Louis Hannegan, Managing Editor
Church bells clanged, phones rang and Facebook and Twitter feeds flooded with updates as word spread through the University of Dallas community that the Conclave of Cardinals had elected a new pope.
“We have a pope!” senior Michael Walker heard from his mom over the phone just as the Tower bells began to ring out the news to the Irving campus for a full 15 minutes.
Juniors Justin Blan and Paul Fojut later made a mad dash down the Mall, yelling “Habemus Papam!” and colliding for a fraternal embrace, Walker recalled. “I love the pope!” they said, adding Walker to form a three-way embrace.
“It was like a triumvirate of love for the pope,” Walker said, reflecting on the scene later.
Similar feelings filled UD students scattered across America for spring break as the news spread like wildfire, friends and family texting and calling each other to share their enthusiasm.
Juniors C.J. Davies, Michael Ball and a dozen other classmates heard the news as they were lounging on the beach in Pensacola, Fla. when Michael Ball, who was attempting yoga poses, received a text from a friend, Davies said.
“We immediately sprinted back to the house to watch the news, shouting our excitement,” Davies said. “‘Viva il Papa!’ was yelled at bewildered strangers as we ran.”
Senior Kim Read found out while on a cruise with her family in the Caribbean; senior Tara McCrorey heard the news while visiting her boyfriend in Madrid.
In Dallas, seniors Teresa Shumay and Daniel Orazio and 2012 alumnus Michael Malpiedi were enjoying lunch al fresco when all three began receiving texts announcing the news. Reading the good news, Malpiedi leapt to his feet and ran to purchase a bottle of Italian red wine to celebrate.
In Rome, the excitement was even more palpable.
Sophomore Clare Myers had planned to go into the city to see the smoke that day at 7 p.m., as she had the day before, but missed the 6:15 p.m. bus.
“I got on the next bus and jumped on a metro to St. Peter’s Square, planning on meeting some friends there,” Myers said. “I stepped off the metro at 7:15. The second I arrived at street level, someone yelled ‘HABEMUS PAPAM!’ and the bells started ringing. I froze, looked around and asked in disbelief, ‘Habemus papam?’ and got another ‘HABEMUS PAPAM!’ in response. Then I started sprinting.”
As word spread, students in the U.S. rushed to find a TV to watch the new pope appear for the first time on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Freshman Charlie Archer, who was in San Antonio on the River Walk with some friends, sneaked into a nearby hotel to see the sight.
Campus minister Scott Chuchla took his group of students on Alternative Spring Break in Kansas City, Mo., to a restaurant where the owners unexpectedly gave them a private room to watch the appearance.
Seniors Elizabeth Lynch, Deandra Lieberman, Louis Hannegan, David Ramirez and Jimmy Hesson ducked out of a tour of Abita Brewery in Louisiana, beers in hand, to watch the first appearance. Huddling around an iPhone streaming EWTN live, they watched as Pope Francis walked out onto the balcony and crossed themselves at his first blessing, forgetting about the beer-brewing movie being shown inside.
“He’s so cute! He’s so cute!” said Lynch, hardly able to contain her excitement as the camera focused on Pope Francis’s face.
While these seniors crowded around a four-inch screen, dozens of Romers crowded into St. Peter’s Square on the eve of their 10-day trip to join the thousands of faithful present to see their new pope.
“The cardinal announced who it was and his new name: Francisco. Next came several of the most suspenseful minutes of my life,” said Myers. “Tidbits of information spread like wildfire across the crowd, transcending language barriers: He was from Buenos Aires. He was 76. He was a Jesuit. He had only one lung. He was the very first Pope Francis.”
As soon as the name was announced, chants of “Fran-cis-co” and the Italian “Fran-ces-co” resounded through the square.
“Even the Protestants around me joined in chanting the name; they couldn’t help but catch the excitement which the name Francesco held,” said sophomore Erika Demel who had come to St. Peter’s Square not to see a new pope but to buy some medals.
As former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, walked out onto the balcony, the crowd of faithful gathered in the square from around the world could not contain itself.
“The applause and cheers were tumultuous,” Myers said. “Standing there in the square, surrounded by people and flags and languages from all over the world, I could feel both the vibrant life and the unity of the Church. It was a beautiful and unforgettable experience. I am truly, truly blessed.”
The experience also left a deep impression on sophomore Alex Taylor, who was also present in St. Peter’s Square.
“Upon his entry into the balcony and the public life of the Church, I was overwhelmed with a sense of humility and love,” Taylor said. “When I saw Pope Francis, I knew he was a man of profound love for his newfound diocese of Rome, for his church, but also all those around him.”
Back in the United States, Davies echoed Taylor in his impression of the pope.
“When I first saw Pope Francis standing on the balcony, I could truly sense a man of deep, real faith,” Davies said. “After hearing his opening blessing, I think everyone can agree that his humility is truly inspiring. He asked that we pray over him, and he bowed his head to the world.”
Davies, who attended a Jesuit high school in Seattle, was also excited to learn that Pope Francis is a Jesuit. Archer, an alumnus of a Jesuit high school in St. Louis, shared that enthusiasm, as did Lynch.
“A Jesuit that takes the name ‘Francis’ after Francis of Assisi – that’s already a good sign,” Lynch said.
While UD students watched newscasts and read articles and Wikipedia to learn about the new pope, several media groups approached the UD President Thomas Keefe as well as faculty and students to get their thoughts on Pope Francis.
NBC Dallas interviewed Keefe that day about the election, as did the Dallas Morning News.
Across the Atlantic, NBC Dallas interviewed Taylor during the announcement itself.
The following day, School of Ministry professor Mrs. Pia Septien was interviewed by KJON Radio, and associate professor of history Dr. Susan Hanssen was interviewed by Fox News 4.
Catholic Education Daily sought out junior Rome student Amy Sullivan for her reflections on being in St. Peter’s Square for the announcement.
“I think it’s very clear that the cardinals, in electing Francis, are sending a call to the New World’s Christianity to help evangelize the Old World,” Hanssen said during her phone interview.
“The Americas have their first pope,” Keefe said in an interview with NBC Dallas. “I for one am joyful and really excited.”
“It really took a minute to grasp that he asked us to pray for him to be blessed before he blessed us,” Taylor said, reflecting back on that moment in St. Peter’s Square. “It reminded all of us there that he needs our prayers just as much as [we need his], and we need to pray for him just as much as we prayed for the college of cardinals during the conclave.”