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Above, students in the Campus Ministry Center cheer the pope's election.
Below left, Dr. Paul Gondreau's photo of Peter's Square.

Election of Pope Celebrated with Excitement on Campus and in Rome

​The ringing of bells at St. Dominic Chapel a little after 2 p.m. on Wednesday, March 13, alerted the Providence College community that a new pope had been elected in Rome. Within minutes, the Campus Ministry Center filled with about 65 students eagerly anticipating his introduction.

Watching a large screen TV tuned to EWTN, the Catholic television network, the students clapped and shouted when a figure finally appeared on the balcony in St. Peter’s Square to make the announcement. College Chaplain Rev. James Cuddy, O.P. ’98, quickly translated the Latin for them: “He is Cardinal Bergoglio from Argentina, and he will take the name Francis.” 

“It’s definitely a surprise, but a great choice, I think,” said Joe Day ’15 (Rehoboth, Mass.). “He’s shown himself to be a very evangelical-minded cardinal and one who has espoused the reform ideas that many think the Church needs. It’s great to have a Latin American pope. It’s definitely an election of firsts — the first Latin American, the first Jesuit, and the first Francis.”

The election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the 266th successor to St. Peter capped an unforgettable day for Beatriz Forster ’14 (South Glastonbury, Conn.). In the morning, she learned that she had been accepted to become a religious sister by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tenn. She was stopping by the chapel to pray when the bells began ringing.

“I had been thinking that it wasn’t a feast day in the church, and then I heard the bells as I entered the chapel. My first thought was, ‘Just like a wedding,’” said Forster. “Then I thought, ‘It can’t be a new pope already.’ It’s just an incredible day — I’m never going to forget this day!”

Forster, whose family is from Brazil, said she hoped Francis would address the many concerns of the Church in Latin America, especially the prevalence of liberation theology, and promote more orthodox teaching — what she called “the coolness of the truth.”

Abbey Guerino ’16 (Milford, Conn.) was at St. Patrick’s School in Providence, tutoring a high school sophomore in geometry, when white smoke first appeared at the Vatican, signaling the election of a pope. She watched the announcement on her phone while riding a RIPTA bus back to the College.

“It was awesome,” said Guerino.

A "mad dash" in Rome 

Dr. Paul L. Gondreau, professor of theology and resident director of PC’s Center for Theology and Religious Studies in Rome, was just sitting down to dinner with his family when news of the white smoke spread. He could hear the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica through his kitchen window.

The Gondreaus decided to try to make it as a family to St. Peter’s Square for the announcement and took their chances on the crowded subway rather than embarking on the 45-minute walk.

“When the metro came to the stop for St. Peter’s, it was electrifying to see all the priests and nuns jump out and bolt for the exits,” said Gondreau. “And to be part of the mad dash for St. Peter’s Square, about four blocks away, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There were people running past us and around us. I made it into the square with my entire family, including 5-year-old twins.”

The Gondreaus waited about 20 minutes for the announcement “Habemus papam!” from the loggia. It was nighttime in Rome, but it had stopped raining. Gondreau likened it to the excitement of Christmas morning.

“It was a memory my entire family will cherish for our entire lifetime,” said Gondreau, who writes a blog about his experiences in Rome.

Nathan J. Ricci ’12, a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, had arrived in St. Peter’s Square hours earlier to await the smoke’s color with his classmates. When they determined that it was indeed white, they raced to the front of the basilica, then passed the time singing hymns with the crowd.     

“It is nearly impossible to describe the emotion,” said Ricci.

“It was one of complete excitement, enthusiasm, joy, and indeed gratitude. I looked up and saw a man I had never seen before, and all of it felt so surreal. God had given us a simple, humble man — a man no one expected. Yet he had given us an immensely courageous man, and a man whom we would come to know and love over these years. I looked up and thought, ‘Thanks be to God — we have a pope!’ What a gift for the Church and for the world.” 

A Mass on campus

Later Wednesday night, news crews came to the PC campus to film a Mass for the pope in St. Dominic Chapel.

The expertise of two professors was called upon in media interviews — Dr. James F. Keating, associate professor of theology, who teaches a course on The History and Theology of the Papacy, and Rev. David T. Orique, O.P., assistant professor of history, who is an expert on Latin America.

College President Brian J. Shanley, O.P. ’80 noted that in his first public appearance, Pope Francis humbly asked the crowd in St. Peter’s Square to pray for him.

“May Almighty God bless our new holy father in wisdom, grace, and strength as he begins his papacy,” said Father Shanley. “And may the papacy of Pope Francis be a shining light of guidance and stewardship for all of Christendom as well as for the Providence College community.”

Vicki-Ann Downing

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