MARQUETTE, Mich. — Western Oregon is getting a new archbishop, but also an archiepiscopal mom.
Joyce Sample, 84, will move to Oregon later this spring and take up residence at St. Mary Cathedral with her son, Archbishop Alexander Sample. To her, he's "Alex."
"He's my hero," says Mrs. Sample, a widow for 23 years. "He's been my rock."
She was born Joyce Dory in Marinet, Wis., just across the border from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The family name had been Anglicized from the Polish Dura.
She and her banker husband, Alexander Sample, Jr., raised three children, taking their Catholic households from Kalispell, Mont. to Las Vegas, Nev. to Houghton, Mich., far north on the Upper Peninsula.
Her husband died of cancer at age 61, not long before their son was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Marquette. She stayed at the family house in Houghton for 13 years, then in 2002 moved 100 miles to Marquette, where her son was chancellor of the diocese and eventually bishop.
The widow and her priest-son share a special bond. He cooks her dinners — Italian is his speciality — does her laundry and shops for her supplies. He has spent scores of hours in her doctor's waiting room and at the hospital. On weekends, she stayed with him or traveled with him to parishes all over northern Michigan for events like confirmations, parish anniversaries and Knights of Columbus conventions. The archbishop always got warm applause when he came into the parish hall, but Mrs. Sample got even louder acclamations. She's a kind of Catholic celebrity in these parts.
"I feel really honored," Mrs. Sample says. "Because they love him so much, they figure his mother must be OK."
The archbishop showed his mother a scene from the television comedy "Portlandia" and the two laughed uproariously. Later, in his living room with her and another guest, the archbishop recites parts of the scene. It involves a couple seeking copious information from a waitress about the chicken that gave its life for them.
Msgr. Ronald Browne, a longtime friend who serves as the archbishop's chief aide, marvels at how his boss follows the fourth commandment — honor your father and mother.
"He has made his mom part of his ministry," Msgr. Browne says.
Mrs. Sample recalls the day in 2006 when her son was ordained as bishop of Marquette. As the congregation sang the litany of saints, her son lay face down before the altar in a gesture of utter submission to God.
"There was this big long man," she recalls. "I said to myself, 'That's my baby boy.'"
Mrs. Sample has never been to Oregon. She will attend the April 2 installation of her son as archbishop, head back to Michigan to prepare for the move and then return after Archbishop Sample leads a previously planned pilgrimage to Italy in May.
One daughter lives with family in Lake Ann, Mich. The other daughter, in Salt Lake City, is planning a move to Portland to be closer to her mother and brother, causing delight among the family.
Mrs. Sample has a friend from the days in Las Vegas who now lives across the Columbia River in Camas, Wash. They intend to get together.
"I'm a people person," Mrs. Sample says. "I love to meet people. And I want to get to know the good people of Oregon."