Encyclopedia Titanica

Juozas Montvila

Lithuanian Priest

Juozas Montvila
(Courtesy of Steve Belies)

Rev. Juozas Montvila was born at Gudine 1, near Marijampole, Lithuania, on 3 January 1885 the son of Kazys Montvila and Magdalena Karalevicius 2.

Montvila studied at the advanced School (Gimnazia) of the City of Marijampole and at the Seminary of Seinai (today within the province of Lithuania in Northeastern Poland). He was ordained a priest on 22 March 1908 and was assigned a post as vicar in Lipskas where he secretly administered to the spiritual needs of the Uniates, a religious body proscribed by the Czarist regime. As a result of this service he was seized by the Russian government and was sentenced. He was to lose his assignment as vicarate and be denied his pastoral vocation. Awaiting a change of this harsh ruling, he worked for the Catholic newspaper in Seinai and wrote sermons for the publication Vadovas (The Leader). Gifted as an artist, he drew illustrations and vignettes for a number of newspapers and books published in the Vilnius (the Capital of Lithuania).

With the passage of time and the realization that he was not likely to be allowed, in the foreseeable future, to return to pastoral work in Lithuania, he prepared to emigrate to the United States. Montvila's first stop would be to his brother Petras, who already lived in America 3.

Following a stay in England, he booked passage aboard the Titanic, boarding at Southampton.

Some confusion exists over Montvila's plans after arrival in America. According to the a friend of Montvila's sister who lived in the Lithuanian quarter ("Little Lithuania") in Brooklyn, Montvila was to head a parish in that growing community. However, the Jackson (Miss.) News and the Worcester Evening Gazette both said he was en route to Worcester, Massachusetts. In support of the latter theory the Encyclopedia Lituanica records that Montvila had been invited to be pastor of the new St. Francis' Lithuanian Parish at Athol, a town on the Millers River in Worcester County, Massachusetts (eventually founded on 13 November 1913).

''...Rev Fr Joseph Mantvila, a young Lithuanian priest who was on his way to Worcester as curate for Rev Vincent Buchoviecki, pastor of St Casimir's Church on Waverly St. The Worcester pastor had made arrangements for the young Lithuanian priest to come to Worcester to assist him in his work and he received a letter from him, written in Mariampol, Lithuania, on March 18, stating that he was about ready to start for America....'' - The Boston Globe, 26 April 1912, p. 3

Second Class passenger Ellen Toomey told reporters after the disaster that he, Fr Peruschitz and Fr Byles said Mass every day on board the Titanic.

Lawrence Beesley recorded the following observations of passengers in the Second Class library:

In the middle of the room are two Catholic priests, one quietly reading-either English or Irish, and probably the latter-the other, dark, bearded, with a broad-brimmed hat, talking earnestly to a friend in German and evidently explaining some verse in the open Bible before him...'

After the collision, according to reports, the "...young Lithuanian priest, Juozas Montvila, served his calling to the very end" by refusing a place on one of the ship's life boats, choosing to administer his priestly duties and offering solace to his fellow travellers.

Montvila died in the sinking his body, if recovered, was never identified. However, he was considered a hero in Lithuania and is currently under consideration for canonization by the Roman Catholic church.

His parents and grandparents received a grant of £130 pounds from the Titanic Relief Fund (case P. 511).


1. Please note the correct spelling:
2. Two years after the birth of their first son they moved to Nendriskiai, a small village not far away, where they bought a farm. In Nendriskiai all the other children of his parents were born: Petras (b.1887), Kazys, Pijus, Andrius, Emilija, Elsbeth, Isabelle (b. 1898). Nendriskiai was renamed after WW2 by the Soviet Union as Kapsukas.
3. Petras emigrated in December 1907 (on the Majestic from Southampton). Montvila's sister Elsbeth died in 1956 at Krasnojarsk as Elsbeth Raibikis. She had been deported to that city after WW II. The youngest sister Isabelle married a Jonas Steponaitis and lived until her death in 1987 in Brooklyn, New York.

References and Sources

Ship manifest of the Majestic, December 1907
Kazimieras Montvila (1994) Ein Opfer der Liebe zu Gott und dem Nächsten auf der "Titanic", Mariampol - Litauen
Paskutinioji Titanic'o kelione (The Final Journey of the Titanic)
Lietuviu Enciklopedija (Lithuanian Encyclopedia), Volume XIX (Mi-Na) pp. 248-249. A 36 volume set published in 1959 in South Boston.
Encyclopedia Lituanica Volume 1, p. 197, South Boston, Juozas Kapocius.
Lawrence Beesley (1912) The Loss of the Titanic: Its Story and Lessons. Houghton Mifflin
Mansion House Titanic Relief Fund Booklets and Minute Books

Newspaper Articles

Evening World (22 April 1912) Heroic Priests Gave Up Lives to Quiet Crowds
Roman Catholic Priests Went Down on the Titanic
Search archive online


George Behe, USA
Steve Belies (Montvila's great nephew)
Peter Engberg-Klarström, Sweden
Don Lynch, USA
Hermann Söldner, Germany
Pat Tedford, USA

Comment and discuss

  1. peter kurton

    peter kurton

    My Great Grandfather, a Lithuanian immigrant to London died there in April 1912 aged 42. His was the first funeral to be conducted in the newly consecrated church of St Casimir just off Hackney road in London. The young Lithuanian Priest who conducted the service was father Juozas Montvila who a few days later travelled to America on the Titanic. I believe he may have been the priest who was with father Byles at the end, with a crowd of 100 people kneeling around them as the rosary was said. There were Catholics, Jewish people and Protestants there according to a contemporary newspaper... Read full post

  2. Bob Godfrey

    Peter, welcome to Titanica and thanks for a thought-provoking first posting. I am wondering if there are any first-hand accounts which might confirm that Father Montvila was invited (and declined) to board a lifeboat.

  3. peter kurton

    peter kurton

    Hi Bob, Thanks for your interest. Re. any first hand accounts of Fr. Montvilas declined opportunity to board a boat. I would say that the Vatican must have some pretty strong evidence to consider Canonisation. This is a huge thing in the Roman Catholic Church. I have not heard any mention of Father Byles although he is the priest depicted in the film. I live in the village of Doddinghurst, Essex, England, which is in the same Catholic Diocese as Ongar where Fr Byles had his Ministry and I have never read or heard anything about him in the local press other than an article which I myself... Read full post

  4. Bob Godfrey

    Peter, it is indeed strange that Father Montvila should be considered for canonisation while neither Father Byles nor the German Father Peruschitz have been likewise honoured. From different sources there are claims (none first-hand, as far as I can see) that all three declined offers of places in lifeboats. It is odd also that a letter from William Byles to his mother-in-law (which is reproduced here on-site) states "The survivors told us there were two priests on board - Father Byles, an English priest, and a German priest". This suggests that Father Montvila may have been keeping a... Read full post

  5. Dave Gittins

    From what I've been able to find, the proposed canonisation has nothing to do with Titanic. Juozas Montvila was a member of the Eastern Rite church. This is a branch of Catholicism that exists in Eastern Europe. It's members accept the doctrines of Catholicism and accept the Pope as their supreme head. However, they enjoy great freedom to observe their own liturgy and traditions. They are sometimes called Uniates, because of their union with Rome. The church was much persecuted for many years under the tsars, sometimes with the aid of the Russian Orthodox church. This was... Read full post

  6. Bob Godfrey

    Very interesting post, Dave. That, along with Peter's observations, clears up a small mystery for me. It was my understanding also that the Vatican required evidence of a saintly LIFE rather than a single qualifying act (as the worst Catholic since Attila the Hun, I long ago gave up hope for my own elevation!). Significant action (if any) by Father Montvila on the Titanic might have been offered as part of the evidence in support of his case, but I don't think he's a strong contender.

  7. Lee Gilliland

    Not quite, Bob. As well as a blameless life and at least one miracle, there is a requirement for a second, posthumous miracle in order to become canonized.

  8. Bob Godfrey

    A blameless life and two miracles, eh? Well, that puts me out of the running on two counts. **** it! D'oh! - three counts.

  9. Inger Sheil

    There is a five step process for canonisation in the Roman Catholic church. 1.) After the death of a professed Catholic who led a holy life, the local bishop reviews the candidate's life for evidence of heroic virtue and adherence to the dictates of the Roman Catholic Church. If he believes this criteria is fulfilled, the bishop sends the candidate's name to the Vatican. 2. At the Vatican a panel of theologians and the cardinals of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints review the candidate's life and work. 3. If approved by both panels, the next stage is a Papal proclamation... Read full post

  10. Ben Holme

    Hi All, While I'm not Catholic myself, I believe Ing has very accurately outlined the complicated process that leads to canonisation in the RC Church. As mentioned above, it is the definitive sentence by which the Pope declares a particular member of the faithful departed, previously beautified, to have already entered into eternal glory, and ordains for the new Saint a public cult throughout the whole church. As Dave points about above, it was Montvila's efforts during times of religious persecution in Lithuania that would likely have been the deciding factor in making him a possible... Read full post

  11. Pat Cook

    Hi Ben Always a treat when us two can confab. Can you be more specific about that table seating. I have found out that, according to my sources, Beesley was seated at the (Asst.) Purser's table (BARKER), along with Rev. and Mrs Carter, HIlda Slayter and (according to David Haisman's excellent book "See You In New York") Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Brown. Best regards, OM Cook

  12. Ben Holme

    Hi Pat, Was hoping you'd show up here! Good to hear from you. You're quite right - Beesley *was* seated at the Asst. Purser's table. In which case, it appears I've been a wee bit casual with my passenger identifications. I managed to dig up the excerpt in question from Buss' account and noticed that no names are in fact mentioned - had forgotten that detail. In the cases of Moraweck and Peruschitz, her descriptions are sufficiently detailed that we are left in little doubt as to whom she's referring, and I assumed (then) that her description of: ...a man whose acquaintance I have... Read full post

  13. Pat Cook

    Hi Ben, This is something of a small clutch of 2nd Class passengers, all intertwined. Of course, I begin with Beesley, who recognizes Douglas Norman on deck after the collision. Beesley remembers Norman from the Sunday night service. Marian Wright and Kate Buss ALSO see Norman on deck and he escorts them back to their cabins - HE had made their acquaintance earlier. Back a few hours, Buss had asked Alfred Pain to go to the service, where Marian Wright sang a few solos. It's like some sort of hypnotic puzzle, one passenger's path crossing with another. And maybe this should be a... Read full post

  14. Ben Holme

    Hi Pat, That's true--they were something of a close-knit bunch on board. Pain was indeed asked by Buss to go to Revd. Carter's "evensong" where he played the flute, accompanying Norman on the piano. This of course proves that the two (Buss and Pain) became acqauninted on board, and reinforces the likelihood that Pain was her Toronto-bound dinner acquaintance, and not Beesley. As I recall, Kate Buss did not mention Beesley's name in her account. Could be wrong. Always great to have your imput on Matters 2nd class! My Best, Ben

  15. peter kurton

    peter kurton

    Greetings Ladies & Gentlemen, Where could one check on the validity of the Canonisation claim re Fr. Montvila? Was he in fact the only Lithuanian on board? On the broader topic of emigration by sea, would anyone have any ideas on the possible routes and shipping lines, names of ships etc that emigrants from Lithuania to London in around 1893, a few years before Titanic, may have taken. What conditions would steerage passengers have been subjected to before Titanic set new standards. I would welcome any research suggestions.

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Titanic Passenger Summary

Name: Fr Juozas Montvila
Age: 27 years 3 months and 12 days (Male)
Nationality: Lithuanian
Religion: Roman Catholic
Marital Status: Single
Last Residence: in London, England
Occupation: Priest / Minister
Embarked: Southampton on Wednesday 10th April 1912
Ticket No. 211536, £13
Died in the Titanic disaster (15th April 1912)
Body Not Identified

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