The UP Catholic photo by John Fee
After his 2012 ordination in Marquette, Mich., Fr. Marty Flynn gives his first blessing to Archbishop Sample.
The UP Catholic photo by John Fee
After his 2012 ordination in Marquette, Mich., Fr. Marty Flynn gives his first blessing to Archbishop Sample.

MARQUETTE, Mich. — During his seven-year tenure as bishop of the Diocese of Marquette, Archbishop Alexander Sample experienced the sadness of having to close some parishes in the midst of a priest shortage. He felt the joy of having the diocese’s first shepherd, Bishop Frederic Baraga, declared “Venerable” by Pope Benedict. Archbishop Sample hosted well-attended annual rallies with the youth of the diocese and accompanied  them to World Youth Day in Barcelona and the March for Life in Washington, D.C.. He felt the exhilaration of celebrating the 150th anniversary of the diocese.

He wrote four pastoral letters, ordained 10 priests, undertook a $10 million capital campaign, set in place a unified catechesis curriculum across the diocese, and developed plans to secure the future of Catholic schools in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

On Jan. 16, he received a phone call from Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano´, informing him that Pope Benedict had appointed him to be the next Archbishop of Portland.

“This is going to be a difficult transition for me,” Archbishop Sample said, noting that many people seem to have the notion that being moved from a smaller diocese to a larger archdiocese is a career advancement that a bishop actively seeks.

“On a personal level, it’s hard to leave. This is home; I’m from here. I feel a real bond with the people here and I’m being uprooted to a place where I don’t know the people,” Archbishop Sample said, adding that at the time of his appointment he was only acquainted with two priests in the entire Archdiocese of Portland.

“At the same time, I am happy to make this move because I know it is God’s will, and being where he wants me to be gives me a great sense of peace,” Archbishop Sample said. “I look forward to getting to know the people of the Archdiocese of Portland, and my brother priests there,” he said. “Theologically and canonically, (priests) are my principal collaborators. My ministry is impossible without them.”

One lesson Archbishop Sample said he has carried with him from his time as a parish priest is to try to be present to the people.

“I’d like to think I’m a pastor at heart,” he said. “Getting to know the people in their joys and their sorrows is something I’ve discovered to be very important, and for me to be approachable, so the bishop isn’t seen as being distant from them.”

Archbishop Sample said the opportunity to be in the parishes is what he has most looked forward to since his episcopal ordination. “I love celebrating Mass with the people and just visiting with them afterward, often over a meal. Anything that gets me out of the office and among the people is something I always look forward to very much.”

While Archbishop Sample said that being among the people of the diocese, especially the young people, energizes him, he noted that prayer is his greatest source of strength. He starts each morning in the private chapel of his residence.

“Beginning each day in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is what gives me the grace and strength to do what I have to do. Especially later in the day, this keeps me more in touch with what the Lord is asking of me,” he said.

He was ordained the 12th bishop of the Diocese of Marquette on Jan. 25, 2006 at St. Peter Cathedral. Forty-five years old at his episcopal ordination, he was, at the time, the youngest bishop in the U.S. The principal consecrator at his episcopal ordination was Cardinal Adam Maida, now archbishop emeritus of Detroit. Assisting Cardinal Maida were Bishop James Garland and the late Bishop Mark Schmitt, both bishops emeriti of the Diocese of Marquette.  

During his episcopal ordination, the new bishop said that he would have to get used to wearing the “shepherd’s hat,” the miter, even though his mother had informed him that he doesn’t look good in a hat.

Archbishop Sample has long championed the cause for sainthood for Bishop Frederic Baraga, a 19th-century missionary who ministered to the miners and Native Americans in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and became the diocese’s first bishop in 1853.

Archbishop Sample launched the Year of Faith in the Diocese of Marquette, celebrating Masses in each of the four farthest points of the diocese. The faithful were able to follow his journey in person and virtually, through online social media, as he and his traveling companions posted photos and reflections to Facebook and Twitter, as well as videos to YouTube.

The historic Our Faith in the Future capital campaign, the first such diocesan-wide campaign in the diocese’s 150-plus year history, exceeded its $10 million goal to support the work of the Church in the Upper Peninsula into the future. Most of the money raised is going back to parishes and schools to support local needs.

“I don’t consider the success of (the capital campaign) a personal achievement,” Archbishop Sample said. “I am proud of our people who have generous hearts for the future of the Church in the Upper Peninsula.”

One good he said he hopes that he has accomplished during his time as bishop of the Diocese of Marquette is strengthening the areas of “catechesis and faith formation, which are so crucial.” That effort has included setting in place a unified curriculum for K-12 religious education, as well as strengthening the diocese’s Catholic Schools, especially in the teaching of the faith and fostering Catholic identity.

Additionally, he said he has tried, in a special way, to reach out to the young people of the diocese, with his involvement in vicariate youth events, as well as diocesan-wide youth conferences, “P2K” (Priest, Prophet, King) for high school youth and “See the See” for middle school youth.

“I’m a flawed human being, like everyone else. My heart’s desire is to do the best I can to serve the Lord and his people,” Archbishop Sample said. “I don’t look to be successful; I want to be faithful. I want the people to come to know the love and mercy of God I have experienced in my own life.”

Loreene Zeno Koskey, Joe Zyble and Jim LaJoie contributed to this report.