PROVIDENCE — According to the Code of Canon Law, the pope “can appoint ex officio a coadjutor bishop who also has special faculties. A coadjutor bishop possesses the right of succession,” meaning he will automatically become diocesan bishop upon his predecessor’s retirement or passing.
Bishop Henning is the third such coadjutor to serve in the Diocese of Providence. Two other bishops, the third and seventh, began as coadjutors.
The first was Bishop William A. Hickey, who was appointed coadjutor and consecrated to the episcopacy on April 10, 1919.
He served alongside Bishop Matthew Harkins for two years until the latter’s death in 1921, although he assumed most administrative duties only six weeks after his appointment.
In his tenure as diocesan bishop, Bishop Hickey prioritized Catholic education, reducing the debt on Providence College, establishing 14 new parish schools and zealously raising funds for new Catholic high schools in areas with high numbers of teenage students.
Additionally, he supported charitable outreach in the diocese, especially after the stock market crash in 1929 when the Great Depression took its toll on the nation. He created local jobs through construction or renovation projects in parishes throughout the diocese and established a chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society to further help those in greatest need.
Bishop Hickey passed away in office on Oct. 4, 1933.
More recently, the second coadjutor, Bishop Robert E. Mulvee, was appointed in 1995 by Pope Saint John Paul II to aid Bishop Louis E. Gelineau. He, too, served as coadjutor for two years, before becoming the seventh bishop of the Diocese of Providence in 1997 upon Bishop Gelineau’s retirement.
In his eight years as diocesan bishop, he shepherded his flock through difficult times including the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Station Nightclub fire in West Warwick in 2003.
He also took a strong stance against clerical sexual abuse and showed compassion to victims of abuse even prior to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002.
When he passed away on Dec. 28, 2018, 15 bishops concelebrated his Mass of Christian Burial, including the bishop for whom he had served as coadjutor and Bishop Robert J. McManus of the Diocese of Worcester, whom Bishop Mulvee had ordained as his auxiliary bishop nearly 20 years earlier.