Northern Ireland news

Prayers offered for Belfast priest missing after boat capsizes in Detroit

Fr Stephen Rooney
Seamus McKinney

SEARCHES were continuing in the US last night for Belfast priest Fr Stephen Rooney who has been missing since a boating accident in Michigan on Sunday.

Originally from the Short Strand, Fr Stephen Rooney (66) and fellow parishioner, Robert Chiles (52), were declared missing after the 39ft boat they were on capsized on the Detroit River.

The Belfast priest’s home parish of St Matthew's asked for prayers from parishioners as it posted news of the accident on its Facebook site. It said several other people were rescued from the water.

The parish confirmed that Fr Rooney was originally from Anderson Street.

Well-known Passionist priest, Fr Gary Donegan said that, while Fr Rooney had served almost all of his life in the US, his “heart remained in Ireland”.

"The esteem in which Fr Rooney was held was very clear from the reaction to the news in the Archdiocese of Detroit and the way people gathered on the river bank,” he said.

“While he served his people with great care, his heart was in Ireland."

Fr Donegan offered prayers and support to Fr Rooney’s family who he said were facing a particularly difficult time.

As the search continued, nearly 200 people gathered in the evening at Fr Rooney's church for a vigil in the parking lot on Monday night.

Worshippers, some in tears, hugged and bowed their heads in prayer and listened to praise songs as the sun set.

"It's to support the community," said Jeannie Denson, a Trenton resident. "It's extremely important in times of sorrow and peril."

Parishioner, Tricia Mohr said of Fr Rooney: “He always made you laugh. He served God with such joy. He was a great guy.”

Ordained for the Detroit diocese more than 30 years ago, Fr Rooney was serving at St Joseph’s Church in Trenton.

Tober Mhuire Passionist Order retreat centre in Crossgar, Co Down where Fr Rooney had spent a short time at the start of his training for the priesthood, also put up a social media post.

On Facebook, the centre said:

“As a young man at the start of his journey towards priesthood, Stephen studied for a short time in Tobar Mhuire along with our current and former superiors, Frs Tom Scanlon and John Friel. Stephen was ultimately ordinated for the Archdiocese of Detroit where he became widely loved as a caring and compassionate pastor.

"We send our thoughts and prayers to his family and friends in Belfast and to the people and the clergy of the Archdiocese of Detroit."

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