The exact cause of death has not been made public, but Father Rooney was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had been very ill the past two weeks.
Father Rooney was born in Manhattan, the oldest of four children. He studied at Cathedral College in Brooklyn and Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington. He was ordained on May 30, 1964, by Bishop Bryan J. McEntegart at St. James Pro-Cathedral in Brooklyn.
Father Rooney served many years as an assistant pastor at parishes throughout Queens, including St. Andrew Avellino in Flushing from 1964 to 1972, St. Mary's Winfield in Woodside from 1972 to 1978, and Our Lady of Snows in North Floral Park from 1978 to 1994.
While at Our Lady of Snows, Father Rooney began making regular visits to LIJ hospital, where he visited with the sick and offered religious guidance.
In 1994, he was appointed pastor of the Church of the Transfiguration in Maspeth, where he served until 2003. That year, he became the pastor at the Church of Mary's Nativity on Parsons Boulevard in Flushing, where he served up until his death.
Upon assuming the post, he immediately began a campaign to build a parish center, which is now an important part of the social fabric of the neighborhood, serving as a polling place during elections, acting as a meeting place for the local civic association, and playing host to private and public gatherings.
Mary McLaughlin has been a member of the Church of Mary's Nativity since 1948. She said Father Rooney will be “sorely missed.”
“He was the consummate priest,” she said. “He could take anything and turn it into a lesson on faith.”
McLaughlin said that while Father Rooney was a fan of the Giants and the Mets and a regular patron at Donovan's of Bayside, he didn't have many outside hobbies.
“His faith was his life,” she said.
Following a funeral mass at Church of Mary's Nativity on Tuesday, May 25, Father Rooney was buried in Saint Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, New York.