A community vigil will be held at the Short Strand shops this evening (Wednesday) at 6:30pm for Fr Stephen Rooney, a native of the district who is presumed dead after a boating accident in the US on Sunday.

Prayer Vigil

Publiée par St. Joseph Catholic Church Trenton sur Lundi 17 août 2020

The tragic accident happened on the Detroit River between Detroit, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada, when the 39ft boat on which Fr Rooney (66) was travelling, along with parishioner Rob Chiles and his family, capsized. 

Members of Mr Chiles wider family were rescued from the water by a Good Samaritan but the two men remain missing, feared dead.

REUNION: Fr Stephen Rooney (in orange shirt) with niece Niamh and brothers Patrick, Aodh, Pilib and Gerald
REUNION: Fr Stephen Rooney (in orange shirt) with niece Niamh and brothers Patrick, Aodh, Pilib and Gerald

It is believed the 12-strong-group were on the water to perform to mark the anniversary of the passing of Mr Chiles' wife. Stephen was asked along to join the group at the last minute.

Brought up in Anderson Street in Ballymacarrett, Fr Stephen was a much-loved figure in the Short Strand and said mass at St Matthew's for parishioners during his frequent visits home from his Michigan base. "The people of the area were very proud of one of their own having become a priest and felt real ownership of him and of his achievements," said brother Pilib (in Irish). "In turn, Stephen never forgot where he was from and was very proud of his roots."

PRIDE OF SHORT STRAND: Fr Stephen Rooney with sisters Paula, Dolores and Bernadette
PRIDE OF SHORT STRAND: Fr Stephen Rooney with sisters Paula, Dolores and Bernadette

In recent years, Fr Stephen returned returned home to celebrate memorial mass for both his parents. Over the years, he had also officiated at many wider family weddings. 

He entered the Redemptorists in the mid-seventies and was later ordained as a Cistercian. He said Mass in both Portlaoise and the H-Block prisons when his brothers were republican prisoners there. 

A prayer vigil for Fr Stephen and Rob Chiles was held by around 200 parishioners of St Joseph's Church in Trenton, Michigan, on Monday evening and broadcast live on Facebook (see above).

On Twitter, Short Strand Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile expressed his support for the Rooney family. "The whole Short Strand community are thinking of & praying for the highly respected & thought-of Fr. Stephen as well as his parishoner Robert Chiles; our solidarity is with our dear friends and neighbours in the extended Rooney Clann at this most harrowing time for them."