A former Northern Ireland and Manchester United footballer who has been ordained as a priest returned to his native Belfast for a special Mass last night.

Philip Mulryne, 39, was joined by friends and well-wishers at St Oliver Plunkett Church – just a few miles from Windsor Park Stadium where he once wore the green football shirt of his home country.

Mulryne came up into Manchester United through the youth system before making his debut for the first team in 1997. Unable to secure a regular place in Alex Ferguson’s side, he moved on to play for other clubs including Nowich City, Cardiff City and Leyton Orient.

The clergyman said his vocation was a calling. ‘This is a new chapter now in my life,’ he said.

Assisted by a more senior cleric during last night’s service, Mulryne undertook the traditional rites of a Mass, including the blessing of the sacraments.

Those attending the Mass heard how his vocation as a friar preacher should be to ‘set hearts on fire’ with the love of Jesus.

Alluded to the bonfires which are traditionally lit in loyalist areas in Northern Ireland marking Twelfth of July festivities, Fr John Walsh said: ‘Be an arsonist for Christ, to set the hearts as a friar preacher on fire with the love of Jesus. May your years of priesthood be as happy as mine. May your Dominican years be long and fruitful. May you never forget the seed that was sown in this place… who have come out in huge numbers to support you and your brothers.’

Mulryne was made a member of the Dominican Order at an ordination at St Saviour’s church in north Dublin at the weekend.