Up Front and Personal

The Heart of a Priest Changing Assignments

By Father Christopher Heanue

In the summer of 2011, when I was still a seminarian, I traveled to China to participate in the centennial of the founding of the Maryknoll missionaries. While there, a priest from that community told our group that the life of a missionary is fundamentally to “go where you are needed.” An evangelist must always be ready to leave surroundings that have become familiar and even comfortable for the sake of the Gospel.

I was reminded of that priest’s words recently when Bishop DiMarzio informed me that I will leave my current assignment at the end of June and become the rector-pastor of the Cathedral of St. Joseph-St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Prospect Heights. Since 2014, I have served the people of Holy Child Jesus Parish in Richmond Hill, first as a transitional deacon and then as a priest. My situation was rather unique in that I was given administrative responsibilities at Holy Child Jesus even before my ordination to the priesthood, which gave me an even more personal relationship with them. In 2019, I was also given oversight over St. Benedict Joseph Labre Church. The two parishes have recently been merged into one.

It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve the great people of Richmond Hill, to administer the sacraments to them, and to help them to grow in holiness. In my homilies, I have tried to remind my parishioners that God has a plan for each of them. Hopefully, I have assisted them to answer His call. However, I have learned much more from my parishioners than they have learned from me!

To move from one parish to another is never easy for a priest. It is especially hard to leave one’s first assignment. To some extent, I have felt these past few weeks that my heart is in two places.

Of course, I am still committed to serving the people of Richmond Hill until my assignment ends. The people that I have served here will always hold a special place in my heart. On the other hand, it is difficult not to think ahead to my new home and my new mission in Prospect Heights.

Anyone who has switched to a new job or moved to a new home has experienced something like this. In a sense, all Christians have their hearts in two places: on earth and in heaven. As St. Paul says, we know that “while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord … yet we are courageous and would rather leave the body and be home with the Lord.”

The humorist Finley Peter Dunne once said that it was the job of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. Many preachers also take this as their job description. Once in a while, it is good for a priest to leave a parish where he has grown comfortable to go to a new parish where, in the judgment of the bishop, he is needed.

A priest’s heart must remain open to anyone to whom he is called to serve. After all, missionary disciples are not just needed in China, but in our own neighborhoods as well. I thank God for the gift of the priesthood, a gift that has allowed me to enter into the lives of so many in Richmond Hill, a gift that will allow me to share my heart with the faithful of Prospect Heights.

Father Christopher R. Heanue is the administrator of Holy Child Jesus-Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, Richmond Hill, and coordinator of the Irish Apostolate.