Up Front and Personal

Bishop Cisneros, An Immigrant Story

By Father Christopher Heanue

On the evening of June 5, 2006, Msgr. Octavio Cisneros, my college seminary rector, asked if I would be available to drive him somewhere the next day. He said that he would have too much on his mind to drive himself and didn’t want to get in an accident. Little did I know then that I would be driving him to the announcement of his nomination as an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, along with Msgr. Sansaricq and Msgr. Caggiano. 

After the announcement, while the Bishop-elect and I were driving on the Jackie Robinson (Interboro) Parkway back to the seminary from 75 Greene Avenue (the former location of the Chancery), we discussed his early years in the United States after leaving Cuba. In my mind, I reflected upon what it would be like to leave my family and to go to a foreign land, with hardly any money to sustain me. The Bishop-elect told me how nervous he had been and how difficult it had been to be separated from his family. Many members of his family had passed away before he could see them again. He told me that he was able to endure these trials because God was always with him. 

As he told me all this, while we traversed the most perilous curves of the parkway, I began to cry! Bishop-elect Cisneros reminded me: “Chris, you’re driving because I didn’t want to crash!” I pulled myself together and drove us to our destination without a problem.

Ne timeas, “Do not be afraid,” is the motto that Bishop Cisneros chose at the time of his episcopal ordination. It suits well a man who left his homeland as a teenager, fleeing the rise of communism, to search for a land of freedom and opportunity. After arriving in Miami, he relocated to Michigan, where he would finish high school and continue to discern a call to the priesthood. 

Though he now lived in a foreign land, Bishop Cisneros would never feel alone, for he knew that God was present at every step of his journey. After finishing his studies in Michigan, he went to Wisconsin for minor seminary and then to Niagara University, where he received a Bachelor’s degree. His discernment led him to Brooklyn, the diocese of immigrants, where he was ordained to the priesthood on May 29, 1971 by Bishop Francis J. Mugavero.

For 49 years, Bishop Cisneros has served faithfully as a priest. I have been blessed to know Bishop Cisneros since I entered college seminary in the fall of 2005. For these past 15 years, he has inspired me to trust in God and to rec- ognize His presence in my daily life. In mo- ments in which I have been anxious about my own vocation, Bishop Cisneros has been a firm supporter and guide.

Prior to my ordination to the priesthood, I was assigned as the administrator of Holy Child Jesus Church, where Bishop Cisneros continues to serve as pastor. Hanging in our rectory is a large image of his coat of arms, including his episcopal motto “Ne Timeas.” Over the course of these last six years, there have been many moments in which I have been inspired by that mot- to, especially when administrative issues have caused me anxiety and concern.

I have looked to Bishop Cisneros for words of insight and encouragement to help me through these first years of priesthood. I have learned much from Bishop Cisneros over these last 15 years, especially to trust in God and in His plan for my life. We must never be afraid, since the Lord is always with us.

Father Heanue is the administrator of the Holy Child Jesus – St Benedict Joseph Labre parish, Richmond Hill.