In the 100 years that have passed since the RMS Titanic sank into the chilly North Atlantic, much has been made of the chivalry of millionaires John Jacob Astor IV, Isidor Straus, and Benjamin Guggenheim — gentlemen who bowed aside as women and children were loaded into lifeboats. But there was another man on that ship in April 1912 who deserves to have his story told — a man who gave up numerous opportunities to board a lifeboat in order to stay behind and calm those whose lives were doomed. He was known as Father Byles, and he was my great-uncle.
Thomas Roussel Byles was born in England in 1870. The son of a Congregational minister, Roussel, as he liked to be called, studied at Oxford, where he converted to Catholicism. He then proceeded to Rome to study for the priesthood. His younger brother, William — my grandfather — also converted but moved to America to run a rubber business. There, he fell in love with Katherine Russell of Brooklyn, and when the couple planned to marry, William asked his brother to perform the ceremony. Father Byles bought a $26 second-class ticket on the Titanic for the crossing.
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