Titanic priest who refused lifeboat to pray with with trapped passengers subject of sainthood campaign

(RMS Titanic)

A campaign is underway to have the priest who chose death on the Titanic over saving his own life recognized as a saint.

Father Thomas Byles, of St Helen's Church in Chipping Ongar, Essex, turned down two invitations to climb into a lifeboat, deciding instead to remain on board with the hundreds of passengers who outnumbered the available places.

He had boarded the doomed vessel at Southampton to attend his younger brother's wedding in New York and perished along with 1,500 other souls when the Titanic went down on April 15, 1912.

During his time on the ship, he had performed mass for second and third class passengers, the BBC reports, and spent his final hours praying with other passengers before the ship sank. 

Father Graham Smith, current priest of St Helen's, wants his predecessor recognized as a saint. 

He said: "He's an extraordinary man who gave his life for others.

"We need, in very old parlance, to raise him to the altar which means that the Vatican will recognise him as a martyr of the church.

"We are hoping and praying that he will be recognised as one of the saints within our canon."

To be recognized as a saint, a candidate needs to have performed at least two miracles.  

Father Smith said he was hoping Catholics would pray to Father Byles in their time of need.

"If a miracle occurs, then beatification and then canonisation can go forward," he said.  

The Titanic sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912, after hitting an iceberg.  It had been making its maiden voyage across the Atlantic and never made it to its final destination, New York. 

It was one of the worst maritime disasters and the image of the praying priest was popularized in the 1997 hit film Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

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