Catholic Bishop’s Visit to Campus Inspires Hope

When Bishop David Gerard O’Connell, Episcopal Vicar of the San Gabriel Pastoral Region under the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, stepped onto campus the occasion marked the first time Azusa Pacific University hosted a pastoral visit by a Catholic bishop. The visit, preceding the holidays, included a tour of campus, the bishop leading prayer before chapel, a meeting with Catholic students and faculty, and a luncheon in his honor.

“A pastoral visit is an occasion for the bishop of a geographical area to meet the members of his flock, to listen to their experience, and offer his support,” said Barbara Harrington, associate professor in the Honors College. “Given APU has a significant number of Catholic students, faculty, and staff, it was very meaningful for the bishop to meet and pray with us.”

Bishop O’Connell served as a priest in the Los Angeles area for more than 20 years, before his elevation as a bishop in 2015. His desire to know those he shepherds led him to pay a visit to APU. David Bixby, Ed.D, executive vice president, who welcomed Bishop O’Connell and served as his guide for the day, was inspired by the bishop’s passion for evangelism. “Bishop O’Connell spoke of bringing people to Christ and breaking down boundaries,” said Bixby. “His message is culturally relevant, challenging the Church to find common ground among all believers.”

Harrington said that the bishop’s love for young people is evidenced through his long service to inner-city youth in Los Angeles. “In this work, he spent many years ministering to people of different religious traditions, and often, to those with no faith at all,” said Harrington. “He has the wisdom that comes from years of inter-cultural ministry, which makes him a fascinating and yet very approachable person.”

“We are in the midst of an ongoing process to redeem the divide in the Christian Church,” said Kevin Mannoia, Ph.D., university chaplain. “Our university is committed to the broader Christian faith. We desire to engage with those from other traditions, including our Catholic brothers and sisters. By doing so, we reach across borders and embrace the whole Church.”

Matthew Hall, a Catholic student and recent transfer to APU, attended the luncheon with the bishop. He left encouraged by the visit and the university’s commitment to unification. “If we break down the walls that our own religious traditions have built around our hearts, there is room for collaboration, teaching, and growth for all,” said Hall. “Now is the time to unify in love for Jesus Christ and spread that message to the ends of the earth. This breaks down the exclusivity of any particular denomination and turns our eyes to the cross for truth, relevance, and love. APU provides the perfect community for Christ-followers to become unified in His love.”