Bishop O’Connell, friend of labor

America recently learned of the death of Bishop David O’Connell. An Irish immigrant who ministered to the poor and sought to quell gang violence in Los Angeles, the beloved Los Angeles auxiliary bishop was murdered in his own home.

The Bishop was an important friend of labor in Southern California. As Gustavo Arellano recalled in the Los Angeles Times:

After Mass, I traveled up to Santa Monica, to a place I would’ve never pegged as significant to O’Connell: The Lowes Santa Monica Beach Hotel. Its view of the Pacific and its hoity toity clientele were miles removed from South L.A., geographically and spiritually.

As I sat at a marble table for one, the waiter took my order for a breakfast burrito. That’s when I noticed the Unite Here Local 11 pin on his shirt.

In the late 1990s, labor organizers engaged in “a really bitter fight” to unionize the hotel’s workers, according to Unite Here organizing director Noel Rodriguez. O’Connell had already involved himself in workers rights issues across Los Angeles. He served as a bridge between the management of Catholic hospitals in Lynwood and employees during a labor dispute. In 1999, he read the story of David and Goliath during a rally at USC in which 25 protesters were arrested.

“I asked Bishop Dave to talk to this [Lowe’s] cook, because he was scared” to join the union, Rodriguez said in a phone interview. Some weeks went by, and Rodriguez reminded O’Connell of his promise.

“He told me, ‘I haven’t done it,’ got right in his car and visited [the cook] at his home. He helped him overcome his fear,” Rodriguez recalled. “The cook joined the union and got others to join. That kind of stuff happened all the time.”

Bishop O’Connell also chaired the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ subcommittee supervising the Church’s anti-poverty program, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). (CCHD is a major funder of the Catholic Labor Network.)

Please keep Bishop O’Connell and his family in your prayers.