Murdered Cork bishop remembered in home parish

Mourners at special mass of remembrance hear Dave O’Connell was ‘extraordinary person’ committed to poor in LA

Murdered Irish Bishop Dave O’Connell may have appeared an ordinary man, but that ordinariness masked an extraordinary person whose dedication to the gospel saw him commit to helping the poor, the marginalised, and the oppressed, mourners at a special remembrance mass have heard.

Bishop O’Connell’s close friend for over 50 years, Fr Bob Brophy told mourners at a special mass of remembrance in the Church of the Sacred Heart in Glounthaune, Bishop O’Connell’s home parish near Cork city, that his friend had touched many lives through his ministry as a priest and pastor.

He recalled the sense of shock and sadness both in Cork and elsewhere that greeted the news on February 18th last that Bishop O’Connell (69) had been found shot dead in the bedroom of his home in Hacienda Heights in Los Angeles where he had ministered for over 40 years.

“The outpouring of love, sadness, admiration, grief was immense – not just because of the manner of his death but much more because Dave touched the lives of so many people,” Fr Brophy told a congregation that included Bishop O’Connell’s brother, Kieran, and his nieces and nephews.


“He touched everyone from the movers and the shakers to the moved and the shaken, as expressed by Fr Jarlath Cunnane in his inspiring homily for his ‘Anam Cara’, Dave O’Connell in the most magnificent uplifting heavenly liturgy in the iconic cathedral of Our Lady of Angels in Los Angeles,” he said.

Fr Brophy focused in his homily on the priest and pastor that Bishop O’Connell had become, and he paid tribute to his family and the local community in Brooklodge in Glounthaune that was so influential in nurturing the values he aspired to and practised in his life and ministry.

“All of us who knew and met Dave encountered a relaxed, friendly, self-deprecating, humorous person with kindness and compassion, who wore his position very lightly – who loved coming home to the warmth of his family, his neighbours, and friends where he was refreshed and renewed.

“But this ordinary Dave, whom we met, masked an extraordinary Dave and we might ask where this boy from Glounthaune received all this wisdom, conviction, passion, commitment to Jesus and Mary and to the service of the Gospel, particularly the poor and the marginalised and the oppressed?

“He was of course formed by his family, his parents, his mother’s love of Our Lady, his brothers and his sister but also by you, his community here of Glounthaune and Brooklodge and Knockraha – you formed him, influenced him to be the extraordinary person that he became.”

Fr Brophy said by this stage in the sermon, Bishop O’Connell, whom he first met when they both went to All-Hallows in Dublin in 1971 to train for the priesthood, would have come up with at least two funny stories and he was going to try to emulate his late friend with one or two anecdotes.

He recalled how Bishop O’Connell, when asked where he got his vocation, used to tell a story, laced with his characteristic self-deprecating humour, about how he decided on a life in ministry when visiting Knock Shrine in Mayo with his late mother, Joan.

“He used to claim that he received his vocation when he went to Knock with his mother and, standing there in the wind and the rain – that’s Knock, all right with the wind and the rain – he looked up and saw the priest inside under the cover and he thought ‘That’s where I want to be’.”

He said it was evident from an early stage that Bishop O’Connell had not just a sharp sense of humour but also a rebellious streak.

“Dave was proud of his Cork roots, and he had a rebel Cork streak – in our time in All Hallows, I think some fellow students would have been surprised and amused at Dave becoming a bishop but as the Psalm says, ‘The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone’.

“I remember Dave telling of an incident where he was brought up to the President’s office and Dave putting a funny spin on the encounter – the President said ‘Mr O’Connell, here we have night prayer and lights out but for you Mr O’Connell, it’s light prayer and nights out’.”

But while Bishop O’Connell was possessed of a sharp humour, he was earnest in his pastorate and that was never more evident than in his work in Los Angeles where he ministered to a community affected by poverty, gang violence, drugs, and tensions with the local police force.

“That tension between police and communities was particularly high after the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in the early 1990s but Dave’s work there in building trust later led him to being asked to testify to Congress in Capitol Hill in Washington on violence in urban United States.”

Principal celebrant, Bishop Fintan Gavin, said he too knew of Bishop O’Connell’s ministry, touching so many lives in Los Angeles from his ordination in 1979 right up to “his cruel murder just a little over a month ago” and he asked people to pray in solidarity with people and clergy there mourning his loss.

Bishop O’Connell’s close friend, Fr Jarlath Cunnane, travelled from Los Angeles and recalled how he stood in the Church of the Sacred Heart in Glounthaune 44 years ago for his friend’s first mass where he spoke about love, and he had brought that love to “the mean streets of Los Angeles”.

He then presented Bishop O’Connell’s vestments, which he wore both in Los Angeles and at the Mexican border when he met migrants, to the parish of Glounthaune as was the wish of Bishop O’Connell’s brother, Kieran, and his wife, Paula, and the late bishop’s six nieces and nephews.

Local Glounthaune Parish Priest, Fr Damian O’Mahony thanked both the O’Connell family and Fr Cunnane for the donation of the vestments, which he said would be worn with pride by all saying Mass in the three churches of the parish, including Knockraha, Little Island and Glounthaune.

Carlos Medina (61) who has been charged with the murder of Bishop O’Connell, pleaded not guilty at an arraignment hearing at the Foltz Criminal Justice Centre in downtown Los Angeles last week and has been remanded in custody in lieu of posting $2 million bail to appear again on May 17th.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times