March 5, 2023 // National
Fellow Prelates Recall Late Bishop O’Connell for His Gospel Simplicity
By Pablo Kay
LOS ANGELES (OSV News) — During his seven years as auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles, Bishop David G. O’Connell made many friends — and a strong impression — among his brother bishops.
The native of County Cork, Ireland, was one of three priests named auxiliary bishops for Los Angeles by Pope Francis in July of 2015. The pope was known to refer privately to the future bishops — then-Father O’Connell, then-Father Robert E. Barron, a Chicago-born media evangelist, and then-Monsignor Joseph V. Brennan, an LA priest, as “Archbishop Gomez’s triplets.”
In his often-emotional remarks about Bishop O’Connell in the days since his Feb. 18 murder, LA Archbishop José H. Gomez has described him as “a man who loved Jesus Christ, and gave his whole life to following Jesus, to being his friend and to helping others to find Jesus.”
And in interviews with Angelus, the archdiocesan news outlet, bishops from around the country and even across the pond in England expressed admiration for Bishop O’Connell’s energetic faith, his ability to work with all types of people, and his kindness.
“If you had to write a play about his life, it would be ‘A Man for All Seasons,’” said Bishop Brennan, who left LA in 2019 to lead the Diocese of Fresno, California. “He was ‘all things to people,’ as St. Paul described his mission.”
Bishops O’Connell and Brennan were ordained priests for the Los Angeles Archdiocese a year apart in 1979 and 1980.
“I remember thinking, here’s this great Irish guy, hope he does well,” said Bishop Brennan, who also is of Irish descent. “Little did I know he was already working circles around us native guys, just in terms of totally immersing himself in the community.”
Bishop Brennan said that Bishop O’Connell had a special way of “making everyone feel that he was a kindred spirit to them,” from community organizers to law enforcement officials.
“And he was,” Bishop Brennan added. “But Dave was never a chameleon. He was never pretending to be any of these things. He did it because he was genuinely interested in everyone, wanting to love everyone.”
Bishop Barron, who now heads the Diocese of Winona-Rochester in Minnesota, said he was “absolutely devastated” by the news of Bishop O’Connell’s death.
“He was a man of enormous kindness, dedication, good humor, and Gospel simplicity,” Bishop Barron told Angelus. “I always came away from meetings with him feeling more alive, more confirmed in my faith. I will miss him tremendously.”
Bishop O’Connell served in the archdiocese for all of Cardinal Roger M. Mahony’s 25 years as archbishop of Los Angeles.
Cardinal Mahony recalled that “his entire life and ministry were devoted to his people, those who were poor, powerless, and on the margins of society,” praising Bishop O’Connell’s ability to bring people together and to work to overcome differences and build trust and understanding.
He also said that Bishop O’Connell had “made it clear that he never wanted to be moved away from Central and South-Central LA” when it came to his parish assignments.
Brennan agreed that Bishop O’Connell would often express privately that “he didn’t want to be anywhere else. He loved that ministry. He loved those people.”
Among current American bishops, there are two other Bishop O’Connells, including Bishop David M. O’Connell of Trenton, New Jersey.
The third, Auxiliary Bishop Mark W. O’Connell of Boston, first met LA’s Bishop O’Connell at “Baby Bishop School,” the unofficial name of a multi-day course for new bishops held at the Vatican.
“He was a truly humble and holy man,” he told Angelus.
The 58-year-old said the pair called each other “cousins,” since they shared not only a last name but also family roots in County Cork.
His LA counterpart later recruited him to serve on the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, where he made an impression as “a very strong advocate for the poor and for the dignity of every human person.”
Auxiliary Bishop Tim E. Freyer of the neighboring Diocese of Orange, California, was another one of O’Connell’s recruits to the subcommittee.
“We had a number of challenging issues to discuss, and I marveled at how he kept the conversation rooted in prayer, focused on how to best help the poor, and would bring us to consensus,” Bishop Freyer recalled.
Bishop Freyer said that he would bump into Bishop O’Connell on walks during silent retreats for bishops, and Bishop O’Connell would be either praying the rosary or the Liturgy of the Hours.
“I found that he was a man of deep faith, was very thoughtful and joyful,” he said.
LA Catholics prepared for Bishop O’Connell’s funeral Mass on March 3 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. On March 2, there were public viewing hours for the bishop, followed in the evening by a vigil Mass for Bishop O’Connell at the cathedral.
On March 1, a memorial Mass organized by the San Gabriel Pastoral Region, which Bishop O’Connell oversaw as the region’s episcopal vicar, was celebrated at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Hacienda Heights.
Bishop Brennan from Fresno offered some thoughts on his legacy.
“We need to channel our inner Dave O’Connell, defender of life everywhere,” Bishop Brennan said. “We need to be tenacious when it comes to reaching out to folks, as Pope Francis keeps telling us. Dave actually did it: going out to the people who are unwelcome, marginalized, on the peripheries.”
Pablo Kay is Editor-In-Chief of Angleus, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
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