Northern Ireland news

Fr Stephen Rooney's ashes returned to Belfast ahead of memorial Mass

Belfast mural artist Danny Devenny presented the Rooney famly with a portrait of Fr Stephen.
Seamus McKinney

THE ashes of Fr Stephen Rooney have been returned from the US to his native Belfast in advance of a Mass in his memory.

Fr Rooney (66) drowned along with friend and parishioner Robert Giles (52) when the boat they were in capsized on the Detroit River, Michigan on August 16.

Twelve other people survived the tragedy

From Anderson Street in east Belfast, Fr Rooney had spent more than 30 years as a priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

He returned to Belfast frequently and celebrated Mass in both the H Blocks and Portlaoise Prison, where some of his brothers were republican prisoners.

A Mass in celebration of Fr Stephen’s life will be held at St Matthew’s Church at noon on Tuesday and streamed live on its Facebook page.

Bishop of Down and Conor Noel Treanor is expected to attend.

Fr Rooney’s funeral Mass in Michigan was concelebrated by Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron and more than 50 priests.

Fr Marc Gawronski, who delivered the homily, said Fr Rooney was a “gift from Ireland” sent by God.

Fr Rooney’s brother, Pilip Ó Ruanaidh, said it was fitting that Mass was also being celebrated at St Matthews where he was baptised and where he often said Mass among “the people he was born and reared with”.

“His ashes will repose in the chapel over the weekend so that parishioners can drop in and offer a prayer or to give thanks for a life well lived," he said.

"They will then be taken to be interred at Milltown Cemetery in the grave of his parents, John and Catherine Rooney.”

Mural artist Danny Devenny this week presented the family with a portrait of Fr Rooney, painted at the suggestion of his wife Deborah.

Fr Rooney’s sister, Marie Devlin, said she was moved to tears by the artist’s kindness.

“We have been taken aback by the amount of people who have contacted our family with expressions of sympathy for Stephen, here in Ireland and in the USA," she said.

"We are so grateful to Danny for the skill, artistry and love he put into the portrait of Stephen. We will always treasure it along with the memory of our brother."

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