After being born, raised, educated and ordained a priest in the Diocese of Allentown, Msgr. Alfred Schlert will take over the reins of the five-county diocese in August.
The Holy Father announced June 27 that the former diocesan vicar general and current diocesan administrator will become the fifth bishop of the diocese he has served for 30 years.
“This appointment elicits in me a great realization of my own inadequacies, but with equally great gratitude to almighty God for the grace and the strength that he gives. I will do my best to fulfill the responsibilities that the Holy Spirit through the Holy Father has placed upon me,” said Bishop-elect Schlert after beginning the news conference with a prayer.
Bishop-elect Schlert is the first priest of the diocese to be appointed to serve as its bishop. He has been serving as the diocesan administrator since his election Feb. 1 by the Diocesan College of Consultors after his predecessor Bishop John Barres was installed Jan. 31 as bishop of Rockville Centre, New York.
During a press conference at the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown Bishop-elect Schlert received a standing ovation from the media, the faithful, his parents, diocesan staff, fellow priests, women religious and Bishop Emeritus of Allentown Edward Cullen.
“In just a few weeks, it will be 30 years since I was ordained a priest in the cathedral church above us. Now I stand before you as the priest appointed by His Holiness, Pope Francis to serve as the fifth bishop of Allentown,” said Bishop-elect Schlert.
Acknowledging the presence of his parents, Alfred and Marylou (DeRose) Schlert, Bishop-elect Schlert expressed gratitude to God for their longevity and their desire to instill the faith in him.
“It’s not often that a bishop-elect gets to still have his parents at this point in his life…. They’ve been a great example of faithfulness in a vocation because this year they celebrate their 67th year of marriage,” he said.
He also thanked Bishop Cullen for his presence and their 20 years of friendship.
He then described his pride in being a member of the diocesan clergy and is looking forward to collaborating with his brother priests as they continue to serve the people of Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Northampton and Schuylkill counties.
“Everything I know about being a priest, I know from the fine examples of faithful men who have served and are still serving the Diocese of Allentown,” said Bishop-elect Schlert.
While serving the diocese in his new role, he said he will strive each day to fulfill a mission statement of faith he penned as a pastor – “A Roman Catholic family of faith, centered in the Holy Eucharist, faithful to the Church’s teachings, bringing the light of Christ to each other and to our community.”
After his ordination and installation as bishop of Allentown, Bishop-elect Schlert plans to follow in the courageous footsteps of his predecessors to strengthen the local Church and foster vocations.
“Fostering a culture of vocations is the work of every parishioner, teacher, catechist and coach throughout the diocese,” he said.
According to Bishop-elect Schlert, efforts will continue to find new ways to enhance outreach to the poor and marginalized of all faiths, and Catholics disinterested in the life of the Church or disheartened by past hurts.
He then sent a message to youth and young adults, and stressed that they have a very special place in the Church.
“We need your enthusiasm, your honesty and your witness to Christ to prepare our diocese for the future. Your youthfulness and hope make you already willing to embrace a life of holiness and authentic living that only the church can offer,” he said.
The diocese has been in a time of “sede vacante” since January when Bishop Barres was installed as bishop of Rockville Centre, New York. Since February, faithful at all parishes in the diocese have been praying for the designation of a new bishop.
“Their prayer asked that our Lord would send us ‘a courageous, faithful and humble servant.’ For reasons unknown, the Holy Spirit has chosen me for this task at this moment in time. I entrust my future episcopal ministry to the motherly care of the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of the church, and our diocesan patroness,” said Bishop-elect Schlert.
“I request and rely upon your prayers that I might accomplish Jesus’ command to ‘feed my sheep.”’
Getting the Call
Bishop-elect Schlert’s mother, Marylou Schlert, said she and her husband were in awe after their son drove to the family home to share the news that Pope Francis designated him as the new bishop of Allentown.
“By the look on his face – we knew something was up. Then he said, ‘I got the call.’ I can’t even begin to describe the feelings of happiness and joy that we felt and still feel,” she said.
As a young child, his mother recalled him as a compassionate boy who cared deeply about others. During his high school years, she said, his compassion and kind-heartedness were so evident that she wondered if the priesthood was in his future.
“We talked about college and then he told me he wanted to be a priest before I could even bring it up,” said Marylou.
“We weren’t surprised. We were happy and we didn’t give him an argument,” she said.
Throughout his ministries and positions serving the diocese, his mother said, her son continued to exude compassion and concern toward others.
“He is a wonderful priest, but he is also a wonderful son to us. He takes care of us and is so humble,” she said.
The couple rose early the day of the announcement to surprise Bishop-elect Schlert at the morning Mass he was celebrating at St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, Hellertown.
“We wanted to be with him and give humble thanks to God. But the smiles and feelings of excitement won’t leave us. We are trying to be humble but sometimes you just can’t,” said Marylou.
Diocesan Roots and Priestly Assignments
Bishop-elect Schlert was born in Easton July 24, 1961, just six months after the Diocese of Allentown was formed from part of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He has an older brother, Ted.
He was educated at St. Jane Frances de Chantal School and Notre Dame High School (NDHS), both in Easton. He prepared for the priesthood at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia and the Pontifical Roman Seminary and St. John Lateran University, Rome.
He was ordained a priest Sept. 19, 1987 at the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Siena, Allentown by Bishop Thomas Welsh, second bishop of Allentown.
Bishop-elect Schlert served as assistant pastor of St. Francis of Assisi, Allentown; professor at his alma mater NDHS; and Catholic chaplain at Lehigh University, Bethlehem.
During his years at NDHS, he resided at St. Anthony of Padua and St. Bernard, Easton, and Sacred Heart of Jesus, Bath. He completed graduate work at Pontifical North American College and Pontifical Lateran University, and received a licentiate in canon law degree from the Pontifical Lateran University in 1992.
Bishop-elect Schlert was named vice chancellor and secretary to Bishop Welsh in 1997 before being named diocesan vicar general by Bishop Cullen in 1998. As vicar general he has overseen coordination of all administrative offices of the diocese, and assisted Bishop Cullen and Bishop Barres in the governance of the diocese.
Pope St. John Paul II named him a Chaplain to His Holiness with the title of “Monsignor” in 1999. Pope Benedict XVI named him a Prelate of Honor, the second-highest rank of “Monsignor” in 2005.
From 1998 to 2008 he was in residence at the cathedral.
While still serving as vicar general he was pastor of St. Theresa, Hellertown from July 2008 until February 2010, when he resumed full-time service as vicar general with residence at St. Theresa.
Bishop-elect Schlert will be ordained to the Office of Bishop and installed as the fifth bishop of Allentown Thursday, Aug. 31 at the cathedral.
(This article originally appeared in the A.D. Times, the Newspaper of the Diocese of Allentown, and is reprinted here with permission.)
By Tara Connolly, Special to The Witness