- Associated Press - Friday, September 4, 2015

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - Friends and parishioners have honored a Rapid City priest who was recognized for his work on flood recovery and race relations.

Monsignor William O’Connell, who spent his life helping people all over western South Dakota, died Saturday at the age of 83 after two decades of battling prostate cancer, KOTA television reported (https://bit.ly/1VC1sEK ).

O’Connell’s time in Rapid City started when the Chicago native had to look elsewhere for work after contracting tuberculosis, explained friend and fellow priest Father Steve Biegler.

“Chicago in his time had such an abundance of priests that they wouldn’t accept a candidate for priesthood that had a physical defect like one lung,” Biegler said. “And so that’s what brought him out here. You know, they said, ‘You won’t have a long life, but you’ll have some good years.’ He had a very long life and a very profound effect.”

O’Connell’s funeral mass was on Thursday at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.



O’Connell’s role after Rapid City’s deadly 1972 flood put him on national boards to scrutinize disaster response. He also started Catholic Social Services and Church Response to meet the needs of hurting people.

The young priest also was called on at the height of the American Indian Movement and the Wounded Knee standoff to urge calm on race relations.

Known to many as “Father Bill,” O’Connell was the founding editor West River Catholic in the early 1970s. He spent the rest of his life in communities all over the western part of the state, doing what he loved.

“The best thing that happened? I was ordained for out here.” O’Connell said in a 2014 interview with the TV station. “Because we would say, ‘It’s been a great ride.’”

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Information from: KOTA-TV, https://www.kotatv.com

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