Auxiliary Bishop Keith J. Chylinski (Archdiocese of Philadelphia)

Like many kids, Keith Chylinksi took piano lessons when he was a boy beginning at age 5. As he got older, the lessons fell away and the home piano stood mostly as a piece of furniture.

His mother, Kelly, knew he had talent, but perhaps needed some inspiration. So she just happened to have an extra ticket available to see mega pop star Billy Joel – the “piano man” – and asked her son, a sophomore in high school, to attend the concert in Philadelphia with her.

It made a big impact on the young man, so much that he was inspired to begin taking lessons again. In turn, that led to him studying piano at Temple University’s Boyer School of Music.

While there, he also discovered his vocation to the priesthood and he was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 2007. That priestly calling was taken to the next level on March 7 when he was ordained an auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia.

Was the concert a coincidence? Not likely, according to the bishop.

His mother was “the most sociable person, and she wouldn’t have had an extra ticket to the concert, with all her friends. I think it was her sneaky way of getting me back into playing the piano,” he said.

The 52-year-old was born in Schenectady, new York to his parents Edmund and Kelly and raised with his brother Adam and sister Erin. The family moved to Berwyn, Pennsylvania when Keith was 14, and he attended Conestoga High School.

Following graduation, he began rigorous piano study at Temple University. There that he also discovered that God had given him a talent for song.

He began studying choral arts, and for the first time was exposed to Latin and what he called the “beautiful choral tradition” of the Catholic Church. In fact, a year later he joined a Temple choir in a performance of Mozart’s “Requiem Mass” at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music.

Like many young men and women of college age, the practice of his Catholic faith was not a priority. But that would soon change. The words and music of sacred song opened a doorway in his heart, and it was art of another kind that threw the door wide open.

During his freshman year at Temple, he had what he called a “spiritual awakening.” The movie “Jesus of Nazareth” was broadcast on television and it had a profound effect on him.

“Something drew me in. My faith came alive, and I wanted to go to Mass,” Bishop Chylinski said.

So, he became active at his home parish, Our Lady of the Assumption in Strafford. He began to volunteer in the parish’s music ministry, among the youth, in parish religious education, and sacramental preparation for those studying in the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults.

“I was like a sponge,” he said. “I had the basics, but I was learning, talking to people, and growing in my faith.”

During his next year at Temple, while studying and continuing to serve at his parish, a parishioner asked if he ever thought about becoming a priest. No, he responded, he had never thought about it.

The question hovered in his mind like a challenge. “I felt like God was talking to me. It scared me and intrigued me at the same time,” Bishop Chylinski said.

He spoke with the archdiocesan vocations director, visited St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and even spent a weekend visit there, and continued to pray in discernment.

As his years at Temple progressed, he faced a choice of graduating from the university or entering the seminary.

He decided against the latter because “something was holding me back,” he said.

Instead after graduation he placed his talents in the service of the church as he began working as the director of music at Corpus Christi Parish in Lansdale.

The pastor at the time was Msgr. Thomas Flanigan. As a former vice-rector of the seminary and an experienced pastor, he was a mentor figure for newly ordained priests assigned to the sprawling Montgomery County parish.

For six years he observed the pastor and a string of young priests at Corpus Christi during  their first ministerial assignments, all of them were near his own age.

“All of them contributed to my vocation, giving me confidence,” the bishop said.

Finally, he entered St. Charles Seminary in 2001, where he met another important figure in his journey to priesthood. Then-Msgr. Michael Burbidge “was the rector of the seminary and he was very inspirational to me, supportive and encouraging. He instilled in me a great desire to pursue my studies,” said Bishop Chylinski.

September 2001 was a remarkable time for another reason. After only his first week in the seminary, the Sept. 11 terror attacks struck the United States, and the seminary community bonded as did all Americans, in shared concern, grief, and hope.

“I saw how the community came together,” he said. “I saw the power of being together in prayer. When you experience who the Church is, especially as one of her ordained ministers, you see clearly that it’s not an institution, it’s a family.”

When speaking of the Church, Bishop Chylinski frequently uses the term “family.” He describes the Church as “a living, loving group with relationships rooted in our Lord – the mystical body of Christ. We’re tasting what heaven is like, living the law of grace.”

Family and grief would take on a personal meaning for Bishop Chylinski and his family, when his mother Kelly faced serious illness. The woman who had set him on a course toward the priesthood would not live to see her son become a priest. She died during his year of service as a transitional deacon, just months shy of his priestly ordination.

But ordained he was, and in his priestly assignments over the first six years in service to God’s people he would experience a multitude of diversity in city and suburban parishes.

“In the parishes there were different cultures, and regardless of the differences, I was always so humbled,” he said. “As a priest they confided in you – in the sacraments, in counseling, just talking. It is a privilege to be involved in such significant moments in people’s lives, in their joys and sorrows.”

He realized that ministry to the people far exceeded his own efforts. “It wasn’t me, they were coming to meet Christ.”

The cultural differences also showed Bishop Chylinski that “not everyone is the same,” he said. “We’re equally important but our roles are different. We are all called to service in the Church, to prayer, and a sense of belonging.”

Soon, another of his gifts, a deep understanding of human psychology, would be called into service for the Church family.

By 2014, Bishop Chylinski had earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology from what is now Divine Mercy University in Virginia.

He would use that training at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary as the director of counseling for seminarians while also teaching courses on pastoral counseling and serving on teams dedicated to the formation of seminarians.

In 2022, his leadership gifts were called upon more fully when he was named rector of the seminary a at a key moment in the institution’s history. This fall, it will move from its home of over 150 years in Wynnewood to a new campus in Upper Gwynedd.

Then, late last fall, he received a phone call from a number with a 202 area code. It’s known among priests to brace themselves if they receive a call with that number, because 202 indicates its origin is Washington, D.C., home to the apostolic nuncio, or papal ambassador to the U.S.

The call was indeed from the nuncio, Cardinal Christophe Pierre, informing the seminary rector that Pope Francis had named him an Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia.

In the Dec. 8 press conference in Philadelphia announcing the news of the pope’s appointments – along with two fellow Philadelphia priests, now Bishops Efren Esmilla and Christopher Cooke – Bishop Chylinski expressed his hopes for episcopal ministry.

On that day he said, “I pray for the strength and wisdom to do my small part as an instrument of Jesus Christ’s truth, beauty, joy and healing love for every member of the Church in Philadelphia – especially to those most in need,” he said at that time.

He reflected later that the people who are most in need included “those in poverty of spirit and body, those suffering in any physical and mental way,” and those who “suffered abuse at the hands of members of the church.”

People in need also include “the outcasts who feel they don’t belong. The needy are those who feel isolated or alone,” or experiencing “anything that is contrary to what the church really is – family. That is what God is calling us to.”

After March 7, Auxiliary Bishop Keith Chylinski will begin his ministry to the needy, and everyone, as a successor to the apostles in the Church of Philadelphia.