Parishioners could not fathom the idea that Heyndricks would do such a thing. Many were certain that the arrest had to be a mistake and were willing to support Heyndricks through thick and thin.
"Everyone loved Father Gene," said Gloria Velez, a long-time parishioner, at the time. "He really made everyone feel like they belonged. He went out of his way to help people. You can really see the difference. More and more people have been coming to Mass."
"I'm very shocked that he was involved," said a parishioner who requested anonymity. "He did a lot to bring attendance up at Mass. It had grown considerably. He motivated people to want to keep coming back to church. He was a light-hearted priest who had a nice way about him. He also went out of his way to help the community."
Although the parishioners were shocked and dismayed by the arrest, they also reserved judgment about Heyndricks, 61.
"It's disgusting and really hard to believe," Velez said at the time. "I mean, no one could have figured this. But if he's guilty, then he should go to jail like anyone else."
Last Friday, the unthinkable became reality when Heyndricks pleaded guilty to the charges that he had solicited and engaged in a sexual act with a 16-year-old male prostitute. He will be sentenced for the crime on May 1, according to Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark.
On the other hand, charges against Rev. William Giblin, the former headmaster at Seton Hall Prep who was accused of helping to arrange the meeting between the teenager and Heyndricks, were dropped due to lack of evidence, according to Montreal court documents.
Heyndricks pleaded guilty to engaging in a sexual act with a minor and soliciting prostitution, according to a press release from the Montreal police. He could be sentenced to as much as five years in prison for the charges.
According to Goodness, Heyndricks and Giblin both had already resigned their ministries as priests after posting bail and returning to the United States. Goodness said that both priests would remain "on indefinite leave" while the Archdiocesan legal officials conduct their own investigation, but it remains fairly certain that neither will practice as priests again.
According to documents from the Montreal police, Heyndricks and Giblin were the first people arrested in what the police called the "dismemberment" of a male prostitution ring in Plateau Mont-Royal, a Montreal district touted in tourist and guide books as the most gay-friendly neighborhood in North America.
"The arrests were made as part of a sting to detract Americans from coming to Montreal seeking gay sex from underage prostitutes," a press release from the Montreal police read. "We can't condone this type of activity in a very popular tourist area."
It was never determined why the two priests were in Montreal at the time of their arrests. Goodness confirmed that the pair was not traveling on any official church or Archdiocesan business.
"The information we've gathered and developed throughout our investigation is that many of the clients of those teenagers were American people," said Ian LaFreniere, the spokesman for the Montreal police department. "It's a ring very well-known across the border."
Heyndricks was named the pastor of St. John Nepomucene in 1999 and was still serving as the pastor at the time of his arrest. He had previously served in parishes in Ridgewood, Park Ridge and Fairview.
Giblin was a retired priest in residence at Holy Rosary Church in Edgewater before the incident.
Goodness said that neither Heyndricks nor Giblin had been previously accused of any sexual encounters.
"There were no complaints against either man," Goodness said. "These arrests came from out of the blue."
Officials at St. John Nepomucene Church refused to comment about Heyndricks' guilty plea, referring all requests for interviews to the Archdiocesan office.
Parishioners at St. John Nepomucene said that the recent scandals will not keep them away from going to church. "My feeling is that if someone wants to go to church, they're not going because of the priest," said the anonymous parishioner said. "They're going to worship God. I don't think something like this brings the community down. It's a shock to hear, because he was such a community-minded person. It's a shock to the community. But it doesn't hurt the community."
"I think we've all moved on," said Velez. "I think we've turned the page and are trying to forget this happened with Father Gene. We're a strong parish with good people. We'll be fine. It's disappointing, but we'll recover." Another avid parishioner, Luz Perez, agreed.
"It's really sad that this happened, but now Father Gene has admitted he did wrong and will pay the price," Perez said. "We're all saddened by this. We didn't want to believe it was true. But now, he's said he did it, so we have to get on with ourselves. We have a good group of people here who truly care about the parish and their faith. We'll get by."