Photo credit: Ed Koskey, AD Times
The Most Rev. Alfred A. Schlert, 56, was installed as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Allentown on Aug. 31 at the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena. He is the first priest from the diocese to become its bishop. Here is an excerpt of the remarks he made during the ordination Mass. (Find the full remarks here.)
Shortly after his installation, Bishop Schlert fielded questions from me. His responses are published below.
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. …
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. …
In less than three weeks, I will celebrate the 30th 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.
…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. …
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. …
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!
Christina Ries: What do you consider your greatest challenge as bishop?
Bishop Alfred Schlert: From the day of my appointment, I have identified the need for vocations as one of my highest priorities. I have invited my brother priests to help create a culture of vocations in the Diocese of Allentown. We will need to be assisted by our deacons, religious women and men, our seminarians and, in a very generous way, by parents willing to encourage and support a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.
CR: At your ordination Mass, you said, “When God assigns a task, He gives the strength to accomplish it.” How is his strength sustaining you in these early days of your new ministry?
BAS: I believe He is sustaining me through the grace and outpouring of the Holy Spirit that I received at ordination. This sustenance is also present in the prayers and encouragement of the clergy, religious and laity of the diocese. They have been so kind and embracing. Finally, my participation in the Course for New Bishops in Rome [in September] and the Audience with the Holy Father were tremendous experiences of episcopal fraternity from which I drew great strength.
CR: How do you plan to strengthen marriage in the diocese?
BAS: One important way is to hold up as examples the faithful, loving couples among us who model for us what a Christian marriage is supposed to be. This past Sunday I celebrated Mass for 126 couples at the diocese’s annual Anniversary Mass. Three-quarters of those couples had been married 50 years or more. In recent years, the diocese has reinvigorated our marriage preparation program to better prepare young couples for the challenges they will face as husband and wife.
CR: What is the key to encouraging more couples to use NFP?
BAS: Natural family planning is an integral part of marriage preparation in the Diocese of Allentown. The diocesan office that is charged with preparing young couples for the sacrament of matrimony is entitled “Office of Marriage and Natural Family Planning.” That office works with NFP-friendly medical professionals throughout the diocese and refers interested couples to them.
CR: What excites you most about the future of the Catholic Church?
BAS: The young people in our schools and parishes. The Church needs their enthusiasm, their honesty, their witness to Christ to prepare the diocese and the Church for the future. I look forward to working with these young people who will refresh the Church with their active participation in our parishes.
— Christina Ries
Former, Assistant Editor of Family Foundations