Banbridge priest prays with victims of Berkeley balcony tragedy

Balcony Collapse
Balcony Collapse

A priest from Banbridge has been praying with and comforting friends of the students killed after a balcony collapsed at an apartment in Berkeley, California.

Father Aidan McAleenan, pastor of St Columba’s Church near Berkeley, received news of Monday night’s tragedy as he was saying morning prayers.

Father Aidan

Father Aidan

“I was getting texts from Ireland, from friends asking me if I had heard what happened,” he said.

“Ireland heard the news before most of us woke up. Social media made a big difference.

“I contacted Father Brendan McBride who is based in an Irish pastoral centre funded by the Irish government and asked if there was anything I could do.”

Fr McAleenan spent time at the Walnut Creek hospital where two young people who were injured at the party were in surgery - one with a broken femur and the other had a punctured lung.

“When I arrived there were nine young ones all from south Dublin,” he said.

“They were just absolutely devastated. I had to tell one of the young men another person had died. His best friend.”

Fr McAleenan recently marked his 10th anniversary as a priest and has lived in the US for 28 years.

“I came out myself on a J1 visa myself,” he said. “I could not think of my own parents having to go through that.”

When it came to a young man who had lost two friends, he confessed: “I did not know what to say or do.”

Fr McAleenan said there was a wonderful sense of community and support at the hospital.

“It was just amazing,” he said. “The people there could not have done enough.

“The young guys themselves, it was very hard for them to communicate, but they really stuck together.

“The hospital staff could not have done enough. At one point we prayed together.”

The Bishop of Oakland celebrated Mass on Wednesday evening for the loss of the Irish students and for the healing of those hurt and Fr McAleenan has said he will continue to support those involved in the days ahead.