Denis J. O'Connell

Denis Joseph O'Connell (January 28, 1849 – January 1, 1927) was an Irish-born Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. Before becoming Bishop of Richmond, he served as rector of the North American College, and later, of The Catholic University of America.

Denis Joseph O'Connell
Bishop Emeritus of Richmond
Denis J O'Connell PNAC.JPG
A photograph of O'Connell taken during his tenure as rector of the American College (1885–1895)
InstalledMarch 19, 1912
Term endedJanuary 15, 1926
PredecessorAugustine Van de Vyver
SuccessorAndrew James Louis Brennan
Other postsAuxiliary Bishop of San Francisco (1907–12)
OrdinationMay 26, 1877
by Bishop James Gibbons
ConsecrationMay 3, 1908
by Cardinal James Gibbons
Personal details
Born(1849-01-28)January 28, 1849
Donoughmore, County Cork, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
DiedJanuary 1, 1927(1927-01-01) (aged 77)
Richmond, Virginia,
United States
BuriedSacred Heart Cathedral, Richmond, Virginia,
United States
NationalityBritish until c. 1860, then American
DenominationRoman Catholic
ParentsMichael O'Connell & Bridget O'Connell
Alma materPontifical North American College

Early lifeEdit

O'Connell was born in Donoughmore, County Cork, then part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the son of Michael O'Connell and his wife Bridget, née O'Connell. His family soon emigrated to the United States and settled in Columbia, South Carolina, where his father's two brothers, Jeremiah and Joseph, were serving as missionary priests.[1]

As a young man, O'Connell felt called to be a priest and entered St. Charles College, Ellicott City, Maryland in 1868.[2] He came to the attention of James Gibbons, who was then Apostolic Vicar for the State of North Carolina. In part due to the influence of his uncles, in 1871 he was sent to Rome to study at the North American College.[1] "So brilliant was the young man that at his examination for the degree of Doctor of Divinity the cardinal prefect and examining professors accorded it to him by acclamation instead of by the usual method of balloting."[3] O'Connell was ordained in Rome on May 26, 1877 by Cardinal Raffaele Monaco La Valletta.


When Gibbons was appointed Archbishop of Baltimore, he sent Father O'Connell back to Rome in November as his procurator to accept the bishop's pallium. In the two months he was there O'Connell closely observed how the Curia functioned. In 1884 he became secretary to Gibbons, and was sent to Rome with the decrees of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore. In 1885 O'Connell was appointed rector of his alma mater in Rome, a position he held until 1895. As rector of the North American College, O'Connell was the unofficial Roman contact for the American bishops.[4] In 1887, he was chosen a Domestic Prelate, giving him the title of Monsignor.[5]

Upon his return to Richmond, he was assigned to St. Peter's Church. From 1903 to 1909, he served as the third rector of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C..[5]


In December 1907, O'Connell was named as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of San Francisco,[5] for which office he was consecrated as the titular bishop of Sebaste in Cilicia. The consecration occurred at the Baltimore Cathedral on May 3, 1908. Gibbons, by then a cardinal, was principal consecrator.

On January 19, 1912 O'Connell was appointed seventh Bishop of Richmond, Virginia[6]

O'Connell was named as the Bishop of Richmond by Pope Pius X in January 1912, taking office that following March. He served in that office until his resignation in 1926, at which time he was named the Titular Bishop of Mariamme.


O'Connell died January 1, 1927, at the age of 77. He had been a priest for over 49 years and a bishop for over 18.


Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia, founded when the location was still part of the Diocese of Richmond, is named for him.


  1. ^ a b Barry, C.J. "O'Connell, Denis Joseph". New Catholic Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on February 20, 2016. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  2. ^ Fogarty, Gerald; Fogarty, Gerald P. (1974). The Vatican and the Americanist Crisis. Rome: Gregorian Biblical Book Shop. ISBN 9788876524578.
  3. ^ Arline Boucher and John Tehan (1962), Prince of Democracy: James Cardinal Gibbons, 1966 reprint, New York: Doubleday Image, Ch. 5, "The Road to Baltimore", p. 93.
  4. ^ Portier, William L. (2013). Divided Friends. Washington, D.C.: CUA Press. ISBN 9780813221649.
  5. ^ a b c “Most Rev. Denis Joseph O'Connell, D. D.” The Catholic Historical Review, vol. 13, no. 1, 1927, pp. 100–104. JSTOR
  6. ^ Catholic Virginian Vol93, No6 Jan 15, 2018
Academic offices
Preceded by
Louis Hostlot
Rector of the Pontifical North American College

Succeeded by
William H. O'Connell
Preceded by
Thomas J. Conaty
Rector of CUA

Succeeded by
Thomas J. Shahan