Immigrant from County Cork, Ireland, exemplified words of Jesus for 45 years
… spoke Spanish with an Irish brogue
He came to the United States more than 40 years ago, a native of Glanmire, County Cork, Ireland, who ventured to Los Angeles to serve that archdiocese.
Bishop David G. O’Connell was a beloved priest and later bishop in L.A., relating well to those immigrants who also flocked to California from another country.
Then for some reason, a man who was allegedly the husband of his housekeeper shot and killed him in his bedroom in Hacienda Heights, which is about 20 miles from downtown L.A.
A man of the people
Bishop O’Connell related so well to the working class people in that area of L.A., and a newspaper columnist traced his roots in the L.A. community to his first assignment in the U.S.,
Over a 43-year career across Los Angeles County, the Spanish-speaking Irish immigrant stood up for his working class parishioners against federal and local officials and even his own bosses. Even after Pope Francis appointed him as a bishop in 2015, O’Connell never lost his common touch …
St. Raymond [Church in Downey] was where O'Connell, who was 69 when he died, started his career in 1979 as an associate pastor. No markers commemorated O’Connell’s four years here, and Father Justin Ordoveza didn’t mention his superior’s name during Mass. On the other hand, he didn’t have to.
The Gospel that morning was from the Book of Matthew, where Jesus tells his disciples not to boast about their good deeds. Though O'Connell earned a lot of positive press, I’d soon find out it was the small moments that his former parishioners treasured the most.
After Mass, I walked into the sacristy to talk with Robert and Madeline Buckley, who have attended St. Raymond since 1967.
“We remember him when he was fresh off the boat,” cracked Madeline. “Looked like a big Irish kid. Learned everyone’s name almost immediately.”
Gustavo Arellano, “ ‘He brought us closer’: The LA journey of
Bishop O’Connell,” Feb. 23, 2023
The young priest, ordained in 1979 in the U.S. after completing studies in Ireland, served four years and another 41 in L.A.
Giving to others
The Buckleys remembered one little kindness of the young priest that stayed with them through their lives,
Robert, who handed out the Eucharist and marked ash crosses on the foreheads of his fellow parishioners, once gifted O’Connell a toy train set for Christmas after the young priest said his family was never able to buy him one.
“But then he gave it to a young boy, because that’s the type of man he was,” Robert said. “He seemed to sense the sorrows people kept, and cared to them.”
“We were so happy when he joined the hierarchy,” Madeline added. “He could’ve become a cardinal.”
O’Connell moved on to assist parishes in Pico Rivera and Long Beach until heading his own in 1988 — St. Frances X. Cabrini in West Athens. He would minister from there and other South L.A. churches for the next 27 years.
The charismatic priest organized against gun violence and environmental racism with other neighborhood groups and helped South L.A. rebuild after the 1992 riots. He shepherded St. Frances X. Cabrini as it transitioned from a historically Black parish to a mostly Latino one.
Gustavo Arellano, Feb. 23, 2023
Suspect taken by SWAT team
No one knows exactly what the animus was between Carlos Medina, a 65-year-old man, and his bishop although he had worked at the rectory along with his wife. Authorities said that they acted on a tip the he had been acting strangely and making derogatory comments about the bishop.
Some video indicated that an SUV that Medina had been driving was seen at the bishop’s residence.
On Sunday morning, authorities had received that tip about Medina and went to his Torrance home, and he refused to leave.
Worked with gangs, was a uniter
The bishop worked with people who were suffering in L.A., even during some of the worst periods in recent years,
O'Connell worked in South Los Angeles for years and focused on gang intervention, Angelus News reported. He later sought to broker peace between residents and law enforcement following the violent 1992 uprising after a jury acquitted four white LA police officers in the beating of Rodney King, a Black man.
Nearly two decades later, O'Connell brought the San Gabriel Valley community together to rebuild a mission there after an arson attack and in recent years spearheaded Catholic efforts in the region to work with immigrant children and families from Central America.
“Suspect in Bishop David O’Connell’s murder … ,” CBS News, Feb. 20, 2023
Elevated by Pope Francis in 2015
Bishop O’Connell is the kind of priest that Pope Francis has sought to remake the American — and world — hierarchy. He talks of those leaders as “shepherds,” those tending to lead the flock, help the downtrodden as Jesus preached — words so many Catholics ignore,
“Wherever he went, he helped the poor,” said Patrick Aririguzo, who was there with his wife, Pauline. “Everyone is shedding tears.”
CBS News, Feb. 20, 2023
RIP to a wonderful Irish-American who carried the words of Jesus Christ to those in need.