Catholic Herald Editor Michael F. Flach recently
sat down with Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and asked him about growing up in
Philadelphia and the legacy he leaves behind in Raleigh.
Growing up in Philly
"The incredible growth and vibrancy of both the Diocese of Raleigh and certainly here in Arlington is a tremendous blessing. But as we know, with growth comes pastoral needs and spiritual needs."
What was it like growing up near
Philadelphia in an Irish-Catholic family?
Growing up in Philadelphia was a wonderful experience. It had
what we referred to as neighborhoods. Everyone knew each other. The homes were
closely connected. They were called row homes. You could actually go to the
railing and be at your next-door neighbors. It was a very strong Catholic
community. Everyone walked to church. Everyone walked to school. It was very
close-knit. I feel very blessed with the upbringing I received.
Describe a typical Sunday at your home.Were
you or your brother, Fran, altar boys?
I was never an altar server. You could not serve back then until
you were in fifth grade. In fifth grade we actually moved to the suburbs of
Philadelphia and we were now, for the first time ever, not able to walk to
church. My dad traveled and my mother did not drive, so there was no way I
could get to the 6:30 Mass. But a typical Sunday in my family growing up, we
went to Mass back then with our class, with our school, and every Sunday we
went to my grandparents’ house for a 2 p.m. dinner — every single Sunday — my parents, my brother and me. That was such a
Let’s talk about sports. Did you play on
any teams? What teams did you root for?
My favorite sport growing up was baseball. I didn’t have the
strongest arm, so I was a second baseman. I also casually played tennis, which
is a sport I continued to play throughout seminary. My connection to baseball
led me to be an umpire for many years. In fact, up until the year I was
ordained a deacon, I was an umpire for American Legion and similar groups. I
always enjoyed that.
My loyalty, because I grew up for 45 years of my life rooting for
Philadelphia teams, I’m still a big Eagles fan, but I’ll get on the Nationals
You and your father had season tickets to
the Philadelphia Eagles. How did that tradition get started?
One of my dad’s friends was actually selling season tickets to
the Eagles games and he purchased them with the idea of using them for our
family. My brother (Fran), who is the great athlete, did not appreciate the
opportunity to go to the games. He enjoyed it much more being at home, watching
it, not fighting the traffic and the crowd. So I benefited from that. So for
all of those years it was mostly my dad and I who would go to the games. It
wasn’t so much about the games, it was about that time being with my dad. That
was our time together.
St. Charles Seminary
Your coat of arms includes a reference to
St. Charles Borromeo. Did your devotion to the saint begin before your time at
No, it began at the seminary. I did not know much about St.
Charles Borromeo until then. I learned about what a great reformer, great
preacher and lover of God he was. It feels like I spent half my life at St.
Charles Borromeo Seminary as a student and administrator, thus my devotion.
What was it like to return to the seminary
as a rector? Had much changed?
I left the seminary with such beautiful memories. I loved every
year that I spent in the seminary. I have a great affection for the institution.
When I went back to the seminary, so many things were in place — some of the
same professors, some of the same staff were there, so there was some
continuity. There was a change in the candidates, I thought. As rector, I first
tried to give them my experience because it was so good, but I realized this is
a different generation. They are coming from different backgrounds and
different realities, so we had to adjust accordingly.
Several of the seminarians you mentored at
St. Charles now serve in the Arlington Diocese. Are you looking forward to
working with them?
I really am. The Diocese of Arlington always had a very sound
reputation, a sterling reputation, as far as the quality of candidates. They
were great seminarians and I’m sure they are great priests. But I said at my
press conference, this is a new beginning for all of us. I’m not the same
person I was back then. They are not the same … We allow this to be a new
The Latino community
When did your work with the Latino
community begin — in Philadelphia or in Raleigh?
I really had no experience working with Hispanic ministry until I
went to Raleigh. I was overwhelmed by the large population, and some would say
about half the population in Raleigh. It’s very new to me. I did not know the
language. I did not know the culture. Thank God the beautiful people, faithful
people, especially in our Hispanic ministry, were extremely patient with me. I
did my best to be present for them, as I did for our various communities
throughout the diocese. My Spanish is average, at best. I always say to our
seminarians you have to learn it now. It’s too hard to start learning a new
language when you’re 45. I don’t know why I took French in high school.
What are some of your accomplishments with
the growing Latino population in Raleigh?
With the Hispanic community, the pastoral and spiritual needs are
enormous. I think we did a good job in welcoming priests into the diocese from
outside the diocese who came to serve as missionaries to provide the spiritual care
that our Hispanic community so much deserves. Also, we’ve started a couple of
initiatives that would support missions and churches and centers to accommodate
the growing Hispanic population.
What are your goals for working with
Hispanics in the Arlington Diocese?
My major priority, no matter what ministry or what community
we’re speaking about, is to listen and to learn. I’m sure the pastoral and
spiritual needs of the Hispanic community in Arlington may be different than
what I experienced in Raleigh. So the first thing is to be present, to be
visible and to listen.
You attended Catholic schools throughout
your education, including being taught by the Sisters, Servants of the
Immaculate Heart of Mary. What did you enjoy most about being taught by the
sisters and what did they bring to your faith life?
I was very blessed from kindergarten through college to have the
Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as my educators. Their major
charism is Catholic education. They’re teachers, gifted teachers, passionate
about that ministry. The beautiful example of the sisters has been a great gift
in my life and I hold them very dear. I was very happy to see so many Sisters
of the Immaculate Heart of Mary present here in Arlington.
Bishop Michael F. Burbidge (left) speaks at the Oct. 4 press conference announcing his appointment as the fourth bishop of the Arlington Diocese with Bishop Paul S. Loverde seated nearby.
In addition to the new cathedral, which is
obviously a priority for the Raleigh Diocese, what is one of the initiatives in
your pastoral plan that you are most excited about?
The cathedral is a project that’s been going on for five years.
We never built a cathedral in the Diocese of Raleigh and the current one only
seats 300 people. There was a great need for a mother church and it’s nearing
completion. I think it’s going to be a source of great inspiration to the
entire community and it’s a sign of unity in our diocese.
Recently, I initiated a new secretariat, in light of our Holy
Father’s priorities, called Laity, Marriage and Family Life, which is in
recognition of what our Holy Father is asking us to do — much more effective work in supporting the
vocation of married love, especially the ongoing formation of married couples
and to help families. More than ever we need holy families. I think the church
can become more present in the lives of families in our outreach. I’m very
proud of that initiative. I also created an Office of Human Life and Dignity,
highlighting the unique responsibility we have to protect all human life.
When the diocese was established, they picked a parish church and
they wanted it near the Capitol. Sacred Heart Cathedral is very near the state Capitol.
The win-win situation is that the church is going to stay there (after the new
cathedral is built) and it will have weekday Masses and small weddings and
funerals. So we’ll still have that visible presence near the state Capitol. The
new cathedral is only two miles away.
With the similarities in tremendous growth
between the Raleigh Diocese and the Arlington Diocese, what challenges and
opportunities does that present?
The incredible growth and vibrancy of both the Diocese of Raleigh
and certainly here in Arlington is a tremendous blessing. But as we know, with
growth comes pastoral needs and spiritual needs. The biggest challenge — but it’s not a bad challenge to have — we don’t have unlimited resources, both in
finances and personnel. How do you best use those resources as good stewards to
meet the increasing needs? So that’s where you have to get great counsel of
many collaborative parties.
At the press conference Oct. 4 you
mentioned your respect and admiration for Bishop Paul Loverde. When did this
friendship start and how would you describe it?
It began when I was rector of the seminary. In 1999, when he was
sending seminarians from Arlington, he was very attentive to the seminarians,
very hands-on; he wanted to know everything. So as rector, he had no problem
contacting me. He wanted to hear the truth as it was. He always told me that. I
had great respect for him from the beginning.
I think our friendship really grew in 2002 when I became a
bishop. He recognized that this new bishop was walking into a world that can be
a bit intimidating. I’ll never forget my first bishops’ meeting in 2002. I remember
walking into this room filled with hundreds of bishops. I’m sure he recognized
me as being lost. He was the first bishop to come over to me and say, “Let me
show you the ropes here and let’s go out to lunch.” Then a friendship was born
and it has continued throughout the years. I consider Bishop Loverde a dear
friend, a treasured friend, a brother. I’ve invited him to the Diocese of
Raleigh. He was a big hit when he came down to preach at our Red Mass recently.
It’s not uncommon for us throughout the years to be on the phone frequently
just checking in with each other. I can’t tell you how honored I am to build
upon his great work here.
What are your goals and vision for the
One priority has to be that I have to begin quickly in getting to
know the priests and spend time with them. They are my closest collaborators in
ministry and I trust them with the care of parishes and souls. That’s a high
priority, to get to know my brother priests. Of course I’ll be working
collaboratively with deacons, religious, lay faithful and seminarians, but
there’s a special bond that bishops and priests must have, so I’ll make that a
What will you miss about Raleigh?
In 10 years it’s become my home. There is the human emotion of
leaving behind something that you’ve come to love. That’s certainly my
experience now even though I’m certainly excited about this new opportunity. I
will miss the real warmth of the community. Many people are there whose
families are elsewhere, so the church and the parishes become family. I’ve
never seen such a sense of community. North Carolina is very gentle. People are
very welcoming and very gracious. I’m sure they are here. But there’s that
Southern hospitality that I thought was a cliché, but I’ve learned it’s not.
Could you extend a blessing to our readers
across the diocese?
I ask God’s blessing on all the faithful here in this local
church, this beautiful Diocese of Arlington, especially at this time of
transition, that we will be renewed in our trust in God’s promise that He will
be with us always to lead us and to guide us. I ask God’s blessing upon all
those in the diocese and all those they love, that He will bring them peace and
joy, the gifts that only Christ can give.