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'Dead Duck'? Providence Bishop Tobin gets coadjutor

'Dead Duck'? Providence Bishop Tobin gets coadjutor

Pope Francis appointed a successor to Bishop Thomas Tobin, the outspoken bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, on Wednesday.

The pope named Bishop Richard G. Henning on Nov. 23 as coadjutor bishop of Providence with right of succession.

The appointment means that the 58-year-old Bishop Henning — an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, since 2018 — will take over leadership of the diocese when Bishop Tobin steps down. He is required to submit his resignation to Pope Francis on his 75th birthday — April 1, 2023.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Bishop Henning in the diocese on Wednesday morning, Bishop Tobin said the decision about when his retirement would begin would be “entirely up to the Holy Father,” noting that several U.S. bishops were currently serving beyond the nominal retirement age.

Bishop Henning said he was looking forward to getting to know the diocese and acknowledged that he had “a lot to learn.”

Bishop Henning said he had only been informed about the appointment within the last 10 days and was grateful that there would be a handover period between him and Bishop Tobin, which he called a time of “apprenticeship.”

Bishop Tobin described the transitional period between the two bishops as “a play with three acts,” with the announcement Wednesday being the first act, the second being Henning's formal arrival in the diocese in January, and the final act being his retirement.

Bishop Tobin said he had communicated to Rome his desire that Pope Francis accept his resignation sooner rather than later “sometime in the spring.”

“I don’t want to be a lame duck forever,” the bishop joked. “I’d rather be a dead duck.”

The pope also accepted the resignation on Wednesday of Providence auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans, who turned 75 on Sept. 2.

Bishop Tobin, known for his firm support of the pro-life cause and active Twitter presence, has led the diocese since 2005. The Pittsburgh native previously served as bishop of Youngstown, Ohio.

Richard Garth Henning was born in Rockville Centre, on Long Island’s South Shore, on Oct. 17, 1964. His family spent vacations on an island in the Great South Bay, where he developed a love of sailing, boating, and kayaking. He studied history at St. John University, New York.

Bishop Richard Henning. Image courtesy of Diocese of Rockville Center.

After training at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, New York, he was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre on May 30, 1992, at the age of 27.

He served for the next five years as an associate pastor at St. Peter of Alcantara Church, Port Washington, ministering to local Spanish-speaking Catholics. In addition to English and Spanish, he is familiar with Italian, French, Greek, and Hebrew.

He then studied for a licentiate in biblical theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. followed by a doctorate at the Angelicum in Rome.

He taught scripture at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception for more than 10 years before overseeing its transformation into a retreat center.

He also established the Sacred Heart Institute for the ongoing formation of clergy and earned recognition for his work with international priests serving in the U.S.

On June 8, 2018, at the age of 53, he was named an auxiliary bishop of the Rockville Centre diocese, choosing the episcopal motto “Put Out Into The Deep.” Shortly afterward, he was asked to lead a new office promoting missionary growth in the diocese.

The Diocese of Providence, erected in 1872, encompasses the whole of Rhode Island, the smallest U.S. state by area. Its 364 priests, 91 deacons, 368 religious sisters, and 66 brothers serve around 679,000 Catholics.

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