By TARA CONNOLLY Staff writer
“Notre Dame High School has a special place in my heart, so much of my vocation developed here,” said Bishop of Allentown Alfred Schlert Sept. 20 during his first pastoral visit as the new diocesan shepherd to his alma mater and one of the six Diocesan Catholic high schools.
Father Christopher Butera, chaplain at Notre Dame High School (NDHS), Easton, and Mario Lucrezi, principal, welcomed the 1979 graduate and former teacher along with the estimated 600 members of the student body.
“It is such an honor to welcome you back to your alma mater,” said Lucrezi, who earlier presented Bishop Schlert with an episcopal ring.
“The ring has special significance with your unique relationship with the Diocese. May it always remind you of Notre Dame and how it helped you toward the priesthood and in becoming Bishop of Allentown,” he said.
In his homily, Bishop Schlert said NDHS was always a “welcoming place” where friends, priests and faculty encouraged him to freely discern his vocation.
“I learned many things here as a young student and developed the ability to be a priest.”
He then spoke about some of the greatest threats facing the planet, like global warming – but maintained the greatest threat to humans is the disbelief in God and organized religion.
“You stand at the crossroads,” Bishop Schlert told the students.
“You live in a world where faith and a belief in God is marginalized.”
Bishop Schlert pointed to the NDHS Catholic community and asked students to seek influence from that community.
“Notre Dame can be that nurturing place for you – just like it was for me,” he said.
“I challenge you to make Notre Dame that ‘safe place’ where you can talk about the faith, where you can talk about God and where we can practice our faith freely. It is important to talk about the faith with your friends.”
In addition, he told the students that the Church needs them and embraces them, and pleaded with them not to faith-shame, prayer-shame or vocation-shame.
“No one should feel belittled or ashamed. That’s always been the hallmark of Notre Dame – it’s a family of faith. It’s a great tradition,” said Bishop Schlert.
Reminding the students that Notre Dame and the Diocese of Allentown are entrusted to the Blessed Mother, Bishop Schlert advised them to continue to follow her throughout their lives.
“If you follow Mary and are loving sons and daughters, you will not go astray. Let’s make Notre Dame a safe space to talk about faith and our vocations in life,” he said.
After the students leave NDHS and embark on their vocation in life, Bishop Schlert encouraged them to be open to the religious life.
“The world is set before you with so many opportunities. Don’t close your mind to any of them,” he said.
He then closed his homily by thanking the student body and staff for the gift of his episcopal ring that signifies him as the “spouse of the Diocese.”
“When I wear this ring, I will be reminded of the tremendous community that exists at Notre Dame and the community that gave birth to my vocation and to say ‘yes’ to God,” he said.