A Catholic priest originally from Belfast has been killed in a boating accident on the Detroit River in the US state of Michigan. Father Stephen Rooney, 66, who ministered at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Trenton, Michigan was among 12 other passengers on board the boat when it flipped over on Sunday evening. His body was recovered on Thursday morning.
Rooney's good friend, businessman Rob Chiles, was driving the boat at around 50mph before he "made a turn and then the boat capsized," according to the Wayne County Sheriff's Office. He also died. Tragically, last September, Chiles lost his wife Christine after she drowned in the same river. The couple had three children together.
Grosse Ile Police and Fire Department said another boat on the scene helped rescue several of the people on board after the capsize, including several children.
At a vigil on Monday, Rev Marc Gawronski of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Grosse Ile said that Rob and Stephen became close friends after the death of Christine.
"When you welcome someone into your home…we give somebody a gift of hospitality, but at the same time, we receive so much from them," Gawronski said, according to Detroit News. "We know that Father Rooney and the Chiles family did this in an extraordinary way. Especially over the last year as they faced the loss of Christine.
“They shared meals together and time together, certainly at the Chiles home. Father Rooney was a guest many times…he was able to extend to them through his presence…the gift of Jesus himself. And the Chiles family blessed Father Rooney with friendship and love and the gift of Jesus himself."
Following the accident, Fr Rooney's family posted on social media: "Thank you to everyone who has sent their love and offered prayers for our brother Fr Stephen Rooney."
On Twitter yesterday, Rooney's niece Michele Devlin wrote: "Today my birthday is overshadowed by the most terrible tragedy.
"Sunday night I was chatting by text to my uncle and 3 hrs later he was in a horrific boating accident."
Father Gary Donegan told the Irish News although Rooney had ministered in the US most of his life, his "heart was still 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."
Many from the Short Strand area of Belfast have been showing their appreciation for Father Rooney by holding street vigils.