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Remembering An Advocate For Immigrants And The Poor, Friends Vow To Carry On Legacy Of Slain LA Bishop

A man in all black with gray hair and a beard sits next to children with medium-tone skin in plaid shirts. One wears a backpack.
Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell of the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese worked with undocumented and unaccompanied minors to help them find homes and attend school in L.A.
(Courtesy Linda Dakin-Grimm)
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The thing most people don’t know about Bishop David O’Connell is that he was a comedian. Not necessarily a very good one — people say he laughed through most of his punchlines.

But Linda Dakin-Grimm recalls a fan favorite:

“An airplane is flying and it gets in some trouble and the flight attendant gets on the PA and says, ‘Is there anybody religious on board who could lead us in a final prayer or could do something religious?’ And the Catholic priest on board raises his hand and she says, ‘Okay, father, will you do something religious?’ So he takes up a collection.”

O’Connell was found shot to death on Saturday at his church-owned home in Hacienda Heights. Authorities announced an arrest in the case on Monday and named the husband of O'Connell's housekeeper as the person in custody.

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A voice for immigrants

As the investigation continues, friends of O'Connell are remembering the Irish immigrant as a voice for fellow immigrants who was clear-eyed about the Catholic Church.

Linda Dakin-Grimm and Bishop O'Connell stand with a young boy outside.
Linda Dakin-Grimm (right) and the late Bishop O'Connell (center) worked together to help unaccompanied minors who traveled to the U.S. alone to find stable homes and education in LA.
(Linda Dakin-Grimm)

Dakin-Grimm is a lawyer who worked closely with O’Connell for over a decade. She always liked that he saw the church’s flaws.

"Completely aware of all the foibles and problems that the Catholic Church has had, and would be the first person to stand with a victim of abuse or any kind of difficulty,” she said.

A Harvard-trained litigator, Dakin-Grimm said it was “Bishop Dave” who changed her life by showing her the need for immigration lawyers. 

“In about 2013 or so I started doing pro-bono work in the immigration area at the request of Bishop Dave,” she said. “And in 2016 I started doing that exclusively so I no longer do any other kind of case.”

Bishop O'Connell eating outside at a picnic table with several teenagers.
Bishop O'Connell worked at St. Michael’s in South Los Angeles, on the corner of Vermont and Manchester, an area dubbed “death alley” in 2014 by the LA Times.
(Linda Dakin-Grimm)

A long career in L.A.

O’Connell began his work at St. Michael’s in South Los Angeles, on the corner of Vermont and Manchester, a place law enforcement referred to as “death alley” for its high homicide rates.

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“One of the poorest areas of Los Angeles,” Dakin-Grimm said. “And he didn't believe in, you know, living on the dole kind of thing as a parish. So he was trying to build community and build a self-sustaining parish out of very little.”

Instead of a standard Catholic mass offering where a basket is passed around for money, she said he did things differently.

“He had people bring their offering up to the front and he accepted it and thanked people,” Dakin-Grimm said.

Work with unaccompanied minors and DACA recipients

Dakin-Grimm and her husband attended (then Father) O’Connell’s masses and dined in his home. In 2010, she and O’Connell began working together to help unaccompanied minors and DACA students in L.A. County.

“Somewhere in the vicinity of 100 kids either have a green card now or are on the path to having one because of this work,” she said.

A man in a white robe holds a plaque. Two people stand on either side in front of a play structure.
Linda Dakin-Grimm and her husband often visited Bishop O'Connell over the last decade while working to assist undocumented children in LA.
(Courtesy Linda Dakin-Grimm)

A "sad and painful moment"

Archbishop of Los Angeles José Gomez in an emotional news conference Monday called O'Connell's death a “sad and painful moment” for Los Angeles.

Gómez, his voice cracking with emotion, said:

“Bishop David O’Connell, Bishop Dave, was a good friend to Los Angeles. Out of his love for God, he served the city for more than 40 years as an immigrant from Ireland. I would say that among the many things that I admired about him in his life and ministry was that he was fluent in Spanish with an Irish accent. Every day, he wanted to show compassion to the poor, to the homeless, to the immigrant, and to all those living on society's margins. He was a good priest, and a good bishop, and a man of peace.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said her heart was broken.

“It really hits home for some of us because Bishop David O'Connell was a personal friend, and someone who was very valiant. And someone who cared so much about our community, especially the immigrant community. He continued to diligently work and seek assistance for those vulnerable individuals in our community, especially young people, and especially the undocumented young people, DACA students.”

Carrying on his mission

The thing Dakin-Grimm says she will miss most about Bishop Dave?

“I miss having somebody that I can reach out to,” she said, continuing:

“If a kid was in trouble and I didn’t know what to do or a family had some need. He would always answer the phone and say, ‘yes.’ It makes me feel uncertain. People have needs and I can’t meet them all and I’m not the right person to meet them all. And I miss having someone who’s a Catholic leader who is completely aware of the problems the church has who isn’t hiding from them or trying to cover them up or anything like that.”

Dakin-Grimm says Bishop Dave was at her mother-in-law’s bedside when she died. He said, “She’s at peace, and with the Lord.”

Dakin-Grimm plans to continue her work as an immigration lawyer.

“I think he would tell us all to grieve as we need to but don’t drop the mission. And carry on.”

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