February 26. 2024. 6:49

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Cork-born bishop shot dead in Los Angeles

Tributes have been paid to a Cork-born bishop after he was found dead from a gunshot wound in his house in Los Angeles where he had ministered to the underprivileged.

Fr Tom Hayes of the Diocese of Cork and Ross said priests in the diocese were shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Bishop David O’Connell (69) in Los Angeles last night, who was renowned in his adopted home as “a peacemaker” for his role in calming tensions following the Rodney King riots in 1992.

“Bishop O’Connell would have been a contemporary of many of our priests here in Cork and Ross who would have known him, so it was with sadness that we learned today of his death.

“He was ordained at All Hallows in Dublin, but he ministered in the Diocese of Los Angeles working among the underprivileged and he specifically asked for that ministry,” he said.

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“He would have done a lot of work where gangs were prevalent and he was known as a peacemaker and it was in recognition of that work that he was ordained an Auxiliary Bishop.

After his ordination as an Auxiliary Bishop in 2015, he requested to remain working with the underprivileged in LA, Fr Hayes said.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the body of Bishop O’Connell, who served as a priest and bishop in LA County for nearly half a century, was discovered in the 1500 block of Janlu Avenue in Hacienda Heights about 1pm on Saturday.

Archbishop Jose H Gomez of Los Angeles said in a statement: “It is a shock, and I have no words to express my sadness. As a priest and later a bishop here in Los Angeles for 45 years, Bishop Dave was a man of deep prayer who had a great love for our blessed mother.

“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 honoured and protected. He was also a good friend, and I will miss him greatly. I know we all will.”

According to The Los Angeles Times, Archbishop Gomez would not be drawn on the circumstances of Bishop O’Connell’s death, saying only that he had “passed away unexpectedly”.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said it was investigating the shooting death of an adult male at 12:57pm on Saturday. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Sheriff’s Department, which offered no details about a possible suspect or motive.

Bishop O’Connell was the chairman of the interdiocesan Southern California Immigration Task Force, helping co-ordinate the church’s response to immigrant children and families from Central America in recent years, and was key in sponsoring the enrolment of several young immigrants in Catholic schools – several of whom have advanced to college.

For 14 years, he was pastor at St Frances X Cabrini, in South Los Angeles, and became pastor of nearby Ascension, The Los Angeles Times reported in 2002.

This meant overseeing not only two congregations of roughly 4,000 families each, but also two schools that between them serve about 500 pupils from kindergarten through eighth grade.

“Both neighbourhoods are very poor and bogged down by issues of survival, and so are the duties of their priest. O’Connell spends a lot of time encouraging his parishioners to speak up for themselves – to fight for new stop signs and safer playgrounds, to demand that politicians keep their promises,” the newspaper reported.

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. It said the future bishop 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,” he said at the time. “People brought things back, and we tried to give them to the stores which they had come from.”