Joyce Sample
Joyce Sample

Joyce Sample, the feisty and good-humored mother of Archbishop Alexander Sample, died early Dec. 31 at age 89.

A prayer service is set for Thursday, Jan. 4, at St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland. Reception of the body is at 6:15 p.m. and visitation until 7:30 p.m., when the prayer service begins. Mrs. Sample’s funeral Mass and burial are set for St. Peter Cathedral in Marquette, Michigan, on Monday, Jan. 8.

Archbishop Sample attributes his deep faith to his mother, who’d been raised in a Polish Catholic clan in northeast Wisconsin during the Great Depression. Her father died when she was 4 and her mother raised Joyce and her siblings, working diligently in a knitting mill and after hours as a seamstress. 

“She raised us as solid Catholics,” Mrs. Sample told the Sentinel last year.

She wed Alexander Sample Jr. and became a mother in a flurry — three children in less than five years. 

The elder Alex Sample, a bank examiner, became Catholic when he married Joyce. She was the rock of the family when it came to faith. When her husband wanted to move the family to Las Vegas, Joyce consented, but with a condition: To counter what she feared was a loose and secular culture, the children must attend Catholic school. 

“I could see how important it was to nurture my children and make sure that they were on the right path,” she told the Sentinel.

Joyce wept tears of joy when her son told her about his plan to attend seminary.  

Her husband died of cancer at age 61, not long before their son was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Marquette, Michigan. She stayed in Houghton, Michigan, for 13 years, then in 2003 moved to Marquette, where her son was chancellor of the diocese and eventually bishop.   

The widow and her priest-son shared a special bond in her later years. He cooked her dinners, did her laundry, shopped for her supplies and took her to the doctor. Mrs. Sample traveled with him to parishes all over northern Michigan and then western Oregon for events like confirmations and parish anniversaries. The archbishop said he always got warm applause when he came into the parish hall, but Mrs. Sample got even louder acclamations. She became a kind of Catholic celebrity.

"I feel really honored," Mrs. Sample told the Sentinel in 2013. "Because they love him so much, they figure his mother must be OK."

Msgr. Ronald Browne, a longtime friend of the family, marveled at how the archbishop followed the fourth commandment — honor your father and mother. "He has made his mom part of his ministry," Msgr. Browne said in 2013.

In the 2013 Sentinel interview, Mrs. Sample recalled the day in 2006 when her son was ordained as bishop of Marquette. As the congregation sang the litany of saints, her son lay face down before the altar in a gesture of utter submission to God.  

"There was this big long man," she recalled. "I said to myself, 'That's my baby boy.'"

When the archbishop was reassigned to Portland, he offered his mother a room at the archbishop’s residence, where he cared for her with the help of Holy Spirit Sister Emiliana Moshi and his sister Marti, who moved to Portland. He often celebrated Mass for her.

“I may be the archbishop of Portland, but when I go home and I’m with my mom, I’m just her son,” he said last year.

Sometimes, the two were like a comedy team. In Michigan, she arrived late for one of his Masses and at the close of the liturgy, her son told the congregation how important it is to get to church on time. He even pointed her out as an abject example to the worshippers, who were aghast until he broke into a laugh and introduced her as his mother. 

Mrs. Sample gave as good as she took. At a Serra Club dinner in Portland, when the archbishop was walking up to the microphone to give a few remarks, his mother said in a stage whisper, “Keep it short.”

On another occasion, she made a smart aleck remark about him to a group who told her she couldn’t talk about their bishop that way. 

“The heck I can’t,” she replied. “I bornded him.”

Mrs. Sample is survived by three children: Archbishop Sample, Marti Sample and Barb Krieber of Lake Ann, Michigan. She had two granddaughters, Christine Vara and Laura Krieber, and one great-granddaughter, Madison Vara.