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At St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, a close-knit group of future priests

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St. Charles Borromeo Seminary’s class of 1984 was a close-knit group that produced many future church leaders. The class included Arlington’s new shepherd, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, and two well-known diocesan priests: Father Robert J. Rippy, rector of the Cathedral of St. Thomas More and judicial vicar of the diocese, and Father William P. Saunders, pastor of Our Lady of Hope Church in Potomac Falls, former dean of Christendom College’s Graduate School of Theology and a longtime Catholic Herald columnist best known for his “Straight Answers” series.

The class also included Msgr. Gerard Mesure, pastor of St. Matthias Church in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., and chancellor of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and Father Francis Foley, a Navy chaplain who serves as Catholic chaplain at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. Msgr. Mesure and Father Foley were classmates at Cardinal Dougherty High School in Philadelphia.

Bishop Burbidge was a student for eight years at St. Charles Borromeo, which is located in Wynnewood, Pa., near the campus of St. Joseph’s University. He earned his bachelor’s in philosophy in 1980 and his master’s in theology in 1984. He then served as dean of students from 1991 to 1992 and rector from 1999 to 2004.


seminary class photo

The class of 1984 includes Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, Fr. Robert J. Rippy and Fr. William Saunders. Courtesy Photo

“Bishop Burbidge is gifted in building fraternity among his priests,” said Father Saunders. “He will show a concern for the spiritual and material welfare of all his priests. He is even-tempered, and will listen to both sides of an argument before making a decision.”

Father Saunders said that during their seminary days, Bishop Burbidge “got along with everyone, even the more challenging characters. He always had an enthusiasm for class or seminary activities.”

He said Bishop Burbidge was a solid student who always worked hard and did his best.

“He was a well-rounded seminarian who had a sense of humor, despite the demands of the seminary,” Father Saunders said.

He said Bishop Burbidge accomplished much during his decade in Raleigh — developing vocations, with almost 30 men now studying for the priesthood, opening a new Catholic high school, and building a new cathedral, which is expected to be dedicated in 2017.

“Raleigh, like Arlington, is a growing diocese in population, so he brings the expertise needed to guide our diocese,” Father Saunders said.

Father Rippy said he first met Bishop Burbidge in August 1976 when they both entered the seminary as college freshmen. “He is very consultative in his decision-making processes, is a good listener and is very people-oriented,” said Father Rippy.

“He will build on the foundation that Bishop Loverde has laid and will bring new energy and ideas to our growing diocese,” he said. “He is the right fit for Arlington. I couldn’t be more pleased.”

Msgr. Mesure recalled that he and Bishop Burbidge both entered their first year of college together. Bishop Burbidge worked for a year after high school before starting the seminary.

“Bishop Burbidge is deeply rooted in God,” Msgr. Mesure said. “He has a good sense of humor and a kind heart. He is very smart and capable, but what stands out is his ability to get along with everybody.

“Even in the seminary I think we all recognized his abilities as a leader,” he said. “Our class always got along very well and I think he helped set that tone.

“I think he will be able faithfully to present the teachings of Christ and His church in a way that is always understanding and respectful of others,” he said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016