Priests Tell Story of Rescue of Survivors of the Titanic

One of the most comprehensive stories about the sinking of the Titanic

The Times and Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania)

Fathers Burke and McCarthy from the deck of the Carpathia, gave graphic description of the heroic work of crew of rescue ship

By the courtesy of the Rev. Dr J. W. Malone, Rector of Saint Peters Cathedral, one of the most comprehensive stories printed about the sinking of the Titanic and the rescue of one third of her passengers and crew is given to the Times readers today. Father Malone got the story from fathers Burke and McCarthy.

On Thursday of last week the Rev. Henry P Burke, Rector of the Catholic church, at Hawley, and the Rev. Daniel W McCarthy, rector at Pleasant Mount [sic], sailed from New York aboard the Carpathia for a four months' tour through the Holy Land and Europe.

When the Titanic sent out her despairing cry of "S.O.S.," at 11:45 o'clock last Sunday night after she struck a mountain of ice in the North Atlantic, the Carpathia heard the appeal and cut about in her course for the latitude and longitude of the Titanic.     

About 1 o'clock Monday morning a steward knocked on the door of the room father book and father McCarthy were in and whispered that the ship was turning in her course to rescue some people from a sinking vessel. They were admonished not to spread the news to the other passengers.

When they dressed and got on deck there were 14 other passengers ahead of them who had been similarly advised. The sky was a canopy of stars, the sea placid and the weather bracingly delightful.

When the Carpathia docked Thursday night in the North River at New York, the Reverend Dr Malone was on hand to meet Father Burke and Father McCarthy as he had been at her pier to wish them bon voyage when they went away. They went to a hotel together and stayed for the night. Dr Malone brought back with him the story they told, and here it is: 

Priests tell story.

"It was impossible," they said, "when we got to the deck to contemplate that anything serious had happened within range of our vessel, as the elements were at peace.

"We first began to realise something was not right when the orders of the Captain and of the other officers rang through the Carpathia. They were in terms which the landman does not understand, but the tone of voice they were uttered in spoke volumes, and we could feel the ship moving ahead as if every power within it was exerted to its limit.  

"Presently we came within sight of the ice floes, which the Carpathia cut through at top speed. We stayed on deck all the time, and as we were getting closer to the grave of the Titanic the lowering temperature warned us of the icebergs. 

"When the morning began to dawn we could see through haze and fog something that resembled a white mountain. While the ship ran fast through the ice floes, which was nothing more than smaller cakes of ice, but offered no resistance, as they were swept aside with ease by her prow and sides.  The Captain changed his course several times, and we were informed that he did so because of the danger of meeting a berg which would damage the ship.

Went at full speed.

"However there was little slackening of speed from the time that we got aboard until she slowed down when her bearings indicated that she was close to the Titanic.

"As she was nearing the rescue she sent up rockets and blew the siren whistles to call the lifeboats to her. It was breaking day when we saw the first lifeboat, and in a few moments others learned into view. They were all making towards the Carpathia which had almost stopped.

"The captain assigned two of the crew to take the names of the persons as they were lifted aboard, and it was not till the first boatload was brought on that to the extent of the disaster was fully comprehended on the Carpathia.

"From daylight till between 8 and 9 o'clock Monday morning the Carpathia was moving in one direction after another, scouting for more survivors.

After the first few life boatloads were taken aboard the Captain knew the Titanic had sunk, because one of the lifeboats was within 500 feet of her when she went down, and if there had been the suction usually said to accompany a sinking vessel four or five other life boatloads would have been drowned.

"When the sun's rays shot through the fog and mist of the morning the most inspiring sight we ever beheld was disclosed. 3 miles off, the Captain said the figure of a giant iceberg loomed 150 feet or more above the water. It may have been the one the Titanic struck.

"When the Carpathia got to the place indicated where the Titanic went down there was nothing visible. Some of the lifeboats were 2 or 3 miles distant from others.

"One of the survivors who had taken the last lifeboat lowered from the Titanic said that the crew of that ship had been making merry early Sunday night, and some of them were drunk.

Ismay's reception.

"The reception J Bruce Ismay, President of the company that owned the Titanic, got in the four days' run from the icefield into New York harbour was one that he will not forget till death. If he lived to be as old as the oldest man.

Gave up their state Room.

Reverend Dr Malone said that Father Burke and Father McCarthy moved their belongings from their stateroom and gave it over to the use of the survivors, sleeping from that time on, till the Carpathia reached port, in the smoking room on cots.  They hadn't removed their clothes from the time they dressed Sunday night to see the rescue till they arrived in a hotel in New York, Thursday night. All the other men did the same.

"The feeling against Mr Ismay," they said, "was intense. We did not bother to enquire whether he jumped into the first lifeboat or the last, but it was enough to drive him out of his head if he knew the feeling against him.

"He had to have a state them all to himself, and have every attention, while some poor women were without the ordinary comforts. That he might not be disturbed a sign was placed outside his room that he should not be disturbed. On it was written 'Don't Knock,' a big Irish Stoker was passing it one of the days and kicked it with all his might. The feeling was so strong that it wouldn't take much to stir up a mob spirit to throw him overboard and put a millstone around his neck."

"The description we gathered from the survivors, especially those in the nearest lifeboat when the Titanic sank, was that she sang gently as a big creature lying down to sleep.

"The shock of striking the iceberg, they told us, was not a severe one. It was a lurch more than a sudden impact, as if the Titanic had run up on the side of a sloping ledge of ice and her starboard side was torn away for more than half its length. Then it seemed to settle back again in the water.

No confusion at first.

"A call was sent through the entire vessel, they said, to get to the upper decks at once, but that was met by the assurance from the offices that the vessel would not sink, and could not, no matter what happened.

Ship buckled.

"This served to quite a lot of the confusion at first, but as the ship began sinking steadily into the water there was a general feeling of panic.
One survivor told us he saw two of the crew shoot three Chinese cooks who were struggling to press ahead of some women. They were carried from where they fell and the bodies thrown overboard.

"There was an explosion, and after that the vessel buckled, her middle going up like a hump and her stern dipping into the water.

"Strange as it may seem, after the boilers exploded, or whatever it was in the hold that caused the explosion, the electric lights were lit till the last and the wireless apparatus was working, as the operator stuck to his post.

"Nearer my God to be."

"When it was realised by all aboard the Titanic that she could not stay above water much longer the band, which during the excitement had been playing lively and patriotic cares, suddenly stopped. The first thing the band struck up when the rush was made aloft was "the Star-Spangled Banner." It had a most soothing effect on all.

"The band never stopped playing for any length of time. The players rested on their turns, and someone seemed to be working all the time.

"As the strains of 'Nearer, My God, to Thee' broke over the waters, the Titanic, as if echoing to the sentiment, plunged her nose into the water, and the stern stuck up straight into the air, and she went down gently headfirst.

"The lights stayed lit until within a few minutes of her fatal plunge. The survivors in the adjacent lifeboats could see that all the people on deck were kneeling with their faces lifted to heaven in prayer.

"When the last boatload had been put on board our ship, and she scurried around looking for other stray boats that might have drifted off, the survivors and Carpatia's passengers were lined up in a mass and prayers were said for those who had not been saved, as well as a prayer of thanksgiving offered to God for those who were.

"All the stories that the survivors aboard the Carpathia were filled with hope that some other vessel had saved the rest of the people, are as far from the truth as it is possible to get.  There were no less than three lifeboat loads of survivors who were within sight of the Titanic as she took her grave, and they saw the people go down."

Dr Malone said that each day the Carpathia was steaming back to New York the passengers and survivors, except those who were unable to leave their beds, gathered into one body and prayed for the dead.

The Carpathia sailed again yesterday for Naples, whither she was bound when she turned back on her noble mission of rescue.

A large number of her passengers preferred to resume their transatlantic journey at some other time. Father Burke and Father McCarthy were the only two English-speaking priests on the Carpathia. There were two Italian priests besides, but they could speak very little English. The two Scranton priests were untiring in their consolation to the survivors and helped to cheer many of them.

Two sisters named Murphy, who embarked in Queenstown, were separated by death. The surviving sister was overcome with hysterics after landing from the lifeboat, but when she saw two priests she knelt down and asked their blessing.

They told her her sister had plenty of time to invoke the mercy of God and probably was looking down on her from heaven, with all the others who had died.

Their ministrations had a great deal to do with composing the survivors and many of the Carpathia's own passengers who were terrified by the awful shock.

Father Burke and Father McCarthy went right on with their journey, and by their display of courage in this respect caused many other passengers to adopt the same course.

20 April 1912

Related Biographies:

Henry P. Burke
Daniel William McCarthy

Relates to Place:

Scranton, Pennsylvania, United States

Relates to Ship:



Encyclopedia Titanica (2021) Priests Tell Story of Rescue of Survivors of the Titanic (The Times and Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania), Saturday 20th April 1912, ref: #461, published 2 May 2021, generated 7th May 2021 08:20:56 PM); URL :