Most Rev. John Vlazny Archbishop Emeritus of Portland
Vultum Christi Contemplari! (To Contemplate the Face of Christ!) This has been the motto of our new Archbishop, Most Rev. Alexander K. Sample, ever since his ordination to the episcopacy back on Jan. 25, 2006. These words were taken from the writings of Pope John Paul II in which he reminded us all that the task of the church is to make the face of Christ shine in today’s world. The Pope said, “Our witness, however, would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated his face.”
That motto is especially appropriate for our new archbishop as he arrives here in western Oregon during this Year of Faith. Our present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in calling for a Year of Faith encourages us all to renew our relationship with Christ and to invite others who have looked away for a long time to look back and see the goodness and love of our God in that holy face. Archbishop Sample, right from the get-go, has made it clear that he fully and enthusiastically embraces the New Evangelization, namely, the proclamation of the good news in a contemporary, relevant and attractive manner. He quickly indicated his readiness for this challenge through his disarming familiarity with everything that twitters, tweets and texts across cyberspace! It should not be surprising that a graduate of the Michigan Technological University would be so savvy when it comes to the technology so popular these days, especially among our young people.
Word of the archbishop’s appointment as my successor came to me on Wednesday, January 16th. When the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, called from Washington, I was involved in a conference call meeting. I arrived at my office after the 90-minute telephone meeting and my Executive Assistant, Rozanne Johnson, told me the Nuncio would be calling at 11 a.m. I right away thought to myself, “This is it!” Now, I have to confess that I thought the same on other occasions in previous months, but this time it really was “it.” He told me that my successor would be Archbishop Sample and we agreed that the announcement would be made on Tuesday, Jan. 29. Even though I had been awaiting this call for several months, once it arrived I was just a bit unsettled. It was no longer a possibility or probability that I would soon have a replacement. He would soon be knocking at my door.
Archbishop Sample flew into Portland on Monday, Jan. 28. Msgr. Dennis O’Donovan, my Vicar General, and I had dinner with him at my residence. Fortunately, Sister Geralda Meskill, the retired overseer of my residence, had come for a visit and prepared a nice dinner. I was happy to have the opportunity to visit informally with the archbishop. Archbishop Sample began his first day as the Archbishop-designate of Portland with Mass at the cathedral, a press conference at the Pastoral Center, meetings with the Pastoral Center staff, and a nice dinner with the archdiocesan curia. Since it was Catholic Schools Week, the next day I was scheduled to celebrate a Mass with St. Mary Cathedral School children. I invited the archbishop to preside and to introduce himself to the youngsters and their families. In his homily it was obvious he is an experienced and effective teacher. On Thursday the archbishop returned to Marquette, Mich., where he has served as bishop these past seven years.
His installation is scheduled for Easter Tuesday, April 2, at the University of Portland’s Chiles Center. There will be an evening prayer service at the cathedral on Easter Monday. Fortunately we already have an installation committee in place which has been meeting over the last few months to plan the welcome and installation of our new archbishop. Msgr. O’Donovan serves as Chair and Todd Cooper serves as the executive coordinator. Some very generous people are giving of their time and talents to make this a wonderful archdiocesan celebration as we embrace the new beginnings which accompany the arrival of a new chief shepherd.
Over the last few months I have become a bit more interested in what the church expects of an archbishop emeritus, which will be my role once the new archbishop is in place. Just shortly before the official appointment of our new archbishop, I was informed that I am to serve as Apostolic Administrator of the archdiocese until the installation of Archbishop Sample. Church law required that I write my letter of resignation to Pope Benedict when I celebrated my 75th birthday last Feb. 22. I shall remain an archbishop, but I will not be the Archbishop! The Congregation for Bishops in Rome has prepared a book entitled “Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops.” In that book there is a chapter about the bishop emeritus. It had not interested me much before, but suddenly it became the most important chapter in the book.
It begins with words from St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy where he states, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” I am not sure how well I fought the good fight, but I am just about to finish the race and I thank God that, with His help and yours, I have managed to keep the faith. Of course my challenge was to do more than keep the faith, I should also have spread the faith and I am not quite sure how well I have done that. But I readily identify with these words of Blessed John Newman, “We are links in a chain and must not allow the fire to be extinguished in our time.” The fire of faith is indeed still burning here, even though many efforts were made to extinguish it over the past 15 years. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to be a link in the chain of bishops who have carried the torch and that I am now able to pass it on to Archbishop Sample, still burning, even brightly at times.
As an archbishop emeritus, I shall still be able to preside at the sacraments, including Confirmation and Ordinations, but always with the permission of the candidate’s bishops. I may continue to live within the boundaries of the archdiocese and I plan to do so. I shall be living on the campus of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon in Beaverton. Certainly I’m willing to give assistance where I can, but I am delighted not to be in charge of anything anymore. One additional right that is mine, according to the directory, is to be buried in a cemetery belonging to the archdiocese! Mount Calvary Cemetery will provide me with a nice view of the surrounding area until judgment day! But the focus now, of course, is on our new archbishop, his vision, his hopes, his agenda. Fortunately he comes into an archdiocese where there is a wonderful presbyterate, burgeoning deacon community and highly effective religious and lay pastoral ministers. Little by little we are digging out of our financial pitfalls of the past decade and the number of vocations to ordained ministry has tripled since 1997. Effective and collaborative presbyteral, pastoral and finance councils are in place to give the new archbishop some valuable advice and much needed encouragement in taking on many of the challenges before us.
We have been praying in the past few months that the Lord would send us a good shepherd to lead us and guide us. Our prayers have been answered. Now we prepare to welcome and support our new leader in his efforts to encourage and help us contemplate the face of Christ. God bless you, Archbishop Sample. The coming weeks will be difficult as you bid farewell to your many friend and coworkers in Marquette. But we await the chance to embrace you warmly and to walk with you on our shared journey of faith. Ad multos annos!