By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published May 18, 2017 | En Español
ATLANTA—Pope Francis has named Father Bernard E. “Ned” Shlesinger III, a priest of the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Bishop-designate Shlesinger, 56, was most recently the director of spiritual formation for St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, where he has been on the faculty for four years. In the Diocese of Raleigh, he served as a pastor, vocations director and as a member of the presbyteral council.
Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in northern Virginia, the bishop-designate was ordained to the priesthood in June 1996. He is a graduate of Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Virginia, and served as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.
His seminary studies took place at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology.
He will join Bishop Luis R. Zarama in assisting Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory. The archdiocese had the ministry of two auxiliary bishops, but in September 2016, Bishop David P. Talley was elevated by Pope Francis to serve as bishop of the Diocese of Alexandria, Louisiana.
In a morning news conference May 15 at the Chancery, Archbishop Gregory introduced Bishop-designate Shlesinger and expressed deep gratitude to Pope Francis for the appointment.
As a priest of Raleigh, the bishop-designate comes from a diocese within the ecclesiastical Province of Atlanta, Archbishop Gregory said.
“He has long enjoyed the endorsement of the bishops of our province and the well-deserved respect, admiration and affection of the clergy, religious and faithful of the Diocese of Raleigh,” said Archbishop Gregory. “Ned is a man of prayer, prudence and apostolic zeal. He is eminently qualified to assume these new responsibilities as auxiliary bishop in Atlanta and I welcome him with an enthusiastic and jubilant heart.”
“Deeply shocked … grateful to God”
The bishop-designate greeted employees of the archdiocese as they arrived for the announcement with handshakes and conversation.
His ordination as a bishop will be celebrated at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta on a date to be announced.
“I am just delighted to present you, my Atlanta family, to him,” Archbishop Gregory said. “Over the next months and years, you will come to know what a wonderful man he is, how kind and good … and he’s very nervous right now.”
Bishop-designate Shlesinger said he learned of the appointment in a phone call from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, the weekend of May 6.
Archbishop Gregory then called to welcome him officially and then frequently phoned during the last week to aid in the transition.
“The most important things about him you will discover are his wonderful pastoral heart, his kindness and his simplicity of life, and his good humor,” said Archbishop Gregory.
One of the bishop-designate’s questions was how to act like a bishop. Archbishop Gregory advised him to “just be Ned.”
“Because it’s in that way he has already won his place in the hearts of the people of Raleigh and that he will win his way into our hearts,” said the archbishop.
In a growing archdiocese with more than 1.2 million Catholics, Archbishop Gregory and Bishop Zarama are overjoyed for help. The archbishop asked Pope Francis immediately after Bishop Talley’s departure for another auxiliary bishop.
“We will gladly share with him our calendars, allowing him to pick and choose all he can manage to handle,” Archbishop Gregory joked.
Bishop-designate Shlesinger said being overwhelmed is an understatement.
“I’m deeply shocked by the appointment, but I’m grateful to God in many ways,” he said. “I’ve felt nothing but brotherhood since I’ve been here.”
During the press conference, the bishop-designate had special words for the priests of the Diocese of Raleigh.
“I’m not coming home there. That was my hope, but I was ordained for the church,” he said with emotion. “I know that they will always be brothers in my heart, and I will always be their brother.”
Bishop-designate Shlesinger was reminded of the words of Jesus to Peter in the Gospel of John: “When you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t want to go to Atlanta,” he said. “But, it kind of means that we don’t have a choice in life. It’s the will of God we have to do. We can’t carve out our own niche in the world,” he said.
Bishop-designate Shlesinger said he has much to learn from the people of Atlanta.
On mother’s birthday
He thanked Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., and Bishop Timothy Senior, the rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. He also expressed gratitude to Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, the former bishop of Raleigh, for his “confidence in me and leadership and pastoral support over the last 10 years.”
The announcement came on what would have been the 96th birthday of Bishop-designate Shlesinger’s mother, Rita Belmont Shlesinger. She died April 1.
“This day would be a great birthday gift to her. She’d be more happy than me,” he said.
Bishop Zarama also offered words of welcome.
“I think it’s a challenge, but your simplicity right now, here, shows us your heart. We are here to help you and you help us with your presence,” said Bishop Zarama.
Also attending the press conference was Deacon Bill O’Donoghue of Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Atlanta. Deacon O’Donoghue served as a pilot alongside the future bishop out of Pope Air Force Base in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The longtime friends attended each other’s ordinations.
During his seven years of Air Force service, Bishop-designate Shlesinger flew the C-130E Hercules. The priests of Raleigh and the Archdiocese for the Military Services helped him discern a vocation to the priesthood.
Bishop-designate Shlesinger closed with remarks in English and Spanish to the lay faithful, the religious and priests of Atlanta.
“Although I come from not so far away and someone who is unknown to you, I dedicate myself to an eagerness to serving you and learning and receiving from you,” he said.