Bishop Schlert’s First Words




31 AUGUST 2017


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.

I thank our Holy Father, Pope Francis, for his confidence in entrusting to me this call to serve and shepherd the great Clergy, Religious, Seminarians, and Laity of the Diocese of Allentown as their Fifth Bishop.  I will do my best to fulfill the responsibilities that the Holy Spirit, through the Holy Father, has placed upon me.

I am grateful to His Excellency, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America, for his kindness in these days of preparation, for his attendance today at Mass and for presiding last night at Vespers.  We are honored by your presence and we pray for the success of your important service of representing the Holy Father to the American people.  Your Excellency, please assure our Holy Father of our fidelity to his Petrine Ministry and of our faithfulness to the Magisterium of the Church which safeguards the Deposit of Faith.

To His Excellency, Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia and Metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical Province of Pennsylvania, I express profound gratitude for ordaining me a Bishop today.   You have been so supportive, fraternal, and kind throughout the years of our work with the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, and in preparation for my Ordination.  I look forward to collaborating with you and my brother Bishops of Pennsylvania who are also in attendance this afternoon.

I cannot adequately express my thanksgiving to His Excellency, Bishop Edward Cullen, Bishop Emeritus and Third Bishop of Allentown, and to His Excellency, Bishop John Barres, the Fourth Bishop of Allentown, now the Bishop of Rockville Centre, for their prayerful presence today as my Co-Ordaining Bishops.  In working with both of them as my Bishops, my vocation has been strengthened and enriched.  In both of them, I have seen a love for the Church, fidelity of service, and sacrifice for the People of God which I hope to imitate.  And both of them showed me more patience than I deserved!

Allow me to express my thanks to the Archbishops and Bishops who join us today in a visible expression of the unity of the College of Bishops. The Diocese of Allentown is honored to welcome you.  In a special way, we welcome home two native sons of the Diocese who are admirably serving the Church: Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Archbishop of Louisville and Past President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Ronald Gainer, Bishop of Harrisburg.

Welcome to my brother Priests and Deacons, Consecrated Religious, Seminarians, and Laity of the Diocese of Allentown, and beyond. We are grateful today for the presence of ecumenical leaders, and members of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of local, state, and federal government.

In less than three weeks, I will celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of being ordained a Priest in this very Cathedral.  I cannot but marvel at God’s mysterious ways that led me back today to the same spot to be ordained a Bishop to serve a Diocese I love so much.  I feel humbled yet honored to serve the same people who nurtured my vocation.

As I said at the press conference on the day of my appointment by Pope Francis, I composed a little mission statement when I became the Pastor of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus Parish in Hellertown in 2008.  It called the parish to be “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.”

Each of the four little phrases is work for a lifetime, and I believe as a Diocese we are up to the task!  It is in the simplicity of these daily intentions that, with God’s grace, we can accomplish so many things.  From these few words flow the work of our ministry as a Catholic people: rekindling a reverence and belief in Our Lord truly present in the Holy Eucharist, strengthening marriage and family life, fostering vocations to the Priesthood and the Religious Life, honoring and respecting the dignity of the unborn, the elderly, the sick and dying, and the marginalized.

We cannot be “centered in the Holy Eucharist” without the Priesthood. I invite my brother Priests to help me create a “Culture of Vocations” in the Diocese.  We will need to be assisted by our Deacons, Religious Women and Men, our Seminarians, and in a very generous way, by Parents who will be willing to encourage and support a vocation to the Priesthood or Religious Life – even from among their own sons and daughters.  Fostering a Culture of Vocations is the work of every parishioner, teacher, catechist, and coach throughout our Diocese.  Together, we will be abundantly blessed by God for our prayers for, and encouragement of, vocations.  This will be among the primary tasks of the Diocese of Allentown: to ensure more priests to shepherd the Flock of Christ.

I would like the youth and young adults of the Diocese to know that you have a very special place in the life of 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 ready to embrace a life of holiness and authentic living that only the Church can offer in a confused world.  You are up to the challenge and sacrifice of seeing the world in a way that is different from the view commonly presented.  Do not be afraid of experiencing your life in the “light of Christ!”  I look forward to working with you in refreshing our Diocese with your active participation in our parishes, our opportunities for spiritual growth, and projects of Christian service.

As a Diocese, we will keep our hearts open to the poor and marginalized of all faiths; to those among us who want to be our neighbors; to those Catholics who are disinterested in the life of the Church, or are disheartened due to past hurts, or are disconnected in their relationship with Christ.  We will always seek to accompany them in charity and love while speaking the Truths of the Catholic Faith.

Finally, to my brother priests:  I am so proud to be a member of the Clergy of the Diocese of Allentown and a native son of our Local Church.  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.  I look forward to the continued collaboration and fraternal support of my brother Priests as we will continue to serve devotedly the extraordinary people of Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Northampton, and Schuylkill Counties.

Hermanos y hermanas, ya que solo puedo decir unas pocas palabras en español, quiero que sepan que los acojo como una parte integral de la Diócesis de Allentown. Estoy muy alegre de ser su Obispo y los quiero aun antes de que yo pueda expresarme bien en su idioma. Por favor, oren para que todos nosotros tratemos cada día vivir el mandato de Cristo: “apacienta mis ovejas”.

[Editor’s translation: Brothers and sisters, since I can only say a few words in Spanish, I want you to know that being welcoming is an integral part of the Diocese of Allentown. I am very happy to be your Bishop and I have loved you even before I am able to express myself in your language. Please, pray that we all may try every day to live Christ’s command: “feed my sheep.”]

In their love for the Church, the faithful in all the parishes of the Diocese prayed for the selection of a new Bishop. The prayer asked that Our Lord would send us a “courageous, faithful, and humble servant.”  For reasons unknown, the Holy Spirit has answered your prayers in this way.  Please pray that I will be a servant who embodies those three qualities – “courageous, faithful, humble” – in my daily life as a Bishop.  I entrust my episcopal ministry from the very beginning to the motherly care of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, and our Diocesan Patroness.  I request and rely upon your prayers and collaboration so that together we may accomplish Jesus’ command to “feed my sheep.”

May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to Everlasting Life!