MARQUETTE - The Roman Catholic Diocese of Marquette said a tearful goodbye to former Bishop Alexander K. Sample Sunday at a farewell mass and reception.
Archbishop-elect Sample, 52, will leave Marquette March 31 for Portland, Ore., and will be installed in his new position April 2. Sample will succeed Archbishop John Vlazny, who is retiring. Sample will remain as administrator of the Diocese of Marquette until that time.
"Some of the emotion of it is hitting me. When it's some distance away you can be busy with packing, wrapping up things here and taking care of business that's already pulling at me from Portland," Sample said. "Two weeks from (Sunday) I will be leaving with a one-way ticket and I haven't traveled with a one-way ticket before, which is kind of bringing it all home to me. I think that's kind of what I was experiencing (Sunday) with, my gosh this may be the very last time I get to see some of these wonderful people."
Archbishop-elect Alexander K. Sample leads the congregation in a prayer during his farewell mass Sunday at the St. Peter Cathedral in Marquette. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Sample, a native of Kalispell, Mont., said he has been in the Upper Peninsula for about 35 years and considers it home, which makes it harder to leave.
"I love the Upper Peninsula. The Upper Peninsula is such a beautiful part of the country and I love the nature and the beauty of the Upper Peninsula," Sample said. "But what I'll miss most is the people."
Sample said he realized at the farewell reception just how many friendships and relationships he has made over the years with the Diocese of Marquette, and those are hard to leave.
"It's sort of like a family for a priest, especially for a bishop who doesn't have his own personal family, the people he serves become sort of a second family to him," Sample said.
When Sample took over as Bishop of Marquette - a post he has held for seven years - he was the youngest bishop in the U.S. The Diocese of Marquette encompasses the entire Upper Peninsula.
"Clearly I have felt a very strong bond with the people of the Diocese of Marquette, and that's what makes being a bishop a joyful thing, to be able to touch, we hope, many lives and to be involved in the lives of many people," Sample said. "What I look forward to more than anything else is establishing those same bonds that I felt here with the people of western Oregon."
The Archdiocese of Portland is home to more than 415,000 Catholics and 124 parishes, as well as 40 Catholic elementary schools, 10 high schools, two universities, a seminary and 10 hospitals.
People from all over the area went to the farewell mass, filling the St. Peter Cathedral to the point where people were lining the back wall with folding chairs.
"I was very, very touched by the number of people that came. I didn't really know what to expect. It's a beautiful day in the U.P. and people have busy lives," Sample said. "So I was very, very grateful to see that so many people came, and I was very touched by that."
After Sample's departure, the Diocesan College of Consultors will select a new diocesan administrator who will serve the Diocese of Marquette until a new bishop or an apostolic administrator is named by the Pope.
Adelle Whitefoot can be reached at 906-486-4401.