March 5. 2024. 9:54

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Cork-born bishop shot dead in LA was ‘prayerful’ and ‘attentive’ to poor

The fatal shooting of Cork-born Bishop David O’Connell in Los Angeles is being treated as a homicide and a murder investigation is under way, police have said.

Bishop O’Connell (69), who grew up in Glanmire but has lived in California since 1979, was found dead in his house in the east of the city on Saturday afternoon.

Tributes were paid to the Irish bishop who was known as a peacemaker and advocate for the poor.

“He was a prayerful man. He could be caught praying when he thought nobody was looking,” Pablo Kay, editor in chief of the Catholic news outlet Angeles News, said.

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“He was very attentive to people, to their needs, with his dry Irish wit. He spoke very good Spanish. He worked with some of the most recently arrived immigrants from Central America, from Mexico. He was also very loved by the black community in south central Los Angeles,” Mr Kay told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland.

“I’m still a parishioner at a parish that my great grandparents were married in — they were Irish immigrants. It eventually became a black, poorer neighbourhood. Since then a lot of Latinos have moved in and so this was Bishop O’Connell’s territory. This was his mission.

“You saw him much more comfortable with these kinds of people, working class folks, immigrant families, victims of gang violence. This was his habitat and I think he wanted to stay in south central LA for all these years. He had four or five different parish assignments — which are like six or seven years each, one after another. He stayed there until the end, until Pope Frances noticed him and made him a bishop.”

According to the LA County Sheriff’s Department, the shooting was reported at 12.57pm on Saturday at Janlu Avenue in Hacienda Heights. “Deputies responded to the location regarding a medical emergency call. When they arrived, they discovered a male adult suffering from a gunshot wound. Paramedics arrived and pronounced him dead at the scene,” police said.

Archbishop José H Gomez of Los Angeles expressed his sorrow at the news and urged people to pray for Bishop O’Connell’s family in Ireland. “We are deeply disturbed and saddened by this news,” he said.

Bishop of Cork and Ross Dr Fintan Gavin said the news of Bishop O’Connell’s death had sent shock waves across his native diocese, particularly in the parish of Glanmire.

“Since his ordination in 1979, Bishop David has served as a priest in Los Angeles but has always maintained his connection with family and friends here in Cork where has been a regular visitor. We pray that the Lord will console Bishop David’s many friends in Cork and throughout Ireland.”

It is understood that Bishop O’Connell was predeceased by his parents, David and Joan O’Connell and he has one surviving brother and several nieces and nephews still living in the Cork area.

He studied at All Hallows in Dublin and following his ordination by fellow Cork man, Bishop John Scanlan of Honolulu, he went to Los Angeles where he began ministering to the disadvantaged in some of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods.

According to fellow Cork priest, Fr Tom Hayes, Bishop O’Connell was known as a peacemaker, working among the underprivileged. “He specifically asked for that ministry — he would have done a lot of work in communities afflicted by gangland culture and he was known as a peacemaker.

“It was in recognition of that work in these communities that he was ordained an Auxiliary Bishop by Pope Francis in 2015 but he again asked to remain in the community there so as to continue working with the underprivileged and disadvantaged and that’s sadly where he lost his life.”

According to the Catholic News Agency, Bishop O’Connell gained his reputation as an intermediary after the 1992 riots following the acquittal of the police officers who savagely beat Rodney King when he was instrumental in trying to rebuild trust between officers and communities in South LA.

“Right away, we said that our churches were open for people, if they had taken stuff, to bring it back. People brought things back and we tried to give them to the stores which they had come from,” he said at the time.