MARQUETTE, Mich. — Archbishop Alexander Sample has lived in Michigan's Upper Peninsula for most of 35 years, with the exception of two years studying canon law in Rome. Moving to western Oregon will be a major adjustment.
"I have to learn to start calling this home," he said during a January press conference in Portland.
"I want you to know how happy I am to be named your shepherd," he said. "I wish to serve in the spirit of our savior Jesus Christ."
Archbishop Sample felt compelled to wrap up projects in Marquette yet excited to prepare for life and ministry on the West Coast.
"You feel torn between two worlds," he said while making a 125-mile drive to celebrate Mass with the people of a small parish in the woods south of Lake Superior.
He has choked up on occasion when saying farewell in Michigan. The Rite of Election and the Mass for Catholic schools week were especially difficult. At the March for Life in Washington, D.C. he knew about his reassignment, but could not talk about it.
He has ordained 10 priests in the Diocese of Marquette, and even though he is not much older than they on average, he feels fatherly toward them. Even before he was bishop, he knew many people on the Peninsula, even going back to college days.
Archbishop Sample wears a ring. For him, that signifies being wed to the local church. His new archdiocese, he says, is like his spouse.
"This is not just coming to serve people as a job," he says. "I am there to make a human connection, a kind of spousal connection."
He has been touched by the hospitality offered by Archbishop John Vlazny, his predecessor. He also is overwhelmed by the prayers the people of Oregon have been saying for him. The University of Portland even sent him a purple hooded school sweatshirt and hat that fit just right.
In mid-February, Archbishop Sample was as busy as he's ever been, but he abided by a plan to go on retreat. His reasoning: "I needed time to prepare spiritually for what lies ahead."