Thomas Byles

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The Reverend Father
Thomas Byles
Thomas byles.jpg
Ordination 1902
Personal details
Birth name Roussel Davids Byles
Born (1870-02-26)26 February 1870
Leeds, Yorkshire, England, U.K.
Died 15 April 1912(1912-04-15) (aged 42)
RMS Titanic, Atlantic Ocean
Nationality British
Denomination Catholic (Roman Rite)
Education Beda College

Thomas Roussel Davids Byles (26 February 1870 – 15 April 1912) was an English Catholic priest. Byles famously remained on board the RMS Titanic as she was sinking after colliding with an iceberg, hearing confessions and giving absolution.


Byles was born Roussel Davids Byles in Leeds, Yorkshire, the eldest of seven children of the Reverend Alfred Holden Byles, a Congregationalist minister, and his wife Louisa Davids. He attended Leamington College and Rossall School, Fleetwood, Lancashire, between 1885 and 1889, then went to Balliol College, Oxford, in 1889 to study theology, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1894. While at Oxford, Byles converted to the Church of England, and later, like his younger brother William had done before, to the Roman Catholic faith, taking the name Thomas. In 1899, he went to the Beda College in Rome to study for the priesthood and was ordained in 1902. He was assigned to St Helen's Parish in Chipping Ongar, Essex in 1905, where he would remain until his death.

An invitation to officiate at the wedding of his younger brother William prompted Byles to make the trip to New York City. He said Mass on the morning of the sinking, Octave of Easter, 14 April 1912, for both second- and third-class passengers in their respective lounges. The sermon was on the need for a spiritual lifeboat in the shape of prayer and the sacraments when in danger of spiritual shipwreck in times of temptation.[1][2]

Byles was walking on the upper deck praying his breviary when the Titanic struck the iceberg. As the ship was sinking, he assisted many third-class passengers up to the boat deck to the lifeboats. He reputedly twice refused a place on a lifeboat. Toward the very end, he recited the rosary and other prayers, heard confessions and gave absolution to more than a hundred passengers who remained trapped on the stern of the ship after all of the lifeboats had been launched. His body, if recovered, was never identified. His brothers installed a door in his memory at St Helen's Catholic Church in Chipping Ongar, Essex. Pope Pius X later described Byles as a "martyr for the Church".[3]

Beatification process[edit]

In April 2015, Father Graham Smith, the current priest of St Helen's Church, with support of Bishop Alan Williams of the Diocese of Brentwood, initiated the first steps toward making Byles a saint.[4]

In popular culture[edit]

Byles has three times been portrayed in films about the disaster. In the 1979 television movie S.O.S. Titanic, he was portrayed by Matthew Guinness. In the 1997 film, Titanic, he was portrayed by James Lancaster, reciting Revelation 21:4. Richard Basehart plays a thinly disguised Byles in the 1953 film. His story is featured in a book written by Cady Crosby entitled A Titanic Hero: Thomas Byles. The book documents Byles' early life, his years in ministry and his final hours onboard the RMS Titanic.


  1. ^ Fr Thomas Roussel Davids Byles - Titanic Biography - Encyclopedia Titanica at
  2. ^ The Scotsman and Extracts from the Diary of Father Patrick McKenna at
  3. ^ "The priest who prayed the rosary and heard Confessions as the Titanic sank". Catholic Herald. Retrieved 11 May 2014. 
  4. ^ Father Thomas Byles: God's Faithful Servant on the Titanic. National Catholic Register April 15, 2015. Accessed April 16, 2015.

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