After loss of pastor in capsizing, Trenton parish urged to keep faith

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

Trenton — Weep but keep faith, parishioners at St. Joseph Catholic Church were told at the first Sunday Mass since Pastor Stephen Rooney died when the boat he was in capsized in the Detroit River.

Auxiliary Bishop Gerard Battersby led the grieving  for parishioners through Mass by centering it around Rooney, 66, whose body was found Thursday after a four-day search.

The Rev. Stephen Rooney, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Trenton.

"Father Rooney's death is a tragedy that I must confess has rocked me as well," said Battersby. "Because of our faith in Christ, we have hope. We are people of hope because of the resurrection, because Father Rooney has been promised a life that is even more real and more full and more joyful."

Though Mass at St. Joseph is available through live stream, people sat in every other row in the church wearing masks. Battersby addressed Rooney's death several times during the service and prayed for the family of Robert Chiles, who died while driving the boat that capsized the evening of Aug. 16. Ten others survived the accident. 

Roses were placed on the steps to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Trenton on Aug, 23, 2020.

At different points during the service, people dabbed their eyes with tissue while listening to Battersby. Outside the church, an anonymous person left roses lining the steps leading to the church's big wooden door, with a sign that said "for father Rooney."

Music Director Sean Calvin said Rooney would not have wanted parishioners  "creating such a fuss over him. He's the most humble guy I ever met."

Music director Sean Calvin, left, Gabriel Calvin, 10, and Jaime Calvin talk about Father Stephen Rooney after Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Trenton on Aug, 23, 2020.

Battersby said a temporary priest will be assigned to St. Joseph soon. Rooney had been the priest at the Trenton church for only two years. 

"There's no replacing him. He was a good shepherd, is how I think of him. He was just a theologian and related to the people. ... He was well loved," said Nancy Chirillo, a parishioner.  

A funeral service will be held for Rooney at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in Allen Park. Viewing hours will be held from 12 p.m. until 4 p.m. The service will also be live streamed

Auxiliary Bishop Gerard Battersby greets parishioners after Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Trenton on Aug, 23, 2020.

"He was amazing with people. He learned everybody's name quickly and he had an amazing personality," said parishioner George Chirillo, Nancy's husband.  "He was very funny, quick wit, but he made you feel comfortable."

Rooney had been out on the Detroit River with Chiles and his family, of Grosse Ile.

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 Wayne County Sheriff's Office said.

Aboard were seven children and five adults. All were rescued by someone in a boat from 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' body was found on Wednesday near where the boat had capsized. Rooney's body was located a day later by a boat named The Dark Night in Lake Erie in Monroe County.

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.