The Catholic Missionary Society

Father Thomas Byles, newly ordained, listened to a talk given by Herbert Cardinal Vaughan at the Beda College in Rome on the need for a missionary society for England. It was the Cardinal's vision to begin a society dedicated to the re-conversion of the non-Catholic people of England to the Catholic Faith. Fathers Charles Rose Chase, John Filmer, and Thomas Byles immediately volunteered to be the founding members of the society. The Cardinal later asked his nephew, Father Herbert Vaughan, and Dr. John Arendzen, just finishing his work at Cambridge, to join this new group. These five men became the nucleus of the Catholic Missionary Society.1

Father Byles lived with the other priests in a house in Longcott, Gunnersbury and began his work by offering talks to non-Catholics in their temporary chapel.2

Father John Arendzen wrote the following account of the beginning of the Catholic Missionary Society:

"We started at once with addresses to Non-Catholics in our humble temporary chapel, and attracted neighbouring Non-Catholics and received about a dozen of them in the Church. Our first public Mission to Non-Catholics, however, was at Shepherd's Bush in the tin church in Rylett Road, which preceded the present fine building in Ashchurch Grove."3

They gave missions on papal authority, the saints, the seven sacraments, and the other doctrines of the Church. One element of these missions, which proved to be very important, was the "Questions Box." People could drop their questions into this box in order to have them answered publicly by the priests of the Catholic Missionary Society.

Father Arendzen wrote the following tribute to Father Byles:

"Father Byles, a first-class scholar with a remarkable academic career, was also hampered with chronic illness, yet to silent humility he worked whenever his frail body would let him. He died on the Titanic, gathering the people around him and exhorting and absolving them, till the waves closed over him."4

We can see that the zeal of Father Thomas Byles did not begin the moment the Titanic hit the iceberg and his life was drawing quickly to a close. Father entered the priesthood with a zeal for souls which would carry through to the very end. He showed this zeal in his enthusiasm in volunteering for the Catholic Missionary Society, in his zealous work in his parish assignments, and in his final acts of selflessness on the Titanic.

1 Arendzen, Father John. Five and Twenty Years. CMS. Mar. 13, 2002. <>.
2 Wilson, Father Peter. From Agincourt to Golders Green: The Catholic Missionary Society. Mar. 14, 2002. <>.
3 Arendzen.
4 Arendzen.

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