The Catholic Defender: Father Byles was a true Apostle
I have met some great Catholic Priests in my 26 years in the United States Army. There are great stories of heroism and courage displayed by many Catholic Priests. Throughout the history of the Catholic Church beginning with the Apostles on down through history many gave their lives. Of the original faithful eleven Apostles, 10 of them gave their lives for the Lord and His Catholic Church. Father Maxmillian Kolbe, Father Kapaun and Father Capodanno are three great examples during World War II and the Korean War.
I can give some great examples as recently as the Iraqi Freedom Campaigns, there are many Catholic Priests as well as the faithful who have suffered great persecution and trials.
I want to remember another Catholic Priest that few are aware of the heroism displayed by this man of God. This week many of us will remember the sinking of the Titanic, something that had been thought impossible. On it's first voyage, the Titanic struck an iceberg and as a result, the ship sunk. There have been movies that have given the story, there have been songs performed that told the tale of the sinking of the Titanic. I do not recall in any of the stories about the Titanic the heroism of Father Thomas Byles. Father Byles had been given two opportunities to get into a lifeboat, but instead, he continued to give spiritual aid to the other victims hearing confessions and showing the true love of God. Father was an English convert to the Catholic Faith and was on his way to America to officiate his Brother William's marriage.
Eye witness accounts show that Father Byles was offering his breviary and the Rosary at the time of the collision with the iceberg. It was April 14, 1912, according to witnesses, Father Byles was seen helping the women and children get into lifeboats. He heard confessions and calmed the frantic with the Rosary. What a picture this places in my mind, what a great focus that none of the movies and songs I've heard have presented. Father Byles standing on the deck with people on their knees praying. According to FatherByles.com, a website that keeps Father's story alive, it shares the testimony of Agnes McCoy who said, "Father Byles was saying the rosary and praying for the repose of the souls of those about to perish" as told to the New York Telegram on 22 April, 1912.
Father Patrick McKenna, a friend of Father Byles, said later, "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 minisreations". The Church Progress, by the end of April early May, wrote this tribute to Father Byles: "In almost every line that has been written, and in every sentence that has been spoken, there stands boldly out above every other expression a picture of sublime heroism that will be copied into the pages of history. And well it may, for it is deserving of that honor. But when it is, mention should be made of one whom pens and tongues have almost forgotten in their accounts of this awful sea tragedy. Among those who safely reached the land again no one seems to have been aware of his presence on the ship, but we may hope that many who meet him in a blissful eternity will praise God that Father Thomas Byles was there to administer absolution unto them." There were other hero of great courage, Fr Juozas Montvila (27 years old), gave his life for another as he also refused to be place on one of the ship's life boats, he served out his duties with his fellow travelers. A Benedictine Priest, Father Joseph Peruschitz (pictured left) from Scheyern was another priest who showed great courage giving his life for the victims of the Titanic.
To imagine the horror of a sinking ship and to be a source of strength to support those who were lost. These are great acts of heroism. Annie Kate, taking the trip with a cousin, Patrick Canavan, her cousin, was 16 months older than Annie. He gave is life ensuring that Annie was placed on a life boat. Annie did survive as she became a Catholic Nun taking the name Sister Patrick Joseph Kelly. The story of Annie and her cousin, Patrick sounds very close to the fictional story of the movie "Titanic" without the romance, of course. Annie (Sister Patrick Joseph Kelly) died in 1969 after giving her life to the service of God and recounting the Titanic. These are but a few, how tragic was this terrible accident. It should serve as a reminder that man will never become invincible. The Twin Towers were also though to be indestructible.
Jesus commanded the Catholic Church to go to all the nations, teaching them to observe all that he commanded it. Courage is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that all great Saints depended on to do God's will. What an encouragement to all the faithful to have the courage and faith of Father Thomas Byles and company whose bravery recalls the Lord's words: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13). Of the 2223 passengers on board the Titanic, 1517 perished.
"I shall walk through dark valleys, I fear no harm for you are at my side. Your rod and staff shall give me courage, No evil shall befall me, No weakness in my stride. God wills not my foot to slip Or my guardian sleep, He guides me from all evil, The Lord is my guardian; The Lord the shade I keep, By day the sun cannot harm me Or the moon by night. For the Lord said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled, Have faith in God and also in me. In my Father's house There are many dwelling places. If there were not, Would I have told you That I am going to prepare A place for you? And if I go And prepare a place for you, I will come back again And take you to myself, So that where I am You also may be."
If the Lord is with us, Who can be against us?