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Belfast priest Stephen Rooney missing after boat capsizes in United States

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Father Stephen Rooney

Father Stephen Rooney

Father Stephen Rooney

A Belfast priest remains missing after a boat he was on capsized in the United States on Sunday.

Father Stephen Rooney is one of two men missing after the incident happened in the Detroit area.

Fr Rooney, who is originally from the Short Strand, and fellow parishioner, Robert Chiles (52), were declared missing after the 39ft boat they were on capsized on the Detroit River.

The Belfast priest's home parish of St Matthew's asked for prayers from parishioners on social media.

Several other people were rescued from the water.

A social media post from Fr Rooney's family read: "Thank you to everyone who has sent their love and offered prayers for our brother Fr Stephen Rooney.

"The search commenced again today at 7am, please keep praying that his body and that of his friend is recovered soon."

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Father Stephen Rooney

Father Stephen Rooney

Father Stephen Rooney

Michele Devlin, who is the niece of Fr Rooney, posted on Twitter on Wednesday: "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. The search for his body & that of his friend continues today."

Well known Belfast priest Father Gary Donegan told the Irish News that Fr Rooney had served almost all of his life in America but that his heart "remained 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."

Fr Rooney was a pastor at St Joseph Catholic Church in Trenton. He has been a priest for more than 30 years.

The incident occurred near Grosse Ile, an island between Michigan and Ontario, Canada.

Grosse Ile police Lieutenant Kenneth Pelland said it was "very unusual" for a 39ft boat to capsize.

“It made a quick turn,” he said. “It may have hit a wake, causing it to capsize. One witness has informed us that the boat may have rolled at least once and caused all of the passengers to be ejected.”

Nearly 200 people gathered on Monday night at Fr Rooney's church for a vigil in the parking lot.

Parishioner, Tricia Mohr said of Fr Rooney: “He always made you laugh. He served God with such joy. He was a great guy.”

Tober Mhuire Passionist Order retreat centre in Crossgar, Co Down, where Fr Rooney had spent a short time at the start of his training, also posted on social media.

The post read: “As a young man at the start of his journey towards priesthood, Stephen studied for a short time in Tobar Mhuire along with our current and former superiors, Frs Tom Scanlon and John Friel. Stephen was ultimately ordinated for the Archdiocese of Detroit where he became widely loved as a caring and compassionate pastor.

"We send our thoughts and prayers to his family and friends in Belfast and to the people and the clergy of the Archdiocese of Detroit."

Belfast Telegraph