TRENTON, N.J. (CNS) — While recuperating from life-threatening sepsis and the amputation of his lower left leg, Trenton Bishop David M. O’Connell gave a video interview about his progress. And no one would guess that that he just underwent major surgery.
Wearing full clerical garb and smiling throughout the interview, a seated Bishop O’Connell was eager to let people know he is responding well to therapy, and to offer his thanks for the outpouring of support and prayer from people throughout the diocese.
“I’m overwhelmed,” he admitted. “It’s a humbling feeling. … I do feel that people care, and love me and are grateful for our opportunity to be together in the Diocese of Trenton.”
(See the interview with Bishop O’Connell courtesy of the Diocese of Trenton)
Rayanne Bennett, executive director of the Office of Communications and associate publisher of The Monitor, the diocesan newspaper, conducted the 10-minute question-and-answer interview, recorded by the diocesan Department of Radio and Television.
“Let’s begin with the question everyone’s wondering,” said Bennett. “How are you feeling?”
Bishop O’Connell responded, “I’m feeling very well. I am doing rehab, which knocks me out. I do about three hours of rehab a day, and the idea here is to get all the muscles that I need to wear the prosthetic device ready so that I can put it on and get moving.”
The bishop underwent surgery Dec. 29 for amputation of his foot and leg midway between the knee and ankle. Several serious infections he had been fighting, arising from his ongoing battle with diabetes, necessitated the amputation.
Though only a few weeks post operation, Bishop O’Connell said that “the healing is taking place very quickly, so that’s a very good sign.” He is confident that his therapy will assist a steady recovery. Doctors have even told him that once he is fitted with a prosthetic leg, no one will be able to know he ever had a problem with it.
Bennett asked whether the bishop thought he would be recovered in time for Holy Week, which this year is March 29 to April 4.
“My plan, and I told the doctor this — he’s Catholic, so he has to obey the bishop — I told him that I hope to be at the altar, standing alone, saying Mass on Palm Sunday,” Bishop O’Connell said with a smile. “He said, ‘Oh, we can do that.'”
The bishop credits the medical personnel treating him for providing not only the medical intervention, but also the moral support needed for his healing.
Daily Masses and rosaries for healing are being said in parishes and schools throughout the diocese, and Bishop O’Connell has a spiritual buoyancy that contributes to his outlook on everything that has transpired since he first entered the hospital.
“To be in this circumstance … gives me yet a deeper, fuller opportunity to reflect on what faith means, and to be accepting of God’s will,” the bishop said. “I had great plans for Christmas, and it just didn’t happen. In fact the doctors told me that, had I delayed another day, I would have spent Christmas in heaven! So it was pretty scary.”
After undergoing emergency surgery, “I said to the Lord, ‘I’m in your hands, and I’m ready for you if the time is now, and I’ll come willingly and happily.’ I wouldn’t mind if he gave me some more time,” he chuckled.
“But I felt a certain sense of peace wash over me, and before I went to bed I said my rosary as I usually do, and I fell asleep with the rosary in my hand, and when I woke up the next day I said, ‘Well, maybe I have a little more to do in the Diocese of Trenton.'”
Well-wishers have showered him with “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of cards and notes and letters and emails and phone calls.” Several parishes even sent blankets and prayer shawls to the bishop from their ministries.
Bishop O’Connell offered his sincere thanks to everyone, “because I know I will not be able to answer all of these beautiful messages (individually). I’m just very, very grateful. … It’s just an unbelievable feeling to know that people are focused on you and your well-being and your health, so I could never say thank you enough.”
Despite being in recovery, the bishop’s chancery duties have continued on schedule. He has been informed of anything needing his immediate attention, has been able to receive mail and signs necessary paperwork. The diocesan vicars have continued to fill in for him, too.
Bishop O’Connell also has received an overwhelming amount of correspondence and prayer from his diocesan priests, which is “something that touches me deeply,” he told Bennett.
Perhaps the most difficult trial during his convalescence, said the bishop, is knowing he will have to miss out on so many diocesan engagements planned for the spring — saying Mass at different parishes and celebrating Confirmations.
The “greatest joy” of being a bishop, he said, is to be with the people.
“I love you all in the diocese, and my heart is with you,” he added, “and I’ve been offering up this suffering for the good of all the people in the Diocese of Trenton.”
Italia is a correspondent for The Monitor, newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton.