The Vatican announced
this morning that Bishop Alexander Sample of Marquette, Michigan will be the new
archbishop of Portland, Oregon, succeeding Archbishop John Vlazny. From the
Vatican’s statement on the new appointment:
Bishop Sample, previously bishop of Marquette, Michigan,
USA, was born in Kalispell, Montana, USA, in 1960, was ordained to the
priesthood in 1990, and received episcopal ordination in 2006. In the national
bishops’ conference he currently serves on the Subcommittees on Native American
Catholics and on the Catechism. He is also vice-postulator for the cause for
canonisation of Venerable Frederic Baraga, first bishop of the Diocese of
At the time of his episcopal ordination, Bishop Sample was
the youngest Catholic bishop in the US, and the first to be born in the 1960s.
He also made headlines in 2009 when he asked retired Detroit auxiliary bishop
Thomas Gumbleton to
not speak within the Diocese of Marquette because of Gumbleton’s dissenting
views on homosexuality and women’s ordination.
A few years back, Bishop
Sample gave a
wide-ranging interview to CWR, touching on how he discerned his priestly
vocation, the troubled state of catechesis in the United States today, and the
larger challenges facing the American Church. Here are a few excerpts:
said that, to your pleasant surprise, scandalous behavior by a few members of
the clergy, rather than being the end of the priesthood, has led to a time of
transformation and renewal. Can you explain?
Sample: I’ve been involved in priest personnel work
for many years. For nearly a decade, I was Marquette’s chancellor and director
of ministry personnel services. I was the point-man when it came to dealing
with issues of clerical sexual abuse. In 2002, when the priestly scandals were
erupting, we were already struggling with vocations. I thoughtthis is going to
be the death blow for vocations. What young man in this climate is going to
give his life to the priesthood?
I was completely surprised. Many
young menwholesome, faith-filled, zealous menstepped forward to become a part
of the solution, to rebuild the Church. They wanted to be a part of the renewal
of the priesthood. That’s remarkable. It’s a work of the Holy Spirit.
I think we’re on the verge of a
new Pentecost, which has to start with the priesthood. In the parish, it is the
pastor that sets the tone. I tell my priestsas goes the head, so goes the
body. The priest ministers to the Church in persona Christi capitis,
in the person of Christ, the head.
Jesus is the head of his body,
the Church. The priest ministers in the person of Christ, the head. And if the
head is holy, strong, zealous, and fervent, strong in faith, hope, and love,
then that will help lead and guide the rest of the body, the Church.
I’m excited. I recently ordained
two fine young men to the priesthood. They’re excited. They’re ready to go.
They want to be priests and serve Christ and his people. All the men we have in
the seminary are an inspiration to me for the future of the Church.
described yourself as a member of “the first lost generation of poor
catechesis,” which “raised up another generation that is equally uncatechized.”
What’s wrong with catechesis and what have you done to help solve the problem?
Sample: My generation was the first in the wake of
Vatican II. While I certainly don’t blame the Council, much upheaval occurred
in the Church in its aftermath. Culturally, society was experiencing the sexual
revolution, the women’s liberation movement, and the anti-war movement, among
others. There was an anti-authoritarian spirit.
In this time of great confusion,
catechesis suffered. We booted the Baltimore Catechism out the door,
but there wasn’t anything to replace it. I was taught the faith in Catholic
schools using materials that were weak and insubstantial. I wasn’t being taught
my faith. The liturgy suffered from experimentation as well.
When I speak about this publicly,
invariably people of my generation come up to me to agree with what I’m saying.
This includes many bishops.
My generation raised up the next
generation. Since we weren’t taught the faith, we raised children who weren’t
We need a renewal in catechesis.
I feel passionately about this. In my Diocese of Marquette, I directed the
development of a diocesan curriculum for faith formation for grades K-8. It is
a solid, substantive, systematic, and sequential curriculum, which builds from
one year to the next. It is topical, based on the pillars of the catechism.
Every parish is expected to follow this curriculum.
Now I’m turning my attention
toward adult faith formation. If we can get catechesis and the liturgy right,
we’ll be well on our way to the renewal and growth of the Church for which we
concerns do you have regarding the Church and the public square?
Sample: I have two grave moral concerns, in the areas
of the protection of innocent human life and the defense of traditional
marriage. As a society, we must take steps to protect the unborn, and also the
elderly and handicapped. And, since marriage and family are the basic unit of
society, the health of society rests on the health of marriage and family life.
Anything which threatens either of these is seriously destructive.