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'We give back to God the gift he has given us,' archbishop says at priest's funeral

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The Rev. Stephen Rooney was mourned Wednesday, the week after his death following a boating accident, as a faithful servant, devoted friend and an inspiring example in the community.

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

Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron, who led the funeral Mass, described the 66-year-old's life and service to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Trenton as heaven-sent.

God "gave Father Rooney to us as a gift, as a precious gift: the gift of a pastor, father in Christ, a gift as a brother," Vigneron told the audience. "... He has called him home. So we give back to God the gift he has given us, confident that it’s safe." 

Dozens of parishioners and supporters gathered at St. Frances Cabrini in Allen Park to say goodbye to Rooney as well as his friend, Robert Chiles, who also died after the boat they were on Aug. 16 capsized on the Detroit River.

The Rev. Stephen Rooney's funeral was held at St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Allen Park on Wednesday.

Some wiped away tears and comforted each other amid the wooden pews near a casket draped in white cloth.

The Rev. Marc Gawronski, one of Rooney's friends, urged attendees to look past their grief and "keep going" as the priest would have wanted.

"He lived through Christ, with Christ and in Christ, and now we must do the same," he said. "He has given us a great example ..."

Born Feb. 10, 1954, to a large family in Ireland, Rooney first took vows in the 1970's then later joined the Cistercian Order, according to his obituary.

Mourners gather for the funeral for the Rev. Stephen Rooney at St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Allen Park.

He relocated to the United States and started serving in the Archdiocese of Detroit in the 1980's. Rooney has served or held positions at St. Martin de Porres in Warren, St. Alphonsus in Dearborn, St. Patrick in White Lake Township, St. Michael in Monroe, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Temperance and Our Lady on the River in Marine City, the archdiocese said.

While at St. Joseph in Trenton, his most recent assignment, Rooney befriended Chiles and his three children after the Grosse Ile resident's wife, Christine, died in September 2019. More than 100 volunteers searched for two days before her body was found in the Detroit River near their home.

Chiles, 52, the president of Livonia-based Alta Equipment Group Inc., invited Rooney on an outing last Sunday. He 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 has said.

Ten people on board were rescued by someone in a boat from Ontario.

The archbishop of the Detroit Archdiocese presides over the funeral Mass for Father Stephen Rooney at St. Frances Cabrini Parish.

Chiles' body was found Aug. 18 near where the boat had capsized. Rooney's body was located later that week.

News of the deaths was reported in Rooney's native country, where religious officials penned a letter Vigneron read during the funeral Mass on Wednesday offering their condolences.

Rooney was a "much loved priest whose vocation was nourished, nurtured in Ireland and who served so faithfully as a priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit for so many years," they wrote, Vigneron said.

In Metro Detroit, the archbishop noted fellow priests "admire Father Rooney so very much and will hold him as an example."

Rooney, who had a "beautiful way with words" and loved walking several miles daily in a Trenton park, touched many lives, Gawronski said. "He was a priest who gave totally of himself and taught others to do the same."