By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff writer
The Bethlehem Mounted Police Unit stood outside the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown Aug. 31, as a swell of clergy waited outside to process into the church for a milestone day for faith in the Diocese of Allentown: the Solemn Rite of Ordination and Installation of Bishop Alfred Schlert as the Fifth Bishop of Allentown.
Bishop Schlert, 56, is a native of Easton and has been a priest of the Diocese of Allentown since his ordination in 1987. He is the first priest ordained for the Diocese of Allentown to become Bishop of the Diocese.
The cathedra (Bishop’s chair) had been vacant since Dec. 9, 2016 when Bishop John Barres, Fourth Bishop of Allentown, was named Bishop of Rockville Centre, New York.
The three-hour afternoon Mass and rite began with the ringing of bells and a procession led by a Knights of Columbus honor guard, followed by Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, about 30 Bishops, and hundreds of priests and deacons.
Metropolitan Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput was the principal ordaining Bishop.
Bishop Emeritus of Allentown Edward Cullen, who was Third Bishop of Allentown, and Bishop Barres were co-ordaining Bishops.
Principal concelebrant was Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Titular Archbishop of Gunela and Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America.
Attending priests to the Bishop were Msgr. Pietro Amenta of Rome, Italy, prelate auditor of the Roman Rota, the highest appellate tribunal of the Roman Catholic Church; and Msgr. John Murphy, pastor of St. Thomas More, Allentown.
Assisting were Deacon John Hutta and Deacon Gerald Schmidt.
Msgr. Victor Finelli was episcopal master of ceremonies.
Lectors were James Finnen and Bernarda Liriano, director of the diocesan Office of Hispanic Affairs.
Gift bearers were Bishop Schlert’s niece Caitlin Schlert, his godson Andrew Shupe and goddaughter Rosetta Shupe.
The Diocesan Choir, directed by Beverly McDevitt, director of music at the cathedral, provided music for the liturgy. Cantors were Father Anthony Mongiello, pastor of St. Anne, Bethlehem; Catherine Bobb; John D’Angelo; and Ann Lipari.
Instrumentalists were James Seidel and Dennis Coldren, trumpet; John Metcalf and Mark Brumbach, trombone; Glenn Kressley, timpani; Connie Trach, violin; Michael Trach, flute; and Jan Galassi, cello.
Bishop Schlert offered some remarks in Spanish, and there was Scripture and song in Spanish as well.
Among the bishops attending the liturgy were two native sons of the Diocese of Allentown: Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky and past president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Bishop Ronald Gainer of Harrisburg.
The Rite of Ordination began with the calling down of the Holy Spirit while the ancient hymn “Veni Creator Spiritus” (“Come Creator Spirit”) was sung.
Msgr. Murphy began the rite by presenting Bishop Schlert during the Presentation of the Elect and formally requested his ordination to the episcopate.
Archbishop Pierre read the apostolic letter mandating the ordination and installation of Bishop Schlert, after which the faithful gave their assent with a spirited standing ovation.
Archbishop Chaput then offered the homily, stating that, “The Church is a family of faith. And the father in every family has the duty and the privilege to love, serve, provide for, protect and lead the persons in his care. The life of a Bishop is a particular kind of fatherhood. And the readings today describe what that fatherhood entails.
“When God says to Jeremiah, ‘before you were born I consecrated you,’ he makes the mission of the prophet, and by extension the mission of the Bishop, something unique, personal and sacred. This is why every Bishop has a special need for the virtues of faith and courage, and for the prayers of his people in remaining strong in the ministry.
“The reading from the First Letter of Peter tells us how the Bishop should carry out his work. First, with fidelity to Jesus Christ and to the people in his care. Second, with generosity and self-sacrifice, instead of grumbling and shifting the burdens of leadership to others Third, with humility, instead of a hunger for personal advancement and ‘shameful gain.’ And fourth, with gentleness and patience, and a personal witness of integrity.”
Archbishop Chaput said the day’s Gospel reading names the fundamental vocation of the Bishop, as Jesus says to Peter, “Feed my sheep.”
“He says that three times, just as Peter denied him three times. What it means is this. There’s no true Christian service or piety that’s purely vertical – in other words, a relationship of just me and God. As Christians, and especially as priests and bishops, we can’t love God without loving and serving the people he created and entrusted to our care,” said the Archbishop.
“Love can be complicated work. In a world of conflict and confusion, a Bishop must sometimes correct and admonish. As Augustine once said, ‘If you believe what you like in the Gospels and reject what you don’t like, it’s not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.’
“So when a Bishop speaks uncomfortable truths, he’s doing a very real act of mercy. But the heart of a Bishop’s ministry – the joy of it – is nourishing, teaching, guiding and encouraging his people. Having chosen an episcopal motto like ‘Feed My Sheep,’ Bishop-elect Schlert already clearly knows this.
“Augustine was one of human history’s great minds. But he became one of the greatest Bishops in Christian history because he lived first and foremost as a father, moved by a father’s love.
“To the family of Bishop-elect Schlert, thank you for the gift of this good man. To Bishop-elect Schlert as a brother in the ministry: Have confidence in the God who calls you to this altar, because he will give you the serenity and strength to do his will.
“And to all of us in this gathering: Pray for and support your bishop. There’s no greater joy in the life of any Bishop than to love as a father, and to be loved by God's sons and daughters as a father as well.”
After the homily, during Promise of the Elect, Archbishop Chaput questioned Bishop Schlert about his resolve to uphold the faith and fulfill the responsibilities of his episcopal ministry. Bishop Schlert answered “I do” to each of the nine questions.
During the Litany of Supplication clergy and the faithful prayed for God to bestow grace on Bishop Schlert, as he prostrated himself on the floor.
Bishop Schlert then knelt before Archbishop Chaput, Bishop Cullen and Bishop Barres for the Laying on of Hands and Prayer of Ordination, the essential rite of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
Archbishop Chaput imposed his hands on Bishop Schlert’s head, invoking the power of the Holy Spirit.
Each Bishop in the sanctuary also imposed hands, and then those Bishops seated in the pews went to the sanctuary to place their hands on Bishop Schlert.
Then the Book of Gospels was opened and raised over Bishop Schert’s head as a sign of God’s Word and of the new Bishop’s responsibility to preach the Good News. Archbishop Chaput prayed the Prayer of Ordination, which has the essential words for the conferral of the sacrament.
Archbishop Chaput then anointed Bishop Schlert’s head with sacred chrism (oil), signifying his full share in the priesthood of Christ, which he had received through the Laying on of Hands and the Prayer of Ordination.
“May God, who made you a sharer of the High Priesthood of Christ, himself pour out upon you the oil of mystical anointing and make you fruitful with an abundance of spiritual blessings,” prayed Archbishop Chaput.
Then Archbishop Chaput presented to Bishop Schlert the same Book of the Gospels that was held over his head, saying, “Receive the Gospel and preach the Word of God with all patience and sound teaching.”
Next, during Investiture with the Insignia, the newly appointed was presented with the signs of his office by Archbishop Chaput.
A ring symbolizing his fidelity to Christ and espousal to the Church was placed on his finger.
“Receive this ring, the seal of fidelity: adorned with unbridled faith, preserve unblemished the bride of God, the holy Church.”
A miter signifying his pursuit of holiness was positioned on his head.
“Receive the miter, and may the splendor of holiness shine forth in you, so that when the chief shepherd appears you may deserve to receive from him an unfading crown of glory.”
A crosier, his pastoral staff, was placed in his hand as a sign of his pastoral office and his ministry as a spiritual shepherd.
“Receive the crosier, the sign of your pastoral office: and keep watch over the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as Bishop to govern the Church of God.”
The signs of the office had been brought into the cathedral by three priests of the diocese: Msgr. Walter Scheaffer, pastor of St. Mary, Kutztown, ring; Father John Rother, assistant pastor of St. Catharine of Siena, Reading, miter; and Father Andrew Gehringer, pastor of Holy Infancy, Bethlehem, crosier.
Bishop Schlert’s office was sealed when Archbishop Chaput and Archbishop Pierre escorted him to the cathedra, where he sat for the first time, to the roar of applause and a thunderous standing ovation.
The Diocesan Choir sang “Ecce Sacerdos” (“Behold the Great High Priest”): “Behold a great priest, behold a great priest, who in his days pleased God. Therefore, by an oath, the Lord made him increase among his people. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and Holy Ghost. Therefore, by an oath, the Lord made him increase among his people.”
Bishop Schlert then stood, setting aside his pastoral staff, and received a fraternal embrace from all the Bishops, to symbolize his incorporation into the College of Bishops.
Bishop Schlert then celebrated his first Liturgy of the Eucharist as Bishop of Allentown.
During the Concluding Rite, while the “Te Deum” was sung, Bishop Schlert was led by Archbishop Chaput and Archbishop Pierre throughout the cathedral to bless all present, including his family, brother priests, women religious, the laity and the faithful.
As he addressed the faithful before the close of the liturgy, Bishop Schlert smiled and said, “The three words no one wants to hear after a long Mass is ‘please be seated.’”
Wearing his miter, Bishop Schlert recalled with humor how he used to argue with his mother about wearing a hat when he was a boy.
“OK Mom, you and Holy Mother Church won,” he said while aiming a smile at his parents, Alfred and Marylou Schlert.
On a more serious note, the new bishop said, “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.”
The new bishop also expressed gratitude to Pope Francis, Archbishop Pierre, Archbishop Chaput, Bishop Cullen and Bishop Barres.
“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.”
Bishop Schlert shared the “little mission statement” he composed when he was named pastor of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, 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,” Bishop Schlert said. “It is in the simplicity of these daily intentions that, with God’s grace, we can accomplish so many things.”
Bishop Schlert highlighted his priorities of creating a “culture of vocations;” focusing on youth and young adults; as a diocese keeping our hearts open to the poor and marginalized of all faiths and to those among us who want to be our neighbors; and reaching out to those “who are disinterested in the life of the Church, or are disheartened due to past hurts, or are disconnected in their relationship with Christ.”
“I am so proud to be a member of the clergy of the Diocese of Allentown and native son of our local Church,” Bishop Schlert said. “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.”
The Neo Catechumenal Way communities of St. Martin of Tours, Philadelphia, sang hymns in Spanish outside the church before and after the liturgy.
After processing out of the cathedral, Bishop Schlert greeted people outside. The Mass was followed by a celebratory reception at DeSales University Center, Center Valley.