Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell was remembered as a man “gripped by grace” and “at ease with movers and shakers and also with the moved and shaken” as nearly 5,000 attended a funeral Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Friday morning.
The Friday Mass was the conclusion of a three-day tribute to O’Connell, starting with a Wednesday night memorial service at St. John Vianney Church in Hacienda Heights. Thursday at the cathedral, local Catholics said farewell to Bishop O’Connell in an all-day public viewing followed by a vigil Mass.
A homily on Friday by Msgr. Jarlath (Jay) Cunnane, Bishop O’Connell’s classmate and close friend from their seminary days in Ireland in 1971, called upon the phrase “Anam Cara,” the Celtic concept of having a friend of the soul.
“You’re blessed if you have a soul friend,” said Msgr. Cunnane, the pastor of St. Cornelius Church in Long Beach. “And I was blessed to have David. … I was better for having known David O’Connell. Many of you were too, were you not?”
The question drew a round of applause from the pews.
Archbishop José H. Gomez presided over the Mass that not only filled the Cathedral pews but had hundreds more standing in the aisles, ambulatories and seated on the outside plaza watching a livestream presentation. Long, yellow school buses frequently pulled up to the curb outside the Cathedral to drop off more mourners. Several streamed into the Cathedral Plaza as the two-hour Mass went on, using umbrellas as shade, clutching their young children, simply wanting to be present.
Three cardinals — Roger Mahony, Blase Cupich of Chicago, and Robert McElroy of San Diego — attended as well as 34 bishops and more than 50 priests at the altar.
Local dignitaries included LAPD Chief Michel Moore, former Los Angeles Mayors Eric Garcetti and Jim Hahn, former LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón, and several other civic leaders who called O’Connell a friend over the years.
Cunnane noted that Bishop O’Connell “wasn’t just my good friend. Friendship is something he was good at. He has friends young and old, far and wide … he has friends up and down the social scale, at ease in the corridors of power and with the powerless.”
In calling him a man “gripped by grace,” Msgr. Cunnane said Bishop O’Connell was “seized by the Lord, like Jeremiah (who) said: ‘Lord, you seduced me, and I let myself be seduced; you were stronger and you triumphed.’
“A mind and a wit always quick and sharp but sometimes in earlier days, with an edge. By grace became levity and joyous humor, and ability to affirm — he was always affirming, he found the good in people and praised it. He spoke it into them.”
Msgr. Cunnane thanked Bishop O’Connell’s family members present, several who came from Ireland, “for giving us the blessing of him for all these years and all this wonderful ministry here in Los Angeles.”
Archbishop Gomez read a message from Pope Francis that concluded: “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.
Archbishop Gomez added: “As we know, Bishop Dave loved and served Jesus with all his heart and all his strength, and like Jesus, he loved his brothers and sisters “to the end,” with a special love for those who are often forgotten and those who live on society’s margins. … We continue to pray for his eternal repose and especially we know that he has received the eternal reward. He’s in heaven. So, let’s keep praying for him, for his family, and for all of us. And let’s start going to his intercession for our needs.”
An ensemble choir with musicians from St. Andrew and St. Philip Churches in Pasadena, St. Denis Church in Diamond Bar, Sacred Heart Church in Covina, St. Frances of Rome Church in Azusa, St. Charles Borromeo Church in North Hollywood, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and Bishop Amat High School in La Puente provided music for many still in shock about O’Connell’s death at his home in Hacienda Heights on Feb. 18 at the age of 69.
One of the songs sung before the Mass was the traditional Irish ballad, “Danny Boy.”
After Communion, the choir sang the Irish hymn, “Lady of Knock,” to whom O’Connell had a lifelong devotion. Among the lyrics: “Golden Rose, Queen of Ireland, all my cares and troubles cease. As we kneel with love before you, Lady of Knock, my Queen of Peace.”
A multitude of various religious leaders were also present, welcomed by Father Alexei Smith, the ecumenical and inter-religious officer of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Faiths represented included the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Episcopal Church, the Disciples of Christ, the Baptist Church, About My Father’s Business Ministry, the Apostolic Sacramental Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the American Jewish Committee, the Hindu Vedanta Society, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, the California Sikh Council, and the Baha’i Faith.
“Many of these representatives had worked with Bishop David in one capacity or another on various peace and justice issues, particularly the unhoused, and others were so impressed by his devotion to those in need that they wanted to come to pay tribute to him and to demonstrate solidarity with the Catholic community upon our loss,” said Father Smith.
Chris Untiet, the director of faith and community relations at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles, said he was compelled to attend the Friday Mass since O’Connell was part of the group’s Catholic Coalition launched eight years ago — pulling together Catholic communities to pool resources on house-building materials and volunteers.
“Bishop Dave’s passion for social justice came our way and we saw how housing justice was really important to him,” said Untiet. “I just wanted to be here to honor his memory and carry on his spirit in the years ahead as we continue to build homes for those in need.”
Noting how the Habitat for Humanity is made up of many religious-based coalitions, Untiet added that O’Connell was one who helped build bridges of unity as well as build homes for a common goal.
“Every faith tradition has a core tenant of serving the poor and helping those most in need, and Bishop Dave helped to bring us all together on that front and we’re very grateful for that.”
David O’Connell, a nephew from Ireland who shared a name with his uncle, said in a reflection at the end of Friday’s Mass that “for me and my family and everyone listening here, we all have an opportunity to pick up where he left off and carry on 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.”
He added that his uncle “liked being a comedian, but he had a day job that seemed to be going better for him. … Uncle Dave was an inspiration for our whole lives. He taught us if we have the capacity to help someone, you should do it. All he wanted to do was make things easier for everyone else, and never asked for a single thing in return.
“He never ended a phone call without telling me how proud he was of me. And I hope he knows how proud we are of him. Let those close to you know that you love them and that you are proud of them.”
Bishop O’Connell was interred in the cathedral’s mausoleum following the Friday Mass.
During a Thursday night homily, Cardinal Mahony asked the question: “Where did our dear brother Bishop David O’Connell get his wisdom for all his marvelous pastoral works?”
Mahony focused on O’Connell’s “inner core of his own spiritual power,” referring to Scripture readings. He said O’Connell had a very special way of understanding two critical points from the Second Vatican Council: The absolute primacy of baptism, and the people of God.
“St. Paul says all have different gifts, and all those gifts, Bishop David was incredible in calling forth, empowering and sending forth everyone he met, especially the groups he was forming and working with,” said Mahony. “He didn’t go himself to the City Council, he brought parishioners, informed, and they were the ones to raise their voices. He helped in their formation, but they were the ones.”
Mahony continued: “As we reflect on this wonderful life and ministry of our beloved Bishop David, we always have to go back: Where did this all come from? It came from that special place. Secret place in him. A secret place you and I all have as well … where our spirit, our soul, our heart, our mind converge with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit.”
Mahony said O’Connell lever left a meeting without having a mission to take on, “always sending us somewhere to do something.” As he walked down three steps from the altar to the center aisle, Mahony put his hands on O’Connell’s casket and added with a halting voice between tears: “[The mission is] we ourselves go to that special place in our hearts as David taught us. Come Lord Jesus. Come Holy Spirit … Come … Amen.”
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