‘We know that he’s in heaven’: Thousands gather for funeral of Bishop David O’Connell in Los Angeles
Archbishop José H. Gomez places the Book of Gospels and a cross on the coffin of Bishop David O'Connell before leading a procession at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, in downtown Los Angeles on March 3, 2023. | Photo by Jay L. Clendenin-Pool/Getty Images
Thousands gathered Friday for the funeral of slain Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell, who was remembered as “a friend of Jesus Christ” and the poor.
Archbishop José Gomez presided over the funeral Mass, held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. Speaking briefly at the conclusion of the liturgy, Gomez said “Bishop Dave,” as O’Connell was affectionately known, would be sorely missed, but “we know that he’s in heaven.”
“From there he’s going to continue to intercede for us,” Gomez said, “as he has done his whole life.”
O’Connell, 69, a popular Irish-born priest who worked on myriad social causes in South L.A. for the past 45 years, died Feb. 18 after being shot multiple times in his Hacienda Heights home, according to District Attorney George Gascón. Carlos Medina, the husband of O’Connell’s housekeeper, has admitted to murdering the bishop, Gascón said in a Feb. 22 press conference.
One of O’Connell’s closest friends, Monsignor Jarlath “Jay” Cunnane, gave the homily at Friday’s Mass.
“We’re heartbroken with you,” he said, speaking to O’Connell’s relatives sitting in the packed cathedral. “But thank you and your parents and those who’ve gone before you for giving us the blessing of him.”
The Holy Father’s message, which was first shared with attendees at a memorial Mass for O’Connell on Wednesday, was shared again at the beginning of Mass Friday.
“To those gathered for the Mass of Christian burial and to all who mourn Bishop O’Connell’s loss in the sure hope of the resurrection, the Holy Father cordially imparts his blessing as a pledge of peace and consolation in the Lord,” Gomez said, reading the statement, which was signed by Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
Following the reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Cunnane described O’Connell as “David, the friend of Jesus Christ; David, the friend of the poor.”
Said Cunnane: “I can’t imagine having walked that road without David at my side. I’m sure I would have got lost. I would have gone astray.” He said that O’Connell “was good at friendship” and was his “Anam Cara,” Gaelic for “soul friend.”
“He was a friend of souls. David did soul work. He spoke to the soul. He healed souls. He brought peace to souls,” Cunnane said, adding that “more than anything else … Bishop Dave was a friend of Jesus Christ and of Mary our Blessed Mother.”
Cunnane spoke about O’Connell’s devotion to the rosary and the Blessed Mother and mentioned his strong prayer life in recent years.
“For Dave life was, and especially in the recent years, life was prayer. Life was in the presence of Christ, and that is what he shared. Yes, he helped the poor. Yes, he fought for justice. But most of all, what he wanted to share was that encounter with Jesus Christ,” he said.
Cunnane added that he has battled sickness over the past number of years, which has hospitalized him. He said that O’Connell faithfully visited him in the hospital every day.
“I think I hear the Lord say to you, ‘My friend David O’Connell, come, blessed of my Father, enter the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of creation,’” Cunnane concluded.
David O’Connell, Bishop O’Connell's nephew, offered remarks about his uncle before the Mass concluded.
“Uncle Dave was an inspiration for us throughout our whole lives and he will remain to be so,” O’Connell said.
“He taught us that if you have the capacity to help someone, you should do it. I can hear him so clearly in my mind saying, ‘Ah, it’s no problem I can do it.’ All he wanted to do was make things easier for everyone else and he never asked for a single thing in return, ever.”
O’Connell said that his uncle would consistently offer his prayers for his nieces and nephews as they encountered challenges in their lives.
“He never ended a phone call without telling me how proud he was of me,” O’Connell said, fighting back tears.
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“He was really the rock of the family, the one we went to for advice, and for support. We are all heartbroken,” he said.
O’Connell said that a new opportunity presents itself following his uncle’s death.
“We now all have the opportunity to pick up where he left off and carry the example that he set. Help those that you can help. Lend an ear and listen to people. Respect each other. Be considerate and give others the benefit of the doubt. Have patience, and give everyone a chance. Make sure that those who are closest to you know that you love them and that you are proud of them,” he said.
“Uncle Dave, we all love you so much. I am so sorry that you will not be here for all the things that are to come in our lives, at least not in person,” he said. “Until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.”
Joseph Bukuras is a journalist at the Catholic News Agency. Joe has prior experience working in state and federal government, in non-profits, and Catholic education. He has contributed to an array of publications and his reporting has been cited by leading news sources, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the Catholic University of America. He is based out of the Boston area.