Niagara Gazette

March 24, 2013

Locals: Pope Francis is a leader of their own

By Michael Regan
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A feeling of excitement and anticipation was resoundingly present among the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics on March 13, when the first person chosen to the papacy from the Americas was announced to the world. 

Jorge Bergoglio, 76, is known as a humble man who shed the luxuries often afforded those in the Catholic hierarchy. The former archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, is the first pope ever selected from the Americas.

But that wasn’t his only first.

For members of the 266th pope’s particular order, the Jesuits, whose foundation rests on service to the poor and a devotion to education, there was an added element of pride. Francis is the first of their order to ascend to the papacy.

Western New York is no stranger to the Jesuit tradition, either.

The Rev. Patrick J. Lynch, chair of the religious studies and theology department at Canisius College —a Jesuit institution — was somewhat shocked by the announcement as he sat and watched the revelation on television with his students, a short while after white plumes of smoke billowed out of the infamous pipe in the Vatican signaling that the next pope was chosen by the Catholic conclave of cardinals.

He and other Jesuits were caught off guard in part due to the order’s basic creed that precludes them from seeking certain hierarchical positions within the church. But climbing the Catholics ranks while also carrying a devout focus on the marginalized members of society is also what may makes Pope Francis a good choice, many Jesuits said. 

“I was surprised and very proud to be a Jesuit and to be associated with the pope,” Lynch said. “I don’t know him, I’ve never met him, but it’s still nice knowing he’s a Jesuit.” 

Father Lynch said that he can see the influence of Pope Francis’s Jesuit background. Press accounts depict an archbishop intent on riding the bus in favor of a church car, preparing his own meals or choosing to live outside the bishop’s official residence in a modest apartment. 

“That would all be indicative of the Jesuit lifestyle he would be following,” Lynch said. “Trying to be one with the poor and the marginalized. I could hear overtones of the Jesuit education and the work that Jesuits do with youth. I can certainly say that is something he’s picked up by the Jesuits.” 

The Rev. Ronald W. Sams, pastor of St. Micheal’s Parish, the only Jesuit church in the Diocese of Buffalo, said he that it goes without saying no matter who was chosen as pope there would be a sense of excitement, though the Wednesday’s revelation that the first New World pope was also its first Jesuit was particularly profound for he and the six other priests and one brother that serve at St. Michael’s.

“It was just awesome,” Sams said. “We were happy and surprised and honored. We take a special vow to the Holy Father for whatever he wants us to do. This just adds emphasis to the vow. We’re happy and awed by it all and we’ll do our best to serve him as we do for every Holy Father.”

And that sentiment also carries to Jesuits outside of Western New York. The Rev. David S. Ciancimino, provincial supervisor of New York, said in a statement released this week that a requirement of the Jesuit order includes a 30-day “spiritual exercise,” that stands as a pillar for members’ devotion.

“While the Holy Father’s Jesuit roots are a source of joy for us, we are even more encouraged by the fits of humility, pastoral sensitivity and concerns for the poor he brings to the ministry he now undertakes,” Ciancimino said.