Guest Columnists

Irish Faith and Culture Help Shape Diocese

By Father Christopher Ryan Heanue

Father Christopher Heanue is shown with his parents, Martin and Kathleen, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock in Ireland, after his 2015 ordination to the priesthood. (Photo courtesy of Father Christopher Heanue)

On Nov. 3, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio appointed me the coordinator of Ministry to the Irish Immigrants in the Diocese of Brooklyn. I was ordained to the priesthood in 2015 and currently serve as administrator of Holy Child Jesus parish in Richmond Hill. I am very happy that the bishop has entrusted me with this important ministry.

I have always been proud of my Irish heritage. My mother grew up with her nine siblings in Navan, County Meath, about 40 miles northwest of Dublin. My father grew up with his three siblings in Clifden, County Galway, on the west coast of Ireland.

My parents both emigrated to the United States as young adults, and they raised my three older siblings and I in Maspeth. Each summer, however, we traveled to Ireland to visit our many relatives there. I have continued to visit my home-away-from-home frequently to spend time with relatives and Irish priests with whom I studied in Rome.

Shape Life, Culture

Since the early 19th century, millions of Irish have left their beautiful homeland in search of better lives in the United States. New York, of course, has been one of the primary destinations for Irish immigrants. These immigrants and their descendants continue to shape the life and culture of our beloved city. This is most evident each year at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, where around 150,000 Irish Americans gather and march down Fifth Avenue, while another 2 million look on.

The Catholic faith has been an essential part of the identity of most Irish immigrants down through the centuries. These immigrants have decisively shaped our own diocese. Five of our seven diocesan bishops have been of Irish stock: Bishop John Loughlin, Bishop Charles McDonnell, Archbishop Thomas Molloy, Archbishop Brian McEntegart and Bishop Thomas Daily.

Irish American priests continue to serve our diocese with great distinction. Our clergy directory contains so many Irish surnames: Cunningham, Dowd, Harrington, Hinch, Lynch, McGuirl, Ryan and Sweeney, to name a few. And although my last name may not sound Irish, it certainly is!

Irish Americans have built and sustained countless parishes throughout both Brooklyn and Queens. A number of our churches claim Irish saints as their patrons: Brendan, Brigid, Columba, Edmund, Finbar, Kevin, Malachy, Mel and of course, Patrick.

Some perceive that the Irish-American presence in our diocese has been declining over the past few decades. However, many neighborhoods still have substantial Irish-American populations. Surveys estimate that more than 200,000 residents of Brooklyn and Queens claim some Irish heritage.

As the new coordinator of Ministry to the Irish Immigrants, I look forward to building upon the good work of my predecessors. I hope to bring together all Irish Americans in Brooklyn and Queens through our heritage, our culture and above all, our faith of Jesus Christ.


Editor’s note: Any questions or suggestions regarding the Ministry to Irish Immigrants in the diocese may be directed to Father Heanue at IrishBQ@gmail.com.

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