Bishop Schlert: A Humble Servant Ready to Lead

Bishop Schlert shares a celebratory moment with his parents, Alfred (Al) and Marylou on his ordination day, Sept. 19, 1987. (Photo courtesy of Marylou Schlert)

By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff writer 

Allentown’s fifth ordinary, Bishop Alfred Schlert, has deep roots in his home Diocese, born July 24, 1961, six months after the five northernmost counties of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia were carved out to form the new Diocese of Allentown.

No one knew then that the child – who became known as kind, humble and compassionate with a deep interest in the church – would one day be named the shepherd of his home Diocese.

Bishop Schlert is the son of Alfred and Marylou Schlert, parishioners of St. Jane Frances de Chantal, Easton, and has an older brother, Ted, who resides with his family in Glen Mills.

How did the new ordinary come to his vocation? In a very ordinary way – just the way he likes it.

“I served Mass in grade school,” said Bishop Schlert, a graduate of St. Jane Frances de Chantal School, Easton. “I always saw good priests in the parish – they were good examples.”

Fast forward from St. Jane School to Notre Dame High School, Easton – where the future bishop later returned to teach at his alma mater – and Bishop Schlert had to select courses for his junior year at the end of his sophomore year.

“I was picking my electives and the priest who was the homeroom moderator suggested I take Latin because it would be helpful when I went into the seminary. That started me thinking about it more seriously,” Bishop Schlert said in a recent interview at the Diocesan Chancery, Allentown.

He spoke to his parents about it, and after that without missing a beat applied to the Diocese of Allentown to enter St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia.

“I hope all parents are the way my parents were. They didn’t push or discourage. It was very indicative of how many vocations are discerned, through ordinary things.”

Bishop Schlert also had three great-aunts who were Sisters of Mercy (RSM) with the community in Plainfield, New Jersey, “so it was not an uncommon thing for me to be around people with a religious vocation.”

His Aunt Ruth became Sister Mary Alfred, Aunt Catherine became Sister Mary Esther and Aunt Claire became Sister Mary Loyola.

In his second year of college at St. Charles, Bishop Schlert was selected to study at the Pontifical Roman Seminary, Rome and St. John Lateran University, Rome. “It wasn’t what I would have wanted to do myself and I didn’t want to leave my friends in the seminary, but it turned out to be a very broadening experience.”

Bishop Schlert has touched many through his ministries in the past three decades, and in turn his ministries have touched him. But some of them have been touchstones in his life, such as teaching at Notre Dame and serving as the Catholic chaplain at Lehigh University, Bethlehem.

“I really enjoyed working at Notre Dame and Lehigh. Those ten years were very good and meaningful to my priesthood,” Bishop Schlert said. “You don’t always see the results immediately, but later you see these young people with families of their own being responsible Catholics and responsible citizens.”

Bishop Schlert also holds St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, Hellertown close to his heart. “St. Theresa’s was the only place I was pastor. It’s a beautiful place to become a pastor. The people are so good, and there’s a cross-section of all kinds of people.”

“There’s a saying that a priest becomes a mosaic of all the priests he’s known. But I think he also becomes a mosaic of all his assignments,” Bishop Schlert said.

“All people make up who I am today – priests, sisters, lay people – they all had a hand in forming my priesthood after ordination.”

Marylou Schlert

“I don’t think our feet have hit the ground yet,” Marylou said, expressing the joy she and her husband feel on their son’s appointment as Bishop.

Marylou said they weren’t surprised their son wanted to pursue a vocation in the priesthood, and had the feeling he would even when he was in fourth or fifth grade. “We pretty much knew all along. He was an altar server, a lector and so into the religion. He also has three great-aunts in the convent, so that probably helped.”

Marylou described Bishop Schlert as “such a lovable child” and a very compassionate boy. His compassion, kind-heartedness and humble nature stayed with him through high school – when he told his parents he wanted to be a priest while discussing college – and into the present.

“And he has a really good sense of humor,” Marylou said.

“We’re so proud of him. He’s so well-adjusted and very, very well-prepared for everything in this new venture.”

Marylou said she and her husband heard from one of Bishop Schlert’s teachers at Notre Dame High School after he was announced as Bishop-elect. “She was elated. We hadn’t heard from her in years.”

Marylou said uncles and cousins from places such as Bethlehem, Bangor and Maryland planned to attend Bishop Schlert’s ordination and installation. In addition, Msgr. Pietro Amenta of Rome, Italy was chosen by Bishop Schlert to be one of two assisting priests who presented him to Archbishop Chaput for ordination during the rite. She said Msgr. Amenta’s family took Bishop Schlert “under their wing” when he studied in Rome.

Msgr. Amenta is prelate auditor of the Roman Rota, the highest appellate tribunal of the Roman Catholic Church.

Ted Schlert

Ted, eight years older than Bishop Schlert, agrees with his parents about always knowing his younger brother would pursue a priestly vocation.

“He was a very compassionate young man and continues to be that way,” Ted said, highlighting too the new bishop’s “humility and humbleness.”

“I think he will be a real parochial servant leader in his leadership style and episcopal style.”

Ted and his wife Anne reside in Glenn Mills and have a daughter Caitlin, 30. Their son Andrew passed away seven years ago.

Ted very much appreciates that his brother celebrated Andrew’s funeral Mass. “His homily was personal and meaningful.” Andrew is also the middle name of Bishop Schlert and their father, Alfred.

Ted is senior vice president and chief risk officer at Hackensack Meridian Health, Edison, New Jersey. Previously, he was vice president and chief risk officer at Catholic Health East, based in Newtown Square.

Msgr. Pietro Amenta

“When Bishop [Joseph] McShea made possible seminarians of the Diocese of Allentown to be formed as priests at the Roman Seminary, he had a long vision that allows a pastor from overseas (the United States) to see a universal vision of the Church,” Msgr. Amenta said.

“This vision was absorbed very well by Bishop Schlert.”

“This allowed him to be assigned delicate and important responsibilities, like those of a vicar general, but he never separated himself from daily active pastoral work,” Msgr. Amenta said.

Msgr. Amenta said, “It’s impossible to summarize 35 years of sincere friendship and knowledge of a person. I am certain however that the priests and faithful of the Diocese will not delay in recognizing and appreciating the human and priestly qualities of Bishop Schlert.

“Above all, his ecclesial spirit of service that has always been central to his life will be evident to all.”

Deacon Anthony Koury

“Words cannot adequately express the joy that I felt when I received the news that Pope Francis had appointed Msgr. Alfred Schlert as the Fifth Bishop of Allentown,” said Deacon Anthony Koury, retired athletic director at Notre Dame, the alma mater he shares with Bishop Schlert.

Deacon Koury has been a permanent deacon at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church, Easton since being ordained in 1982. A graduate of Notre Dame High School, he retired in 2012 after 43 years at Notre Dame as athletic director and a theology teacher.

“My mind immediately went back to the days when Bishop Schlert was one of my students at Notre Dame High School. He graduated in 1979, and that was followed by the time that we spent together on the faculty at Notre Dame,” Deacon Koury said.

“Throughout all of that time and ever since, Bishop Schlert has distinguished himself as a compassionate, humble and dedicated priest of Jesus Christ. For myself and all who love Bishop Schlert, it is a time to give thanks to Jesus Christ, the eternal High Priest, in whose footsteps Bishop Schlert has ministered, and now, most significantly as a chief shepherd of the Diocese of Allentown.

“May his episcopate be filled with the love that he has for God and his people, expressed in Jesus’ words, ‘I have come not to be served, but to serve, and give my life as a ransom for many’ (Matthew 20:28). Bishop Schlert has done just that and now he can surely rejoice in the words Jesus spoke to his apostles, and now is saying to our beloved and respected Bishop Schlert, ‘It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain’ (John 15:16).

“May Bishop Schlert’s ministry as the Fifth Bishop of Allentown be filled with much fruit that will remain for many, many years as a testament to his priestly zeal.

“Indeed, I recall the words of Psalm 69:10, ‘Zeal for your house consumes me.’ May Bishop Schlert’s priestly zeal and love for the Lord and his people consume his episcopal ministry as the Fifth Bishop of Allentown.

“In Arabic we say ‘Mabrouk,’ in English ‘Congratulations’ and in Latin ‘Ad multos annos.’ In any language, all of us can repeat, the words of Psalm 118:24, ‘This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice in it and be glad.’”
 

Joseph Kramer

Joseph Kramer, retired principal of Notre Dame, had nothing but good things to say about Bishop Schlert’s 10 years on the school’s faculty. “He did a nice job. He came in kind of new in a sense and acclimated very quickly.”

“He was pretty much devoted to the kids. They were close in age. There was never a dull moment,” Kramer said. “Bishop Schlert was a very good teacher from the get go – he knew his theology, presented it well and was highly organized, prayerful and caring.”

As principal, Kramer would sometimes sit in on Bishop Schlert’s classes for evaluations, “but I’d pop in once in a while for fun.”

Bishop Schlert, who also served as director of spiritual activities, never hesitated to volunteer, such as chaperoning students on school trips. “He had a calming effect around kids.”

Kramer said Bishop Schlert became one of the school’s best recruiters “and had a soft side for kids and families with needs – financial needs or kids with special needs such as Asperger’s syndrome. A lot of people don’t realize that side of him. We had ‘guardian angels’ at Notre Dame who would write a check if needed, and Bishop Schlert did a lot of things behind the scenes.”

“The calming effect he had was a beautiful thing I learned from him.”

“Bishop Schlert had a good vision for education, too,” Kramer said. “He had a really neat youthful spiritualness about him. I hope he never loses that – the future of our church is the youth.”

Kramer said Bishop Schlert was very “down to earth” and was good with the faculty, who were at ease sitting down and chatting with him.

“Bishop Schlert was a big help in keeping the solidity of the Notre Dame ‘family’ – he was an integral part of that growth.”

Kramer said Bishop Schlert asked Kramer to pick up the papal nuncio at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia for the ordination and installation Mass. Kramer said he was looking forward to it and “was honored to be asked to play that role.”

Biography

Bishop Schlert was born to Alfred and Marylou Schlert in Easton on July 24, 1961, and was educated at St. Jane Frances de Chantal School and Notre Dame High School, both in Easton. He prepared for the priesthood at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia; the Pontifical Roman Seminary, Rome; and St. John Lateran University, Rome.

He was ordained a priest at the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown on Sept. 19, 1987 by Bishop Thomas Welsh, Second Bishop of Allentown.

He served as assistant pastor at St. Francis of Assisi, Allentown; as a professor at his alma mater, Notre Dame High School, Easton; and as the Catholic chaplain at Lehigh University, Bethlehem. During his years at Notre Dame, he resided at St. Anthony of Padua, Easton; St. Bernard, Easton; and Sacred Heart, Bath.

He completed graduate studies at the Pontifical North American College, Rome and the Pontifical Lateran University, Rome, where he received a Licentiate in Canon Law in 1992.

He was named Vice Chancellor and Secretary to Bishop Welsh in 1997 before being named Vicar General of the Diocese by Bishop Edward Cullen, Third Bishop of Allentown, in 1998. As Vicar General, he oversaw the coordination of all administrative offices of the Diocese. From 1998 to 2008 he was in residence at the Cathedral.

While still serving as Vicar General, he was appointed pastor of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, Hellertown in July 2008. Upon the ordination and installation of Bishop John Barres, Fourth Bishop of Allentown, he was reappointed as Vicar General of the Diocese and resumed full-time service as Vicar General in February 2010, with residence at St. Theresa, until his ordination as the Fifth Bishop of Allentown.

Pope St. John Paul II named him 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.

Bishop Schlert served as vice president of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and as a member of its Administrative Board. He also served on the Diocesan Council of Priests, the Diocesan Finance Council and the Diocesan College of Consultors. He was a member of the Board of Trustees of DeSales University, Center Valley.

He was appointed the Fifth Bishop of Allentown by Pope Francis on June 27, 2017. He was ordained a Bishop and installed as the Fifth Bishop of Allentown on Aug. 31, 2017.