Pope Francis Accepts Retirement of Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

Bishop Richard G. Henning Succeeds Him as Bishop of Providence


WARWICK — On Monday, May 1, seven hours after Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Most Reverend Thomas J. Tobin, D.D., from the pastoral governance of the diocese, the eighth Bishop of Providence appeared before an annual gathering of priests of the diocese to offer his thanks for their ministry and to offer his support to the Most Reverend Richard G. Henning, S.T.D., the ninth Bishop of Providence.
Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia Msgr. Albert A. Kenney opened Priest Study Day, noting that he had received the official announcement at 6 a.m. that Pope Francis had accepted Bishop Tobin’s request to resign effective noon Rome time, 6 a.m. Eastern Time.
“We thank you, Bishop Tobin, we thank you for your 18 years of dedicated leadership, and your faithfulness in preaching the Gospel message in clarity,” Msgr. Kenney said.
“Bishop, your many gifts have served us so well and we are filled with enormous gratitude on this day.”
Bishop Tobin took the podium at the Crowne Plaza, where the gathering of 106 priests welcomed him with rousing applause.
He thanked Msgr. Kenney for his support, assistance and friendship over the years.
“I will always be very grateful for the good work that you have offered for our diocesan church as vicar general and moderator of the curia.”
He then turned to Bishop Henning and congratulated him on the historic occasion.
“Bishop Henning, this is a beautiful and special day for you as well. Congratulations to you as you become the ninth Bishop of Providence. We all pledge to you our continued friendship and support and assistance and prayers. So, God bless you now and God bless the diocese under your wise and strong leadership.”
Bishop Tobin said that he received word the previous Monday from the Apostolic Nuncio that the Holy Father had accepted his request for retirement — which was offered in conjunction with his 75 birthday on April 1, in accordance with canon law.
He said that Archbishop Christophe Pierre had advised him to confer with Bishop Henning and choose a date that the retirement would take effect.
Bishop Tobin said that May 1 was chosen for several reasons, including that it was the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker, and because it begins the month devoted to our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary,. But in a more practical realm, the date was chosen to coincide with the annual gathering of priests.
“We wanted to be with you together on this occasion,” he said.
Bishop Tobin then read from a statement that he had released earlier that morning, offering his gratitude to all the members of the diocesan church who assisted and supported him in so many ways during his time as their bishop.
“Thank you to the priests, deacons, consecrated women and men, our diocesan staff, and all the faithful lay members of our church! Thank you for your patience and your prayers. Any good that we have been able to accomplish during the past eighteen years is a result, first of all, of your faith, your generosity, and your hard work,” Bishop Tobin said.
He then apologized for any mistakes he may have made as diocesan shepherd.
“For the mistakes I’ve made, for my faults and failures, I am deeply sorry. And for those times when some individuals were offended by my words and deeds, I am truly sorry for that, too. It can be very difficult to preach the Gospel of Christ, and to carry on the mission of the church in the world today, but that’s what we are called to do. There are many pitfalls, and it is a daily challenge to strike a perfect balance of courage and prudence; to be simultaneously “strong, loving and wise” (2 Tim 1:7) in the service of the Lord,” Bishop Tobin said, invoking the three words of his episcopal motto.
He then urged all the members of the church to remain steadfast in their faith, to be proud of the good work they are doing, and to be determined to carry on the work that Jesus has entrusted to them.
“I will continue to pray fervently for you, especially for our wonderful new shepherd, my brother, Bishop Richard Henning, as he assumes the heavy burden of episcopal leadership. And please remember me and pray for me, as I begin a new chapter in my life as a disciple and priest of Our Lord, Jesus Christ,” he said.
Bishop Tobin then welcomed Bishop Henning to the podium. As he stepped down and off to the side, Bishop Tobin appeared to experience the emotion of the historic day with tears in his eyes amid another round of applause.
Bishop Henning said it is not always the case that a bishop asks for a coadjutor.
He praised Bishop Tobin for making that request because he believed it was the right thing for this diocese.
“It was a singularly unselfish thing to do, and certainly a great gift to me to have been able to come here to this diocese months ago and to have that beautiful runway — opportunities to visit so many of your parishes and schools, the opportunity to gain from Bishop Tobin’s wisdom and experience,” Bishop Henning said, expressing his gratitude to Bishop Tobin for his good counsel, as he is counting on his continued guidance going forward.
Bishop Henning also said that he appreciates the witness that Bishop Tobin has offered him from his three decades of episcopal ministry across three dioceses.
“I have seen in you the courage of your convictions, your deep sense of compassion,” he said. “I’ve seen also the way in which you have a fierce attachment to duty. You have seen yourself as given over to us and to the ministry. Everything you do and the way you live bespeaks that desire to serve God and to serve God’s Church.”
“I will keep that image before me always and know that whatever I hope to accomplish here will always be built upon those foundations that you have laid so well, these 18 years. So, thank you very much, Bishop Tobin, God bless you in retirement. I look forward to our friendship continuing and evolving, I’m sure as do our brothers.”
In the coming weeks, Rhode Island Catholic will publish a special edition to commemorate Bishop Tobin’s 18 years of service.