Catholics in Los Angeles and elsewhere are mourning the death of Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell Sunday, one day after the longtime cleric was found dead of a gunshot wound at a home in Hacienda Heights, prompting a murder investigation.
In a statement on Saturday, Archbishop JosÃ© Gomez made no reference to the shooting but said: “I am very sad this afternoon to report that our beloved Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell has passed away unexpectedly. It is a shock and I have no words to express my sadness.”
O’Connell, 69, was a native of Ireland and had been a priest and later a bishop in Los Angeles for 45 years, Gomez said.
“He was a peacemaker with a heart for the poor and the immigrant, and he had a passion for building a community where the sanctity and dignity of every human life was honored and protected,” the statement continued.
“He was also a good friend, and I will miss him greatly. I know we all will. Please join me in praying for Bishop Dave and for his family in Ireland. May Our Lady of Guadalupe wrap him in the mantle of her love, and may the angels lead him into paradise, and may he rest in peace.”
Widely known as “Bishop Dave,” O’Connell was pronounced dead at the scene after Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies found him suffering from a gunshot wound at 12:57 p.m. on Saturday in the 1500 block of Janlu Avenue, near Turnbull Canyon Road.
Former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted “I’m so deeply saddened by the death of longtime peacemaker and fighter for justice, Bishop David O’Connell. He was a friend of many years and part of a prayer group that I participated in throughout the COVID pandemic. The city has lost one of its most beautiful angels.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna tweeted, ”My heart grieves after learning of the murder of Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connee. He lovingly served as a priest and bishop in Los Angeles County for 45 years. He was a peacemaker and had a passion serving those in need while improving our community.”
Lt. Michael Modica told reporters the man now identified as O’Connell was found dead in a room of the house from an apparent gunshot wound to the upper body. No further details have been released.
The sheriff’s department said Sunday that the death was being handled as a murder investigation.
“We learned early Sunday morning from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office that they have determined that the death of Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell Saturday was a homicide. We are deeply disturbed and saddened by this news,” Gomez said in a statement released on Sunday morning. “Let us continue to pray for Bishop Dave and his family. And let us pray for law enforcement officials as they continue their investigation into this terrible crime.”
At the time of his death, O’Connell was vicar for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ San Gabriel Pastoral Region, a post he had held since 2015 when Pope Francis appointed him as an auxiliary bishop for the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
O’Connell had previously served as associate pastor at St. Raymond Catholic Church in Downey, St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Long Beach, and St. Hilary Church of Perpetual Adoration in Pico Rivera and then as pastor of St. Frances X. Cabrini, Ascension, St. Eugene and St. Michael’s parishes, all in Los Angeles.
O’Connell was born in County Cork, Ireland. He studied for the priesthood at All Hallows College in Dublin and was ordained to serve in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1979, according to Doris Benavides, Associate director of media relations for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
As chairman of the interdiocesan Southern California Immigration Task Force, O’Connell helped coordinate the church’s response to immigrant children and families from Central America in recent years. He also sponsored the enrollment of several young immigrants in Catholic schools, a number of whom have advanced to college.
He served as a member of the Priest Pension Board and on the Together in Mission Board as well as the Archdiocesan Finance Council, the archdiocese said. He was a member of the Council of Priests and a Knight of Peter Claver.
At the national level, he was chairman of the Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In September, O’Connell was honored with the Evangelii Gaudium Award from St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, “for his selfless service to the community and the Church in L.A,” Benavides said.
A gathering of mourners held candles and stood near the intersection of Janlu and Los Robles avenues Saturday night and prayed the rosary in his memory, the Los Angeles Times reported.
There was also an outpouring of shock, sadness and remembrance on Twitter and other social media from people who knew and worked with O’Connell.
“This is L.A. Aux. Bishop David O’Connell, with one of my young clients,” immigration attorney Linda Dakin-Grimm wrote on Twitter alongside a photo. “Bishop Dave … was there for every child and family I have represented. Always. Helping, supporting and generally being the face of Jesus for me and many many others.”
Sister Norma Pimentel, Executive Director for Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, also shared a photo of herself and O’Connell.
“Bishop David O’Connell, truly a man of God! Your sudden departure has left us extremely sad. May you rest in peace Bishop O’Connell,” Pimentel tweeted.
Kathryn Jean Lopez, a columnist and an editor-at-large of National Review Online, tweeted, “Goodness was I blessed to get to know him. God rest his beautiful soul.”
Bishop Robert Reed of Boston also shared a photo on Twitter of himself with O’Connell.
“Through the mercy of God, may the soul of this good priest and bishop rest in peace. Amen,” he wrote.
Irish author and storyteller Julianne Stanz tweeted, “My heart is heavy with sorrow at the passing of my dear friend Bishop David O’Connell. A compassionate and kind man who loved Jesus. Ar dheis DÃ© go raibh a h’anam dÃlis which means `May his holy soul be on the right side of God. Rest in peace Bishop Dave.”
The sheriff’s Homicide Bureau urged anyone with information regarding the shooting to call them at 323-890-5500 or Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477. Tipsters can also use a smartphone by downloading the “P3 Tips” Mobile app on Google Play or the Apple App Store or by using the website lacrimestoppers.org.
“Bishop O’Connell was a guiding light for so many, and his legacy will continue to live on,” the department tweeted. “You are not alone in your grief and that @LASDHQ is here to support you. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, and we are working diligently to seek those responsible for his death.”