Priest's body found in Lake Erie after boat capsized in Detroit River

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The body of the Rev. Stephen Rooney, 66, of Trenton was found Thursday morning floating in Lake Erie after he was thrown into Detroit River Sunday after a boat capsized.

The four-day search ended around 11:30 a.m. when the U.S. Coast Guard located Rooney's body near Brest Bay Marina in Monroe County, south of where the boat capsized, Wayne County Sheriff's Office told The Detroit News.

Rev. Stephen Rooney

A boat named The Dark Night found the body, with identification, off Stony Point and contacted the Coast Guard, the office said.

Rooney, of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Trenton, had been out on the Detroit River on Sunday with one of his parishioners, Robert Chiles and his family.

Chiles, owner of the boat, had been driving at a speed around 50 mph when "he made a turn and then the boat capsized," the office said.

Rob Chiles

Aboard were seven children and five adults. All were rescued by someone in a boat form Ontario except Chiles and Rooney, who became trapped under the driver's side of the 39-foot Nor-Tech 390 sport boat, the sheriff's office said.

Chiles, president of Livonia-based Alta Equipment Group Inc., invited Rooney to an afternoon outing on the same river where the body of Chiles' wife was found nearly a year ago. 

The boat capsized at about 7:36 p.m. Sunday near Stony Island. Chiles' body was located Wednesday near where the boat capsized, authorities said.

Women hug during a vigil for Fr. Stephen Rooney and Rob Chiles at St. Joseph Catholic Church Parish Center in Trenton, Monday, August 17, 2020. The pair are missing following a boat capsized in the Detroit River Sunday night. Fr. Rooney is the priest at the church.

Detroit Bishop Gerard William Battersby held a vigil service for Rooney and Chiles on Monday in the parish parking lots, where people prayed for the rescue of the two men.

"We come together this evening with heavy hearts, but we do not come as people with no hope, we come together because even this moment is caught up in the resurrection in the truth that Jesus is Lord," Battersby said. 

Rooney became close to Chiles and his three children after the death of Chiles' wife, Christine Chiles, in September 2019. More than 100 volunteers searched for two days before Christine Chiles' body was found in the Detroit River near their Grosse Ile home.

Christine Chiles, 51, had drowned. At the time, authorities told The Detroit News it was unclear if depression contributed to her death.

A close friend, the Rev. Marc Gawronski of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Grosse Ile, spoke at the vigil Monday about the friendship Rooney and the Chiles family shared.

“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. "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.

Christine Chiles

“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." 

The church requested privacy for the families involved.

Rooney's favorite thing to say was that his home "was a place for play and pray," parishioners said at the vigil.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_