LOS ANGELES — “You were the light, peacemaker, and the joy of God.”
That is how Catholic singer/songwriter Andrea Vicich remembers her good friend “Father Dave,” or as he’s more commonly known, Bishop David O’Connell, in a song she wrote and published in honor of the late Los Angeles auxiliary bishop.
Like so many, Vicich describes Bishop O’Connell as a peacemaker in the community who was humble and worked tirelessly to bring people together. She said his legacy is his frequent message of being kind, loving, and nonjudgmental.
After a moment’s pause, she likened him to Mother Teresa.
“I think the legacy that he leaves is similar to Mother Teresa, where she would take in anyone,” Vicich explained. “Similarly, it doesn’t matter what someone did with their lives, [Bishop O’Connell] would welcome them and not make them feel guilty. He would show them the merciful Jesus and the loving Jesus of forgiveness.”
Vicich met Bishop O’Connell in 2009 when he was the pastor of St. Michael Church in southern Los Angeles. One day, she was doing social work in the area and went to St. Michael Church to sing. Afterward, she remembers, Bishop O’Connell complimented her music, and they got to talking, and he just so happened to have been to the small town in the Peruvian Andes where the organization she leads does mission work. That’s how their friendship began.
Vicich is the founder and CEO of Angels of Charity and Music, a nonprofit organization that provides religious and material help to people in need worldwide. Bishop O’Connell twice traveled with them on medical missions to Peru. Her fondest memory of him, though, is the sacrifice he made to make their mission trip possible in 2013.
At the time, Vicich said she called Bishop O’Connell to ask for prayers because she wasn’t able to reach the financial goal they needed to go on their medical mission. He invited her to the church to pray, and when she got there, he instead told his secretary to give Vicich his salary check for the next three months to cover the cost of the trip.
“I’d never seen anything like that in my life,” Vicich said. “He said, ‘Look, I have everything I need. I have food in the church. I have a room to sleep. And I have a car and I have gas. I don’t need anything. What would I need this check for?’ ”
Other memories Vicich has from her decade-plus-long friendship with Bishop O’Connell include the impact his ministry had in the Compton area, recalling how it was pivotal in decreasing crime in the area and increasing the number of churchgoers.
Vicich remembers him as a comedian from his priest days, as well. In particular, there was one night when he performed at the renowned Laugh Factory on Sunset Boulevard. She remembers his comedy as kind, good-hearted, and the best of the night. She also remembers how he used his presence at the Laugh Factory to evangelize.
“He would pass out business cards to everybody, and that’s how he would evangelize. And these people started coming to his church,” Vicich said. “He had a gift for connecting with people.”
There’s no mention of Bishop O’Connell’s comedy prowess in Vicich’s new song in his honor, but it does touch on his life and personality. She finished it on Feb. 28 after working on it tirelessly from the moment she found out he was killed. The song has more than 5,400 views on YouTube to date.
In the lyrics, Vicich highlights that Bishop O’Connell came from pasturing sheep as a boy in Ireland to being a pastor to Catholics in Los Angeles. She recalls that he “used to love the poor, the sick, and the lost.” She even calls him a martyr, explaining to The Tablet that she isn’t saying that from a theological perspective but that it’s just what she believes.
“I think he’s a martyr because he was assassinated in a cruel way. He didn’t deserve to die that way, and he was serving the Lord that day. The person that killed him was stopping God’s work,” Vicich explained. “I’m not a theologian, but in my humble opinion, in my heart, he is a martyr because he was serving the Lord.”
Of all of the lyrics, however, it’s perhaps the opening line that best encapsulates how people have remembered Bishop O’Connell since his death on Feb. 18.
“You were my friend,” Vicich sings. “The one that God sent.”