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Diocesan superintendent recalls Bishop Burbidge's support in Raleigh

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When Jennifer Bigelow, the new diocesan superintendent of schools, moved 257 miles from her job as principal of the Franciscan School in Raleigh, N.C., she never expected that months later her former bishop would make the same trek to Arlington.

“In Raleigh we were so blessed to have a bishop that was supportive of Catholic education and I think Bishop Burbidge will continue that (in Arlington),” said Bigelow. “Bishop (Paul S.) Loverde has done an excellent job supporting education, so I think the schools will benefit from that continuing support.”

While Bigelow was principal, she said the school and parish opened several new buildings and Bishop Burbidge came for several dedications. He also celebrated baccalaureate Mass one year at their school.

“He visited all the schools in the diocese on a regular basis,” said Bigelow. “That was always a great opportunity for the students and the faculty to interact with him.”

Bigelow was named superintendent of schools in Arlington July 5, succeeding Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Bernadette McManigal, who retired June 30 after eight years of service.

Prior to her position as principal of the Franciscan School, Bigelow served as principal, director of curriculum and instruction, and teacher at the Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa, Fla. She has a master’s degree in history and educational leadership from the University of South Florida and is completing her doctorate at North Carolina State University.

Bigelow said Bishop Burbidge gave graduation gifts to all the eighth-graders of the Raleigh Diocese and each principal would distribute them in May. One gift was a book called Teen Catechism. Bigelow said one year a student asked the bishop for an autograph and the rest of the class followed.

“It wasn’t (just) that he was signing each book. It was that he would really talk to each student, asking them their name, where they’re going to high school or if they thought about vocations,” she said. “That was really powerful for those students and every time he came to our school he was always engaging with the students.”

Bigelow said the students felt they could ask him anything from sports to politics and church teaching. One student asked if women would ever become priests.

“He explained church teaching, but he was very compassionate about it,” she said.

Bishop Burbidge comes to the Arlington Diocese with both diocesan and personal experience with Catholic education.

“Raleigh is a growing diocese and I think his experience with a growing diocese will be helpful in understanding the challenges and opportunities that growth can bring,” said Bigelow. “He understands opening new schools and specifically what those challenges and opportunities bring. His own experience in Catholic education will be helpful, as well.” 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016