Sunday morning, I woke up to the news of the murder of my friend Bishop David O’Connell.
When I first saw the news, I reread the headline of the article over and over so my sleepy eyes could catch up with my brain. I was instantly sad, but not surprised.
This is the way I would expect him to go.
He wasn’t the type of man to peacefully drift into death in old age. He had too much passion for that. He tricked death into bringing about new life for too long. He lived like the Apostles of old. And when you live like that, the spirit of the world doesn’t let you drift off to sleep.
But, God is always up to something, and as the details of his murder come out, I look forward to seeing how he has tricked death once again in sprouting new life. No doubt, many will come to life in Christ through this, including the poor soul who sought to end his.
Here’s a few short facts about Bishop David that I’m not seeing reported:
1) Before becoming a Bishop, he was a pastor in very violent gang neighborhoods (this is where his heart was). As pastor at St. Michael’s, he walked his parish boundary and consecrated the entire area to St. Michael the Archangel. Violence precipitously dropped.
2) He would find men and women on the street, talk with them and give them jobs, i.e., “paint our gym,” “I need a fence put up.” He gave them purpose, paid them for the work, and those people started coming to Mass. For this and so many other reasons a once dead parish came back to life.
3) He worked with the police and community leaders to broker peace during periods of particularly high gang violence in Los Angeles’ past.
4) He had a full ‘Theology of the Body’ course at his parish teaching soon-to-be ex-prostitutes, addicts, and others their dignity in the eyes of God
5) He lived in poverty despite taking a Bishop’s salary. He spent his salary to pay the rent of others quietly. (I only know this because I know multiple people/families who told me that Bishop Dave was helping them out.)
6) He dropped everything to pray with someone, speak words of healing, consolation and love. I saw this over and over.
7) He was spiritual director to more people than I can count at all levels of society.
8) He went out and knocked on doors just to get to know people, talk about Jesus, and see how he could help.
9) He hated that priests moved around so much. He said “a priest marries his people, and I just want to be with my flock.” He genuinely loved them deeply.
10) He once told me that the greatest pain of his life was becoming a Bishop. When he got the call, he became depressed. But, he obediently followed ,not knowing where it would lead. And for walking that path, he touched so many more people.
He became a spiritual father to countless people around the Archdiocese, to so many priests, to many more families and apostolates. The world is better for it. But for him, it was about each and every relationship.
11) Lastly, he was a comedian. To blow off steam, Bishop Dave could sometimes be found wearing his favorite flannel shirt, on stage, microphone in hand, making people who had no idea who he was laugh.