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‘Gripped by grace’: Thousands gather for Bishop O’Connell’s funeral Mass

There were standing room only in the cavernous Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, where the funeral Mass for Bishop David G. O’Connell was held Friday morning. And it seemed that each of the 3,000 mourners in attendance had a personal relationship with the cleric best known as their beloved “Bishop Dave.”

Sister Margarita Rico, a member of the Los Angeles Order of the Servants of Mary dressed in a crisp white habit, first met O’Connell while tending to the bishop’s old friend, Father Jarlath “Jay” Cunnane , during a serious illness. She remembers that O’Connell came to visit his friend every day.

“It was sacred to him to take care of the sick,” she said.

Bishop David G. O’Connell’s coffin arrives at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Next to her was Jennifer Ayon, dressed in black and holding a Louis Vuitton purse. She had met O’Connell after her father Juan Ayon had become a deacon of the Church in June. O’Connell hosted a dinner for Juan and his wife Juanita at his home to welcome them. “He was such a gracious, authentic person,” Ayon said. “He would sit down and talk to you like he knew you.”

Sister Mariae Herrera and Sister Fatema Vega, members of the Trinitarians of Mary in West Covina who wear a light blue habit, said O’Connell was like a real father to them, visiting their convent every other week.

“He was part of our family,” Herrera said. “We called him daddy.”

O’Connell was shot to death on February 18 at his home in Hacienda Heights. A handyman whose wife worked as the bishop’s housekeeper has been charged with one count of murderbut the motive for the murder remains unclear.

A woman holds up a button with a photograph of Auxiliary Bishop David G. O'Connell

A woman holds up a button depicting Auxiliary Bishop David G. O’Connell.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Originally from Ireland, O’Connell served as a priest for 43 years and then as a bishop in LA County, primarily in South Los Angeles. In addition to serving his congregations, the white-haired priest who spoke fluent Spanish with an Irish accent was also a strong social justice advocate. He supported unaccompanied minors and DACA students through the Southern California Immigration Task Force, which he founded and chaired, which organized against gun violence and environmental racism, and helped South LA rebuild after the 1992 riots.

Pope Francis appointed him auxiliary bishop in 2015. The funeral was one of four masses and memorials planned by the archdiocese to honor the beloved bishop, who was 69 when he died.

LA Archbishop Jose H. Gomez presided over the two-hour Mass along with Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles; Cardinal Robert McElroy of the Archdiocese of San Diego; and Cardinal Blase Cupich of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The service began with a long, formal procession of all-Catholic pomp, including the Knights of Columbus, the Knights of Peter Calver, the Order of Malta, and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. They were followed by the white-robed deacons accompanied by their wives, then by novice priests and ordinary priests in their sand-colored robes, and finally by the bishops in their brightly shining hats, each of whom stopped to close the altar in the center of the church. to kiss.

Visitors watch Archbishop Jose H. Gomez lead the funeral procession

Visitors watch Archbishop Jose H. Gomez lead the funeral procession in front of the coffin.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, left, leads the recession at the end of the funeral service

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, left, leads the recession Friday at the end of Bishop David O’Connell’s funeral service at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, in downtown Los Angeles.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

A choir sang an opening hymn called “The Deer’s Cry” by Irish composer Shuan Davey.

I rise today, by God’s power to rule me.
God’s eyes to look before me, God’s wisdom to guide me
God’s way to lie before me, God’s shield to protect me

To open the mass, Gomez read from a telegram he received from the Vatican expressing Pope Francis’ grief over O’Connell’s untimely death.

The pope noted that O’Connell’s ministry was “particularly marked by his deep concern for the poor, immigrants and those in need, his efforts to uphold the sanctity and dignity of God’s gift of life, and his zeal for promoting solidarity, cooperation and peace. within the local community.”

The homily was delivered by Cunnane, who is also from Ireland. He befriended O’Connell when the two attended seminary together in 1971, and they met for dinner most Thursday nights. Cunnane said he and O’Connell had been on the road together for a long time.

“I can’t imagine walking that road without David by my side,” he said. “I’m sure I’d be lost.”

Friendship was something O’Connell was especially good at, Cunnane said. “Young and old, far and wide, in Peru, South Africa and up and down the social scale,” he said. “He was comfortable with the movers and the shakers, and the moved and the shocked.”

He described his friend as “grasped with grace” and as a “practical mystic.”

“Some of us have what we call a prayer life,” Cunnane said. “For Dave, life was praying.”

A nun in a white habit prays kneeling in a church.

Margarita Rico, a nun with the Servants of Mary, attends the funeral service.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

There were several movers and shakers in the pews, including LA County Dist. Attention. George Gascón, LA Police Chief Michael Moore, and Janice Hahn, President of the LA County Board of Supervisors. In an interview after the service, former mayor Eric Garcetti, who also attended, said he first worked with O’Connell on community issues as a city councilman and that O’Connell had joined a diverse group of spiritual leaders who take turns praying for the city ​​at the beginning of the pandemic.

“He had a light within him that hid how deeply he felt about the injustice around him,” Garcetti said. He would open your heart with a joke and then dig into it with a question that stretched beyond what you thought possible. My heart feels torn.”

Towards the end of the service, another David O’Connell rose to speak – the bishop’s cousin.

“I’m not sure many of you heard this earlier today, but my uncle liked to tell a joke,” he said, and the room filled with soft laughter. “He loved being the comedian, but luckily he had a job that seemed to suit him a little bit better.”

The laughter got louder.

David O'Connell, the bishop's cousin, speaks at the funeral service.

David O’Connell, the bishop’s cousin, speaks at the funeral service.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

The younger O’Connell, who lives in Ireland, remembered an uncle who served as a rock to his entire Irish family and who never finished a phone call with his cousin without telling him how proud he was of him.

“Uncle Dave was an inspiration to us all our lives,” he said. “He taught us that if you have the capacity to help someone, you should do it. I can hear him say so clearly in my mind, “That’s no problem. I can do it.’ All he wanted to do was make it easier for everyone and he never asked for anything, ever.’

His uncle’s death left his family heartbroken, he said. But to him, his family, and anyone listening in today, he said, “He now saw an opportunity to pick up where his uncle left off.”

“Help those you can help. Lend an ear and listen to people. Respect each other. Be considerate and give others the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “Be patient and give everyone a chance. Make sure those close to you know you love them and are proud of them.”

His voice cracked at that last statement.

As the two-hour funeral drew to a close, Archbishop Gomez repeated those thoughts before dousing O’Connell’s cloth-lined coffin with holy water and enfolding it in incense smoke.

“As we honor and thank him, and follow his joyful example, his beautiful example of being close to Jesus,” Gómez said. “His example should be the way we live.”