One of the first things on Bishop Michael Burbidge’s "to do" list is learning Spanish. The auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia will be installed this week as the bishop of the growing Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, where the Hispanic population is on the rise and he wants to be able to, "speak to their situation and their needs."
Burbidge’s desire to learn the language of a growing segment of his flock speaks to the great desire he has to make connections with the people he serves, according to story yesterday in the News & Observer.
Raleigh, with only 200,000 registered Catholics, is small compared with the bishop’s native Philadelphia, which numbers 1.4 million Catholics. But it has grown considerably in the last 10 years- by 61 percent-and the Hispanic population is a main factor.
Monsignor Hugh Shields, a friend of Burbidge’s, says that the bishop has a gift of setting aside his many concerns, just to meet people. Of the Bishop’s process of learning Spanish, Shields said that Bishop Burbidge will not be discouraged by mistakes. "Making mistakes isn’t as important to him as making a connection. That desire to connect will be like gasoline to his tanks."
The 49 year-old Burbidge, who will be installed as Bishop of Raleigh on Friday, will succeed Bishop F. Joseph Gossman, who served Raleigh’s Catholics for 31 years.
Many are already pointing out differences between the two. The News & Observer reports that when the two were together for the news conference last month, announcing Burbidge’s appointment, Gossman came in a faded gray clerical shirt. Burbidge, on the other hand, dressed like a bishop, the article says, wearing a pectoral cross and a bishop’s ring.
Bishop Burbidge is known as a people person and a priest's priest, a caring pastor who is fully aligned with the Vatican and faithful to the teachings of the Church.
As a teenager at Cardinal O'Hara High School, he was taught by priests and "saw something special about them," he told the News & Observer. "They shared a bond. I was very impressed by that."
The young Burbidge studied at Philadelphia’s St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, which he later served as rector for five years, from 1999 to 2004. As rector, he established a fitness center in the seminary's basement, reinstituted the yearly musical production, launched a $6-million renovation of the library, and - as his seminarians say - transformed the seminary from an institution to a home.
The seminary, which is known for being fully in line with the Vatican, has produced more bishops and cardinals than any other American seminary, and Bishop Burbidge is proud of this tradition.
Earlier this month Burbidge went back to visit his former seminary to speak with the children at Camp Overbrook, which is held on the seminary grounds each summer. While other officials waited to meet with the bishop, Burbidge took his time to greet the children and camp counselors, talking to them about sports and school.
Such a gift for communicating with people should be put to good use as Burbidge begins his new role.