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Catholic community honoring priest still missing after boating accident

Father Stephen Rooney and Robert Chiles of Grosse Ile having been missing since Chile's boat capsized Sunday evening in the Detroit River
Published: Aug. 17, 2020 at 11:11 PM EDT
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MONROE COUNTY, Mich. (WTVG) - Many hearts are heavy for Catholics in Monroe County after hearing about the disappearance of a beloved priest who served at multiple area parishes.

At 7:36 p.m. Sunday, the Grosse Ile Police and Fire departments responded to an area in the Detroit River, south of Stoney Island on reports that a watercraft had capsized, leaving several passengers in the water.

The Wayne County Sheriff Marine Division and Canadian Coast Gaurd also responded to the scene.

A preliminary investigation indicated 14 people, nine adults, and five children, were on board when the vessel rolled and all were ejected.

A boater from Ontario witnessed the accident and provided assistance to most of the passengers. However, a search is underway for two adults that are still missing.

Those missing men were identified as 52-year-old Robert Chiles of Grosse Ile and 66-year-old Father Stephen Rooney of Trenton.

The U.S. Coast Gaurd helicopter, the Downriver Dive Team, and Wayne County Sheriff Marine Division searched for the two missing subjects until dark on Sunday night, when the darkness made efforts unsafe. The boat was eventually recovered, identified as a 2017 39 ft. Nortec Center Console.

Police believe speed was a factor in the accident, as witnesses recall seeing the boat roll before capsizing.

Father Rooney was most recently serving at St. Joseph Parish in Trenton, Michigan. He had previously served at parishes in Monroe County for over a decade.

“One thing that set him apart from other priests, was that he was so personal,” said Joshua Gabriel, who grew up with Father Rooney at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Monroe. “He would go out of his way and get to know his parishioners. ... He was imperative to the way I was brought up in the Catholic faith and one of the reasons I developed a close relationship with God.”

After leaving St. Michael’s, Father Rooney served at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Temperance, Michigan. A vigil was held Monday night honoring his memories with parishioners.

The dozens of people who gathered at OLMC were still in shock. Parishioner LuDonna Wlodarski says Father Rooney got her through some very tough moments in her life.

“He was one of my best friends, I would count on him all the time. I lost all of my family and he was always there for me and comforted me,” says Wlodarski.

Others remembered the priest’s thick Irish brogue and personal stories of his large family, but also how good he was with their own children.

Daniel Przyojski’s kids all had fond memories, having been altar servers at the parish.

“When he came here it was so great that when he left you feel just like you feel now like something was taken from you. ... It just really shook all of us right away,” explains Przyojski.

The Archdiocese of Detroit posted to Facebook Monday afternoon: “It is with great sadness that we share that Father Stephen Rooney, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Trenton is missing along with longtime parishioner Robert Chiles after a boat capsized yesterday evening in the Detroit River, off Stoney Island. Several others were rescued from the water by a Good Samaritan nearby. Let us unite together in prayer for the missing, for the rescued, and for first responders searching the waters today.”

It is with great sadness that we share that Father Stephen Rooney, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Trenton is missing...

Posted by Archdiocese of Detroit on Monday, August 17, 2020

St. Joseph Parish in Trenton also held and streamed a live vigil over Facebook for Father Rooney.

Prayer Vigil

Posted by St. Joseph Catholic Church Trenton on Monday, August 17, 2020

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