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Bishop Burbidge plans to build on strong foundation

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Bishop Michael F. Burbidge expressed deep gratitude to Pope Francis on his appointment as the fourth bishop of Arlington on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. He pledged his continued loyalty and obedience to the Holy Father.

The bishop also thanked Bishop Paul S. Loverde for being “a treasured friend” and said he will continue to depend on him for prayers and support as he begins his new ministry in Arlington.

“Like all of you, I have profound respect and admiration for Bishop Loverde,” he said. “ United with all those you have served so well since 1999, I express deep gratitude for Bishop Loverde’s steadfast, dedicated and generous ministry.”

He recalled after his father’s death, there were times when his mother, Shirley, would visit him in the Diocese of Raleigh. “Whenever I would drive her home to Philadelphia there was a tradition. Once we arrived in the boundaries of the Diocese of Arlington, I would say: ‘Let’s call on speaker and say hello to Bishop Loverde.’ Upon ending the conversation, my mom would always say: ‘He sounds like such a nice man.’ She had great insight.”

Bishops Burbidge and Loverde held a joint press conference Oct. 4 in Burke Hall at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington. Bishop Burbidge’s installation is scheduled for Dec. 6 at the cathedral.

In his official acceptance letter to Pope Francis, Bishop Burbidge conveyed that while his knowledge of the Arlington Diocese currently is limited, he is well aware that it is a faithful and vibrant diocese and one that has been blessed with the dedicated service of three wonderful bishops.

“I promised Pope Francis that I will work tirelessly to build upon the strong foundations that have been provided by Bishop (Thomas) Welsh, Bishop (John) Keating and Bishop Loverde,” he said.

Coincidentally, both Bishop Burbidge and Bishop Welsh served as rectors of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., and were auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Bishop Burbidge said he either taught or attended the seminary with many Arlington priests, including Father Robert J. Rippy, cathedral rector.

Bishop Burbidge admitted that he still has strong allegiance to Philadelphia’s professional sports team, but he is ready to jump on the band wagon of the Washington Nationals, who begin their playoff run Oct. 7 against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Bishop Burbidge has spent the past decade as the bishop of Raleigh. “These past 10 years have been a source of great joy for me and I will treasure all the memories and be ever grateful for the support and love and goodness extended to me by all in the diocese,” he said. “They have been and will remain a special gift in my life.”

When asked what his vision is for his new diocese, Bishop Burbidge said, “The answer can only be developed upon listening and learning. To do so, I will travel throughout the diocese beginning today and tomorrow and will continue doing so more thoroughly after my installation.

“Some priorities are the same for all dioceses,” he said. “They come from the Mandate of the Gospel, the teaching of the church, and from the example we see in Pope Francis.”

During a whirlwind two days in the diocese, Bishop Burbidge was scheduled to visit Christ House, St. Rita Church and the Poor Clare Monastery in Alexandria, the St. Rose of Lima Priest Retirement Villa in Annandale, and Bishop O’Connell High School and St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington.

He also was scheduled to celebrate Mass with Bishop Loverde at the cathedral Oct. 5, before heading back to Raleigh.

In his opening remarks, Bishop Loverde said he was grateful to the Lord and Pope Francis for Bishop Burbidge’s appointment. “I am truly delighted that he will be our next shepherd,” he said.

“I am confident that you will find Bishop Burbidge to be personable and welcoming, perceptive and attentive, with much wisdom from an experienced background and with a discerning spirit that will engage potentials for the future growth of the church’s mission within our diocese,” he said.

He described Bishop Burbidge as a man of integrity, who teaches the truths of the faith with clarity and joy. “He possesses the heart of a shepherd, reflecting the pastoral love and care flowing from the Heart of Christ, the Good Shepherd, and model of all bishops,” he said.

Bishop Burbidge said he cherished the fact that he was able to celebrate Mass earlier in the day with Bishop Loverde on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

“How providential that this announcement comes on the day the Catholic Church honors St. Francis of Assisi,” he said. “It is the saint Our Holy Father was inspired by as he chose the name he would take as the successor of St. Peter.”

He reflected on the personal connection he has with the saint. It is the name of Bishop Burbidge’s father, brother, nephew and grandnephew. The bishop also took Francis as his confirmation name.

“Today is a reminder that I, and indeed all of us, must strive daily to imitate the simplicity, humility and charity of St. Francis of Assisi,” he said.

Fran Burbidge, the bishop’s older brother, drove from his home in Philadelphia to attend the press conference and show his support.

He said his brother is “super excited” to be in Arlington and “will be in his glory” with his residence being so close to the cathedral and St. Thomas More school.

Fran pointed out another connection between his family and the Arlington Diocese. His father attended St. Thomas More High School in Philadelphia.

Father Robert Cilinski, pastor of Church of the Nativity in Burke, described Bishop Burbidge as “young, talented, energetic and faithful.

“He’s a gift to us,” he said.

Father Cilinski expressed his thanks to Bishop Loverde for the 17 years he has been the shepherd of the church in Arlington.

“The appointment brings joy and peace, but also the sorrow of letting go,” he said.

Jennifer Bigelow, the new diocesan superintendent of schools, was principal of The Franciscan School in Raleigh, N.C., for eight years and Bishop Burbidge was her bishop. Bigelow said that as someone who taught briefly in his career, Bishop Burbidge appreciated his teachers.

“The schools benefited from his love of Catholic education,” she said. “He was very dedicated to praising teachers and staff and he came with an understanding and compassion for them.”

Bigelow said Bishop Burbidge is energetic and routinely visited diocesan schools.

“The day before I was announced as superintendent in Arlington, Bishop Burbidge was meeting with groups of students at my school,” she said. “He is in his element when fielding questions from the students. His interactions with the students helped them grow in their faith.”

Bigelow said the bishop is savvy in terms of understanding his audience, and he understands what teachers face. “He’s a bishop but he’s very pastoral,” she said.

“As he was introduced today on the feast of St. Francis, Bishop Burbidge pledged to serve with humility the needs of the poor, the vulnerable and the unborn, to accompany those in life’s difficulties, and to work towards building a more peaceful world — starting in our communities — and restoring civility to public life,” said Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference. “We welcome Bishop Burbidge and look forward to working with him on these shared concerns.

Caruso also expressed the conference’s gratitude to Bishop Loverde “for the countless ways he has led, guided, encouraged and inspired us right from the very beginning — when he and Richmond Bishop Francis DiLorenzo collaborated to form our office. We look forward to continuing to benefit from his deep wisdom as the Conference's work continues.”

Bishop Burbidge said shortly after learning he was going to be the new bishop of Arlington, the Gospel at Mass was a passage from St. Luke’s Gospel in which Jesus says to His followers, “Follow me.”

“They all said ‘yes,’ but not now. I first must do this. I must do that. However, God’s call demands a ‘yes’ that reflects a sense of urgency — now is the time; a willingness to let go and a commitment to walk humbly with God.

“Today, through the intercession of Mary our Mother, St. Thomas More, the patron of our diocese, and St. Francis of Assisi, I offer that ‘yes’ with deep trust that the Lord who calls us to follow Him will provide the grace and strength we need to accomplish together whatever is asked of us,” he said.

Elizabeth Elliott contributed to this story.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016