The American ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney has returned to the United States following the tragic death of his daughter, Rita Rooney Conway, aged 54.

Rooney (80) learned of the news this weekend and flew to Milton, Massachusetts, to be with his family including Rita’s husband and son. A spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Office of Chief Medical Examiner said findings of cause and manner of death were pending.

Rita worked as the director of faith formation at St Elizabeth Parish in Milton, outside Boston. She was also working on her master’s degree in theology at Boston College and taught religious education to children preparing for their confirmation.

Father Aidan J. Walsh told the Pittsburgh Gazette, “She was very active in the parish life. She was very highly thought of by the teachers and the people involved in the program.

“She was a very creative woman, a very gentle person, easy to approach.

“It's a great loss to the parish…The people really loved her and relied on her.”

Before taking on her position in the Catholic Church Rita was a patent attorney at Cesari & McKenna law firm in Boston. In 1983 she graduated with a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh having also earned a degree in electrical engineering in 1980.

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The law firm released this statement on Tuesday:

"We are all deeply saddened by the sudden loss of our friend and former colleague, Rita Rooney. Rita was a valued member of our firm for many years. She combined a keen intellect with a caring and positive attitude, making her sought after by both clients and colleagues. She worked hard on all matters, and will be sorely missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends."

She served as a clerk to US District Judge Edward S. Northrop in Maryland for about a year before joining Arthur Cox, a large law firm based in Dublin, Ireland, for four years. She then worked at Pittsburgh-based Eckert Seamans from 1989 to 1991 before joining the Boston firm.

Rita was also heavily involved in the Milton Academy, the prep school her son attends.

Ambassador Dan Rooney will spend the next week, at least, in Massachusetts making funeral arrangements. This means he will be unavailable to meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit to Dublin this week.

It is believed that Rooney will formally leave his office in Dublin by the end of the year and will return to private life.