Actress Roma Downey pays moving tribute to her Catholic priest brother

Actress Roma Downey has paid tribute to her Catholic priest brother, who died in a northern Ireland hospital on Monday.

Fr John Downey died in Antrim Area Hospital on Monday.

The derry-based actress, producer and New York Times best-selling author posted on Instagram shortly after his passing: “Friends, my family has suffered a terrible loss.

“Our beloved brother Fr John has passed away in the night. We are grateful for all your prayers. His passing was peaceful and that’s a blessing. May he rest in peace.”

His funeral took place at St Eugene’s Church in Moneyneena on Thursday.

Ms Downey, best known for her role in the US series Touched By An Angel, opened the service by reading a Bible passage from St Paul to the Ephesians.

She attended the funeral with her actor daughter Reilly Marie Downey Anspaugh.

During the Mass, which was led by Bishop Donal McKeown and Fr Peter Madden, mourners heard how Fr Downey was a man deeply committed to his work and faith.

Fr Madden told the congregation: “Pope Francis once said he believed priests should know their people, the smell of their sheep, and know what it’s like to walk in their shoes.

“Long before he said that, John was a walking example of what it meant.

“In practice, it means being there and present.

“John was a compassionate and understanding presence in every parish he served.

“The people knew he would always be there when he was needed.

“John was always there, on the phone or behind the door ready to open it.

“We can talk all we want about the smell of the sheep, but John showed us how. For the past 19 years you could set your watch by John.

“He never failed to visit the sick or care for them or share the touch of a true pastor. He visited the primary schools with regularity.”

To the laughter of mourners, the priest recalled: “Throughout his life and until he retired, John was the lead chaplain to the Pioneer Association, and he never failed to say every St Patrick’s Day: ‘Don’t drive if you drink. And if you drink, don’t drive.” Fr Downey went to Aberystwyth University and was ordained in June 1984.

Religion played a key role in the Downey family, with his sister becoming a best-selling author for her faith-based books alongside her screen work. She also produced epic series The Bible for US television, and was an executive producer on the 2016 remake of Ben-Hur.

Interment took place in the City Cemetery in Derry following the funeral.



Pic: courtesy of Roma Downey