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Spokane reacts to first Jesuit pope

Newly elected Pope Francis appears on the central balcony of St. Peter?s Basilica on Wednesday (March 13) in Vatican City. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world?s 1.2 billion Catholics.
Newly elected Pope Francis appears on the central balcony of St. Peter?s Basilica on Wednesday (March 13) in Vatican City. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th Pontiff and will lead the world?s 1.2 billion Catholics.

“I don’t know a thing about him, but I hope he’s as successful as his predecessor,” said Vince Slatt Wednesday afternoon, shortly after learning Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had been elected as Pope Francis. “I’ll pray the rosary for him.”

Parishioners attending noon mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral learned of the new pontiff halfway through the service, when the Rev. Richard Semple looked down at his cell phone, smiled and coolly inserted a prayer for, “Francis, our pope.”

Parishioners didn’t have much to say about the conclave’s decision. Bergoglio wasn’t a name many were betting on, or had even heard of.

But a few miles away at Gonzaga University, an air of delight filled the deserted campus. Students were away for spring break, but Jesuits chatted outside and in the hallways about what had just happened. One of their own had been named pope.

“He’s the first Jesuit. God bless the church, right?,” said the Rev. Frank Case, the university’s vice president for mission.

Jesuits are known for their commitment to higher education and helping the poor, but the legion of priests also has a reputation for bucking authority.

The Rev. Frank Case, vice president for mission at Gonzaga University in Spokane, spoke to the Gonzaga Guild on Thursday about the 18 years he spent serving in Rome at the headquarters of the Society of Jesus. During his time there he met Pope Benedict XVI and, commenting on the pope's resignation, said he's been, “wonderful to the Jesuits.”

Even the Vatican’s top spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, was startled by the conclave’s choice.

“Personally, I am shocked that I have a Jesuit pope as they usually serve the church but not in a position of authority,” he said. “They usually try to resist high-level appointments, let alone pope. It must have been a strong call.”

Case said Francis is a good choice for pontiff because of his strong Jesuit values to serve the poor.

“He has a very simple lifestyle. He will likely humble the papacy,” he said. “I think he's going to bring a modest peace to the world, the high tone presence will be less.”

According to Religion News Service, Bergoglio was an advocate for the poor during the devastating economic crisis that struck his country of Argentina in recent years. When he was made a cardinal in 2001, he reportedly told Argentinians who were collecting money to fly to Rome for the festivities to stay at home and give the money to the poor instead.

Many presume he chose the name “Francis” after St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. However it’s unclear if he chose the name in honor of St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit icon.

A man prays at The Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes after a new pope is elected.
A man prays at The Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes after a new pope is elected.

Stanley Hauerwas, a Protestant theologian at Duke Divinity School, told RNS that the name has deep symbolism either way.

“That he’s a Jesuit says so much about his commitment to the poor, and that he’s taken the name of Francis … clearly gestures that the Roman Catholic Church not only serves the poor, the Roman Catholic Church is the church of the poor,” he explained.

Case said Francis is a deeply spiritual man who is doctrinally conservative. He’s considered a staunch supporter of traditional Catholic teachings on issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

He’s also 76 years old, two years younger than when Pope Benedict XVI was elected.

Anastasia Wendlinder, assistant professor of religious studies at Gonzaga, said in a previous interview that Benedict set a new precedence when he chose to resign from the papacy.

“Having a pope for a super long time might be moving in new direction,” she said.

Case predicts Francis will serve about 10 years.

Besides being the first Jesuit, Francis is also the first Latin American — and the first from the Western Hemisphere — to be elected pope.

*Editor's Note: It's been deteremined that Francis chose his name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.

About Tracy Simmons

Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 15 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. Currently she serves as the executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She is also a Scholarly Assistant Professor at Washington State University.

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One comment

  1. Thanks for a great story, Tracy! We can hope this will be a great appointmenet!

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