PROVIDENCE — On Wednesday, Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving, the faithful of the diocese got their first glimpse of the shepherd who will eventually succeed the eighth Bishop of Providence, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, D.D., when the Holy Father, Pope Francis, appointed Most Rev. Richard G. Henning, S.T.D, Coadjutor Bishop of Providence with the right of succession.
At the same time, the Holy Father accepted the resignation of the Most Rev. Robert C. Evans, J.C.L, Auxiliary Bishop of Providence. The changes were announced in Washington at about 6 a.m. Eastern Time by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S.
Bishop Henning, 58, who is currently serving as auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, on New York’s Long Island, appeared with Bishop Tobin at a 10 a.m. press conference in the cathedral hall to announce the changes in leadership.
“It is very appropriate that we gather today, on the day before Thanksgiving — the day when we pause to recall and to thank Almighty God for all of the gifts and blessings which he has given us. Today we have another wonderful blessing for which to be grateful — the appointment of Bishop Richard Henning as the Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Providence,” Bishop Tobin said.
“I am most grateful to our Holy Father, Pope Francis, for approving my request to have a coadjutor bishop appointed for the Diocese of Providence,” Bishop Tobin said. “And, on behalf of our entire diocesan family, we are grateful to the Diocese of Rockville Centre for sharing with us such a good, talented and faithful bishop like Bishop Henning.”
He said that Bishop Henning arrives with very impressive academic credentials, diverse pastoral experience and the eagerness to listen, learn and lead.
“Bishop Henning is fully prepared to assume the leadership of the Diocese of Providence when that time comes — and I pray that will happen in the very near future!” Bishop Tobin added.
Bishop Tobin will turn 75 on April 1, 2023, and at that time will submit his request to retire to the Holy Father. A Coadjutor Bishop with the right of succession would then take over as the diocesan bishop.
A Mass of Reception for Bishop Henning will take place on Jan. 26, 2023, at 2 p.m., at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul.
Bishop Evans turned 75 in September and submitted his request to retire at that time.
Bishop Tobin said the announcements brought him mixed emotions and he took the opportunity to thank Bishop Evans for his service as auxiliary since his installation in December 2009.
“I have known Bishop Evans for more than 50 years, since we were seminary classmates,” he said.
“And for almost 50 years now Bishop Evans has served the Diocese of Providence as a priest and, in the last 13 years, as a bishop.”
“He is deeply loved and highly respected in this diocese. We are pleased that Bishop Evans will still be with us, offering prayerful support and liturgical and sacramental assistance — and occasionally an outstanding Italian meal if we treat him well!”
In introducing Bishop Henning, Bishop Tobin noted how his biography indicates that he has had a “lifelong passion for the water, sailing, boating and kayaking.”
“Well, there is no better place for you to be then, than here in the Ocean State. Welcome to Rhode Island! You will come to love the Diocese of Providence, and I know that you will be greatly loved in return.”
Bishop Henning expressed his gratitude to the Holy Father, the apostolic nuncio as well as to his ordinary, Bishop John Oliver Barres of the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
“This is a moment of deep reflection and the humble acknowledgement of my dependence upon Divine Providence. As I express gratitude, I entrust myself to the grace of Our Merciful God and ask the Lord to grant the strength and faith necessary for the ministry that I will exercise in the Church of Providence.”
Bishop Henning was born in Rockville Centre, New York, in 1964 to Richard and Maureen Henning, the first of five siblings. He grew up in Valley Stream, a parishioner of Holy Name of Mary Parish, where he also attended its grammar school.
He attended Chaminade High School in Mineola, New York, and credits the Marianists as a major influence in his faith life and commitment to learning. He received a B.A. and M.A. in history from St. John’s University, Queens New York, and received his training for the priesthood at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, New York.
He was ordained in 1992 and served for five years as an associate pastor at the Church of St. Peter of Alcantara, Port Washington, where he did extensive pastoral work in the large parish school and ministered to the Spanish-speaking, of mainly Salvadoran Catholics.
In addition to fluency in English and Spanish, Bishop Henning speaks Italian and is able to read French, Greek and Hebrew. He earned a Licentiate in Biblical Theology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and a Doctorate in the same from the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, Italy.
After his studies, Bishop Henning joined the faculty of the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, where he taught scripture for more than ten years. In 2012, as part of the partnership for seminary formation among the Dioceses of Rockville Centre, Brooklyn, and the Archdiocese of New York, then Rev. Msgr. Henning was appointed to lead the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception through its transition to the largest retreat house in the Northeast. Bishop Barres appointed Bishop Henning the Episcopal Vicar for the Central Vicariate of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in September of 2017. He was appointed an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Center in June 2018. Since June 2021, Bishop Henning has also served as the Vicar for Clergy and Vicar for Pastoral Planning.
Bishop Henning, who grew up in a working class area of Long Island, the son of a city fireman and a pediatric nurse who later became a homemaker, drove himself over from Long Island, taking the ferry from Orient Point the previous night. He said he learned of his new appointment only a week before.
He celebrated the noon Mass and delivered the homily at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul before being taken on a tour of some of the diocese’s ministries.
In his homily, he spoke of the violent ramifications of the failure to entrust ourselves to God as outlined in the story of Cain and Abel.
He noted how the early Christians knew that the storm and fury that came at them from their rulers was not the end and that it ultimately could not touch them for they knew the power of God.
“The power of God is never found in the exercise of wordly power. It is never about control or management or exploitation. It’s never about violence or intimidation,” Bishop Henning said.
“The Lord Jesus does not exploit, he does not control,” he added, noting how Jesus goes to his death helpless in the wordly sense.
“He offers the perfect gift of love and trust to our heavenly Father for our salvation.”
Bishop Henning later visited the Emmanuel House homeless shelter, the Our Lady of Providence Seminary and the St. John Vianney Home for retired priests.
Following his first Mass and visit to the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, Bishop Henning told Rhode Island Catholic of the joy he was feeling at that moment.
“It’s a little overwhelming, but there is a sense of real joy, peace and contentment too,” he said. “The kind of welcome I have received is beyond price. It’s a reminder, really, that we are a community of faith, a family. So, it’s good to be welcomed to a new family.”