The Very Rev. Matthew J. O'Rourke, a Josephite priest and former superior general of his Roman Catholic religious order, died of congestive heart failure March 9 at St. Joseph Manor in North Baltimore. He was 93.
Born in the Bronx, N.Y., he earned a bachelor's degree at Manhattan College and a master's degree from Loyola University in New Orleans. He was ordained a priest in 1947.
In 1951, he helped found New Orleans' St. Augustine High School, a predominantly African-American institution. He was the school's first principal and taught, as well as coached sports.
"He was affectionately known as 'The Chief' as principal," said the Rev. Joseph Doyle, the school's president emeritus, of New Orleans. "His deep, gruff voice betrayed a very sensitive soul that treasured friendships and valued the human dignity of all people, regardless of race."
Father O'Rourke moved to Baltimore in 1960. He held several posts within his order, including superior general and director of education. From 1992 until his death, he was rector of St. Joseph's Manor on Lake Avenue.
"He had a rough exterior but his real personality was warm with a good sense of humor. But the deeper side, his serious side, was thoughtful, considering the good of the Josephites and of African-American communities," said the Rev. John Filippelli of Washington, D.C.
Another New Orleans Josephite colleague, the Rev. Wilbur Atwood, said, "He was a dynamic leader, a man to be counted on for sage advice."
Father O'Rourke wrote a book, "Between Law and Hope," about his experiences at St. Augustine and described how its graduates later achieved in business, politics, religion, athletics and education.
A Mass was offered March 14 at St. Joseph's Manor.
He leaves no immediate survivors.