By JERRY FILTEAU, CNS | Published June 15, 2006
Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of Bishop F. Joseph Gossman of Raleigh, N.C., and named Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Michael F. Burbidge to succeed him.
The pope also appointed Msgr. Daniel E. Thomas, pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Strafford, Pa., and a former Vatican official, as auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia.
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States, announced the changes in Washington June 8.
Bishop Burbidge is to be installed as bishop of Raleigh Aug. 4, and Bishop-designate Thomas is to be ordained in Philadelphia July 26.
The Diocese of Raleigh is one of five dioceses, which include Charlotte, N.C., Charleston, S.C., Savannah and Atlanta, united under the ecclesiastical Province of Atlanta.
In a statement on June 8, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory expressed his welcome to the new bishop: “I rejoice with the people of the Diocese of Raleigh today at the appointment of Bishop Michael F. Burbidge to become the fifth bishop of Raleigh. Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has blessed the Diocese of Raleigh with another truly fine shepherd of souls.”
Recognizing the new bishop’s work and accomplishments in Philadelphia as well as those of the retiring bishop, Archbishop Gregory continued, “Bishop Burbidge brings a distinguished resume of pastoral service from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia where he has been entrusted with the important work of priestly formation. He is most fortunate to follow a wonderful and faithful pastor in Bishop F. Joseph Gossman.”
Bishop Gossman, 76, has been a bishop since 1968 and head of the Raleigh Diocese since 1975. With his retirement there are only five active U.S. bishops who were given their current post by Pope Paul VI.
Francis Joseph Gossman was born in Baltimore April 1, 1930. He was ordained a priest of the Baltimore Archdiocese in 1955 after studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore and the Pontifical North American College in Rome, the U.S. national seminary in Rome. After ordination he earned a doctorate in canon law at The Catholic University of America in Washington.
He served as an assistant pastor, cathedral administrator, vice chancellor, tribunal official and St. Mary’s Seminary professor before he was named an auxiliary bishop of Baltimore in 1968 at the age of 38.
He was the first U.S. bishop to be ordained in the new, simplified ceremony for the ordination of a bishop, which had just received Vatican approval for use in the United States on an experimental basis as part of the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council.
In place of the traditional banquet honoring a newly ordained bishop, he celebrated his ordination with a simple buffet and reception and had the money that would have been spent on a banquet sent for aid to Biafra, a short-lived secessionist state of Nigeria, which was then in the midst of a destructive civil war and faced massive humanitarian needs.
When he was made bishop of Raleigh in 1975, the 38,000 Catholics in the diocese formed a tiny minority, less than 2 percent of the 2.5 million people in the eastern half of North Carolina. During his 31-year tenure the Catholic population more than quadrupled. It now numbers about 190,000 in a population of 4.1 million.
Active in ecumenical relations and social justice issues, Bishop Gossman used the sale of a property in 1989 to establish a permanent $2.5 million diocesan endowment for the poor.
He supported a nuclear freeze in the early 1980s and in 1990 warned against unilateral U.S. military action before the Persian Gulf War. He fought for the rights of immigrants and in 1992 was one of five Southern bishops who issued a joint statement opposing use of the death penalty. He promoted lay leadership in parishes and the role of women in church leadership positions.
In 1997 he and Bishop William G. Curlin of Charlotte, N.C., issued a joint pastoral letter on economic justice in their state, expressing concern that while North Carolina was enjoying economic prosperity and expansion the working poor were being left behind.
Bishop Gossman was a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue in the United States and in 1991 was a leader in the formation of a statewide Catholic-Lutheran covenant, an agreement of joint witness and collaboration that at the time was only the second such covenant in the nation.
In 1999 he started the diocesan Reconciliation Initiative, a program of pastoral outreach to Catholics separated from the sacraments because of irregular marriages.
Over the years he has served on numerous committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Bishop Gossman visited Atlanta last year when he led the Benediction and gave a stirring homily during the morning liturgy at the 2005 Eucharistic Congress in Atlanta.
He welcomed the appointment of Bishop Burbidge, 48, to Raleigh, describing his successor as “a man of prayer and faith.”
Michael Francis Burbidge was born in Philadelphia June 16, 1957. He was ordained a priest of the Philadelphia Archdiocese in 1984 following studies at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary there. He also studied at Villanova and Immaculata universities in Pennsylvania and has a doctorate in education as well as master’s degrees in theology and education administration.
After two years in parish work he spent five years teaching high school. In 1991-92 he was dean of students at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. From 1992 to 1999 he was a special assistant to Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, then archbishop of Philadelphia, and from 1999 to 2004 he returned to the seminary as rector.
In 2002 he was named an auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia. As a bishop, he has held several archdiocesan posts including vicar general and head of the Priests’ Personnel Board.
Daniel Edward Thomas, the new auxiliary bishop in Philadelphia, was born in that city on June 11, 1959, and ordained a priest of the archdiocese in 1985 after studies at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
Following ordination he did graduate studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he earned a licentiate in theology in 1989. From 1990 to 2005 Bishop-designate Thomas served at the Vatican as an official of the Congregation for Bishops. In those years he was also spiritual director of seminarians at the Pontifical North American College. He returned to the archdiocese in 2005 as pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Strafford.
Bishop Gossman is to serve as administrator of the Raleigh Diocese until Bishop Burbidge’s installation.
Archbishop Gregory, who will be on hand to welcome the new bishop at the installation in August, expressed his prayers for Bishop Burbidge’s success.
“I know that the clergy, Religious, and laity of the Diocese of Raleigh will welcome Bishop Burbidge into their hearts. I am honored to welcome him to the Province of Atlanta as he begins his new service to the Church in Raleigh. May the Lord Jesus bless his every effort to tend this local Church and grant him joy, success, and happiness.”