Sister Mary Patricia, a Religious Sister of Mercy, used to laughingly describe herself as a tourist attraction.
She was sacristan at St. Paul Cathedral for 36 years and at the Mercy Sister’s mother house on Barry Road. But many years before she came to Worcester she was involved in one of the great sea tragedies in history.
Her name was Ellen Mockler, before she became a nun, and her older sister lived in New York City. She said she decided to leave her native Galway in Ireland, and come to the United States “for the adventure of it,” she could not have imagined the adventure, and the tragedy, she was about to experience.
She and four of her friends, three boys and a girl, boarded the RMS Titanic in April 1912, for its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. It was a smooth crossing until 11:40 p.m. April 14, 100 years ago tomorrow.
Then the Titanic, one of the biggest ships ever built, a ship that was called “unsinkable,” scraped an iceberg that ripped a hole in its starboard (right) side. It later was said that if the damage had been confined to four or even five so-called watertight compartments, the ship might have survived.
But six compartments were torn open, and the Titanic was doomed. About 2 1/2 hours after the collision, the huge ship broke in half and sank. Of the 2,224 passengers and ship’s crew on board, 1,513 drowned or died from exposure in the frigid water. Only 711 survived.
Ellen Mockler was one of them. She and her friends were cabin-class passengers.
This is the story she told The Catholic Free Press in an interview in 1953.
When the collision occurred, “I heard a slight noise above and a slight jar. Then there was a great deal of talking and shouting.”
She and her friends, along with many others, went to a public room on the ship and sat for about an hour.
“Most people didn’t know what had happened or, if they did, how extensive the damage was,” she said.
“One of the boys scouted about and learned exactly what had happened and then took us to the first class deck where there was all sorts of confusion, and where they were trying to lower the lifeboats.
“This same boy then knelt down and started the rosary. Most of the people around joined in, then two priests who were aboard gave absolution.
(She did not identify the priests and perhaps there were several on board the Titanic. What is known is that there was a priest on board named Father John Montvilas. He was Lithuanian and was on his way from Rome to be pastor of a new parish in Athol which was to be opened for Lithuanian Catholics. He did not survive the sinking. The opening of that parish was the next year, 1913, when Father Francis Meskauskas from Lithuania arrived in Athol be the founding pastor of that new parish, which was named St. Francis after his patron saint.)
“I remember that someone very excitedly announced that a boat was coming to our rescue, and that this friend from Galway said calmly ‘we’ll finish the rosary.’”
She said she didn’t know how it happened, but she was put into the last lifeboat to leave the ship.“They didn’t let it down slowly by the pulley ropes, but cut the rope and let the boat fall into the water because there was so little time. We were in the water only 15 or 20 minutes when the Titanic sank out of sight.”
Three of her four Galway friends, all the boys, were lost with it. She told The Catholic Free Press that the 10 or 15 passengers in the canvas lifeboat with her were afraid that they would be sucked under water and drowned when the Titanic sank. They rowed frantically to avoid that.
Then, after a while, their lifeboat began to leak. A woman on board stuffed her hat into the hole.“Why she was wearing a hat, I don’t know, but it probably saved our lives,” she said.
They were in the lifeboat from about 1:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. when they were rescued by the passenger liner Carpathia, which had heard the Titanic’s wireless calls for help, had steamed about 60 miles to the scene and pulled survivors from lifeboats and the water.
The wireless, invented by Guillermo Marconi, was in its infancy then and ships that had them did not keep their wireless rooms operational for 24 hours a day, and ships closer to the Titanic than the Carpathia did not respond to her CQD distress calls. CQ was code for “anyone listening,” and the D was code for “distress.” It later was replaced by the universal distress call, three dots, three dashes and three dots – SOS.
The fact that the Carpathia’s wireless operator was on duty and heard the Titanic’s CQD distress call was responsible for many lives being saved.
“They were wonderful to us on that ship,” she said. “There wasn’t nearly enough food to go around, they had picked up so many. But they shared everything with us.”
The Carpathia arrived in New York four days later. She was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City and, two days later, was discharged. She said she never thought to let authorities know she survived the Titanic’s sinking, so her parents in Ireland and her sister in New York were grief-stricken when her name appeared on a list of the missing.
She said her sister refused to believe she was dead. She enlisted the help of her parish priest and they went to the hospital several times until they were able to locate her and her one friend from Galway who had survived. They sent cable messages back to her family and friends in Galway, assuring them that she was alive. But her name continued to appear on lists of the missing for some time.
She worked for the National Biscuit Factory in New York for five years. Then a Jesuit from Worcester, Father Leo Butler, told her about the Sisters of Mercy in his hometown. She came to Worcester in 1917 and joined the Order. She died in 1984 at age 95 and is buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Leicester.
Mercy Sister Frances Carberry and Mercy Sister Mary Regis Reardon both knew Sister Mary Patricia. Both said she had a delightful sense of humor and was very popular in her community. They said she would talk about her Titanic experience but didn’t dwell on it.
An article in The Mercy Word, a newsletter that was published by the Sisters of Mercy at Barry Road in 1979, said that “still full of life and joy, even in retirement, Sister Mary Patricia delights in her cup of tea and her regular Saturday trips to McDonald’s. Little did she realize as she reluctantly climbed into that lifeboat in 1912 that an order of fries would bring her joy in her old age. We, her Sisters, thank God for this life – a true gift of the Lord to the Sisters of Mercy and to the total Church.”
By William T. Clew