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'Marked with the sign of faith'

Catholics across the United States have expressed shock and devastation at the killing of Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop David O'Connell over the weekend.

The bishop was found shot to death in his home on February 18. A suspect has been arrested, although the suspect’s identity has not been made public. A motive for the shooting remains unknown.

While the killing of U.S. bishops is very uncommon, it is not unprecedented.

Archbishop Charles Seghers, Bishop Patrick Byrne, and Bishop Francis Ford were all killed in past centuries. Here are their stories:

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Archbishop Charles John Seghers

Charles John Seghers, known as the “apostle to Alaska,” was a Belgian-born priest and bishop in the 19th century. Orphaned as a young child, he was raised by his uncles.

Seghers was ordained a priest in Belgium in 1863 and a few months later volunteered to do missionary work in Canada, despite his history of poor health.

Seghers founded a hospital in British Columbia and spent a decade doing pastoral work in the area. He also participated in the First Vatican Council as a theologian.

In 1873, Seghers was appointed Bishop of Vancouver Island. A few years later, he was named coadjutor Archbishop of Oregon City, and became the archbishop in 1881.

But the archbishop’s heart had never left the missionary work he loved, and he asked the pope to send him back to Vancouver Island.

In 1885, the pope relented — he was reappointed Bishop of Vancouver Island, but retained the title of archbishop.

Seghers made frequent trips to Alaska, establishing missions, hospitals, and a school in the region.

In July 1886, Seghers set sail for the upper Yukon for a missionary trip, along with with two Jesuit priests and Frank Fuller, an itinerant laborer and sometime-guide.

There were a lot of personality clashes within the group, and the trip was difficult. Eventually, the archbishop suggested the party split in two. He carried on with the layman Frank Fuller, while the two priests stayed in a village area to do missionary work.

The bishop and Fuller faced difficult travel conditions, and Seghers wrote in his diary about strange conversations with Fuller, which left him with the impression that the man was not mentally well.

On the morning of Nov. 28, 1886, the two men were preparing for the final stretch of their journey, along with two native guides, when Fuller shot Seghers in the chest, killing him. Fuller expressed remorse for his crime, but never explained his motive.

The archbishop was 47 years old at the time of his death. His body is buried in St. Andrew's Cathedral in Victoria.

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Bishop Byrne arrives in South Korea in 1947. Credit: Maryknoll.

Bishop Patrick Byrne

Bishop Patrick Byrne was a U.S.-born missionary and bishop who died of pneumonia while on a forced Communist prison march amid the Korean War.

Before he was taken captive, the bishop had been offered the chance to evacuate North Korea; he had chosen to stay with his people.

Born in Washington, D.C., in 1888, Byrne was ordained a priest in 1915 and promptly joined the Maryknoll Mission Society, a religious community of missionary priests.

In 1923, Byrne coordinated Maryknoll’s first mission to Korea. He served as apostolic prefect of Pyongyangm and later as assistant superior general of the Maryknoll community.

Byrne became in 1935 a missionary in Japan. He was placed under house arrest during World War II, but never faced imprisonment, largely because he had a good reputation among Japanese officials, because of his charitable works in the country.

In 1947, Byrne returned to Korea. Two years later, the Holy See named him the first apostolic delegate to Korea, and Byrne was ordained a bishop.

When Seoul was captured by North Korean forces in June 1950, Bishop Byrne was given an opportunity to be evacuated. But he refused, choosing instead to stay with his people.

The next month, Byrne was arrested by Communist forces. After a trial, he was told that he must denounce the United States, United Nations and Vatican in a radio broadcast, or face a death sentence. The bishop said he would choose death.

He was forced to join hundreds of other prisoners on a lengthy prison march, and then had another trial in Pyongyong.

After that, he was sent on a 110-mile prison march in the brutal Korean winter, with no coat or other cold-weather clothing, and with very little food.

Byrne, who was 62 years old, prayed as he marched, and offered general absolution to the other prisoners.

During the months-long march, the bishop developed pneumonia. He died on Nov. 25, 1950.

Byrne and his companions are among several hundred Catholics whose cases are being considered by a special committee established by the Korean bishops’ conference. The committee is evaluating whether the deceased should be recognized as martyrs, or if it otherwise see causes for their canonization.

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A portrait of Fr. Francis X. Ford upon his appointment as Prefect Apostolic of Kaying, 1929. Credit: Maryknoll.

Bishop Francis Xavier Ford

Bishop Francis Xavier Ford was also a U.S.-born missionary who spent several decades establishing the Church in China, before being arrested and dying in a Communist prison camp in the 1950s.

Born in Brooklyn in 1892, Ford was the son of a journalist and was expected to enter the field of journalism.

However, upon encountering the newly established Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America - later known as the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers – he decided to join them as the first Maryknoll seminarian.

Ford was ordained a priest in 1917. A few months later, he left for China, part of the first group of Maryknoll missionaries to travel to the country.

In China, Ford helped establish schools, churches, a seminary and a convent. He was named apostolic prefect of the newly establish mission in Kaying in 1925, and was later appointed the first bishop of Kaying.

Ford was known for his love of the local people and their culture, and the Church in China was growing rapidly.

But that growth was threatened when the Communist party seized power in 1949. Churches were closed and religious activities was largely prohibited in the years that followed. In 1950, Maryknoll priests and sisters began being arrested and deported.

In April 1951, Ford was arrested on espionage charges. He and his secretary were beaten and harassed as they were paraded publicly through the streets on the way to the Guangzhou prison.

Ford died in a Chinese prison camp on Feb. 21, 1952.

His canonization cause was opened in 2017. He is currently a Servant of God.

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