By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published August 3, 2017
ATLANTA—Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory called the ordination of Bishop Bernard E. “Ned” Shlesinger III to the episcopate a “wonderfully happy day in the life of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.”
Archbishop Gregory ordained the priest of the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, as an Atlanta auxiliary bishop during an afternoon Mass July 19 at the Cathedral of Christ the King.
he 56-year-old bishop, most recently the director of spiritual formation at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, will soon be Atlanta’s only auxiliary. Bishop Luis R. Zarama, auxiliary since 2009, was named bishop of Raleigh July 5 and will be installed Aug. 29.
More than 150 priests, 45 deacons and 50 seminarians from both Atlanta and Philadelphia attended the ordination Mass with Bishop Shlesinger’s family and friends.
Bishop Zarama and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, formerly the bishop of Raleigh, were co-consecrators with Archbishop Gregory in the laying on of hands and invoking of the Holy Spirit.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, and six other visiting bishops also were present.
“A gentle man”
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory said Pope Francis has called bishops to remember they are mere men who must always seek out the lost and forgotten.
“He challenges us to remember that the neglected, the unloved, and the unimportant ones are those whom Jesus sought out first in his ministry,” said the archbishop.
Archbishop Gregory said it is obvious that Bishop Shlesinger is a gentle man, emphasizing the separate components of that title.
“A gentle man is one who thinks more about others than he thinks about himself. A gentle man is one who sees the goodness of others before he sees their flaws. A gentle man is one who realizes that his own weaknesses must direct him toward mercy in reference to all others,” he noted.
Archbishop Gregory said that even while attired in splendid robes, a bishop’s humanity must be the force drawing people to Christ.
“People may be enthralled by the uniqueness of our vestments, but they must never be put off by any sign of self-importance or arrogance,” he said.
The archbishop called the Atlanta Archdiocese a “veritable garden of cultures and languages.”
“Our diversity is a strength that at times is also a challenge as we bishops must love each community and each person with our whole heart and remind each one that they belong to a single family of faith bound together through the Eucharist and united by the power of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
Bishop Shlesinger belongs not only to the church of north and central Georgia but to the entire world because the Lord chose him for the mission, said the archbishop.
The new auxiliary, the archbishop noted, would visit his father, Bernard E. “Bill” Shlesinger Jr. in Virginia, in the days following the ordination. The elder Shlesinger, 93, who watched the ordination online from his home, would be able to embrace his son for the first time as bishop, said an emotional Archbishop Gregory.
“Please share with him the deep gratitude of Christ’s church for having helped prepare a man of faith for the church’s fullness of orders and to assure him of our prayers when you see him,” he said.
Bishop to help in the care of the archdiocese
Archbishop Gregory acknowledged that being a bishop is never an easy undertaking.
“Whether we faced martyrdom or opposition, whether we became overly enamored of our own status or were too consumed by the cares of this world, we could always rely upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is the promise of this ordination ceremony and will be your anchor in faith for all the days that will lie ahead,” he said.
In a rite from centuries past, the bishop-to-be was presented to the ordaining bishop and a letter from the Vatican confirming the authenticity of his election was read.
Father Henry Atem, chairman of the Atlanta Council of Priests, presented the bishop-designate to Archbishop Gregory. Archbishop Pierre read the letter in English and Spanish.
“Recently our Holy Father reflected on the life of an apostle,” said Archbishop Pierre, who shared the pope’s words: “Let us ask ourselves if we are parlor Christians, who love to chat about how things are going in the church and the world, or apostles on the go, who confess Jesus with their lives because they hold him in their hearts. Those who confess Jesus know that they are not simply to offer opinions but to offer their very lives. They know that they are not to believe half-heartedly but to be on fire with love.”
For his episcopal motto, Bishop Shlesinger chose “Christ must increase” from the third chapter of St. John’s Gospel.
“We pray today that your well-chosen motto, ‘Christum Oportet Crescere,’ ‘Christ must increase,’ ever guides your episcopal ministry to the people of God in Atlanta,” Archbishop Pierre said.
Following the homily, Bishop-designate Shlesinger made the promises to faithfully carry out the office of bishop. He prostrated himself before the altar as the congregation prayed the litany of the saints.
After the laying on of hands by the three bishops, Bishop Shlesinger knelt before Archbishop Gregory as sacred chrism was poured atop his head in anointing. The Book of the Gospels was opened and extended above his head while the archbishop prayed that he would preach the word of God with patience and sound doctrine.
During investiture, the new bishop received the signs of his office—the ring, miter and crosier.
The Mass continued with the celebration of the Eucharist, and then Bishop Shlesinger walked through the cathedral, giving his first blessing as a bishop to the people.
Deacon William O’Donoghue of Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Atlanta, who was a pilot with Bishop Shlesinger in the U.S. Air Force, served as deacon of the altar. The bishop’s brothers and sisters presented the gifts.
The cathedral flower guild adorned the altar with arrangements of orange and yellow calla lilies, orchids and other flowers with eremurus, known as desert candles, below the crucifix.
The ordination Mass, as well as the vespers service, was streamed live online for those who could not attend.
“Someone we know and love becoming a bishop”
Tom and Jennifer D’Andrea were among several parishioners of St. Joseph Church in Raleigh attending the ordination. Then-Father Shlesinger lived there while serving as diocesan vocations director. The parish community came to know him well.
“He was very connected with our home school group. He would take us on what I call pilgrimages,” said Jennifer D’Andrea.
The students and parents, accompanied by Father Shlesinger, would visit rural parishes and missions to tour the churches. The group even visited a pig farm once.
“There were several young boys aspiring to be a Father Ned,” she said.
She said it was an honor to be able to attend the Mass.
“He has a big heart and a great sense of humor. He’s just very approachable,” said her husband.
Bob Shlesinger traveled from his Pennsylvania home to attend his youngest brother’s ordination.
“I think he’ll be great. He’s very personable, likeable and smart,” said Shlesinger.
After learning of the appointment, the oldest brother said it didn’t surprise him. He once told their mother, “Mark my words, he’ll be a bishop.”
His brother’s calling to the priesthood and appointment as a bishop is a journey for their family, said Shlesinger.
“I think we’re all in this boat together,” he said.
Father Christopher Cooke and Father Sean Bransfield became friends with the future bishop during his time at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
Father Cooke is director of the seminary’s spiritual year program and Father Bransfield, former dean of formation, now teaches canon law there.
The trio would go bowling, attend concerts in Philadelphia and baseball games when the Washington Nationals were in town.
“We worked closely. Really, he helped me,” said Father Cooke.
“I think he was just a really wonderful spiritual shepherd,” said Father Bransfield. “The seminarians were really drawn to him.”
“There’s a real humility. They saw a very real priest,” added Father Cooke.
The seminary has approximately 165 students, and Bishop Shlesinger emphasized the importance of them spending time with Jesus in prayer as one would sit down to have tea with a friend.
“He was always talking about ‘tea with Jesus.’ You have to carve time out,” said Father Bransfield.
Bishop Shlesinger’s obedience to “do completely the will of God” is an example to them.
“That’s the thing that really impacted me,” said Father Cooke. “He said, ‘I am going to be a bishop for the people.’”
The two priests said Atlanta is blessed to have Bishop Shlesinger.
Ana Maria Fraticelli attended the ordination with three of her sons. Fraticelli drove from Raleigh, where she attends St. Joseph Church.
“He is just so warm. I have seven children, and he knows them by name. He will look them straight in the eye,” she said about Bishop Shlesinger.
Fraticelli’s husband was unable to come but supported her attending with the boys so they could see “someone we know and love becoming a bishop.”
Tracy Bua Smith and her husband, Anthony, celebrated 20 years of marriage July 12. They were married by Bishop Shlesinger in North Carolina.
“He was a new priest,” said Smith. “He is the same … humble, sweet.”
They became better acquainted with him when he had dinners with the young adults in the diocese. They exchanged Christmas cards through the years.
The couple drove with their five children from Wilmington to attend the prior evening’s vespers service and the Mass of ordination.
For Tracy, the ordination demonstrated the beauty, truth and unity of the church.
“He made me cry. It’s a joyous occasion,” she said. “He understands his role.”
Anthony was Baptist when he was married and said Bishop Shlesinger had a huge impact on his decision to become Catholic 11 years ago.
“He got the ball rolling. He’s such a great guy, and we love him,” he said.
“It was incredible. I was ready to stand up,” said Anthony about his urge to cheer at the ordination. “It was a joy.”
Thankful for the meaningful gifts
Bishop Shlesinger presented several “thanksgivings” before the final procession.
“The ring I wear today was given to me by Archbishop Gregory and the ring is a sign, like a wedding ring, of my marriage to the Archdiocese of Atlanta. So I’m here to stay,” he said, to applause.
The bishop’s crosier, which depicts Mary with the child Jesus, was a gift from the priests of Raleigh.
“I know that Mary will be my help. If you think about the Blessed Mother, you know she stood at the cross when her son died and then her son just said, while he was dying, to his beloved disciple representing all of us, ‘Behold your mother.’ And at that moment, the beloved disciple took her into his home, and we take Mary into our hearts,” he said. “I know Mary will stand by all of us priests, in our trials especially, and as we celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass.”
Bishop Shlesinger thanked Raleigh’s priests for their sacrifices.
“You have my love and always my support,” he said.
The new auxiliary thanked his siblings, nieces and nephews for being there and grew emotional when speaking of his beloved parents.
“My dear father is watching, hopefully watching this on the livestream,” he said, pausing. “He’s the greatest man I know … 93 years old.”
“And, my dear mother. Somebody said to me, ‘She’s got the greatest seat in the house,’ and she’s looking down from heaven,” said Bishop Shlesinger.
The day of his announcement as auxiliary was May 15, which would have been his mother Rita’s 96th birthday.
“I know she would have rejoiced in that appointment,” he said. “She lived a very holy life, died a very holy death and I think she got her way in the end.”
Bishop Shlesinger is looking forward to getting to know his brother priests in Atlanta.
“St. Augustine said, ‘For you I am a bishop, but with you I am a Christian. The first is an office accepted; the second is a gift received. One is danger; the other is safety,’” he said. “And this is the little line I like, ‘If I am happier to be redeemed with you than to be placed over you, then I shall as the Lord commanded, be more fully your servant.’”
“So I rejoice at being redeemed with you, and my episcopacy is also a gift given to you at your service,” he told Atlanta’s priests.
God has chosen all people from priests to the lay faithful to fulfill a special mission in the church, said Bishop Shlesinger.
“May my ministry be there to support you and your vocation so that the kingdom of God may extend to every corner of this archdiocese and beyond, to the ends of the earth,” he said.
Father Atem said later, on behalf of the Priests’ Council, “Just from my initial contact with him, you can tell he is a man of deep faith and great humility. His love for Jesus and the church is evident in his gentle and pastoral approach to everyone.”
“Since the Archdiocese of Atlanta is known to be one of the most diverse and fastest growing dioceses in the country, I believe Bishop Shlesinger is a remarkable addition to our local church,” the pastor and Priests’ Council chairman said. “We are grateful to Pope Francis for such a timely choice and we pray that God will bless and guide his apostolic ministry here in Atlanta.”