The Most Rev. Richard G. Henning was named on Wednesday by Pope Francis to become head of the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, making him the latest auxiliary bishop on Long Island chosen by the Vatican to take over another diocese.
Henning was named coadjutor bishop for Providence, meaning he will assist the current head, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, until Tobin’s letter of resignation when he turns 75 on April 1 is accepted by the Vatican.
The appointment was announced in Washington, D.C., by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio — or Vatican representative — to the United States.
Henning, 58, will assume the post of coadjutor during a Mass on Jan. 26 at the Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul in Providence. He is then expected to spend at least several months working with Tobin during a transition.
Tobin said at a news conference in Providence on Wednesday that he hopes the Vatican will move quickly. The Vatican can accept his resignation immediately on his 75th birthday, or wait weeks, months or even years, though that is not expected in this case.
“The transition I think will happen pretty quickly,” Tobin said. “I hope that my retirement will be accepted in a timely manner … I’m guessing sometime in the spring.”
He added, jokingly, “I don’t want to be a lame duck forever.”
Henning said he was honored by the pope’s appointment and expects to spend the next months learning about the Providence diocese, home to about 600,000 Roman Catholics.
"I am going to admit to you that I have to do a lot of learning. I’ve been here as a tourist,” Henning said at the news conference. “I will be kind of a spiritual migrant.”
A Valley Stream native and Chaminade High School graduate, Henning has been serving as an auxiliary bishop to Bishop John Barres of the Diocese of Rockville Centre since 2018.
He is fluent in Spanish and taught Scripture for 10 years at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, among other assignments.
“Bishop Richard Henning is a wise pastor, a gifted theologian, and a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ,” Barres said in a statement. “In him, the Diocese of Providence truly receives a good shepherd.”
Barres added that Henning is “an erudite biblical scholar with a powerful mind” who “combines a deep knowledge of the Scriptures with a tremendous passion for the Word of God.”
Tobin said that “we are grateful to the Diocese of Rockville Centre who are sharing with us such a good, talented and faithful bishop like Bishop Henning.”
Henning said he first decided he wanted to become a priest in the fifth grade while attending Holy Name of Mary Parish grammar school in Valley Stream. Later, the Marianist Brothers, who run Chaminade, were “a major influence in his faith life and commitment to learning,” the Diocese of Rockville Centre said in a statement.
He earned a bachelor's and a master's in history from St. John’s University and then attended the seminary in Huntington.
After his ordination to the priesthood in 1992, he served for five years as an associate pastor at the Church of St. Peter of Alcantara, Port Washington. There, he did extensive pastoral work in the parish school and ministered to Spanish-speaking Catholics. He also speaks Italian and can read French, Greek and Hebrew.
He went on to earn a licentiate in biblical theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and a doctorate in the same subject from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome.
As a boy, Henning and his family spent summers on the Great South Bay.
"Your biography said that you have a lifelong passion for the water, for sailing, for boating and kayaking," Tobin said. "Well, then there is no better place for you to be than here in the Ocean State. Welcome to Rhode Island."