After seven years as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Marquette, the Most Reverend Alexander K. Sample is heading back West. The 52 year old has spent 35 years living in the Upper Peninsula.
Bishop Sample was born in Kalispell, Montana and graduated from Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. He will soon return to that part of the country after Pope Benedict XVI named him the archbishop of Portland, Oregon.
Archbishop-designate Sample said leaving is bittersweet, and the new position came as a surprise.
"There's an entire process that takes place that is done very confidentially, so you're not even aware that you're being considered for a move until the phone rings one day, and that's what happened to me on January 16th," reflected Bishop Sample.
The Pope's representative to the United States told Bishop Sample he was heading to Portland.
"I was stunned," Bishop Sample said. "It still is very surreal for me; it's hard for me to sort of wrap my mind around the fact that I'm going to be making this move, and it's a significant move."
Bishop Sample said the change also brings a significant increase in responsibility. The Archdiocese of Portland has over six times as many Catholics as the Diocese of Marquette.
"I leave with really a very heavy heart," Bishop Sample said. "It's going to be hard to say goodbye. I know that when the time comes, I'm sure that I'll be choking back a lot of emotions. So it's tough. This is home." Bishop Sample spent over 22 years as a priest in the Upper Peninsula and was the youngest bishop in the United States when he was ordained in 2006.
"The most joyous times for me have been when I've been out in parishes visiting, celebrating the liturgy with the folks there, visiting with them, my interactions with the young people," he said.
Father Marquette eighth grader Andrew Kilpela said he will miss Bishop Sample's visits to his school.
"He came into the classroom a lot and did question and answer sessions," said Andrew. "He really cared about the students and our futures and our faith."
Bishop Sample ordained Fr. Ryan Ford, the associate pastor of St. Peter Cathedral, in 2011.
"He's been a father to me, especially as I was discerning my vocation as I came into the seminary," said Ford. "He would meet with us personally as seminarians many times to oversee our formation and really took a personal interest in us."
Bishop Sample has great hopes for the future of the Catholic church in the Upper Peninsula. "There's a whole group of people out there that we need to reach out to," Bishop Sample said. "People that have fallen away from the church, people that are un-churched, who have never been a part of a church community; those are the people we need to reach out to."
A public farewell mass and celebration for Bishop Sample will likely take place before Palm Sunday. Details are still being finalized. Bishop Sample's last public mass in the Upper Peninsula will be Saturday, March 30 at St. Peter Cathedral for the Easter Vigil. His installation ceremony in Portland will take place on Tuesday, April 2.
At that time, the Diocesan College of Consultors will select a new diocesan administrator who will serve the Diocese of Marquette until a new bishop or apostolic administrator is named by the Pope.