It has been six years since Anabel Rodriguez, principal of St. Michael’s School in South Los Angeles, spoke for a video tribute to her former pastor, Auxiliary Bishop David G. O’Connell, with words that now seem grievously prophetic.
“We miss you. We wish you would still be here,” she said when the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of Los Angeles awarded him the Gold Medallion of Merit in 2017. “This will always be your house.”
The video, produced by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Digital Team, illustrates many of the themes of Bishop O’Connell’s ministry being lauded since his Feb. 18 death.
O’Connell’s funeral services begin Wednesday, March 1, with a 7 p.m. memorial Mass in St. John Vianney Catholic Church, near his home in Hacienda Heights.
There will be a public viewing on Thursday, March 2 in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1-6 p.m., followed by a 7 p.m. vigil Mass.
His funeral Mass will be at the cathedral at 11 a.m., Friday, March 3, followed by a private interment in the cathedral crypt. Bishop O’Connell’s will be the second burial of a bishop at the Cathedral: the first was Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop John Ward, who died in 2011.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has also been inviting Catholics to participate in “A Hail Mary for Bishop Dave” at ahailmaryforbishopdave.com, where they can pray a Hail Mary, pledge an act of kindness, sign the guestbook, learn about his prayer life and share stories using #aHailMaryforBishopDave.
The stories on the 2017 video open with Bishop O’Connell reminiscing about arriving in South Central Los Angeles in 1988 “when it was being torn apart by gang warfare.”
He ministered to victims of violence and of crack cocaine. In 1992, 60 people were killed in rioting after police officers who savagely beat Rodney King were acquitted. Bishop O’Connell reached out to build peace.
“Many people were leaving South Los Angeles. And the Catholic Church -- we rushed in,” Bishop O’Connell said.
Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim O’Connell described Bishop O’Connell as seeking ways to make people’s lives better and safer.
“He exemplifies what it means to be a Catholic priest, what it means to be a servant of God,” he said.
The bishop’s brother, Kieran, said that when they were growing up in Ireland, “We as a family always took for granted that Dave would be a priest. It’s all he ever wanted to do.”
Nevertheless, his seminary classmate, Msgr. Jarlath Cunnane, recalled that “in his first few years in the seminary not many people would have predicted that he would become a bishop.”
Partly because he dressed a bit like a hippie, Cunnane said, “maybe more would have predicted that he would have been thrown out of the seminary.”
But he thrived as a pastor.
Rodriguez, the principal at St. Michaels, said he found donors for the school and worked with police to make the neighborhood safer.
Her words were echoed by the parish business administrator, Edith Garcia.
“He has built up St. Michaels. It seems like the people are closer,” she said. “He has left a mark here, the mark of love, the mark of growing in your faith.”
Addressing Bishop O’Connell directly, Garcia said. “Thank you for being part of my life, for showing me how to care about others.”
In the final clip, Bishop O’Connell preaches, “Our Holy Father wants us to put into practice our faith in small or big actions of kindness and charity each day, so that the world may once again see the merciful face of Jesus.”