Northern Ireland news

Body of Short Strand priest Fr Stephen Rooney recovered from US river

Fr Stephen Rooney, pictured with his late mother, Catherine, often said Mass at his home parish church of St Matthews in Belfast. Picture courtesy of the Rooney Family
Seamus McKinney

The body of Belfast priest Fr Stephen Rooney has been recovered from the Detroit River in the US following last weekend’s boating tragedy.

Fr Rooney’s family were informed that his body had been found yesterday after a four-day search. The body of his friend and parishioner, father-of-three, Robert Giles (52) was recovered from the river late on Wednesday night.

The 66-year-old who, was originally from the Short Strand, and Mr Giles were reported missing presumed dead when Mr Giles’ boat capsized on Sunday, throwing its 14 passengers into the Detroit. All of the other passengers, including a number of young people, were rescued.

After serving as a brother with the Redemptorist Order and later the Cistercians, he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Detroit in the US in 1985.

Fr Rooney’s niece, former high-profile lawyer and nun, Elaine Kelly told the Irish News that the family was confident his body would be recovered yesterday as it was the feast day of St Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the Cistercian Order.

With former BBC NI political correspondent, Martina Purdy, Ms Kelly gave up her high-profile career to join a Belfast convent in 2014. Last year, the two women had to leave their Order before making their final professions when the congregation was deemed too small to meet church standards.

“Fr Stephen was a very human man, a great priest. He had great faith in God and knew every aspect of the joys and pains of human life. Stephen fell in love with Jesus Christ; Christ was the love of his life,” she said.

The Belfast woman said Fr Rooney had been a particular help and inspiration to her as she travelled on her own faith journey.

“He was amazing. He was the first person I called after my brothers when I heard I had to leave the convent. He said Mass for us (Ms Kelly and Ms Purdy) and prayed for us. He was generous to a fault and would drop everything for anyone. I am so proud that I knew him,” she said.

Earlier this week, Fr Rooney’s brother, Pilip Ó Ruanaidh revealed the Belfast priest maintained strong links with his home city, returning often. During the Troubles, he also said Mass several times in the H Blocks and Portlaoise prison where his brothers were republican prisoners.

Mr Ó Ruanaidh described Fr Rooney as “the glue which held his family together”.

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