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Ongar remembers priest who prayed as Titanic sank

by
11 April 2012

by Madeleine Davies

PA

PA

A plaque was unveiled at Ongar station in Essex on Tuesday to com­memorate a Roman Catholic priest, Fr Thomas Byles, who died on the Titanic. He helped fellow passen­gers to the lifeboats and prayed with them rather than save his own life. He is now the subject of a film, An Edwardian Priest, made by a retired Anglican rector.

The film tells the story of Fr Byles, the Priest-in-Charge of St Helen’s, Ongar, who refused a place in several lifeboats on the liner, in order to minister to passengers. He had been travelling to New York to officiate at the high-society wedding of his younger brother.

The 20-minute film was awarded four stars at the British International Amateur Film Festival, and was written, produced, and directed by the Revd John Howden, a former Warden of Pleshey Retreat House, and Paul Desmond, a former PR consultant from Witham, Essex.

Canon Howden, who was the Rector of Doddinghurst and Mount­nessing, near Ongar, from 1986 to 1991, said that he had discovered a “huge dossier” of information about Fr Byles after learning about him from a parishoner.

The film follows a fictional mem­ber of Fr Byles’s family, William Byles the Third, who arrives in England from the United States to find out more about his ancestor. He talks to Fr Andrew Hurley, the current Parish Priest of St Helen’s, who plays himself.

It portrays Fr Byles, with his brother and his brother’s fiancée, in 1912, depicting him as a “wonderful parish priest”. Born in 1870 to a pastor of Headingly Congregational Church, he is said to have suffered “pain and anguish” when making the “huge step” to secede to Roman Catholicism.

Canon Howden secured the blessing of a real member of Fr Byles’s family, Alan Byles of New York, for the making of the film. The events on board the Titanic are con­veyed through newspaper accounts from survivors, pictured in sepia photographs, and read out by actors.

One survivor represented in the film, Bertha Moran, describes how: “When a few of us became very anxious, the priest started reciting the rosary, and we all joined in. As we prayed, he led us to where the boats were being lowered. With no regard for himself, he helped the women and children to their seats, whisper­ing words of comfort and encour­age­­ment.”

The film will be screened at the Weymouth Festival on Saturday, and at St Helen’s, Ongar, on Sunday, the latter showing followed by a talk by the diocesan archivist.

At St Helen’s, a stained-glass win­dow was dedicated to Fr Byles’s memory in 2009. It refers to his “heroic death in the disaster to SS Titanic April 15 1912 earnestly devot­ing his last moments to the religious consolation of his fellow passengers”.

Fr Byles celebrated mass on the Titanic, and is reported to have preached about the need to have a lifebelt of prayer and the sacraments to guard against spiritual shipwreck. A survivor later described how Fr Byles stayed on the ship after the last lifeboat had left, a crowd of RCs, Protestants, and Jews kneel­ing around him. He told them to prepare to meet God, and led them in an act of contrition, before giving a general absolution. He was still standing there praying as the water came over the deck.

The film can be seen at:

http://vimeo.com/36963876



THE only known surviving first-class ticket for the Titanic, which was once owned by a vicar who made a last-minute decision not to travel on the ship, is among the artefacts on display (above) at a new ex­hibi­tion, writes Madeleine Davies.

The Vicar of St Paul’s, Portman Square, in London, the Revd Stuart Holden, was set to travel to New York on the Titanic, but cancelled his plans the day before it sailed from Southampton on 10 April 1912, because his wife had fallen ill.

He later had the ticket framed and kept it above his desk, until his death in 1934. It is now on display at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool, in the exhibition, “Titanic and Liverpool: The Untold Story”.

The former Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd George Cassidy, who was Vicar of St Paul’s from 1982 to 1987, before it was united with All Souls’, Langham Place, said that his predecessor had a reputation as a “great Bible expositor and preacher”, and was a regular “fixture” at the Keswick Convention.

“Titanic and Liverpool” runs until 23 April 2013. www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/

Paul Vallely: Making myths out of the Titanic

Features: Night of unimaginable terror



THE only known surviving first-class ticket for the Titanic, which was once owned by a vicar who made a last-minute decision not to travel on the ship, is among the artefacts on display (above) at a new ex­hibi­tion, writes Madeleine Davies.

The Vicar of St Paul’s, Portman Square, in London, the Revd Stuart Holden, was set to travel to New York on the Titanic, but cancelled his plans the day before it sailed from Southampton on 10 April 1912, because his wife had fallen ill.

He later had the ticket framed and kept it above his desk, until his death in 1934. It is now on display at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool, in the exhibition, “Titanic and Liverpool: The Untold Story”.

The former Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd George Cassidy, who was Vicar of St Paul’s from 1982 to 1987, before it was united with All Souls’, Langham Place, said that his predecessor had a reputation as a “great Bible expositor and preacher”, and was a regular “fixture” at the Keswick Convention.

“Titanic and Liverpool” runs until 23 April 2013. www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/

Paul Vallely: Making myths out of the Titanic

Features: Night of unimaginable terror

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