Though he had never been to Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington, it must have felt a familiar to Bishop Michael F. Burbidge. After all, the new Arlington bishop attended Catholic schools his whole life. He was educated by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who also help staff Bishop O’Connell. After he was ordained, he spent five years teaching high school students.
“One of my great loves is high school,” he told O'Connell students, who gathered in the library Oct. 5 to meet him. “So you will be seeing a lot of me.”
Bishop Burbidge said recently he received a call from the papal nuncio and asked to be the new bishop of the Arlington Diocese after spending 10 years as the bishop of Raleigh. “So of course you say ‘yes,’ ” he told them. “But when we say ‘yes’ to God’s will, to God's divine plan in our lives, it always works out.”
The students asked him when he first considered becoming a priest, where he would live and if he preferred his eggs scrambled or over easy. (He prefers scrambled.) The bishop shared his excitement to visit and learn about the diocese and said he has much in common with Bishop Paul S. Loverde.
Members of the student government told Bishop Burbidge about the school’s annual cystic fibrosis Superdance and invited him to attend. “If I'm free, I’ll be here,” he promised. Freshman Thomas Grattan, a student in the special needs Extended Services program, gave the bishop a bag full of O'Connell gear.
After the meeting, student leaders and administrators led the new bishop on a tour of the auditorium, the turf field, various classrooms and the school’s chapel, where they stopped to say a prayer.
“It was an honor and a blessing for us to welcome Bishop Burbidge. Just watching him interact with our students was inspiring,” said Head of School Joseph Vorbach.
“He mirrors the love of the students and of education that Bishop Loverde (possesses),” said Carl Patton, assistant head of school.
Next, the bishop stopped by St. James Church in Falls Church, where he visited the rectory, the church and the school after seeing a few students’ faces pressed up against the window as he walked by.
“Are you guys seventh- or eighth-graders?” he jokingly asked the third-graders before giving them a blessing. In the building next door, he met with members of the parish’s Spanish-speaking Legion of Mary and prayed a decade of the rosary with them.
Next, Bishop Burbidge visited St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington. He was greeted by members of the student council, who presented him with greeting cards. The bishop told the student council he will keep the cards in his office and it will remind him of their prayers.
Father Robert J. Rippy, a seminary classmate of Bishop Burbidge, showed his seminary photo to the students. Fifth-grader Silas Lesperance came up to the front to identify Bishop Burbidge. Lesperance said after the gathering that it was fun to see the new bishop.
The bishop invited the students to pretend they were members of the media and he fielded their questions. He was asked such things as his favorite color, which is blue, his favorite food, pizza, and even what saint he was most like.
“I try to be like St. Francis of Assisi,” he replied. “To live simply, charitably and with kindness.”
Bishop Burbidge and Bishop Loverde concelebrated noon Mass at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington. More than a dozen priests and several lay people also came to welcome the new bishop. In his homily, Bishop Loverde spoke about their unity as a church, and promised to aid Bishop Burbidge in any way he could.
“We will walk humbly with our God as we encourage and teach with patience,” he said, combining both bishops’ episcopal mottos.
Joayn Bahr, a parishioner of St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Clifton, was one of the many faithful who came to see the new bishop.
“What must heaven be like if this was so beautiful,” she said of the liturgy.
“Just from the snippet of him, he seems friendly and has a deep concern for the poor,” she said. “That’s exactly what we’re hoping for.”
She thought the invitation for the diocese to attend the Mass was “really welcoming to us and to Bishop Burbidge.
“We love Bishop Loverde and we couldn’t ask for a better follow up to him,” Bahr added.