By Jessica Easthope
It’s hard to leave home, but moving on from the comfort and the familiar to start a new chapter is part of life. For priests, home is their first parish.
For Father Christopher Heanue, he’s experiencing that bittersweet goodbye at Holy Child Jesus-St. Benedict Joseph Labre Parish in Richmond Hill. He’s hoping he made a mark over the last six years.
“The boy scouts say when you leave, leave it the way you found it, but for priests we hope to leave things better than when we found them and most importantly have people become holier,” Father Heanue said. “That’s really the gift we hope to give.”
After building relationships in Queens, Father Heanue will be joining a new community as the rector-pastor of the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights.
“The connections that a priest should be making are connections that help not just the priest but help the people to grow,” he said, “and I find the people here to be so loving and generous. It’s been an awesome six years.”
But parting ways is tough for parishioners too. That’s because they bond with their priest and sometimes even become friends.
“I fell in love with the Jesus in him,” said Marine Rodriguez “We love him. We have to share him. He’s too good for us to keep to ourselves.”
“He really reflects Christ to us but he does challenge us to look deeper and I have,” said Lou Gazzale.
Retired Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros has known Father Heanue since he was a kid. Their relationship has grown over the years and now he says it’s time for Father Heanue, and other priests who may be feeling the same way, to grow in their ministry.
“We are all one family working together,” said Bishop Cisneros. “We move from one place to another just like any family at home, because of work, because of other pursuits, but we’re always together.”
Now the next challenge awaits. Like all priests leaving their first parish, Father Heanue can’t take the church or the people when he goes. But the connections, the lessons and the faith will stay with him.