Obituary: Fr Thomas O’Rourke, Catholic priest and hospital chaplain

Father Thomas O'Rourke, versatile and hard-working Catholic priest and hospital chaplain. Picture: Contributed
Father Thomas O'Rourke, versatile and hard-working Catholic priest and hospital chaplain. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 22 March, 1937, in Ayrshire. Died 19 October, 2015, in Clydebank, aged 79.

Father Thomas O’Rourke, who has died aged 79, was one of the most versatile priests in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Glasgow.

Successive archbishops with a difficult post to fill turned to Father Tom in their hour of need – and he always obliged and took on the role uncomplainingly.

Whether that post was Vicar Episcopal for Youth, hospital chaplain at Stobhill and the Sick Children’s in Glasgow, board member of an Airdrie-approved school, helping to organise a pilgrimage to Lourdes or even a Papal visit to Scotland, Father Tom was up to the job.

Add to these roles, the posts of teacher in a Langbank training college for priests, national chaplain for the Catholic Women’s League, membership of the Glasgow Sports Promotion Council and membership of the ecumenical Glasgow City Mission and one gets an idea of the breadth of his skills, the sagacity of his advice and the depth of his experience of so many areas of life.

Father O’Rourke was also for nearly 20 years the well-loved if sometimes mildly eccentric parish priest of St Peter’s Church in Bellsmyre, Dumbarton.

St Peter’s is one of the many modern churches in the archdiocese which were designed and built during the boom years for religion in the west of Scotland in the 1950s and 60s, when there were not enough churches for the people who wished to attend services.

Many of them had expensive repair and maintenance problems but Father Tom, who spent much of his time successfully looking after the large housing estate parish at a time of critical priest shortages without the help of an assistant, took them all in his stride.

No matter how busy he was, Father Tom always had time for his parishioners, who respected him greatly and loved him dearly.

No one minded helping out at the church because they knew their assistance was really needed if Father Tom was not able to do it himself.

He led by example and even gave time to assist his fellow priests in other Catholic churches in the Dumbarton area with services during Lent and Advent and every November at a special remembrance service in Dumbarton Cemetery.

Father Tom was born at Largs in Ayrshire where he went to primary school at St Mary’s during the Second World War years.

He graduated from there to St Michael’s College, Irvine, and St Joseph’s High School, Kilmarnock, before travelling to Spain where he did his training for the priesthood at the Royal Scots College in Valladolid.

He was ordained to the priesthood there in March 1961, by Glasgow’s auxiliary bishop, the Right Rev James Ward, Vicar General and Bishop of Sita.

Roles Father Tom undertook for the Church in Glasgow in his 49 years as a priests included Assistant Priest at St Philomena’s, Blackhill; vice-chairman Youth Council; member of staff at St Vincent’s College Langbank; member of Prince’s Trust Strathclyde Committee; member Langbank Community Council; temporary administrator Immaculate Heart of Mary Church and chaplain to Stobhill Hospital; director, Youth and Community Training Centre; chaplain to Council 22 Knights of St Columba; executive member of Scottish Standing Conference of Voluntary Youth Organisations; long-term supply work at Sacred Heart, Bridgeton; St Andrew’s, Bearsden; St Simon’s, Partick; member UNDA (Scotland); National Chaplain, Catholic Women’s League; chairman and vicar Episcopal Catholic Youth Council; Ex-officio Member Senate of Priests; member, Glasgow Sports Promotion Council; member, City Centre Mission (Ecumenical); management committee member St Philip’s School, Plains; member National Pilgrimage Committee; chaplain Royal Hospital for Sick Children and Queen Mother’s Hospital; member Papal Visit Committee; Assistant Priest, Holy Family and St Ninian’s, Kirkintilloch; Assistant Priest, Immaculate Conception and parish priest St Peter’s Bellsmyre.

He retired in 2010.

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia has asked for prayers for Father Tom, who retired from St Peter’s in 2010 and who died in the St Margaret of Scotland Hospice in Clydebank.

His remains will be received into St Patrick’s Church, Strathleven Place, Dumbarton, on Sunday, 25 October, at 6:30pm and the funeral Mass will take place on Monday, 26 October, at noon followed by interment at Dumbarton Cemetery.

He said: “Father O’Rourke had a long and fruitful ministry in the Archdiocese and will be greatly missed.”