Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, the leader of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh for the past decade, is leaving to become the bishop of the Diocese of Arlington, Va.
Burbidge departs as his greatest physical legacy in North Carolina takes shape off Western Boulevard in Raleigh. Burbidge launched the planning for The Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, the 2,000-seat mother church for the diocese that is expected to be completed next spring.
Burbidge was appointed bishop in Arlington by Pope Francis, in a process that would have been secret even to Burbidge until recently. As is standard in the Catholic Church, Burbidge did not seek the position, nor did he know he was being considered for it, until he got the call last Sunday night, said Billy Atwell, spokesman for the Diocese of Raleigh.
“The life of a priest, the life of a bishop, is one of obedience, one of sacrifice,” Atwell said. “When the Holy Father calls, you go.”
Burbidge was introduced in Arlington during a news conference Tuesday morning and will be officially installed there on Dec. 6. He will continue to perform most of his duties as bishop in North Carolina until Dec. 6, and then a group of priests from the diocese will appoint an interim administrator to serve until the pope appoints a new bishop.
Atwell said there’s no set time for when a new Raleigh bishop will be named.
The announcement of Burbidge’s departure came as a surprise. Aimee Viana, who oversees most ministries for the diocese, said she and other members of the leadership only learned about Burbidge’s new post at about 6 a.m. Tuesday, just before an email went out to priests, sisters and other members of the diocese.
Viana said she enjoyed working with Burbidge and is sad to see him go.
“He was a man of integrity and great joy,” she said. “He truly kept the people at the heart of everything he did.”
Burbidge was axillary bishop in his native Philadelphia in 2006 when Pope Benedict XVI chose him to replace Raleigh Bishop F. Joseph Gossman, who retired after leading the diocese for 31 years.
The diocese had been growing for many years – fueled by transplants to the Triangle and other parts of Eastern North Carolina and by Hispanic immigration – and that growth has continued. The year before Burbidge arrived there were 192,000 registered Catholics in the diocese, which covers 54 counties in Eastern North Carolina. Now the diocese says it has 225,000 registered Catholics, and an estimated 250,000 unregistered Hispanic Catholics.
In Virginia, Burbidge will lead a diocese that covers only 21 counties but has more than twice as many registered Catholics. During his introduction in Arlington on Tuesday morning, Burbidge recalled his time in North Carolina with fondness.
“In 2006, the Lord decided to make me a Southerner and named me the fifth bishop of Raleigh,” he said, his voice becoming shaky with emotion. “These past 10 years have been a source of great joy, and I will treasure the memories and be ever grateful for the support and love and the goodness extended to me by all in the diocese. They have been, and will remain, a special gift in my life.”