Christopher Heanue, 22, whose father Martin hails from Clifden, Co. Galway and his mother, Kathleen from Navan, Co. Meath, told the Irish Voice via email from Rome last week he “realized that it would be nice to be a priest” when he was a young teenager. Heanue said it wasn’t a “decision” to devote his life to God. It was a calling.
“It’s a calling because a decision is not something that requires this much sacrifice or this much attention. A calling is something that keeps ‘bothering’ you until you give into it,” he said.
“I knew that at this moment (16) I was being called to this lifestyle because everything else that I wanted to do just didn’t seem right at that stage in my life. I know that God wants me here for a reason.”
Although only 22, Heanue is one of the longest training priests in his class.
“Most of the people in my class have only done four years in college. I did four years of high school and four years of college,” said Heanue, proud of his commitment at a young age.
Heanue, a native of Maspeth, Queens, attended local public schools before entering Cathedral Preparatory Seminary High School. It was during his time at this school that the young Irish American felt his calling to the priesthood.
Heanue continued his study on to the college seminary, Cathedral Seminary Residence, while studying at St. John's University. During his senior year Heanue was chosen to continue his studies in Rome.
In early July, surrounded by family and friends, Heanue celebrated his candidacy Mass at his parish, the Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians in Woodside, Queens.
Heanue, the youngest of four children, spent the first month of his five-year tenure in Rome studying Italian in Assisi, Italy. Then he moved on to Rome to continue his immersion in the language and on Monday, October 12, Heanue officially began his training to become a priest.
Slightly in awe of the whole experience, Heanue admits he has “survived” the first three months in Italy and says, “I love it.”
“It has been a great experience; learning culture and the language, and being able to talk with Italians in their language is something really special,” he said.
“I now study with 220 other men from all over the United States and it has been a great experience learning all of their names, who they are, what their area is like and so on.”
As part of his study, Heanue is not allowed to return to Queens for two years.
“I will be here for two years without going home. I am able to travel anywhere but home for the first summer,” he explains.
After Heanue completes his first two years he can then return to New York, something he plans to do, every summer while on a break from university.
When the young Irish American first told his parents of his desire to join the priesthood, they initially thought he was too young to make such life altering decision.
“But, after seeing how happy it made me and how well I fit into my role in seminary they supported me,” said Heanue.
Then came the news that their youngest son wouldn’t be going to the seminary 40 minutes away to complete his studies.
“Both me and my parents were challenged to realize the importance of this decision and of my calling to the priesthood, but they now support me and love me in whatever decision I make, even it means coming to Rome to study,” he said.
Heanue admits it was a difficult decision to give up the regular things young men his age are doing, such as dating, getting married, having children.
“Is it difficult? Yes. Especially living here in Rome and seeing beautiful women everywhere! But it is something that I have to sacrifice for a greater calling,” said the 22-year-old.
“It is hard and always will be hard, but I am ready to give it up to be the best priest that I can be for the people of the diocese of Brooklyn in New York.”
When asked if he worries about the future and possibly waking up one day regretting his decision to join the priesthood at such a young age, Heanue said he is confident he won’t.
“No I won’t, because by now I have thought so much about the severity of this decision and the importance of this calling,” he said.
“I love what I am doing and definitely see myself doing it for the rest of my life. Yes, it is a sacrifice but it is worth the rewards.”
Heanue’s aim in life is to “save souls.”
“That is what it’s all about, being present to others as Christ is present, representing God amongst men. I hope to be a role model to other young men and inspire them to consider a call to become a priest of Jesus Christ.”