|Kevin Laurence O'Rourke Courtesy of Kyung Hee University|
By Park Ji-won
Kevin Laurence O'Rourke, an Irish Catholic priest and scholar who has translated more than 2,000 Korean literary works into English, died on Friday. He was 81.
Born in Cavan, Ireland, in 1939, he became a priest in 1963 and started serving as an assistant priest at Soyangro Catholic Church in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province.
While serving his duty, he took an interest in Korean culture and literature and ended up becoming the first foreigner to receive a doctorate in Korean literature from a Korean university. He obtained a Ph.D. in Korean literature from Yonsei University in 1982 and taught at Kyung Hee University from 1977 to 2005.
He translated multiple famous Korean poems, novels and other literary works which include Choi In-hun's novel "The Square," Lee Mun-yol's novel "Our Twisted Hero," So Chong-ju's poem collection book "Poems of a wanderer: selected poems of Midang So Chong-ju" and Yi Sang's "Wings : Volume 091." Not only translating modern literatures, he also put efforts in translating Korean traditional literature works such as song lyrics and poems from the Goryeo and Joseon eras.
He has received a lot of awards and been honored for his contributions to Korean literature.
He won the Korean National Literature Prize in 1989 for his translations of Korean poetry. He won an honorary citizenship in Seoul in 2007. The Irish Embassy named a library at the embassy after him in 2010. The Irish scholar also won the presidential citation for services to Korean language and literature from President Lee Myung-bak in 2009. He became the winner of Daesan Literary Award in translation in 2017 and an achievement award from Lotte's first publication culture award. He was also the recipient of The Korea Times' second translation award in 1971.
In his last interview with The Korea Times in 2014, he felt nostalgic about Korea in the 1960s and 1970s.
"Korea in the 1960s was full of 'insim,' human heart in Korean. Back then, we used to tell a policeman on a one-way street that 'This is the only way I know to get home. Can you help me?' And he would stop the traffic and send you up," he told The Korea Times on Feb. 9.
His funeral visitation is being held at the Catholic University of Korea Eunpyeong St. Mary's Hospital. The funeral service will be held at the Missionary Society of Saint Columban in Seoul at 5 p.m. on Monday.