned of Fr. Byles. The reference to the verse from “Eternal Father Strong to Save” depicted in the movie, Titanic, got exed out of the homily when I learned that Fr. Byles had celebrated Mass on that Sunday, April 14, 1912 and that he heroically offered priestly service until he himself perished in the Atlantic Ocean.

    It is reported that in his homily that Sunday, Fr. Byles spoke of being “a spiritual lifeboat that takes people to God.” That night he practiced what he preached. He refused at least two offers to take a seat on a Titanic lifeboat. He saved no one, including himself, from perishing in the cold depths of the North Atlantic. But I have NO DOUBT that Fr. Byles hearing confessions and giving absolution rescued many who died that night from spending eternity in Hell. Fr. Thomas Byles was that spiritual lifeboat that took many people to God on April 15, 1912.

    Indeed as Jesus said to St. Faustina, “At that last hour, a soul has nothing with which to defend itself except My mercy” (Diary #1075)

  5. A real-life romance which blossomed abroad the Titanic is revealed today as bearing remarkable similarities to the love story in the blockbuster film. Roberta Maoini, 21, was a lady’s maid travelling in first class, who fell for a young steward employed on the Titanic during its doomed maiden voyage in 1912

  6. Brigit,

    so wonderful… wow… i just wanted to let you know… also, if you don’t mind my asking; could you tell me the artist name for the extraordinary Jesus’ Divine Mercy painting you have posted here… it is the best I’ve seen. I love the ‘ephemeral’ perspective of it….

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