A Sligo-born priest, who was a close friend of murdered Irish Bishop David O’Connell, has described the ‘tremendous shock and devastation’ he felt following his death.
ishop O’Connell (69), originally from Glanmire in Cork, was shot dead while sleeping in his Los Angeles home on Saturday, February 18th. He was auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Up to five shots were fired and home repair contractor Carlos Medina (65) has been charged with the murder. Mr Medina was the husband of Bishop O’Connell’s housekeeper.
Father Jarlath Cunnane, originally from Sligo and a life-long friend of Bishop O’Connell, paid tribute to his friend that he had known for over 50 years.
“We have been friends since 1971, that’s 52 years, so it’s a lifetime of friendship,” Fr Cunnane said on Morning Ireland.
“In Ireland we used to talk about Anam Cara, that’s ‘the soul friend’. David and I were soul friends all those years, we travelled together, prayed together, and worked together.
“On a personal level there is tremendous shock and devastation, but I am grateful to have known him through all these years.”
Fr Cunnane spoke of Bishop O’Connell’s great capacity for friendship for people across all backgrounds and lifestyles.
“He was not just a good friend, but friendship was something he was good at,” he said.
“He had a wide range of friendship, notably up and down the social scale with most of his ministry. The poor, immigrants, the disenfranchised, people on the margins.
“But he also had a capacity to develop relationships and friendships with the movers and the shakers, not just the moved and shaken, with the city council, the mayor, police chiefs, all of that.”
Fr Cunnane said this capacity to reach people across all of society was particularly beneficial for working in downtown inner-city Los Angeles.
“That gave him the ability to bring the community together, to get people who were not talking with one another to come together,” he said.
Fr Cunnane said that himself and Bishop ‘Connell were based in Los Angeles and presided over far too many funerals of ‘especially young men’ who had been killed through gang violence, or just violence in general.
“Bishop O’Connell was 27 years in South LA, that was the Bloods and the Crips, Latina gangs, all of that,” he said.
“It was very much a piece of the environment and you have to have a great heart for the suffering, there is a lot of suffering and he was driven to try and do something about it.”
Fr Cunnane highlighted the difficulties in Los Angeles as far back as the 1980s when the police were ‘like an occupying army’ that were greatly distrusted by the community.
“It became clear that today that is hard to change, he came to develop those relationships with the community he was a part of, and to bring their private pain to public speech and develop community action from there.”
Mr Medina, the man charged with Bishop O’Connell’s murder is the husband of the cleric’s housekeeper. Neighbours stated that the contractor, who has previous drugs convictions, had been acting erratically over recent days.
Detectives said they were baffled by a motive for the shooting after ruling out initial reports that Mr Medina believed Bishop O’Connell owed him money.
Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon said Mr Medina faced one count of murder and a further count of using a firearm to commit a criminal act.
The prosecutor said Mr Medina admitted the killing to homicide detectives during interviews.
“I know this has been a shock for our community – this was a brutal act of violence against a person who dedicated his life to making our neighbourhoods safer, healthier and always served with love,” Mr Gascon said.
“By all counts, Bishop O’Connell was a saint for Los Angeles.”
If convicted, the contractor could face a sentence of between 35 years to life imprisonment.
Mr Medina had been held on bail of $2m (€1.9m).
Grieving parishioners have created impromptu shrines to the priest across Los Angeles and have held daily vigils, including at candle-lit ceremonies outside his Hacienda Heights home.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles now wants to honour a priest who devoted his life to helping the poor, the vulnerable and migrants from Central and South America.
Bishop O’Connell earned the nickname ‘The Peacemaker’ after personally intervening during the 1992 race riots in Los Angeles in a bid to ease tensions and restore order.