Catholic Sentinel photo by Jon DeBellis
Archbishop-designate Alexander Sample talks with the press about his new assignment as archbishop for the Archdiocese of Portland. Outgoing Archbishop John Vlazny looks on.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Jon DeBellis
Archbishop-designate Alexander Sample talks with the press about his new assignment as archbishop for the Archdiocese of Portland. Outgoing Archbishop John Vlazny looks on.
The next Archbishop of Portland uses modern social media in the cause of proclaiming Jesus.

Bishop Alexander Sample, current head of the Diocese of Marquette, Mich. maintains a Facebook page. And he kicked off the Year of Faith by tweeting throughout a 1,000-mile trip across Michigan's far northern Upper Peninsula.

Archbishop-designate Sample — tall and slim at 52 — made an even longer journey this week, appearing before the media for the announcement that he'd been named spiritual leader of the 415,000 Catholics of western Oregon.

"It is my prayer and hope that together we can gaze on the face of Jesus Christ and show forth his light to the generations of the new millennium," he said.

The Mass of Installation is planned for Tuesday, April 2.  

The new archbishop, who seems happy about his assignment, had been to Oregon once before — a boyhood salmon fishing trip to the mouth of the Columbia River. He caught nothing then.

"Now I am brought here as a fisher of men," he said. "Hopefully, I'll be more successful at that."

As in Michigan, bringing Christ to others is the primary mission in western Oregon. Whereas Michigan's Upper Peninsula is about 24 percent Catholic, in western Oregon, the number is 12 percent. The new archbishop is not phased by the region's famed religious non-affiliation.

"I see it as rich, fertile ground for the planting of the New Evangelization," he said, explaining his belief that Christ is what people of all kinds long for, even if they don't yet realize it.

Social media must play a significant role in showing people Christ, Archbishop-designate Sample said.

"We have to be there. We have to be where the people are," he said. "We can't be afraid of using those means."

Before his trip west, the tech-savvy archbishop-designate spent some time on Google studying western Oregon. He sometimes uses an iPhone app to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

In a 2012 pastoral letter for the Year of Faith, Bishop Sample told the 70,000 Catholics in northern Michigan it's time to take up the New Evangelization with "renewed faith, fervor and zeal." The New Evangelization, begun by Pope John Paul and continued by Pope Benedict, is an effort to offer Christ to the people of the new millennium in ways that make sense in their lives but remain authentic.  

Paralleling the message Archbishop John G. Vlazny has given in western Oregon for 15 years, Archbishop-designate Sample wrote that it's time for the church to "move from 'maintenance' to 'mission.'"

Bishop Sample is a native of Kalispell, Mont. who grew up in Las Vegas and attended Catholic schools there.

After his family moved to Michigan, he enrolled at Michigan Technological University, earning bachelor's and master's degrees in metallurgical engineering in the early 1980s. Exploring a longtime desire to become a priest, he studied philosophy at the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. and then entered the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.

His father was at first cool to the idea of priesthood, but then became a major supporter. A few months after diaconate ordination, his father died of cancer.

When he was a newly ordained a priest of the Diocese of Marquette in 1990, one woman saw him in a cassock and thought he was an altar boy.

He served in parishes for four years before being sent to Rome to earn a degree in Canon Law. He returned to the Diocese of Marquette in 1996 and over the years served as chancellor, director of the Department of Ministry Personnel Services and on the Diocesan Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People.

When he was selected for the episcopate in his home diocese by Pope Benedict in 2005, he was the youngest bishop in the U.S. at 45.

For his motto, he uses the Latin phrase, “Vultum Christi Contemplari”  — “to contemplate the face of Christ.”

When pressed by reporters to list the skills he brings to the job, he said he is full of zeal and loves teaching.  
He told listeners that the main thing they should know about him is this: "I am a believer."

Asked about homosexuality, Archbishop-designate Sample affirmed church teaching — opposition to same-sex acts, but human dignity applied to all. He wants people who have same-sex attractions to feel like part of the community of the church.

He is in line with the church's strong opposition to gay marriage, saying it's important to protect "institutions that have been the bedrock of society and culture."

Archbishop-designate Sample, when he was a chancery staffer in the Diocese of Marquette, helped then-Bishop James Garland respond to charges of sex abuse against local clergy.

"The first concern must be with those who are victimized," the new archbishop said. He told reporters he is committed to rigorous screening for clergy candidates and other strong measures to protect children. He promised to be "transparent" on the issue of abuse.

The new archbishop offered a statement in Spanish and then spoke words of encouragement to Vietnamese Catholics and Native Americans. "I know I will be enriched by my contact with you," he said.

He said he hopes to work with all the people of Portland and western Oregon, not just the Catholics. Of special concern will be reaching people who have not heard or accepted the good news.

He does not shy away from media, saying that being available to the press is part of evangelizing.

"I think the Church has the right to be at the table," he said. "We are part of culture and society, too."

Archbishop-designate Sample said he intends to teach what the Church teaches on moral matters, adding that what he says might catch the attention of the entire community, believers and non-believers.

Last summer, the Diocese of Marquette was one of 43 dioceses and Catholic organizations to join a religious liberty lawsuit against the federal government because of the HHS mandate.

In 2007, at the invitation of then-Archbishop Raymond Burke, Bishop Sample attended the Red Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, delivering the homily.

Archbishop-Designate Sample is a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Sub-committee on Native American Catholics, and the USCCB Sub-committee on the Catechism.  

The new archbishop still feels the draw of the West, where he grew up. He is an avid outdoorsman who bikes, kayaks and cross-country skis.