The Bethlehem Mounted Police Unit stood outside the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown, Pa., Aug. 31, as a swell of clergy waited outside to process into the church for a milestone day for faith in the Diocese of Allentown: the Solemn Rite of Ordination and Installation of Bishop Alfred Schlert as the Fifth Bishop of Allentown.
Bishop Schlert, 56, is a native of Easton, Pa., and has been a priest of the Diocese of Allentown since his ordination in 1987. He is the first priest ordained for the Diocese of Allentown to become Bishop of the Diocese.
The cathedra (Bishop’s chair) had been vacant since Dec. 9, 2016 when Bishop John Barres, Fourth Bishop of Allentown, was named Bishop of Rockville Centre, New York.
Metropolitan Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput was the principal ordaining bishop.
Bishop Emeritus of Allentown Edward Cullen, who was Third Bishop of Allentown, and Bishop Barres were co-ordaining bishops.
Principal concelebrant was Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Titular Archbishop of Gunela and Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America.
Among the bishops attending the liturgy were two native sons of the Diocese of Allentown: Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky and past president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Bishop Ronald Gainer of Harrisburg.
Archbishop Chaput offered the homily, stating that, “The Church is a family of faith. And the father in every family has the duty and the privilege to love, serve, provide for, protect and lead the persons in his care. The life of a bishop is a particular kind of fatherhood. And the readings today describe what that fatherhood entails.”
“When God says to Jeremiah, ‘before you were born I consecrated you,’ he makes the mission of the prophet, and by extension the mission of the Bishop, something unique, personal and sacred. This is why every bishop has a special need for the virtues of faith and courage, and for the prayers of his people in remaining strong in the ministry.
“The reading from the First Letter of Peter tells us how the bishop should carry out his work. First, with fidelity to Jesus Christ and to the people in his care. Second, with generosity and self-sacrifice, instead of grumbling and shifting the burdens of leadership to others. Third, with humility, instead of a hunger for personal advancement and ‘shameful gain.’ And fourth, with gentleness and patience, and a personal witness of integrity.”
Archbishop Chaput said the day’s Gospel reading names the fundamental vocation of the bishop, as Jesus says to Peter, “Feed my sheep.”
“He says that three times, just as Peter denied him three times. What it means is this. There’s no true Christian service or piety that’s purely vertical – in other words, a relationship of just me and God. As Christians, and especially as priests and bishops, we can’t love God without loving and serving the people he created and entrusted to our care,” said the archbishop.
As he addressed the faithful before the close of the liturgy, Bishop Schlert smiled and said, “The three words no one wants to hear after a long Mass is ‘please be seated.’”
Wearing his miter, Bishop Schlert recalled with humor how he used to argue with his mother about wearing a hat when he was a boy.
“OK Mom, you and Holy Mother Church won,” he said while aiming a smile at his parents, Alfred and Marylou Schlert.
On a more serious note, the new bishop said, “I would like my first words to be ones of gratitude to Almighty God for all the blessings he has bestowed on me. First, for the gift of life so that I may serve him.
“Next, for the gift of my parents, who I am blessed to have with me today in their 67th year of marriage; for my brother and his family; and extended family and friends, all of whom unconditionally love me and nurture my vocation. Without these first two, there could not have been the third reason for thanks: to have been called to the priesthood. It is this great calling that has given me great joy in my life.
“Today, I have been ordained to share in the fullness of the priesthood, the episcopacy. I stand here very well aware of my own inadequacies. However, when God assigns a task, he gives the strength to accomplish it. I rely on his strength today at the very beginning of my episcopal ministry.”
Bishop Schlert highlighted his priorities of creating a “culture of vocations;” focusing on youth and young adults; as a diocese keeping our hearts open to the poor and marginalized of all faiths and to those among us who want to be our neighbors; and reaching out to those “who are disinterested in the life of the Church, or are disheartened due to past hurts, or are disconnected in their relationship with Christ.”
“I am so proud to be a member of the clergy of the Diocese of Allentown and native son of our local Church,” Bishop Schlert said. “Everything I know about being a priest, I know from the fine examples of the men who have faithfully served and are serving the Diocese of Allentown.”
(Tami Quigley is a staff writer for the A. D. Times, the newspaper of the Diocese of Allentown. The article is printed in part with permission.)
By Tami Quigley, Special to The Witness