Dear Mrs. Sample: About your son the archbishop

posted in: John Fee, The U.P. Catholic | 0

In today’s (April 12, 2013) issue of The U.P. Catholic, we bid farewell to our Bishop Sample, now Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon. In the three or so years I’ve been diocesan newspaper editor here at the Diocese of Marquette, I grew to not only have a lot of respect for our chief shepherd, but to grow fond of him as a person. Here’s the column:

Dear Mrs. Sample: About your son the archbishop

This is a letter to Mrs. Joyce Sample, aka the archbishop’s mom, now that he’s been installed as the Archbishop of Portland in Oregon.

Dear Mrs. Sample,

On Monday of Holy Week, I happened to run into your son in the break room at the diocesan offices. He was emptying the trash from his office, and let me tell you there was a lot, since he was clearing out for the new guy. I was just getting my first cup of coffee of the day.

The first time I saw him emptying trash was right after I started this job in Marquette. I told him, “I’m surprised to see a bishop emptying his own trash. I didn’t know they could be trained!” Fortunately for me, he can take a joke.

You know, Vickie and I moved up here at the end of August in 2009. You couldn’t ask for better summers or more beautiful scenery year around. However, during our first “real snow” late that fall – 22 inches in less than 24 hours – I learned about snowblowing driveways. The big guy heard that I’m not a fan of snowblowing, especially early in the mornings, and in the afternoons, and again late at night.

So, when I ran into him in the break room, I found out not only can he take a joke, but he can dish as well. He said, “I heard you’ve been doing some snowblowing. That’s why we hire people in the summer!”

The conversations while traveling with you and your son to a variety of parish functions last year are treasured memories. Thinking about you saying, “That’s my baby boy!” as your son zipped down the road where deer have finally learned to fear him, still makes me smile.

Before getting into a car with him the first time, I kind of wondered where the conversations would go. The archbishop is an avid outdoorsman, engineer, canon lawyer and does that church thing. I’m a journalist with no particular focus. Who ‘da thunk topics would include the main exorcist in Rome, Dean Koontz novels, watching streaming movies via the Internet on Roku and iPads, astronomy, and what it tells us about God and human nature that people are universally moved by looking at the beautiful fall colors.

Remember that one trip where we drove past the churches of his early days as a pastor? His eyes really lit up talking about those times. When we had to take the detour due to road construction, he listed the names of the people who lived at nearly every house we drove past. He even remembered the children’s names and which families are related. I’d seen his pastoral side as bishop of the diocese, but this was a real awakening to just what a pastor’s heart he has for each of us.

During my tenure here, I’ve made a couple really stupid mistakes at work. Some were judgment calls, some were just plain errors. The big guys and I talked. Here’s the thing; he listened to me.

He has the ring, the big hat and stick, and bears the responsibility for his diocese. So, those who support his ministry should be in line with his wishes and his vision. However, he always treated me like a professional and listened to what I had to say. That means a lot.

It would be hollow praise for me to say I’ve always agreed with your son, Mrs. Sample. To be honest, I think on occasion he may have made a mistake or could have made a better choice. But, I cut him some slack, just as he has done many times for me. His is a tough job. And I know he always makes decisions with the best of intentions.

He has taught me a lot. Even though his homilies and talks are filled with gems, it’s been his actions more than his words that have taught me the most important lessons. Taking his responsibilities as chief shepherd seriously, he’s shown that a man of God sometimes must courageously make difficult and unpopular decisions, and bear public criticism humbly.

When I’ve asked obscure questions, more than once he’s gotten up from his desk, gone to his bookshelf and found the answer for me. He could have pointed me to a book or sent me to someone else, but he looked up the answers for me himself.

Having written all of the above, the thing that strikes me most about your son is how he has modeled “Honor your father and your mother…” When you attend parish events with your son, it’s obvious that he’s pleased when you receive acclaim and even a greater round of applause than him. Recently, he mentioned that any car of his has to be comfortable for his mom to ride in. Anyone hearing this comment would know it’s because he wants to be able to take you along with him. But who wouldn’t? You’re a joy to be around.

In a small workgroup like the diocesan offices, you hear a lot of bits and pieces about what everyone is up to. A couple of weeks ago, I heard someone say, “Isn’t the bishop in?” Another voice answered, “He’ll be back soon. He’s out picking up a prescription for his mother.” It’s obvious he was “raised right,” as we say down South. So, it’s not surprising that he’s also very devoted to the Blessed Mother.

We’re going to miss both you and your son a lot.

With affection,