As we recall the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, it is interesting to see how editorials in magazines and papers, and how religious leaders originally interpreted the tragic event. Most commended the bravery of the crew. Some blamed the ship company for reckless speed. One spoke of “the love of money and the passion for luxury as diseases of our civilization.” Another of the “accurst altar of the dollar.” Many admired the faith of the survivors. All agree that it “produced many searchings of heart.”
One interesting response is found in the pages of America, one month after the disaster (May 11, 1912):
One Lesson More
In the well merited tribute the press has been paying the heroes of the Titanic tragedy who observed so chivalrously “the law of the sea," little is said to explain how “Women First” became the rule of conduct in such disasters. The omission should be supplied. For it is to the Catholic Church, which has taught from the beginning what sacred claims the week and helpless have upon the strong and powerful, that the world is indebted for such high examples of self-sacrifice as those witnessed on the Titanic. So enduring, indeed, and so thoroughly mastered has been this lesson that it is still the heritage, as we see, of those the Church no longer numbers among her children.
That respect and reverence for womanhood, moreover, which also shone out brightly amid the scenes of the wreck is likewise a precious gift which Catholicism has bestowed even on modern unbelievers. The Maiden Mother of Our Divine Lord has given every woman a share of her honor. Those that went down with the Titanic acquitted themselves like men because, unconsciously, they were imitating the medieval knight who saw in every woman a sister of Our Lady. “God fulfills Himself in many ways.” Even in this dreadful catastrophe that befell the Titanic the discerning can find witnesses to the power and beauty of the Church.
Peter Schineller, S.J.