Marist School President John Harhager was in a meeting with officials from Our Lady of the Assumption Parish on Wednesday afternoon when news came of white smoke coming from the Sistine Chapel.
"So, it was with great excitement that we gathered around the television watching for the news about who was elected," Harhager said. "Like the others, I was surprised that the conclave had elected our new pope so quickly - at the end of the second day. After waiting what seemed like a long time, we were pleased and excited to hear the news that the new pope comes from the Americas."
Jorge Bergoglio, the 76-year-old Archbishop of Buenos Aires, replaces Pope Benedict XVI, who retired last month. Known in his native Argentina for his humble lifestyle, the new Pope Francis was known to travel by bus, visit with the poor and take a decidedly Franciscan approach to his own life.
"While we did not know much about him before this, his choosing to be named Francis and the other news about him gives us great hope that he will serve the Church well," Harhager said. "It is wonderful to see the Church being led by a humble, simple man of great faith and a great love for those in need."
Parents at St. Pius X Catholic High School greeted the news of a new pope in Vatican City with excitement Wednesday afternoon, saying they were hopeful the selection of the first pontiff from Latin America may bring new perspective to the church.
Bill O'Donoghue, 54, a deacon at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Brookhaven, said he was surprised the Catholic Church's leadership selected a leader from North or South America.
"That's never happened before," he said. "It was quite an amazing [selection] to me."
O'Donoghue said he hopes Francis surprises him in the same way Pope Benedict did. He said he expected Benedict to be a "hardline, very conservative" pope but didn't ultimately see his time as pontiff that way.
"You can't predict," he said. "The Holy Spirit will move them in ways that will surprise us regular Catholics. I'm hoping [Francis] will surprise us too."
Bergoglio is also known as a staunch conservative and devout Jesuit. He has protested progressive causes, including Argentina's decision to legalize gay marriage in 2010.
"That he asked first for the prayers of all those gathered, before giving his own blessing, was a beautiful gesture reminding us that we are, in his words, together on a common journey," Harhager said. "Our prayers will certainly be with Pope Francis as he assumes the challenging task of providing the pastoral leadership of the Catholic flock of the world."
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