Father Christopher Ryan Heanue, 27, says his “yes” to God and priesthood is something that happens everyday.
Raised in Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians parish, Woodside, also known as St. Mary’s, Winfield, he graduated from P.S. 229 and I.S. 73, before attending Cathedral Prep Seminary, Elmhurst, because it offered a good education in a small setting.
“I fell in love with Cathedral Prep. It was warm, it was my home,” he said.
But he never planned on pursuing the priesthood until a junior-year retreat to the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, L.I., stirred something in his heart.
He went onto Cathedral Seminary Residence, Douglaston, where his vocation deepened.
He spent one year at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and then completed his studies at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Overbrook, Pa.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy with a minor in business from St. John’s University, Jamaica, and his master of divinity degree from St. Charles Seminary.
As part of his pastoral preparation, he spent summers and weekends in residence at St. Michael Church, Sunset Park, where he honed his Spanish-speaking skills with Father Kevin Sweeney, pastor, and the parishioners. “The people were so good and gracious to teach me,” he said.
To receive a total immersion in the Spanish language and culture, he spent the summer after his diaconate ordination assisting at a parish in Madrid, Spain.
Upon his return, he enrolled in a hospital chaplaincy program, directed by Sister Julie Houser, C.S.J., at Queens Hospital, Jamaica, while residing at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Astoria. His program encompassed medical-surgical care, psychiatric support, addictions, palliative care and medical ethics.
“It made me more aware about how we respond to people. We have to be ever mindful … that we can’t judge a person. Everyone has their own struggles,” he said.
Already a member of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, he is working toward his certification this summer.
As he completed that program, he was called upon by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio to take on his current assignment at Holy Child Jesus parish, Richmond Hill. Assisting Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros, pastor, he has assumed many duties previously held by the former parish administrator.
Balancing the various aspects of parish life as a transitional deacon, including finding priests to celebrate Mass and hear confessions when parish priests are away, has kept him on his toes. It has also given him a greater love of parish life, from praying with the school children to visiting the sick.
“I gain energy from being with the people,” he said.
And he hopes it has “allowed parishioners to recognize the need to pray for vocations.”
His studies and preparations for the priesthood have also taken him around the world, from Asia and Australia, to Europe, the Middle East and Latin America – experiences that he can draw upon in this Diocese of Immigrants.
“When I meet people, I can say, ‘I was in your country.’ I can share that commonality. That opens conversations, doors and eventually hearts,” Father Heanue said.
He is able to offer Mass in Spanish and Italian, and is open to learning new languages to better serve the people of God.
He looks to be “a holy priest, a priest of the people.” He aims to emulate the examples of Bishop Cisneros, whom he calls a “true father figure,” and Father Donald M. Berran, his former pastor, as well as Msgr. Joseph Calise and Father Sweeney, both of whom will vest him at ordination.
His parents, Martin and Kathleen, who celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary this year, along with his older brothers, Martin and Gerald and sister, Christine, will be present at his ordination.
Father Heanue’s first Masses of thanksgiving will be on June 28, at 10 a.m. in his home parish of St. Mary, Winfield, and at 5 p.m. in Holy Child Jesus Church.
Later this summer, he will offer Masses of thanksgiving with relatives in Ireland.