Throughout his journey, he recalled the names of each individual. He fulfilled the role of their spiritual guide. Those who were seen as abandoned and disregarded. The intoxicated and those without a home. The sick. Members of gangs. Those who were marginalized. The impoverished. He welcomed immigrants with open arms. In order to promote social and racial equality, O’Connell, who was originally from Ireland, utilized his public ministry. Bishop David G. O’Connell, the Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, was a trusted confidant.
Bishop Dave, also referred to as such in this city, embodied the concept of “anam cara,” which is Gaelic for soul companion.
This man, who fought against gun violence, took action not only to pray, but also to mobilize 9,000 families. In his neighborhood parish, six people were killed in a month when he fought against the cloth of violence.
However, gun violence ultimately took him away from this community.
The housekeeper, who worked as the handyman for the bishop’s wife, has been charged with murder and arrested. He had been shot in the upper torso. Bishop O’Connell, 69, was found dead in his home in the Los Angeles suburb of Hacienda Heights.
It is nearly impossible to forgive and comprehend peace for someone who has experienced a violent death. It would be understandable and acceptable for a natural death. The pain is tangible among those who knew and loved him.
She seemed to know what O’Connell would have thought about the man who killed him. I met Gina Zepeda, who attends the church O’Connell used to lead. On Friday, I sat in the soaring space of the Los Angeles cathedral for his funeral.
She expressed, “I can’t imagine what kind of trouble he was experiencing, such an awful thing, such an awful angst.”
“I can only envision that Bishop would have adored him even in that instant.”
Their kindred spirit. The departure of their companion. They must be filled with fury over it. Nevertheless, they are chosen to absolve transgressions. I witnessed the anguish etched on their countenances as cardinals, fellow bishops, and numerous clergy members entered the cathedral on Friday, in a processional lasting 20 minutes.
On Friday, Monsignor Jarlath Jay Cunnane said that they were friends for more than 50 years and that they still dined together every Thursday evening. They were in downtown Los Angeles at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for the funeral Mass of O’Connell. Cunnane mentioned that O’Connell was a dear friend whose friendship spanned over five decades.
“David engaged in spiritual labor,” he mentioned. “He conversed with the spirit. He cured spirits. He brought serenity to spirits.”
A community in the midst of conflict
I wanted to know more about this giant Catholic who I read about after his death. He was acknowledged by President Joe Biden and Pope Francis. The funeral drew more than an estimated 3,000 people who believed in truth and love and operated as saints.
O’Connell conducted listening sessions in a secure environment within the neighborhood, providing an opportunity for residents, entrepreneurs, civic leaders, and advocates to express their thoughts. He played a crucial role in rebuilding a community that was deeply affected by the unrest following the acquittal of the officers involved in Rodney King’s beating in 1992, particularly in the southern part of Los Angeles. O’Connell dedicated 45 years of his life serving as a priest and later as a bishop in Los Angeles County.
He transported individuals to secluded retreat camps, where they prayed together and received prayers. The environment was tranquil and provided a temporary sense of home, which he desired to offer them. He wanted to give them the feeling of being at least temporarily at home, even if they were sleeping on the streets of Los Angeles. He listened attentively to the word of God and provided warm meals and hot showers. He traveled with them to cabins in the California mountains, as well as on buses, where he gathered homeless individuals.
Altar boys served under Father Dave O’Connell, who was known as Father Dave, at St. Frances Cabrini X. Parish, where he was a leading figure. Patricia and George Duncan recall meeting him in the 1970s when their sons were eventually baptized there.
O’Connell’s manner was akin to conversing with the individual residing nearby, despite his proficiency in Gaelic, Latin, Spanish, and English.
George Duncan, a friend and soulmate, sought the help of a listening ear when he couldn’t pay his gas bill and lamented about his frustration of not being able to support his family. Within minutes of Dave’s father writing a story about it, Duncan’s ankle snapped while he was working as a plumber.
George Duncan, a 79-year-old man, informed me, “Irrespective of the nature of your issue, he was always approachable. He consistently endeavored to bring humor to the situation and possessed valuable insights. Additionally, he treated everyone in the same manner, without any concern for their background or identity. He engaged in conversation rather than delivering lectures, always striving to offer assistance.”
In 2009, Andrea Vicich encountered Bishop O’Connell while he served as the pastor at St. Michael Church in the southern region of Los Angeles. She initiated a nonprofit organization called Angels of Charity and Music as she pursued a distinct path in her life, driven by her aspiration to make a difference and her passion for singing.
She, with the assistance of O’Connell, built a support system for children in Peru, especially those who were abandoned and disabled, providing them with free medical care, clothing, food, and shelter, as well as after-care and surgeries for children with cleft palates and lips.
He informed her that he had everything he required. As a priest, he had a place to live and enough food to sustain himself. He was unwavering in his determination. He committed to contributing his meager income for the entire year when O’Connell introduced Vicich to him in his workplace. However, his funds depleted after a few years.
“He stated, ‘My daughter, allow me to accomplish this on your behalf,'” Vicich informed me. “Allow me to assist.”
A kindred spirit.
The friends and congregants of O’Connell wonder how someone could hurt this man with such a big heart and hearty laughter, but they can’t help but feel that he didn’t experience any pain, even as they pray for him.
John Vianney, a resident and employee of Hacienda Heights, informed me that he was not aware of whether he was awake or asleep. He also mentioned that we shouldn’t just assume that we know everything. He shared the details with me, but he emphasized that we should not make assumptions.
Zepeda said that O’Connell was scheduled to preside over their one-day event on February 19th after he was killed. The word about O’Connell’s death spread in the community where he lived, as he always treated the church as a place to visit when he was alive. Many believed that he died from natural causes, but he was told that he was murdered.
He also wanted to stay connected, but he wanted to serve on a broader level. He had been deeply entrenched in the south of Los Angeles for the people. Zepeda said O’Connell struggled with his appointment as auxiliary bishop in 2015.
Zepeda informed me that when he became a bishop, he was aware that it would cause him to become more widely known. He felt saddened because he cherished the bond he had with his community and his fellow individuals.
Alongside O’Connell, the Irish family frequently visited, discovering Disneyland, Universal Studios, and Denny’s for their morning meals. O’Connell, the entertaining “paternal uncle,” consistently expressed his happiness in the family and was overjoyed to receive them in California. David O’Connell grew emotional when he spoke about their bond. He resides in Ireland but made the journey to Los Angeles to bid a final farewell to his uncle. O’Connell has a person named after him.
David O’Connell expressed, “Throughout our entire lives, Uncle Dave served as a source of inspiration for us. He instilled in us the belief that if one possesses the ability to assist others, they should seize the opportunity. I can vividly recall him saying, ‘Oh, that’s not an issue; I am capable of handling it.’ He consistently aimed to alleviate burdens for everyone else and never once sought anything in return.”