Father Dave

Father Dave was a good guy. You would have liked him. He had white hair. A warm smile. Good sense of humor. He was Irish to the core.

He was one of those clergymen who just got it. They say he could look at you and you just knew, this guy understands me.

Which is a rarity in the priesthood. A lot of times, a Catholic priest grows numb to the world around him. After all, he’s seen everything. Heard everything. It’s easy to get desensitized.

But not David.

David Gerard O’Connell was born on August 16, 1953, in Cork, Ireland. A sweet baby with a constant smile.

He was born into hard times. Ireland was no cakewalk in the ‘50s. Ireland was pure poverty. Ireland was neither a safe nor a happy place. Nearly 80,000 were unemployed. Half the country was hungry. People died of starvation.

And, bonus, the Catholic church wasn’t making things any easier. Hundreds of thousands of young women who got pregnant outside marriage were forced to give up their infants, or were sent to mental institutions. It was the Great Depression on steroids.

And that’s the era David was born into. He grew up during a miserable period of world history. He grew up the son of a farmer. He had nothing.

But he was a good kid. Cheerful. Kind. He went to college in Dublin, and when forced with a choice of academic major, he chose to study God.

David could have studied anything he wanted with his bright mind. He could have pursued business. He could have chased after his fortune. But he chose the ministry.

He became an ordained priest at 26 years old. He was baby faced and wholesome. Beautifully naive. He had no earthly idea what he was getting into. Thank God.

The Church sent him to Los Angeles, of all places. A humble boy from Cork, Ireland, sent to America’s second largest city. Father Dave couldn’t have felt more out of place if you would’ve painted him purple and placed him into a Cuisinart blender.

But Father Dave was a hard worker. He was a guy who looked you in the eye and cut through all the B.S., and the trappings of religion, and he got straight to business. “God loves you,” he’d say. “No matter who you are.”

He spent most of his years as a pastor, working the gutter jobs of the priesthood. He worked mostly on the streets. He worked with gangs, with the homeless, and he interjected himself into the violence of Southern California.

During the Rodney King riots, he was there. During COVID, when LA was falling apart, he was a voice of reason.

He arranged housing for ex-gang members. He fed Latino immigrants out of his own pocket. He organized efforts to aid migrants from Central America. He never stopped.

He met you where you were. If you were on the street, high on crack, dying of malnutrition, Father Dave came to you. If you were a pregnant teenager, and you needed someone, he was there.

His vestments were perpetually soiled by hard work. His collar was always wet from the tears of former murderers, immigrants, the homeless, widows and orphans.

A few days ago, they found Father Dave’s body in his home. He was shot in the upper torso. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Homicide. It doesn’t matter what happened, not for the purposes of this column. What matters is that a beautiful life was lived.

Hordes of his friends and parishioners gathered at the scene of his death, to remember this life. They fingered beads, and prayed the Rosary. They retold stories about Father Dave. They cried until they had dehydration headaches.

They remembered his last sermons.

“I remember when I was 11 years old,” Father Dave once said behind the pulpit. “My father was a quiet Irishman, a farmer, he never said much.

“One day I got test results of my county exam, after I left sixth grade, I earned seventh in the county, and my father shook my hand, and he said, ‘I’m so proud of you, son.’ That was 57 years ago, and yet I still remember those words. That’s how powerful those loving words were.”

I wish I could have seen David O’Connell’s face when God uttered those same words.


  1. Holly Lebed - February 21, 2023 10:13 am

    Thank you for sharing his story with us. It’s such a senseless tragedy.

    • Diane stelling - April 8, 2023 6:47 am

      Who killed father Dave?

  2. Dolores - February 21, 2023 10:53 am

    “Blessed [spiritually calm with life-joy in God’s favor] are the makers and maintainers of peace, for they will [express His character and] be called the sons of God. ~ Matthew 5:9 Amplified

    The act of violence that took the Bishop’s life in no way erases his lifetime of service that earned him the name ‘peacemaker’. Certainly some who were influenced by him are spurred to carry on his legacy.

    ‘Some flora spread their seeds when trampled’, Lord, let it be so. Amen

  3. Gwen - February 21, 2023 11:19 am

    Thanks be to God for you and Father Dave.

  4. Pilgrim Jax FL - February 21, 2023 11:36 am

    These days I read your column before I read the Bible lesson for the day.
    Your words often put those precious Scriptures into an accessible context.

  5. Gigi22 - February 21, 2023 11:57 am

    Beautiful tribute to Father Dave♥️

  6. Carol - February 21, 2023 12:07 pm

    Wonderful. Thank you.

  7. Christine - February 21, 2023 12:15 pm

    What a beautiful life of service he had. I’m sure God said Well Done as he entered Heaven.

  8. Mike McIntosh - February 21, 2023 12:19 pm

    Amen. And well said.

  9. mccutchen52 - February 21, 2023 12:45 pm

    The father sounds like one that would tell you want you needed to hear, not what you wanted to hear because what you needed to hear would help you more. I am sorry for his friends and extended family.

  10. Linda Hubbard - February 21, 2023 12:52 pm


  11. Darlene Raughton - February 21, 2023 1:02 pm


  12. Holly Shegon - February 21, 2023 1:50 pm

    So beautiful!
    May the angels lead him to paradise!

  13. Anne Arthur - February 21, 2023 2:11 pm

    A beautiful tribute to a great man of God. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

  14. Pubert Earl Boxmzemann - February 21, 2023 2:14 pm




  15. donna from Iowa - February 21, 2023 2:27 pm

    That is such a great loss–but may we follow his example;

  16. Stacey Wallace - February 21, 2023 2:30 pm

    My heart breaks at the death of Father Dave. He truly emulated Christ. What a tremendous loss for his parishioners and community. I know, without a doubt, that Father Dave is in one of the biggest mansions in Heaven. Prayers for the people who loved him.

  17. Ellouise - February 21, 2023 2:34 pm

    Dear Sean,
    He will say the same thing to you that he has said to Dave. Welcome, my son!

  18. Helen De Prima - February 21, 2023 2:51 pm

    The best obituary ever!

  19. Nancy Wright - February 21, 2023 4:00 pm

    Beautiful story, Sean. And a beautiful tribute to a fine life!!

  20. David Britnell - February 21, 2023 4:18 pm

    Oh my goodness (or lack of)!! That sounds like one of the most beautiful people in the world. What a beautiful soul he must have had.

  21. Melissa Brown - February 21, 2023 4:19 pm

    My heart breaks over the death of this fine priest. He was like Jesus as he walked the streets helping people. You wrote a beautiful story today, Sean. You are a fine person & you help so many people every day. One day God will also say Well Done to you Sean.

    • Edith Reed - February 21, 2023 10:08 pm


  22. Judy Kunkel - February 21, 2023 4:20 pm

    Beautiful column! ❤️

  23. Johnnie Blackburn - February 21, 2023 4:24 pm

    Sometimes there are no words.

  24. Susan Stanton - February 21, 2023 4:32 pm

    Father Dave is one of many good priests who toil joyfully and without fanfare, touching the lives of many. I have been blessed to know more than a few. Sadly, often it is the bad priests who make the news. Or the ones who have something bad happen to them.

  25. Pat - February 21, 2023 5:39 pm

    I don’t believe there are “bad priests”
    There are only “bad” people” who become a priest to take advantage of children and good people with their evil thoughts and actions
    Let’s not mix the good priests with those who sneak their way in to do harm

    • Cindy Carrington - February 21, 2023 8:39 pm

      Sean, you got me again!!!

  26. Pat D - February 21, 2023 5:44 pm

    There is no such thing as a “Bad Priest”
    There are only those who sneak their way into the priesthood to do harm.
    These are not real priests
    These are criminals acting as priest to spread evil and take advantage.
    Please don’t mix the two

  27. Jody w - February 21, 2023 5:56 pm

    Praise God for the blessing of Fr Dave’s work

  28. Mary - February 21, 2023 6:41 pm

    Thank you for writing this

  29. Mary Lou Griffin - February 21, 2023 6:52 pm

    Well said, Sean. Good on you.

  30. Margaret Cade - February 21, 2023 7:01 pm

    What a beautiful tribute to Father Dave. I wish I could have known him, but your writing makes us feel like we did. ❤️🙏

  31. Becky Souders - February 21, 2023 7:08 pm

    Beautiful tribute, Sean Dietrich. Your words are healing.

  32. Sue Ellen - February 21, 2023 8:13 pm


  33. Gayle Wilson - February 21, 2023 8:39 pm

    Sean, thank you for this tribute and for bringing this tragic event to my attention. My prayer is that his death will bring about more compassion and workers for those who cannot help themselves.

  34. Barbara J Schweck - February 21, 2023 8:44 pm

    Beautiful! The World will miss this man who truly lived as Jesus asks us to. Rest in Peace Father Dave

  35. Maggie Priestaf - February 21, 2023 8:51 pm

    Thank you, again. And just so you know I’m proud of you, Sean Dietrich…

  36. Linda Moon - February 21, 2023 9:31 pm

    Found. Shot. I had to stop reading here to take some breaths. Later, I read your last sentence about David O’Connell. Oh my God, and David’s, too. No greater love, Sean….it’s a gift from God.

    John 15:13

  37. Edith Reed - February 21, 2023 10:07 pm


  38. Karen - February 21, 2023 10:09 pm

    He lived as God wants us all.

  39. MAM - February 21, 2023 11:49 pm

    I was so upset when I read about his death. I never knew him, but my first question was WHY? But I guess God was waiting for him. and yes, you turned on the leaky eyes, with the last line. I understand they did arrest a suspect, his housekeeper’s husband. Another WHY?

  40. George Robert Leach - February 22, 2023 4:50 am

    Some live their faith.

  41. Kit - February 22, 2023 5:31 pm

    You left out the part where he was made a bishop a while back, but still continued the same as he always had in caring for people. The only difference was that he had a bigger salary to us in helping people who needed it. It’s hard to fathom why he was murdered by his housekeeper’s husband. Nevertheless, Bishop David would want us to forgive him and be merciful in speaking about him.

  42. Karen Snyder - February 22, 2023 11:47 pm

    No question in my mind. “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Matthew 25:23 ❤️

  43. Diann - February 23, 2023 3:01 pm

    What a beautiful life lived! Thank you for sharing the back story- those are always the best!

  44. Patricia Gibson - March 17, 2023 4:31 pm

    I hope they catch who did it🥲🥲


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