News/OP-ED: The Catholic World Mourns The Tragic Death Of Bishop David O’Connell
by Brett Baligad, Senior Editor
The late Bishop David O’Connell presided in Los Angeles for over forty years and brought relief to underrepresented communities. The Irish native used his platform to serve the Los Angeles community and manifested Catholic values throughout his respected pastoral career.
On Saturday, February 18, Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell was found dead in his Hacienda Heights home with a gunshot wound to his upper chest. This discovery was made apparent as Bishop O’Connell was found unresponsive to a fellow deacon attempting to contact him. The accused murderer, Carlos Medina, is the husband of one of Bishop O’Connell’s longtime housekeepers and is being charged with first-degree murder.
The recent tragedy to the Catholic community has garnered much support from parishioners across the county. Over the past week, hundreds of people have paid their respects to Bishop O’Connell by hosting prayer services and placing flowers outside his Hacienda Heights home. Along with this, prominent Los Angeles Catholic icons have expressed their grief for the death of Bishop O’Connell.
Archbishop Jose Gomez released a statement saying, “Every day [Bishop O’Connell] worked to show compassion to the poor, to the homeless, to the immigrant and to all those living on society’s margins. He was a good priest, a good bishop and a man of peace. And we are very sad to lose him.”
Born in 1953, Bishop O’Connell lived a life of service and empathy to the people of the Greater Los Angeles Area. Beginning his pastoral career in 1979, the Irish immigrant served as an associate pastor for nearby St. Raymond Catholic Church in Downey, California. After assisting other parishes over the years, it would not be until 1988 that he would head his own church, St. Frances X Cabrini, in South Los Angeles. From there, he would serve St. Frances X Cabrini and other South Los Angeles parishes for the majority of his pastoral life.
Using his platform, Bishop O’Connell fought on issues regarding workers rights, gun violence and immigration. Most notably, Bishop O’ Connell helped mediate racial violence and gang activity in his community. During the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, he was a key contributor to help rebuild his community. One way he achieved this was by rebuilding the relationship between his community and law enforcement.
“That was part of our work as a Church, to try to provide spaces for conversations. And we thought we really had achieved a lot of progress. There was a trust built up between LAPD and residents,” said Bishop O’Connell in a 2020 interview with the Angelus News.
Being named bishop was not a role he always had in mind for much of his pastoral career. As a man for the people, Bishop O’Connell felt that his work was best fit on the front lines with the people that needed his support most. This is emphasized by the fact that the Irish-born pastor is fluent in Spanish. By speaking Spanish in a heavy Latino region, this was one more way Bishop O’Connell demonstrated relatability to his parishioners. In 2015, he proudly accepted the role of Auxiliary Bishop for the San Gabriel Region.
Bishop O’Connell was known by many within the Salesian community. Over the past three years, Former Salesian Provisional and current Spiritual Director of St. John Bosco High School, Fr. Ted Montemayor, shared membership on Don Bosco Technical Institute’s school board with Bishop O’Connell.
“He was very interested in assisting Don Bosco Tech because of its Salesian values and the uniqueness of the school. His goal was to help bring financial aid to kids that needed it and wanted the opportunity to get a Catholic education,” said Fr. Ted.
Don Bosco Technical Institute is St. John Bosco High School’s brother school located in Rosemead, California. Being the Auxiliary Bishop for the San Gabriel Valley, Bishop O’Connell found it to be a great necessity to continue the growth of an all boys learning environment along with the unique STEM learning integrated within the school’s curriculum.
Bishop O’Connell’s legacy in the Catholic world will not go forgotten. Over the past week, parishioners have flooded social media with personal stories and interactions with Bishop O’Connell over the years. All stories aligned in agreement with his willingness to help the needy and sense of humor. O’Connell was not only an iconic Catholic figure, but also a well respected man within the Los Angeles area for all of his philanthropy performed over the years.
“He [O’Connell] was a humble man and a good listener. He was not afraid to be vulnerable, which not every leader has the capability to do. David really had a care for helping the poor, the immigrant and the kids,” said Fr. Ted.
On Friday, March 3, a funeral mass will be open to the public at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles at 11:00 am.
Brett that is a fantastic article about bishops life and what it is to be involved with God in the community. That is something that is lacking in this world is having empathy for those around us. Indeed this was a great loss.