BRISTOL — Rev. Robert I. O’Rourke, SSC, 86, passed away on October 3, 2018 at St. Elizabeth Manor. Born on June 13, 1932 he was the son of the late Eugene Joseph O’Rourke and Mary Bridget (O’Connor) 0’Rourke. He was the brother of the late Joseph, Timothy, Richard, Eugene, Br. Terrance O’Rourke of Glenmary Home Missions, Margaret Baffoe and Loretta Coogan. He is survived by many nieces and nephews.
Father O’Rourke attended St. Ailbe’s Grade School and Quigley Prep. He later attended St. Mary of the Lake Seminary and after spiritual year at St. Columbans, he went to St. Columbans Major Seminary in Milton, Massachusetts. He was ordained on December 20, 1958 in the Seminary Chapel by Most Rev. Eric MacKenzie.
In the summer of 1959, Father O’Rourke took a course in Social Science in Antigonish, Nova Scotia and in December 1959 he was appointed to Burma.
In November 1962, he arrived in Myitkyina and began language study in Tingsing. The following November, Father O’Rourke was assistant in Makawkzup in the Myitkyina diocese and in October 1965 he opened up a new parish in Kamaing about 65 miles west of Myitkyina. In September 1966 the Burmese government compelled Bob to leave Burma before the end of this year due to new visa restrictions.
After returning to the United States, he was appointed to do vocation work in Los Angeles in March 1967. He was appointed superior of the Los Angeles house in 1969.
In 1975, Father O’Rourke was assigned to Lima Peru. Starting in May 1977, he began serving in Tahuantinsuyo where there was a charismatic ministry, youth groups and a catechumenate. In December 1983 he was assigned to Huasahuasi, (Tarma Pasco).
Father O’Rourke and Father Michael Donnelly were the first resident priests in the parish for some time. Until leaving there in December1989, they worked a pastoral program catering to the varied needs of the widespread parish. During those years Tarma and adjoining areas were the scene of escalating terrorist violence on the part of the Maoist- Leninist group Sendero Luminoso “The Shining Path.” Many towns were without police or other civil authority. Father O’Rourke and Father Donnelly continued to carry out their pastoral work while the terrorists became more audacious and brutal, generating an atmosphere of fear and tension throughout the country, especially in isolated zones such as Huasahuasi. When the priests were told by a reliable person that they were on a death-list and that the terrorists were coming to the town at Christmas, Father O’Rourke and Father Donnelly prudently decided to go to Lima and left within days for their respective countries where they recuperated from the stress.
In January 1990, Father O’Rourke was assigned to U.S. Region. He became associate editor of Columban Mission magazine and at Easter 1991 he became editor of the Regional Newsletter.
In August 1992, Father O’Rourke began work with the Spanish Apostolate at Immaculate Conception Church in Grand Prairie, TX. In 1998, Father O’Rourke returned to Omaha as house bursar and presided over the 47th and final annual Columban festival there. The festival was the last of a successful cycle that at its peak, in the early 70’s, drew over 20,000 people to St. Columban’s on a summer weekend, and raised more than $80,000 for the society. Father O’Rourke noted that the Festival was less about funding than connecting with the local community. In October 2001, Father O’Rourke was elected as Chairman of the regional Reconciliation Board.
Father O’Rourke retired to Bristol in March, 2004 where he resided in retirement, participating actively in community life for the last 14 years.
A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on October 14 at the Columban Fathers Chapel, with burial in St. Mary’s Cemetery.
Memorial donations may be made to: Columban Fathers 65 Ferry Road Bristol, RI 02809.