Lost Generations | An Interview with Bishop Alexander Sample | by Jim Graves | Catholic World Report
Bishop Alexander Sample, 50, is celebrating the fifth anniversary of his ordination and installation as bishop of Marquette, on Michigan’s upper peninsula. At the time of his episcopal ordination, he was the youngest Catholic bishop in the US, and the first to be born in the 1960s.
Sample was born in Montana and grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada, and attended Catholic schools there. Although he had thought about a vocation to the priesthood while growing up, he initially decided to pursue a career in engineering.
His family moved to Michigan, where he attended college. “I immediately fell in love with the upper peninsula of Michigan,” he recalled. “I loved the beautiful country and the people.”
After earning his BS and MS degrees in engineering, Sample opted to go to seminary. “I was more prayerful than many of my peers,” he remarked. “That opened me up to the action of the Holy Spirit.”
He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Marquette in 1990, and filled a variety of diocesan positions, including serving simultaneously as pastor of three small parishes, before being ordained bishop of the diocese.
Marquette is a rural diocese; surrounded by three of the Great Lakes, much of it is wooded, and it is known for its cold winters. It has 50,000 Catholics, 94 parishes and missions, and 53 priests, many of whom must serve multiple parishes. Local industries include mining, lumber, and tourism, but much of the area is economically depressed, especially in the current recession.
Although a young bishop, Bishop Sample has been outspoken in his defense of Church teaching. In 2009, for example, he asked Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, retired auxiliary bishop of Detroit, not to speak in the Marquette diocese because of his dissenting views on such issues as homosexuality and the ordination of women. He also condemned the University of Notre Dame’s decision to honor President Barack Obama, calling the move “unconscionable” and “completely out of step with the Catholic Church’s teaching.”
Bishop Sample recently spoke to CWR.
You’ve said that when you made the decision to enter the seminary and pursue ordination to the priesthood, you never doubted your vocation, but others close to you did.
Bishop Sample: I never doubted my call to the priesthood. From the time I decided to enter the seminary, I felt a great peace. There were those who opposed my decision, including my father and my college professors. And, since I was ordained a priest, I have loved and enjoyed my life ever since.
My father knew I had pondered the idea of a vocation, but wanted me to become an engineer. He was proud of me, as were my college professors, and he thought I’d put the idea of a vocation out of my head.
Also, I was his only son. My grandfather was Alexander I, my father Alexander II, and I was Alexander III. He wanted me to carry on the family legacy, and hoped there would be an Alexander IV.
When I announced my decision to him, he was unpleasantly surprised. He was cool to the idea. I had been living and studying at home, so we went through some rough months.
But he had a spiritual experience that led him to change his mind. He loved boats, and had one on Lake Superior. He was out boating, and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise. As he watched it, he realized that God had given him many good things in life. He had a good family, enjoyed financial success, and survived his first battle with cancer.
He realized that God had blessed him in many ways. He also realized that God was asking him, in return, to give him his only son as a priest. He returned from the trip and immediately called me down to the dock to talk to him. He shared his experience and said, “If this is what you believe God is calling you to do in your life, then I’m behind you 100 percent.”