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Rev. Stephen Rooney

Deceased: 2020-08-16

Diocese: DETROIT

CSM Graduation Year: 1994

Rev. Fr. Stephen Joseph Rooney, age 66, passed away as the result of a tragic boating accident on the Detroit River.

Family and friends may visit between 12:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, August 26th 2020, at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church, 9000 Laurence Avenue, Allen Park, Michigan, 48101. Mass of the Resurrection will begin at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church. For those unable to be attend, Mass will be live-streamed accessible via this link: It can also be viewed by visiting our website homepage, selecting Fr. Rooney’s image and finally, the link to the livestream on his Tribute Wall.

Stephen Rooney started off his spiritual journey as a 16 year old. In 1970, he entered the house of the Passionist Order at Tobar Mhuire (Mary’s Well) in Crossgar, County Down, about 25 miles from his home in the Ballymacarrett area of Belfast. After that first taste of life in the Catholic Church Stephen returned home to work as a carer for senior citizens in Nazareth House. He spoke fondly of his time with the residents there, and the lessons in dignity and respect that work gave him. Subsequently, he joined the ‘Reds’, the Redemptorist Order, first in Clonard, Belfast and subsequently in the order’s house in Esker, Galway. He worked in the St. Vincent De Paul charity shop in Galway City, and was active in a programme to help young traveller children. This was at a time when there was much anti-traveller sentiment in the city. From this early age and throughout his life, Stephen challenged racism whenever it raised its head. Coming from a background in the north of Ireland where Catholics suffered institutionalised discrimination at the hands of the state, heightened his strong sense of social justice. Armed with his innate compassion, and this lived experience and knowledge he instinctively strived to make the world a better place.

Stephen took his vows as a brother in the Redemptorist Order in St Joseph’s Dundalk, in 1975. He then took an unexpected detour when he decided to enter the Cistercian Order. In 1978 he entered the monastery at Bolton Abbey, County Kildare, where, with his characteristic enthusiasm, he undertook the ascetic life of a monk. The routine of communal prayer, physical labour and solitary contemplation left an imprint on him for the rest of his life. The city boy became adept at farm work and rising at 5.00am for prayer. Stephen took his final vows while a member of the Cistercian community June 1985. A local paper once ran a story on him with the headline “The Monk Who Used to Stone the Brits!”

His spiritual journey continued the following year when, like so many Irish people before him, he left for the United States. He stepped back out into the world to work as a priest in the diocese of Detroit. It was here he found his calling as a pastor and a spiritual leader. It was America that gave him the platform to display the gifts he had as a person with a deep understanding of the human condition. He was a deeply spiritual priest, and an extremely practical one. He connected with people on a fundamental level and established deep-seated and lifelong friendships everywhere he served and studied.

There is a short blessing in Irish: ” Is gaire cabhair Dé ná an doras / God’s help is closer than the door ” it reflects a Celtic spirituality that God is with us in the everyday and mundane. This underpinned the compassionate and practical love which Stephen showed in his mission as a Christian minister.

Stephen had a razor-sharp wit and a wicked sense of humour, which endeared him to people. He lived and studied in Rome for 2 years where he added Italian to his repertoire of languages. He loved life, was an avid reader, a skilled debater, a lover of art-house film, music and religious architecture. He retained an intellectual curiosity throughout his life, was a critical thinker and could be highly provocative. Always above all of this, was his unwavering love and devotion to God and to Our Lady.

Fr Stephen had the most generous of hearts, this love was translated into encouragement and support for people in their everyday lives. He stood with them and supported them to heal. To feel the love of community, eachother and the love of God. The people from his old neighbourhood in Belfast felt a strong sense of pride and ownership that one of their own had done so well ministering to those in need thousands of miles away on another continent.

Fr. Rooney was ordained a priest for the Order of Cistercians on June 15, 1985, and began his first assignment in the Archdiocese of Detroit as associate pastor of St. Martin de Porres Parish in Warren in 1987. He also served as associate pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish in Dearborn from 1989-90; associate pastor of St. Patrick Parish in White Lake from 1994-95; pastor of St. Michael Parish in Monroe from 1995-2008; pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Temperance from 2008-13; pastor of Our Lady on the River Parish in Marine City from 2013-18, followed by his most recent assignment at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Trenton.

He was born Belfast, Ireland on February 10, 1954, to John and Catherine (nee Higgins) Rooney. He grew up in a family of 15 children and is survived by 12 heartbroken brothers and sisters Jim, Betty, Marie, Eddie, Gerald, Dolores, Patrick, Aodh, Pilib, Brendan, Bernadette, Paula. His brothers-in-law Tucker, Thomas and Paddy. Ray Cummings (d.2018) and Seany McVeigh (d.2016). His sisters-in-law Theresa, Maisie, Theresa D, Annette, Noreen, Sinéad, and Susan. And his 47 nieces and nephews. He is preceded in death by his brothers John Jnr (d. 1945 aged 11 mths), Billy (d.1951 aged 4 days) and his parents John (d. 1999) and Catherine (d. 2017).

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions are suggested to Gabby’s Ladder, 2262 N. Monroe St., Monroe, Michigan 48162 or the St. Vincent DePaul Society.