Bishop Burbidge is a hometown boy at heart

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Bishop Michael F. Burbidge has a secret. At the risk of being disowned by his nieces and nephews, the Philadelphia native admitted liking country music in his September 2015 bishop’s column for NC Catholics.

“Kenny Chesney is one of my favorite recording artists,” said Bishop Burbidge. “One of his famous recordings is called ‘Back Where I Come From.’ The title and the lyrics invite all of us to recall ‘from where we come,’ for as my beloved mother and father would often say: ‘Never forget who you are; never forget your roots.’”

Many years later the young boy from southwest Philly is far from his hometown, but there are some bonds that distance can never break.

“Growing up in Philly was just a wonderful experience,” said Bishop Burbidge. “It was what we would refer to as a neighborhood and everyone knew each other. I feel very blessed with the upbringing I received.” 

The Catholic Church was the center of the strong Catholic community to which he and his family belonged. He remembers being able to walk to church with his family — a tradition he missed when the Burbidge family moved to the suburbs when he was in fifth grade. While the move caused him to miss out on being an altar server like his older brother Francis, it did not interfere with another cherished tradition.

“Every Sunday we went to my grandparents’ house for a 2 p.m. dinner, every single Sunday,” said Bishop Burbidge. “That was always such a wonderful tradition.”

Looking back on the time and place that made him the man, priest and bishop he is today, he recognizes there are challenges now that were not present in his childhood.

“Where I come from, parents and children and brothers and sisters did not have modern technological tools available to them and so actually communicated with one another face to face, heart to heart,” Bishop Burbidge wrote in a column. “Where I come from, Catholic education was the highest of priorities, and parents and teachers worked together to educate and form our young people.”

It was in this environment that he experienced the love and support of his parents and older brother. He got his first job at a Sears department store, working first in the garden department then working with “soles” in the shoe department. 

It was also in Philadelphia that Bishop Burbidge was blessed with a Catholic education, received the sacraments and eventually would hear the call to the priesthood.

“We never really had priests or religious in our family so I was kind of the first in the family,” said Bishop Burbidge. “I received nothing but love and support.” 

Having spent the first 49 years of his life and vocation in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, first as a priest, then as an auxiliary bishop, it was a big adjustment to leave. But in his 10 years as the bishop of Raleigh, he has succeeded in bringing a little of the City of Brotherly Love to the South. This can be seen in the work he has done and in the lasting relationships he has formed. 

Coming to Arlington will be a bit of a homecoming for Bishop Burbidge. It’s only about a three-hour drive to his hometown, depending on traffic. He might be able to enjoy more family dinners with his brother, nieces and nephews — in the hope they have forgiven their uncle for his new musical tastes.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016