Pope promotes former Port priest to auxiliary bishop

Luke Torrance
Reverend Monsignor Richard G. Henning. (Courtesy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre)

Monsignor Richard G. Henning, a priest who got his start in Port Washington, was appointed last week as the auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Rockville Centre by Pope Francis.

“I am grateful to His Holiness, Pope Francis, for the call to serve as an auxiliary bishop,” Henning said in a statement. “This is a moment of deep reflection and the humble acknowledgment of my dependence upon the grace of God and my joy in His service.”

The announcement was made by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the pope’s representative, or apostolic nuncio, in the United States, last Friday in Washington, D.C.

Henning will serve as the fourth auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which has 351 priests and a Catholic population of 1,455,644, making it the eighth-largest diocese in the United States. He will replace Bishop Nelson Perez, who is leaving Long Island to become the bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland.

Henning can speak Spanish and Italian fluently. His knowledge of the former will help him reach the diocese’s Hispanic population, and it is a skill he learned during his time in Port Washington.

Born in Rockville Centre and raised in Valley Stream, Henning became a priest at St. Peter of Alcantara Roman Catholic Church in Port Washington after he was ordained in 1992. At the time, the Hispanic community in the area had grown rapidly, as many nationalities— especially Salvadorans, he noted— fled violence in their home countries to move to the United States.

When I arrived at the parish, I followed a priest who had provided pastoral care to Spanish speakers,” Henning wrote in an email. “At first, I struggled in ministry as my Spanish was ‘classroom’ Spanish. However, the people there organized tutoring sessions — all volunteer — and helped me to function in about one year.”

Learning Spanish helped him to connect with the Hispanic population in Port.

As the language barrier lowered, I came to know and love a community of deep faith, abiding joy, and great love,” he wrote.

Henning worked alongside Father Bill O’Rourke and said his years in Port were “extraordinarily happy for me.” In particular, he mentioned how much he enjoyed getting to know the Port Washington Police Department and members of the area’s Jewish community.

“[Port] always struck me as a unique community — distinct from most suburbs,” he wrote. “It had the diversity and energy of the city balanced by a small town friendliness and commitment to family.”

Henning, who graduated from Chaminade High School in 1982, said that he felt called to “give back in life” and had great respect for his parish priests growing up. He attended the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington after graduating from St. John’s University in 1986.

After several years in Port, Henning left to continue his studies of scripture at the Catholic University of America, where he learned to read Biblical Hebrew and Greek, studied French, and became fluent in Italian when his studies took him to Rome.

Henning will be officially ordained by Bishop John O. Barres on July 24 at the Cathedral of Saint Agnes in Rockville Centre.

“Bishop-elect Henning’s pastoral charity and intelligence, his commitment to a demanding life of daily prayer, his love for the Hispanic community and evangelization, his biblical scholarship and experience in seminary formation, his national contributions to the ongoing formation of priests and assistance to international priests who serve in this country give him a wide range of pastoral experience and skills to help advance the New Evangelization and dramatic missionary growth on Long Island,” Barres said in a statement.

While Henning did not hear directly from the pope about his appointment, he will have the chance to speak with him soon — perhaps in Italian.

In September, there will be a gathering in Rome of all the bishops appointed since last September,” he wrote. “At that gathering, I will have the chance to meet Pope Francis.”

Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at ltorrance@theislandnow.com, by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance.

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