Bishop Hendricken High School may have just signed their highest profile athlete ever, but fans shouldn’t expect to see the green and gold jersey reading “HENNING #9” on the field any time soon - unless, perhaps, the football team tries for a “Hail Mary”…
The honorary jersey was presented to new Coadjutor Bishop Richard Henning, who made his first visit to a Catholic high school in the state on Friday, March 3. The soon-to-be 9th bishop of the Diocese of Providence celebrated Mass for the Feast of St Katharine Drexel, concelebrated by Hendricken president Fr. Robert Marciano and a number of other priests from the local community.
This was the prelate’s second visit to the Warwick area, following his celebration of Mass at St. Kevin Church on Sandy Lane for the anniversary of the Station nightclub fire. He has made one other school trip so far - meeting students and teachers at St Phillip’s in Greenville - but Hendricken was his first high school visit (a scheduled appearance at the Prout School was canceled due to a snow day).
In his homily at that Mass, Bishop Henning indicated that he was initially apprehensive about the new job, but that the sight of the Rhode Island flag helped to reassure him. “To see on a state flag that ancient Christian symbol, the anchor, the symbol of hope, with the word written right there beneath it - in my prayer, I thought ‘I’m going to live in a state of hope,” he said. “It was a great comfort to me at a time with a lot of emotions.”
Roger Williams initially designed the Seal of Rhode Island as a reference to St Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews, which describes the theological virtue of hope as “an anchor of the soul, sure and firm.” The symbol has endured, with “Hope” serving as the shortest state motto in the US.
Bishop Henning put his growing knowledge of Rhody trivia on full display in his homily at Hendricken, which he delivered in what has become his trademark style: holding a microphone and strolling casually in front of the congregation.
RI landmark woven into homily
“As I’ve been exploring Rhode Island, I recently viewed one of your landmarks for the first time - the Superman building,” he said, referring to the derelict Industrial National Bank Building, which serves as the state’s tallest building. The homily used the Man of Steel as a moral case study, arguing that what makes Superman a superhero is not his remarkable abilities but the good works to which he applies them.
Powers of flight and super speed would probably have come in handy as the new bishop completes his whirlwind tour of the Ocean State, but he appears to be making good time all the same, with an appearance scheduled at the Faith Formation Convocation to be hosted at Bryant University on Saturday, March 18.
“One of the most pleasant surprises about Rhode Island has been just how human the scale here is,” the bishop explained. “All of the communities here have such a close bond with one another and with their priests and civil leaders. Everybody seems to know everyone else.”
“It also doesn’t hurt that you can get anywhere you need to in twenty minutes,” he added with a laugh.
In his greeting, Fr. Marciano welcomed the new bishop to the “finest Catholic high school in the nation,” though he quickly added that he was sure there were “great schools back in Long Island as well.”
Indeed, one of those schools counts the new bishop among its alumni - he grew up in Rockville Center, later returning to serve as the auxiliary bishop of that diocese in 2018. Prior to the promotion, the then-Monsignor Henning was involved with a number of pastoral and academic positions throughout the Long Island area, in addition to serving on committees with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Much of his ministerial work has focused on outreach to Hispanic Catholics; in addition to Spanish, he is fluent in Italian. He holds degrees from St John’s University in Queens and the Catholic University of America, as well as a doctorate from the Angelicum (the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas in Rome).
The bishop’s biography notes that growing up on Long Island left him with an abiding interest in sailing and boating, something which may have influenced his choice in an episcopal motto: “Put Out Into The Deep.” If nothing else, living in the Ocean State should afford the seafaring prelate with ample opportunity to engage in this pastime (and perhaps even a means of visiting home, as Rhode Island and Long Island share a maritime border).
For now, however, he has been busy enough learning to navigate his new diocese. “I’m still in ‘meeting mode,’” he said. “One of the big advantages of being a coadjutor is that it gives me time to visit as many places as I can and get to know the local Church. Everyone has been extremely welcoming.”
Appointment as Coadjutor Bishop
Pope Francis appointed Henning as Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Providence on Nov 23, making him the first coadjutor the diocese has had since the appointment of the late Bishop Robert Mulvee in 1995. The appointment was made following the retirement of former Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans, who was required by the Code of Canon Law to submit his resignation upon turning 75 in September. Since retiring, Bishop Evans has remained active in local ministry, including providing pastoral care at Kent Hospital and administering the sacrament of Confirmation.
A coadjutor bishop performs similar functions to an auxiliary bishop, with the principal difference being right of succession: upon the retirement of the current bishop, a coadjutor automatically ascends to the cathedra and assumes full leadership of the diocese. Bishop Thomas Tobin had requested that a coadjutor be assigned in order to ease the transition when he submits his own letter of resignation upon turning 75 this April. The Pittsburgh native has served as the Bishop of Providence for the past 18 years, previously holding the title of Bishop of Youngstown, Ohio. Although many bishops continue serving after reaching 75, Tobin has requested that his resignation be accepted as quickly as possible; the haste has led independent Catholic media outlets like The Pillar to speculate that undisclosed health problems may be involved.
At the time of the original announcement in November, Bishop Tobin thanked both the pope for accepting his request and the Diocese of Rockville Center for “sharing such a good, talented, and faithful bishop” to serve as coadjutor. “Bishop Henning is fully prepared to assume the leadership of the Diocese of Providence when that time comes,” Tobin said at the November press conference. “And I pray that will happen in the very near future!”
For his part, Bishop Henning has expressed enthusiasm about his new home, which he says he began researching immediately after being informed of the appointment by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States. The nuncio travelled to Providence on Jan 26 for a Mass of Reception, during which he formally presented the papal bull installing Henning as coadjutor. More than 40 other bishops and archbishops were present for the liturgy, including Cardinals Timothy Dolan (of New York) and Seán Patrick O’Malley (of Boston).
Making RI connections
According to Christian Kabbas, Hendricken’s Communications Director, one of the focuses for the Hendricken reception was to help the new bishop immerse himself in that proud Rhode Island tradition of “knowing everyone else.”
“At the reception Mass, the bishop mentioned that he was hoping for opportunities to get to know the people who make up his new diocese,” Kabbas said. “Fr. Marciano wanted to make use of his own community connections to bring together some local leaders and facilitate that introduction.”
The local notables in attendance included political figures (Reps Thomas Noret and Camille Vella Wilkinson, as well as former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung), business leaders (Ron and Pete Cardi), and civil servants (including Warwick Public Schools Superintendent Lynn Dambush and Warwick Neck Elementary School Principal Frank Galligan).
“We have a very close relationship with Fr Bob (our chaplain) and with the Hendricken community, so we were honored to represent the City of Warwick at such an important event,” said Warwick Fire Department Chief Peter McMichael. These sentiments were echoed by the Chief of Warwick Police, Col Brad Connor, who said the department strives “to be present at events that are so important to the local community.”
Perhaps nobody was as excited as the Hendricken students themselves, although the reasons might not have been exclusively spiritual: at the conclusion of the Mass, Bishop Henning informed them that the diocese had granted students a dress down day.
“Bishop Tobin asked me to pass that along,” he said, then smiled. “I don’t have that kind of authority yet.”
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here