Northern Ireland

Belfast-born priest Stephen Rooney who died in US boating acccident last month was 'credit to his family, to his community and to his vocation'

Fr Stephen Rooney's sister Marie pictured with her brother's ashes at St Matthew's Church in Belfast where a memorial Mass took place for the 66-year-old who died in a boating accident in Michigan last month. Marie is pictured with Fr Peter Carlin, Parish Priest of St Matthew's Church in Belfast and Bishop of Down & Connor, Noel Treanor. Picture by Hugh Russell
Fr Stephen Rooney's sister Marie pictured with her brother's ashes at St Matthew's Church in Belfast where a memorial Mass took place for the 66-year-old who died in a boating accident in Michigan last month. Marie is pictured with Fr Peter Ca Fr Stephen Rooney's sister Marie pictured with her brother's ashes at St Matthew's Church in Belfast where a memorial Mass took place for the 66-year-old who died in a boating accident in Michigan last month. Marie is pictured with Fr Peter Carlin, Parish Priest of St Matthew's Church in Belfast and Bishop of Down & Connor, Noel Treanor. Picture by Hugh Russell

A MEMORIAL Mass celebrating the life of a Belfast-born priest who died in a boating accident in the US last month, took place yesterday in his home community.

Family and friends of Fr Stephen Rooney gathered at St Matthew's Church in the Short Strand area, where Bishop of Down & Connnor, Noel Treanor was also in attendance, to remember the much-loved cleric.

The 66-year-old, who was originally from the Short Strand, 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.

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.

Fr Rooney’s funeral Mass in Michigan, which was con-celebrated by Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron and more than 50 priests, has already taken place.

Fr Stephen’s ashes reposed in St Matthew's over the weekend to allow parishioners to drop in and offer a prayer.

Speaking to those gathered yesterday, Pilib Ó Ruanaidh said his brother, Stephen was a "credit to his family, to his community and to his vocation".

Mr Ó Ruanaidh said growing up, Stephen had been "studious at school and conscientious in the house".

"He could hold his own on the street and he was not to be messed with," he said.

He revealed his brother announced his intention to enter the priesthood when he was 16 and when he was 17, he took a job at Nazereth House Care Village on the Ravenhill Road helping the residents with personal care which had a "lasting impression on him".

He said his brother had also worked on a project in Galway which supported Traveller children and also later spent time as a monk with the Cistercian order in Co Kildare.

He said his brother moved to Michigan in 1986 after his "spiritual curiosity" had "pushed him to explore what plan God had for him.

"We saw a man at the peak of his powers," he said.

"He served his apprenticeship, the time had come to show the world what he was capable of".

Mr Ó Ruanaidh said the family "was and still is shocked at Stephen's sudden death before his time".

"We didn't expect to lose him and certainly, not in a boating accident".

Mr Ó Ruanaidh also thanked all those involved in the rescue and recovery efforts, adding: "It's clear that each of us carry our own version of Stephen in our heart.

"I can only write about the big brother I knew. It is merely a snapshot," he said.

"We couldn't be prouder of the man. He was a credit to his family, to his community and to his vocation".

Fr Peter Carlin, parish priest of St Matthew's Church, said Fr Stephen's life "was an open book" which made for a "wonderful tale".

"Fr Stephen was both inspired and was inspiring to his parishioners and that of course, extended back here," he said.

Following the Mass, Fr Stephen's Rooney's ashes were interred at Milltown Cemetery in his parents' grave.