By TARA CONNOLLY Staff writer
After witnessing Bishop Alfred Schlert elevated to the Bishop of Allentown during his Rite of Ordination and Installation, friends, family and faithful expect the Diocesan son to steer the five-county Diocese with a gentle spirit.
Larry Chapp, who has known Bishop Schlert for more than 20 years, attended the three-hour ceremony to listen to the reading of the Apostolic Letter from Pope Francis giving him reign over the Diocese.
“First and foremost, he is a humble leader. He is also a very pro-active leader who isn’t afraid to face the challenges of the 21st century,” he said.
“He knows the Diocese very well. He is loved and profoundly respected by everyone.”
Michele and George Tomaino, who graduated from Notre Dame High School, Easton with Bishop Schlert, watched Solemn Vespers on television and were invited to the Rite of Installation and Ordination of their classmate and friend.
“What an honor to be here. We saw him in June and he kept telling us he was not going to be named the new Bishop. And, here we sit,” said Michele.
George recalled his high school pal as a humble guy who refused to spill the beans on who won homecoming king and queen after he was given the responsibility to count the votes.
“He wouldn’t tell any of us and we tried like heck to get him to tell us,” he said.
“Everybody trusted him 100 percent. He is going to do wonders for this Diocese.”
For Gregg Shemanski, who interacted with Bishop Schlert as a member of the Bishop’s Commission on Catholic Schools, and his wife, Becky, being invited to the ceremony was a first for them as they were part of the mass of faithful who witnessed Bishop Schlert consecrated to his new office.
“He is incredibly easy to work with and very down to earth,” said Gregg.
“The ceremony made me feel like I was part of something larger and part of the universal Church. Bishop Schlert’ s remarks were moving and I was impressed with his humility and openness,” said Becky.
After the ceremony, Bishop Schlert’s longtime friend and priestly brother Msgr. Francis Nave, pastor of Sacred Heart, Bath, shared it was clear how much affection the faithful and his fellow priests have for him after the thunderous applause he received when he was seated in the cathedra.
“One of his most unique qualities is his attentiveness to the little things. No matter how much is on his plate in terms of responsibilities, he remembers birthdays, ordination anniversaries and other special moments in people’s lives,” he said.
“For the priests of the Diocese, we have come of age as one of our own is now our chief shepherd. We have been accustomed to a Bishop coming to us from the outside, but as a Diocese we have matured and stand on our own because the most capable man was from among us.”
Bishop Schlert’s godchildren, Rosetta, 12, and Andrew Shupe, 10, who were gift bearers during the Mass, said they admire his politeness and his kind nature when they spend time with him.
“He’s a great role model to us and is such a good person,” said Rosetta.
Andrew, who marveled at his godfather’s thoughtfulness in giving him Amazon gift cards on special occasions, said he was puzzled as to why Bishop Schlert was caught off guard when being named the Fifth Bishop of Allentown.
“He is a great priest and the best godfather. I saw this coming,” he said.
Due to limited seating, most faithful watched the historic sacramental which was televised and live-streamed, including Judy Saback, parishioner of St. Thomas More, Allentown, who stood outside the cathedral and watched the ceremony on her iPad.
“I watched the installation of the last Bishop on television and wanted to be here. People travelled countless miles to be here and I want to be close,” she said.
Although she has never met Bishop Schlert, Saback said her presence assists in his desire to increase vocations to the religious life.
“I am here to welcome him and to pray for priests and all religious,” said Saback. “They are so important to the Church.”