Bishop Edward O'Rourke

One curious connection between Gdansk/Danzig and Ireland is the fact that the city’s first Roman Catholic bishop was Count Edward O’Rourke. A Russian of Irish ancestry he was descended from a branch of the O’Rourke family which had been forced emigrate to the European continent during the 17th century. With several generations of O’Rourke’s having achieved great success fighting in the French and Russian armies, they eventually settled down on a large landed estate in what is now Belarus.

Future bishop Edward O'Rourke was born in 1876 and grew up on the family estate and having attended a Jesuit boarding school, he studied Economics and Theology at Innsbruck University in Austria. Ordained in Kaunas in 1907, he rose quickly in the Church, becoming Bishop of Riga in 1918. Following the extensive redrawing of Europe’s borders after the First World War, O’Rourke was sent on a special mission to the newly-founded Baltic States in 1920. Two years later, he took up the post of ‘apostolic administrator’ (quasi-bishop) in the Free City of Danzig (Gdańsk) where he would remain for the next fifteen years. In 1925, as a separate political entity, the Free City was given its own diocese with its seat in Oliwa cathedral with O’Rourke becoming its first Roman Catholic bishop.

O’Rourke arrived in Danzig during a period of high German-Polish tension when the mainly German-speaking Danzigers were not only very upset that the port had been separated from the German Reich and made an League-of-Nations-administered ‘Free City’ but feared that the newly-resurrected Polish state was attempting to gain political and economic control over Danzig.

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