At his funeral Mass – celebrated on the same date he was ordained a priest 61 years ago – Most Reverend Edward P. Cullen, Third Bishop of the Diocese of Allentown, was remembered as an uncle and brother, as a pastor and diocesan shepherd, and as a man who, because of his love of the Holy Trinity, was spiritually unafraid.
Most Reverend Nelson J. Pérez, Metropolitan Archbishop of Philadelphia, was the main celebrant at the Mass of Christian Burial for Bishop Emeritus Cullen on May 19 at the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown. Bishop Alfred Schlert, the current Bishop of Allentown, was the homilist.
Also attending were brother bishops from Pennsylvania and surrounding states, priests from the Diocese and beyond, consecrated religious, deacons and deacon candidates, seminarians, and the lay faithful including school students. In addition, countless others watched via livestream.
Bishop Cullen died May 9, 2023, in Lehigh Valley Hospital Center, Allentown. He was 90.
During his 11 years as shepherd of the Diocese of Allentown, from 1998 to 2009, Bishop Cullen provided strong leadership to strengthen ministries, improve administration, benefit parishes and schools, and to address the issue of clergy abuse.
He significantly increased protections for children and young people, forged bonds of cooperation with law enforcement, and enhanced care for victims of abuse.
“As we commend the soul of Bishop Edward Peter Cullen, Third Bishop of Allentown, to Almighty God, we give thanks to Him for allowing us to be the recipients of Bishop Cullen’s life, work, and vocation,” said Bishop Schlert in his homily. You can read the complete homily by clicking here.
Recalling Bishop Cullen’s episcopal motto, “Christ, Church, Compassion,” Bishop Schlert said, “We bid farewell to this faithful servant and Successor to the Apostles, and we thank God for enriching our lives with his love for Christ, fidelity to the Church, and ministry of Compassion.
“He served the Church as a Bishop during a very difficult time,” Bishop Schlert said, “and he left the Diocese of Allentown a more vibrant local Church at the time of his retirement in 2009.”
Almost immediately after becoming Bishop of Allentown, Bishop Cullen began working proactively to remove offending priests from active ministry, and to implement policies and procedures to prevent abuse and protect children. He was a strong advocate for incorporating a Zero-Tolerance Policy into Church law to enable permanent removal of perpetrators.
In 2002, Bishop Cullen was the first Bishop in Pennsylvania to convene a meeting of the District Attorneys of the five counties of the Diocese and turned over the personnel files of all priests known to have allegations against them.
Bishop Cullen also expanded criminal background checks for priests, deacons, employees, and volunteers. He formulated the Diocese’s Sexual Abuse Policy and Code of Conduct. He established the Diocesan Review Board to assist the Bishop in dealing with abuse cases. He created the position of Victim Assistance Coordinator. He named Safe Environment Coordinators at parishes, schools, and other locations, and he required anyone with contact with children to take the “Protecting God’s Children” training course.
Bishop Cullen also reorganized diocesan administration and launched a spiritual initiative called Renew 2000, a diocesan-wide, parish-level program in keeping with Pope John Paul II’s call for new evangelization in the Church.
In 2005 Bishop Cullen convoked the Second Synod of the Diocese of Allentown. The Synod closed in 2006. In accordance with the Synod’s statutes, the Bishop appointed the Diocese’s first Pastoral Council to advise him on implementing the Synod’s statutes. The Synod resulted in a restructuring of some parishes to better position the Diocese for the future, while continuing to serve the faithful.
Born in Philadelphia, Bishop Cullen grew up in Yeadon, Pa., the second of five children. He excelled in athletics at West Catholic High School, and on graduation became an engineering student at Drexel Institute of Technology.
He entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary near Philadelphia, and was ordained a priest on May 19, 1962, by Cardinal John Krol, then Archbishop of Philadelphia.
In 1968, he was appointed an assistant director of Catholic Social Services, the springboard to two decades of service in social work. Bishop Cullen continued to serve as the agency’s assistant director until 1983 and was director from 1983 through 1988.
In 1982, Bishop Cullen was named Honorary Prelate to His Holiness Pope John Paul II, giving him the title of Monsignor. He served as Vicar for Administration and Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1988 through 1998 and was consecrated an Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia in April 1994.
On December 16, 1997, His Holiness Pope John Paul II appointed Bishop Cullen as Bishop of the Diocese of Allentown. He was installed on February 9, 1998.
Bishop Cullen was honored at the first annual Catholic Charities Gala in 2008 to mark his 10th anniversary as Bishop of Allentown. It was during his tenure that the diocesan Commission for Women was created, and during his time as Bishop that Project Rachel was created to minister to women who are suffering in the aftermath of an abortion.
Pope Benedict XVI accepted Bishop Cullen’s resignation, at age 76, on May 27, 2009.
In retirement, Bishop Cullen wrote a booklet, “Alive In the Holy Spirit” in 2012. He subsequently published a book, “Lord God Holy Spirit, Sanctifier: A Reflection on the Holy Spirit Alive Within Us,” along with a companion piece, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” In 2022, he published the book, “Our Eucharistic Lord: A Pathway to the Transformation of Our Soul.”
In retirement, he assisted his successor Bishops in officiating at Confirmations around the Diocese, and in conducting Retreats and Days of Recollection, in addition to devoting a great deal of time to personal prayer and reflection.
On May 18, on the afternoon before his Funeral Mass, calling hours and a Vigil Service were held for Bishop Cullen at the Cathedral.
First, at 4 p.m., Bishop Schlert presided over the Rite of the Reception of the Body. In the back of the church, the Bishop sprinkled holy water on the casket containing Bishop Cullen’s remains. After the pall, or cloth covering, was placed, Bishop Schlert and family members processed with the casket to the front of the church.
At the conclusion of the calling hours, at 7 p.m., Bishop Schlert presided over the Vigil Service. Monsignor Victor Finelli, Judicial Vicar and pastor of Saint Joseph the Worker Parish, Orefield, was the homilist.
An additional calling hour was held on Friday morning before the Mass of Christian Burial.
In addition to Archbishop Pérez and Bishop Schlert, other bishops who attended the funeral Mass were: Archbishop Emeritus Joseph E. Kurtz of the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky.; Archbishop William Skurla, Metropolitan of the Byzantine Ruthenian Metropolitan Church and Archeparch of the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh; Bishop Emeritus Lawrence Brandt of the Diocese of Greensburg; Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington, Va.; Bishop Michael J. Fitzgerald, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia; Bishop Ronald W. Gainer, retiring bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg; Bishop Larry Kulick of the Diocese of Greensburg; Bishop John J. McIntyre, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia; and Bishop Timothy C. Senior, bishop-designate of the Diocese of Harrisburg.
Bishop Cullen was buried in the Bishop’s Crypt at Resurrection Cemetery, Allentown.