Just a school was about to be dismissed Wednesday at Our Lady of the Hamptons, the students were told white smoke was rising over the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, and when they get home they would learn who the new pope is.
The Catholic school for kindergarten through eighth grade in Southampton Village has been closely paying attention to the papal election by the College of Cardinals.
"It was history in the making," Sister Kathy Schlueter, the school's principal, who is serving as the Grand Marshal of the Hampton Bays St. Patrick's Day parade next saturday.
When students got off their buses Wednesday afternoon, they learned the new pope is Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, of Argentina, who took the name Francis.
“We’re very excited that it’s a pope from the Americas and it's a very simple and good man," Sister Kathy said.
Known in Argentina for living a very humble life-style, the cardinal had been residing in a small apartment, preparing his own meals and refusing the cardinal's limo in favor of public transportation. He is also the first ever Jesuit pope.
Sister Kathy said that during the past couple days, teachers have kept the kids apprised of the conclave's progress. She noted that the last time there was a papal election, the current eighth-graders were in kindergarten, and they likely do not remember it.
The school has explained to students that Pope Benedict XVI is the first pope in 600 years to step down before his death, Sisty Kathy said. In his resignation, he cited his advanced age. "I really admire him tremendously that he did that,” Sister Kathy said, adding that there is no disgrace in stepping down — a person knows his own capabilities, and the job of pope is enormous.
She pointed out that Pope Francis is 76 years old — only nine years younger than Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is now — and said she would not be surprised if retirement becomes the new tradition for popes, rather than holding the office until death.
Sisty Kathy said that, these days, a pope needs to be more than spiritual; he needs to be political, financially savvy and know psychology. She agreed with a statement she heard recently: "What you’re looking for in a pope, is finding Jesus with an MBA."
The election of a new pope is a great learning opportunity, and the choice of Cardinal Bergoglio is a great example for students, Sister Kathy said.
“Our kids take Spanish and some of them find it very difficult to learn a second language,” she said, but, meanwhile, Pope Francis is a native Spanish speaker who can also converse in Italian and English. And, he is a Jesuit, she said. "Their education is unbelievable. He is a scholar as well as a spiritual man.”
"What I thought was so beautiful yesterday is when he asked the people to bless him instead of just opening his arms to them,” Sister Kathy said.
“We just pray for his health and his support — some forward thinking directions to take care of our church and our world."
On Westhampton-Hampton Bays Patch's Facebook Page, readers wrote the following:
Roonie Bird said, "The new pope might consider bringing the church into the century we actually exist in...just a thought."
And Pat McPartland McCormack said she too hopes the new pope will bring the church "into the new century."
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