By Jessica Easthope and Paula Katinas
Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros, a native Cuban who came to the U.S. as a teenage refugee in the early 1960s without his parents, became a priest and served the Diocese of Brooklyn for 49 years, officially retired from his post on Oct. 30, after Pope Francis accepted his resignation, the Diocese of Brooklyn announced.
Canon law requires all bishops to submit a letter of resignation when they turn 75. It is up to the Holy See to determine when to accept the resignation.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who praised Bishop Cisneros for his “willingness to serve,” announced that he will remain as pastor of the Church of Holy Child Jesus & St. Benedict Joseph Labre, Richmond Hill. He will also continue to serve as vicar for Hispanic Concerns in the diocese.
He was named a Prelate of Honor by Pope John Paul II in 1988 and consecrated as an auxiliary bishop by Bishop DiMarzio in 2006.
“I am grateful to Bishop Cisneros for his willingness to serve and was honored to ordain him and consecrate him as an auxiliary bishop on June 6, 2006. We thank Bishop Cisneros for his years of diocesan leadership and are grateful he will continue to serve the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens,” Bishop DiMarzio said in a statement.
Upon his retirement, Bishop Cisneros expressed his gratitude to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who elevated him to bishop, Bishop DiMarzio and Pope Francis.
“I am most grateful to Pope Benedict and Bishop DiMarzio for giving me the fullness of the priesthood in 2006 so that I can help minister as auxiliary bishop, which has been rewarding and fulfilling for me. I am thankful to Pope Francis for his continued support of our bishops. He is an inspiration for all of us,” Bishop Cisneros said.
“I have lived a very happy priesthood in the Diocese of Brooklyn for 49 years and look forward to continuing my priestly ministry,” he added.
Bishop Cisneros was born in Las Villas, a province of Cuba, in 1945. When he was in high school in October 1961, he came to the U.S. as a political refugee as part of Operation Peter Pan, a Catholic humanitarian effort that brought 14,000 unaccompanied minors here from Cuba.
He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn on May 29, 1971. He has served as pastor at the Church of the Holy Child Jesus & St. Benedict Joseph Labre since 2007. Over the years, he has also served at St. Michael’s Church and as pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Corona.
In a personal tribute to the Cuban-American community, Bishop Cisneros will present a statue of Our Lady of Charity to Father Manuel de Jesús Rodríguez, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows, and the church’s parishioners at a special Mass on the evening of Oct. 30.
As he looks back at his 49 years serving the Diocese of Brooklyn, Bishop Cisneros said he has experienced “multiple moments” of joy. “The faith of the people has solidified my faith,” he told Currents News. “My life became enhanced by the people I met.”
God’s love is something he keeps in mind at all times. When he celebrates Confirmations, he tells himself, “It is the Holy Spirit that is working.”
In the Diocese of Immigrants, Bishop Cisneros he has worked hard to build a sense of family with the immigrant communities in the various parishes where he has served over the years. When people ask him where he is from, he has a ready answer. “I’m from everywhere,” he said.
Throughout his priesthood, Bishop Cisneros has been appointed to numerous posts, including episcopal vicar in the Brooklyn East Vicariate and rector of Cathedral Seminary Residence in Douglaston.
Bishop Cisneros is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Subcommittee for the Church in Latin America.
Bishop Cisneros was the coordinator of the V Encuentro in the Diocese of Brooklyn and the episcopal representative for the V Encuentro in the New York Region.
Bishop Cisneros has been involved for many years with the Northeast Catholic Center for Hispanics, the “Instituto Nacional Hispano de Liturgia.”
Besides, he has served on the Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy and the Pastors’ Advisory Committee. He has served on the Board of Governors of Immaculate Conception Seminary and as past president of the Conference of Diocesan Directors for the Spanish Apostolate.
Father Christopher Heanue, parochial vicar of Holy Child Jesus, works closely with Bishop Cisneros and has known him for 15 years.
In an interview with Currents News, he recalled his days as a student studying for the priesthood and living at Cathedral Seminary Residence in Douglaston. One day in 2006, then-Monsignor Cisneros asked Heanue to drive him somewhere because he was too nervous to get behind the wheel. They were driving to the official announcement of Monsignor’s elevation to bishop.
As they traveled on the Jackie Robinson Parkway, Heanue asked Bishop-elect Cisneros about leaving his native Cuba and if he ever saw his parents again. “It was years before he was able to come back,” Father Heanue said. By that time, many of Bishop Cisneros’ relatives were deceased. “I started crying on the Jackie Robinson Parkway!” Father Heanue told Currents News. Bishop-elect Cisneros told him, “Chris, if I wanted to crash, I would have driven myself!”
Father Heanue said he was deeply moved by Bishop-elect Cisneros’ “trust in God.”
Parishioners of Holy Child Jesus praised Bishop Cisneros for his kindness.
Lorrie Schaefer, who has been a parishioner for 47 years, recalled that Bishop Cisneros visited her at her home after she had fallen on the ice in front of her house on Christmas Eve and suffered injuries to the head. Her injuries required a trip to the emergency room.
“I’ll never forget how kind and caring he was,” she told Currents News.