DETROIT — The election of the first-ever Jesuit pope, who chose for himself the name of Francis, drew favorable reactions from both members of his own Society of Jesus and from local Franciscans.The new pontiff has demonstrated a lot of positive values, said Fr. Patrick Peppard, SJ, pastor of SS. Peter & Paul (Jesuit) Parish in downtown Detroit, citing reports of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s “simplicity and absence of ostentation — how he lived in a simple apartment in a working-class neighborhood.”
“He’ll be an interesting role model for the clergy,” Fr. Peppard added.
But to say he was surprised at the election of one of his fellow Jesuits as supreme pontiff would be an understatement.
“In my 52 years as a Jesuit, there was always a general opinion that a Jesuit would never be chosen as pope, so it was quite a surprise. For one thing, all Jesuits make a solemn promise, when we take our vows, never to aspire to or accept a rank in the Church above a priest. Fr. Ignatius (St. Ignatius Loyola, the Jesuits’ founder) believed there was too much ambition for higher office in the Church,” Fr. Peppard said.
He noted, however, that it had been considered permissible to make an exception if the Holy Father said the Church needed a Jesuit to become a bishop or even a cardinal. But accepting the papacy at the request of the conclave of cardinals, while similar, was nevertheless a new exception, he said.Fr. John Staudenmaier, SJ, said he had never thought the election of a Jesuit as pope would be possible, but he “likes what I’m seeing so far.”
“My big worry for the election was that they would again elect a European. The Catholic world is changing,” said Fr. Staudenmaier, assistant to the president for mission and identity at the University of Detroit Mercy.
He said Monday that he was “very encouraged” by what Pope Francis had been doing in his early days as pontiff, and had found especially attractive Cardinal Bergoglio’s remarks in a 2007 interview, copies of which have been circulating among Jesuits since the papal election.
In it, the future pope called for more involvement on the part of the laity, and also said there is a tendency to formulate absolute certainties that do not take into account the fullness of God’s love.
And Fr. Staudenmaier said he loves that the new pope took the name Francis.
“One of the things I love about Francis is that this guy is close to the ground. I love it that he paid his own bill at the hotel, which really was a way of thanking those who had taken care of him there, and that when he came out on the loggia after his election, he asked the whole piazza full of people to pray for him,” Fr. Staudenmaier said.
He added that what he has learned about Pope Francis reminds him of the late Dom Helder Pessoa Camera, who as archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Brazil, was known as a great champion of the poor.
Another Jesuit, Fr. Timothy P. Kesicki, SJ, also hailed the new pope.
“With great joy we praise God for entrusting His servant, Francis I, as the 265th successor to St. Peter. The Society of Jesus in the Chicago-Detroit Province welcomes the first Jesuit pope with great pride and with even greater humility,” the province’s provincial said.
“This son of St. Ignatius Loyola, who has so faithfully served the Society of Jesus and the Church of Argentina, now serves the entire Church as our Holy Father,” Fr. Kesicki added.
But it wasn’t just Jesuits celebrating the new pope. Fr. Tod Laverty, OFM, pastor of St. Aloysius and St. Patrick parishes in Detroit, said it was strange at first to hear a pope being called Francis.But he said he then reflected on how St. Francis of Assisi had had a warm relationship with Pope Innocent III, and how the 13th-century pontiff had supported St. Francis’ vision of a “Gospel-style of life.”
“When I have taken people on a tour of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, I stop at the tomb of Innocent III, and ask ‘what did he see in him?’ I think it was Francis’ simplicity, his lack of guile,” he said.
“There was no duplicity, no manipulation about him, just someone who genuinely loved God and wanted to serve God,” said Fr. Laverty, a member of the Cincinnati-based Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist.
And just as St. Francis visited the lepers of his own time, Fr. Laverty said Pope Francis “has come in contact with the lepers of our time.”Capuchin Franciscan Fr. John Celichowski is another who was impressed by the way the newly elected pope asked for the prayers of the people gathered in St. Peter’s Square, and bowed his head as they prayed for him.
The new pope demonstrates “a real connection with the people, said Fr. Celichowski, provincial minister of the Detroit-based Capuchin Province of St. Joseph.
And just as St. Francis took on the task of rebuilding the Church in the 13th century, so Pope Francis has a big job ahead of him.
“There’s a lot of work to be done on all levels — the work of evangelization, re-evangelizing those who have walked away from the Church, the sexual abuse scandal, the shortage of priests — a lot of challenges,” Fr. Celichowski said.