Rhode Island

The Formation and Ministry of Bishop Henning

By RICK SNIZEK, Editor-in-Chief

ROCKVILLE CENTRE, NY – St. Agnes Cathedral is the seat of the Diocese of Rockville Center. Although the present cathedral was not built until 1935 and the diocese itself was founded in 1957, the first mass was celebrated at St Agnes in 1887 and the first church was erected in 1935.
“I was ordained a bishop here and the memories of my ordination here are still quite strong,” said Bishop Richard G. Henning as he ushered Rhode Island Catholic into the majestic 15th-century Norman Gothic style cathedral was built and designed by architect Gustav E. Steinbeck.
“For me, I have always associated this place with the priesthood. It’s always been a place where I came together with my brothers,” he said, recalling the big celebrations like the annual Chrism Mass, which drew a large group of priests to the cathedral.
Bishop Henning was ordained an episcopacy on July 24, 2018 by Bishop John O. Barres in the Cathedral of St. Agnes. Bishop Emeritus William Murphy and Brooklyn Bishop Robert J. Brennan had served as auxiliary bishops when Pope Francis appointed him coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Providence.
Father Michael Duffy, now Rector of St Agnes Cathedral, was the Master of Ceremonies for Bishop Henning’s consecration. He was also a student of Bishop Henning when he was rector of Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington.
Father Duffy first met the future bishop when he saw a calling in college when Bishop Henning was taking part in a March for Life with a group of students in Washington, DC.
He would have many more interactions with Bishop Henning as he began his priestly training.
“At major seminary he was an external instructor and a scripture professor,” said Father Duffy. “He was a remarkable presence in the House of Fraternity. He tried his best to build brotherhood and fellowship among men, bridging the gap between faculty and student in such incredible ways. He really became a mentor first, then a professor, and then a friend in the priesthood.”
Bishop Henning’s journey to the priesthood began while he was a student at Chaminade High School in Mineola.
He credits the Marianist order, which runs the Catholic high school, with being a major influence on his life of faith and commitment to learning.
Bishop Henning said he wasn’t very interested in sports in high school but most looks forward to spending time with family members on Oak Island each summer, where water sports are the order of the day.
He then attended St. John’s University in Queens. While majoring in history, he was offered the opportunity to stay an additional year to earn both a BA and MA
“It was an extra year, but it was worth it,” said Bishop Henning.
Instead of applying to law school like many history students do, he instead decided to attend Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington on the north shore of Long Island and prepare for the priesthood.
The seminary’s idyllic grounds, which offer stunning views of the Long Island Sound through an ancient stone-lined amphitheater built into the hillside, provided the perfect place for seminarians to contemplate God’s creation.
Bishop Henning was ordained in 1992 by the late Rockville Center Bishop John R. McGann, who led the diocese from 1976 to 2000.
He then served for five years as associate pastor at St. Peter of Alcantara Church in Port Washington and did extensive pastoral work in the large parish school. He also ministered to the many Spanish-speaking Catholics who lived in the area, many of whom came here from El Salvador and other Central American countries.
In 1997 Bishop McGann commissioned then-Father Henning to undertake postgraduate studies in Scripture. He received his bachelor’s degree in Biblical Theology from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, and his doctorate in the same from the Pontifical University in Rome.
During his studies Bishop Henning acquired reading skills in French, Greek and Hebrew. He is also fluent in Spanish and Italian.
After completing his studies in Rome, Bishop Henning joined the faculty of the Immaculate Conception Seminary, where he taught Scripture for more than 10 years.
At the same time, he began a position as a weekend assistant at St. Patrick Parish on Bay Shore on Long Island’s south shore, not far from Oak Island. This task would last for the next 18 years.
“It’s a parish where I’ve assisted while teaching in the seminary for 18 years, so for me it’s the closest home on the island,” Bishop Henning said. “I have a lot of people there who have known me for years.”
Then in 2012 Rev. Msgr. Henning was appointed to lead the Immaculate Conception Seminary through its transition to the largest retreat house in the Northeast. This was done as part of the partnership for seminary formation between the dioceses of Rockville Center, Brooklyn and the Archdiocese of New York.
He was also commissioned by the Bishops of Rockville Center, Brooklyn and New York to establish and direct the Sacred Heart Institute for the continuing formation of Catholic priests and deacons. Bishop Henning has also worked extensively with international priests ministering in the United States
In September 2017, Bishop Barres appointed Bishop Henning Episcopal Vicar for the Central Vicariate of the Diocese of Rockville Center. As of June 2021, Bishop Henning also served as Vicar for the Clergy and Vicar for Pastoral Planning.
On June 8, 2018, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, announced that Pope Francis appointed Rev. Msgr. Richard Garth Henning Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Center. He was ordained bishop on July 24, 2018 at St. Agnes Cathedral by Bishop John O. Barres.
“There is a wonderful humility in him and a sense of pastoral charity. He is the good Samaritan who goes a step further for all,” Bishop Barres told Rhode Island Catholic in an interview at the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington on a Sunday night before Vespers.
“He’s a very serious biblical theologian, with a command of biblical languages ​​and a dissertation on the discourses of Paul and Peter in Acts, but he’s someone who can apply them so beautifully and pastorally. He is an excellent preacher.”
Bishop Barres said Bishop Henning was instrumental in cultivating a missionary spirit among the diocese’s 500,000 Spanish-speaking Catholics.
“He was such a great friend and advocate for the Hispanic community,” he said. “He has great charisma in the Hispanic community.”
Bishop Barres said that Bishop Henning is also a great advocate of Catholic education.
“He has been in the engine room in all of our efforts in terms of our Morningstar initiative, in terms of revitalizing our Catholic elementary schools, which of course have a symbiosis with our Catholic high schools.”
He said that Bishop Henning was always the focal point, a bridge between pastors and school leaders and a good grasp of the analytics of the company the diocese worked with.
Father Lachlan T. Cameron, a former seminary student of Bishop Henning who is now stepping into his role as Vicar for Ministerial and Pastoral Planning, said his former professor always had a kind and encouraging word for the seminarians, noting that he understood the pressure judgment, study and being together in the house.
“He was very generous and was always available for us in the house,” said Father Lachlan. “He and some of the other faculty members played sports with us and showed a really fraternal side of the priesthood and how he lived it among the faculties and how he desired to be our teacher and impart knowledge to us, but really the priesthood itself and how he lived it.
Father Lachlan had the opportunity to work with Bishop Henning on a book entitled Christ Our Hope: The Apostolic Journey of Pope Benedict XVI. to the United States and visit to the United Nations, 15-20.
The book was produced in real time during the Pope’s visit, with stories written by everyone during the visit.
“He has a wise heart, a compassionate heart and just a fatherly heart for us. He is incredibly sensitive and wise,” said Father Lachlan.
“He has great wisdom himself, but it’s that network he’s cultivated, just through friendship, respect and politeness, and it’s a mark of his kindness.”
Bishop Henning celebrated his final Mass in the diocese of St. Patrick on a Sunday morning. The church was filled to capacity and the congregation then held a well-attended farewell reception.
“I’m happy for Providence, but sad for us,” said St. Patrick Pastor Sean Gann.
Joan Dlouhy, a parishioner of St. Patrick Church, Bayshore, for about 13 years, said she and her husband Barry share many common interests with Bishop Henning.
“We’re boat people too,” she said of their shared love of being on the water. “We have our common interests on top of our beliefs.”
“He’s just so captivating and he’s funny. He’s very bright and I think you have to be bright to be funny. And he can take Scripture and make it relevant. We will really miss him; He has done so much for us. The people of Providence are really going to enjoy it. You are all blessed. He’s so accessible.”

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