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Bishop Burbidge was rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary

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Fifteen years before becoming rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., Bishop Michael F. Burbidge was a student there.

“Being an alumnus, he brought a love and faithfulness to the institution,” said Cait Kokolus, vice president for Information Services and Assessment at St. Charles Seminary. “It is evident that he enjoyed his time here as a student and wanted the same for the current student body. I think he knew what was good about the seminary and tried to enhance it.”

Bishop Burbidge was a student there from 1976 to 1984 and rector from 1999 to 2004.

Sheila Longworth, campus information coordinator at St. Charles Seminary, said that as an alumnus Bishop Burbidge knew what the seminarians needed.

“They are young and here to learn, and there’s a lot of need to mature and grow in their prayer life and care for people,” she said. “He was a wonderful shepherd in taking care of his people.”

When Bishop Burbidge returned to the seminary as rector, there was continuity in some of the same professors and staff, but he thought there was a change in the seminarians.

“As rector, I first tried to give them my experience because it was so good, but I realized this is a different generation,” he said. “They are coming from different backgrounds and different realities, so we had to adjust accordingly.”

Longworth said that as rector he was always open and available to students and staff alike. When she went to him with a minor concern he took care of it very quickly.

“He is open, giving and approachable,” she said. “He’s very family-oriented and I think that radiated out to the seminarians and everybody here.”

Kokolus said Bishop Burbidge was an excellent mentor and popular leader as rector.

“He brought a spirit of community and openness to the seminary,” she said. “He made it a point to learn the names of everyone in the community so he could call them by name and encouraged his administrators to do so as well.”

He became the seminary’s second bishop-rector, being ordained in 2002 an auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia, where he oversaw the Office of the Vicar for Clergy and the Office of Communications.

“As an auxiliary bishop, he was able to speak as an equal to bishops from dioceses that sent, or were considering sending, their men to St. Charles,” said Kokolus. “To our students, he was a down-to-earth authority figure and an example of a caring bishop.”

Kokolus said his added responsibilities in the archdiocese, including confirmations in various parishes, took him away from the seminary, but he would often bring two seminarians with him as assistants as a way to get to know them better.

Bishop Burbidge accomplished many things as rector, Kokolus said, including a newly renovated library and the appointment of the seminary’s first woman vice president for finance, Elaine Rice.

“At a deeper level, he worked hard to create community,” said Kokolus. “He’d organize a group of priest faculty to go to a Phillies game or have a party for the whole community from the vice rectors to the housekeepers.”

Bishop Burbidge’s impact on the seminary continues today.

“You can’t have someone like him be at a place in the role of a shepherd of the people without having people become very caring and attached,” said Longworth. “The students here from Raleigh are distressed he won’t be there when they return from studies.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016