Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., J.C.D., D.D.

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., 10th Bishop of Trenton, and former president of The Catholic University of America, was born April 21, 1955, in Philadelphia.

Daniel and Dennis, two surviving brothers of the late Arthur O’Connell Jr., The eldest brother of Bishop O’Connell, who passed away on April 24, 2021, reside in the region where they grew up, Langhorne, Pennsylvania. He is one of the four sons of Arthur O’Connell Sr., Who also passed away on June 27, 2005, and Bishop Vincentians, also known as the Eastern Province of the Mission Congregation.

In 1978, he earned a philosophy degree with great distinction from Niagara University in New York, where he furthered his Vincentian education. Bishop O’Connell went to St. Joseph Preparatory High School, Princeton, run by the Vincentians, knowing from a young age that he wanted to become a priest. He received his education at the parish grammar school, taught by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The family had been active members of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Penndel, Pa.

Bishop O’Connell prepared for the priesthood at Immaculate Mary Seminary in Northampton, PA, where he received a master’s degree in moral theology in 1983 and a master’s degree in divinity in 1981.

On May 29, 1982, Bishop Joseph McShea from the Diocese of Allentown was appointed as a priest of the Congregation of the Mission at Mary Immaculate Seminary.

He has received 12 honorary doctorates or other honors from different colleges and universities. In 1990, he achieved a doctorate in canon law and in 1987, a licentiate at The Catholic University of America, Washington, after pursuing studies in canon law. He worked at Archbishop Wood High School, Warminster, Pa., As a faculty member and director of student activities from 1982 to 1985. Bishop (then-Father) O’Connell’s initial responsibility was there after his ordination.

While working toward his canon law degrees, Father O’Connell also served as registrar and assistant professor of canon law, theology and philosophy in Mary Immaculate Seminary. In 1990 he joined St. John’s University, Queens, N.Y., where he served in various capacities, including professor of theology and religious studies, associate dean, then academic dean of St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and assistant to legal counsel. In 1994, he also spent one year simultaneously serving as interim academic vice president of Niagara University. In addition to his academic work, Father O’Connell used his credentials as a canon lawyer to assist the Dioceses of Harrisburg, Scranton and Birmingham as a judge in their tribunals from 1987 to 1998.

He was widely recognized for his advocacy for higher education in the Catholic context. During his tenure, Father O’Connell was a frequent commentator on national news broadcasts such as “Nightline” on ABC, FOX News, and CNN. One of the highlights of his presidency was the opportunity to host Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States in April 2008 at The Catholic University of America (CUA), where he delivered an address to educators. He also served as a member of the planning committee for the Pope’s pastoral visit, further highlighting his commitment to Catholic education. In spring 1998, Father O’Connell was named the 14th president of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

In the summer of 2010, Father O’Connell announced his intention to retire from CUA in the fall of 2009. Following this, CUA’s board of trustees designated a central administrative building in recognition of his extensive service to the university. Additionally, a plaza was named after him as a tribute to his visionary efforts in creating a new combined retail and residential development adjacent to the campus, benefiting both the university and the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The Holy See, upon the request of the Archdiocese of Washington, also bestowed upon him the “Pro Ecclesiastical et Pontifices Medal.”

When Pope Benedict XVI accepted Bishop Smith’s resignation on December 1, 2010, Bishop O’Connell became the 10th Bishop of Trenton. Bishop John M. Smith ordained him as a bishop in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, on July 30, 2010. On June 4, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Father O’Connell as the Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton.

A Wide Perspective.

Since becoming the Chief Shepherd of the Diocese, Bishop O’Connell has focused his efforts on the catechetical development of his flock, the sanctification and cultivation of his priests and seminarians, the advancement of new vocations and the strengthening of pro-life, marriage and family life and youth advocacy within the Diocese. The Bishop devoted special attention to the restructuring of diocesan administration in 2011, evaluating and enhancing the deacon formation program, and completing a review and updating of the statutes of the Fourth Diocesan Synod, first promulgated in 1991.

“The Voice of the Shepherd” – on Domestic Church Media’s WFJS radio station, Bishop O’Connell also leads a monthly radio show. Bishop O’Connell is a frequent contributor to diocesan publications, podcasts, and social media. He has written extensively, including three pastoral letters and several series of essays on the principles of belief. Bringing together approximately 20,000 Catholics from the Diocese of Trenton for worship, education, and prayer, Bishop O’Connell organized the first Eucharistic Congress held in New Jersey in October of 2012, as part of the “Year of Faith” proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI.

In 2012, Bishop O’Connell’s active support for social service programs throughout the Diocese’s four counties included a massive mobilization effort for the victims of the Sandy Superstorm, particularly for those who were less fortunate.

Following the storm, Bishop O’Connell surveyed the damage across the four counties of the Diocese, accompanied by a State Police escort, visiting parishes, schools, and relief centers. In the Diocese, parishes and schools sustained $12.2 million in damages, with 65 parishes, schools or diocesan entities impacted and more than 160 buildings damaged. The relief effort brought in more than $1.7 million from individuals, groups, parishes, dioceses and a grant from the United States Conference of Bishops.

Overcoming Challenges with Belief.

Bishop O’Connell has been a steadfast advocate for Catholic education, utilizing strategic planning, leadership advancement, and promotional initiatives to enhance the long-term viability of the Catholic schools in the Diocese. During his tenure, two comprehensive “Catholic School Sustainability Studies” were conducted throughout the entire diocese – the initial study in 2013 and a subsequent five-year follow-up in 2018. These studies aimed to establish a set of criteria for decision-making concerning the Diocese’s Catholic schools.

In April 2014, Bishop O’Connell launched a comprehensive multi-media campaign called “All Catholic Schools Have It” to demonstrate his ongoing support for Catholic schools. The campaign included a dedicated website and digital advertising materials such as posters and billboards, with a video serving as a central part of the campaign to showcase the value of Catholic schools.

I can confidently say that Catholic schools have made a difference in my life, without any equivocation or hesitation. When I think back to my days in Catholic school, all of these things come to mind. Catholic schools have shaped my entire life, guiding me in the direction of my vocation as a bishop and priest. I learned what it means to be a Catholic and gained a vision for life, making choices that reflect the Catholic values that impact the world. I also experienced how our faith influences and shapes our understanding of the world. There is truly no substitute for the education and opportunities that Catholic schools offer.

He was grateful to realize that his goal was set to celebrate the Mass on Palm Sunday in 2015. Bishop O’Connell was struck with a near-fatal bone infection that necessitated the amputation of his left leg in December 2014. After being fitted with a prosthetic leg, Bishop O’Connell engaged in an aggressive physical therapy program for the following three months. He then returned to his full active service, resuming his ambitious daily schedule.

Gazing ahead at what lies ahead.

In 2015, Bishop O’Connell launched two major initiatives in order to bolster the future of the Diocese. An endowment campaign, “Faith to Move Mountains,” was conducted in parish blocks over a period of three years, and raised over $73 million for the Diocese and its ministries.

The official document, known as the “acta,” was signed by Bishop O’Connell and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, on Feb. 19, 2017, and was successfully carried out. In April of 2016, Bishop O’Connell put forward a proposal to the Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops in Rome, requesting the elevation of St. Robert Bellarmine Church in Freehold to the status of a co-cathedral. In January 2017, Bishop O’Connell’s final decisions were made public and were gradually implemented over a three-year period, involving all parishes in the Diocese. In November 2016, after almost two years of meetings, discussions, gathering information, and evaluating options, Bishop O’Connell accepted the final recommendations from the Diocesan Planning Commission. In order to strengthen parishes, a parallel initiative called “Faith in Our Future” was launched, promoting interparochial cooperation, sharing resources, and, where necessary, restructuring parishes.

The purpose of the year-long celebration of youth was to encourage participation in the life of the parish, inspire parishes to cultivate a more positive attitude about witnessing and living their faith, and increase youth engagement as disciples of Christ Jesus. A decree was issued by Bishop O’Connell in July 2018, stating that Youth of the Year would be celebrated in the Diocese beginning in June 2019.

There were various schools and parishes in the local area, as well as a wide variety of Catholic youth. The closing Mass and Youth Catholic Rally were held on June 21st, which also included events for the Diocesan Youth of the Year. The Diocesan Youth Conference, which drew more than 1,000 faithful of all ages, also included the Diocesan Youth Fest and the opening Mass, held on October 14th.

On October 14, 2018, as part of the Youth Year initiative developed by Bishop O’Connell, the lives of young saints were highlighted to inspire all youth who might know them on their own journey to holiness. One of the first saints Bishop O’Connell wrote about for his “Series Saints Young” is Nunzio Sulprizio, a 19-year-old saint among the seven new saints welcomed by the Church on that day.

In addition to serving the Diocese, the Bishop has also served the Catholic Education Congregation as a consultor to the Vatican for two terms of five years each, and he has been a member of numerous national committees and institutional boards within the Church.

Bishop O’Connell continues his Episcopal ministry and outreach to the faithful and religious in the four counties of Trenton Diocese, striving to bear witness to his joyful motto of “ministrari non ministrare” and serve the clergy.