By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published August 3, 2017
ATLANTA—The siblings of Bishop Bernard E. “Ned” Shlesinger III describe him as a prayerful child and thoughtful brother.
The youngest child of six, he was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Alexandria, Virginia. His father, Bernard E. “Bill” Shlesinger Jr., 93, is a military veteran, patent attorney and inventor. His mother, the late Rita Belmont Shlesinger, who passed away April 1 at the age of 95, was a homemaker.
Bishop Shlesinger has two brothers, Bob and Jim, and three sisters, Kathleen, and twins, Jean and Anne.
Jim Shlesinger, the third child in the family, is an intellectual property lawyer at the Alexandria firm their grandfather founded, Shlesinger, Arkwright & Garvey LLP.
He called his younger brother “the family favorite.”
“Ned is your low maintenance guy,” he said.
All of the Shlesinger children spent a lot of time in the water, on family excursions to the beach and in competitive swimming.
“He is six years younger. I coached him in swimming,” said Shlesinger. “Ned’s a pretty decent athlete.”
Several of the swimmers whom the children competed against continued on to become Olympic athletes.
A third-generation attorney, Jim Shlesinger said his younger brother never intended to enter that field.
“I think farming was possibly something he would have considered,” said Shlesinger.
The bishop studied agricultural engineering at Virginia Tech.
The decision to be a priest was not a quick decision but years in the making, said Shlesinger.
“I think my parents had a major influence on the aspect of the priesthood,” he said.
Shlesinger wasn’t surprised by his brother’s call to the priesthood upon leaving the U.S. Air Force, saying the timing was in line.
Bill Shlesinger broke the news of his son’s appointment as auxiliary bishop of the Atlanta Archdiocese to the entire family.
“I got a call at 6 a.m. in the morning and it was my dad,” said Shlesinger.
He knows with the departure of Bishop Luis R. Zarama to serve as bishop of the Diocese of Raleigh it will be a busy time for his brother but has confidence in him.
“He can do it,” he added.
“A very Catholic family”
The bishop’s older sister, Kathleen O’Hern, teaches religion and Latin at St. Agnes School in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
“All along, he was a wonderful brother,” said O’Hern.
His priestly vocation seemed a natural fit.
“It didn’t surprise me at all. We grew up in a very Catholic family,” she said. “I can remember going as a child and lighting candles. My parents prayed the rosary.”
The children had a great aunt on their father’s side, Elizabeth Garner, who was a Sister of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton founded her community there, and the family made occasional trips to the area.
Although faith was central at home, O’Hern said they are not a perfect bunch, rather wounded like most families.
“We are a typical family,” she said.
Their parents emphasized the importance of education.
“That was a priority,” said O’Hern.
Eight years older, O’Hern had gone off to James Madison University by the time Ned was in high school. He was the only boy in the family to attend public high school. The others attended Catholic schools.
When her parents told O’Hern her brother had decided to go to seminary, she was not surprised. She described him as a prayerful child.
“I always thought there was something special about him,” she said.
Weeks before her brother’s episcopal ordination, O’Hern began offering sacrifices and fasting for him. A teacher at an archdiocesan school, she knows the bishops of her own diocese.
“I pray for them constantly. Honestly, they need our prayers,” she said.
O’Hern has asked the Holy Spirit to guide and protect Bishop Shlesinger in his ministry in Atlanta.
Her children all love being around their uncle but don’t spend as much time with him as the East Coast branch of the family.
O’Hern said her brother is gracious. She said their parents instilled an “attitude of gratitude” and to be aware of blessings.
“I would say gratitude is a hallmark. My parents were very hard-working,” said O’Hern.
“I have never seen him toot his own horn,” she said about the bishop’s humility. “It’s the Holy Spirit’s pick. They’re really getting a wonderful bishop. He will definitely commit himself to what he’s called to.”
Father calls appointment “an amazing thing”
The bishop shares a love of baseball with his father, both avid fans of the Washington Nationals.
Taking time out from watching his Nats play the Cincinnati Reds, Bill Shlesinger said in a telephone interview that he learned of his son’s appointment by phone.
“Well, it’s an amazing thing. I won’t say I was surprised,” he said.
Shlesinger always “believed he had the ability.”
Natives of Rochester, New York, Bill and Rita Shlesinger didn’t meet in school. He left home to serve in the U.S. Air Force.
“I was in heavy bombers in World War II, but I was the navigator,” he explained.
They met after the war at a Saturday night broom dance at church. During the dance, an extra man dances with a broom as his partner. When the broom drops, everyone changes partners, and the one left out in the exchange must then dance with the broom.
The Shlesingers were married for 67 years.
They moved to Washington, D.C., after marrying. Shlesinger earned a law degree at George Washington University. In addition to being a lawyer, Shlesinger was an inventor with more than 100 patents.
“I taught inventing. I found out everyone is an inventor. My wife was always coming up with ideas,” he said.
The family attended Mass at Virginia parishes in Annandale and Alexandria. As parents, they prayed the rosary daily.
Shlesinger sometimes wondered what his youngest son was thinking about.
“He is, in a way, a very quiet person,” said Shlesinger.
He is a good listener, said the father.
“He does that. He was very good with his mother to listen,” he said.
One exception was during trips to the store with his mother. The youngster would “pester” his mother to get something.
“He wouldn’t give up,” recalled Shlesinger. “When she said no, she meant it.”
Parents encouraged all to “be great in life”
The elder Shlesinger said his son was quiet about the practice of his faith.
While in college, he wouldn’t tell anyone he was going to Mass, simply saying, “I’m going out for a walk.”
In his youth, Ned Shlesinger participated in a cadets’ corps with a Mount Vernon guard, attached to the Mount Vernon estate of George Washington. The young people wore military uniforms of the Revolutionary time period to march there.
Shlesinger said entering the Air Force was somewhat accidental as there were only five slots open for pilot training offered through the Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech.
“He kind of lucked out,” said Shlesinger.
In addition to being proud of his priest son, he feels the same about all of his children.
“They have all done very well,” he said.
Shlesinger watched the ordination by live stream broadcast from his Virginia home. Most of the bishop’s brothers and sisters attended the Mass, as did many nieces and nephews.
“He always said he didn’t hear anyone whispering in his ear,” said Shlesinger about his son’s call to the priesthood.
He said the decision had more to do with his son getting to know the priests of the Diocese of Raleigh and other priests while serving at Pope Air Force Base in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
The future bishop served as a catechist at the air base under then chaplain, Father Richard Higgins, who was appointed an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese for the Military Services in 2004.
Bishop Higgins was one of several bishops attending the ordination.
Service to others has been prominent in his son’s life, said Shlesinger.
“He was always willing to help in any way he could,” said Shlesinger.
The bishop’s sister, Anne, also attended the Mass.
Anne Shlesinger said he has always been a thoughtful person, and just being around him always helps her relax.
She has been offering intercessory prayer to her patron saint on her brother’s behalf.
Shlesinger said their parents gave them all the “chance to be great in life.”
She shared another of her brother’s talents—being able to complete a 1,000-piece puzzle in a day with no help.
Shlesinger, who resides in Mount Vernon, said the bishop has the best qualities of both of their parents.
“He’s 50 percent of my mom and 50 percent of my dad,” she said. “Even when he was born, he had a light in his eyes.”
At ordination, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory thanked Bishop Shlesinger’s family for loving him from infancy, giving a glimpse of “what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.”