Jesuits celebrating first pope from order

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The Jesuits have a pope.

On Wednesday, the white smoke rose above the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican to reveal that Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, had been elected pope by his fellow cardinals.

Pope Francis, as he is now known, is the first pope from South America. He also is the first Jesuit pope.

"I'm still trying to recover from the surprise, that a Jesuit could be elected pope," said the Rev. Gregory Lucey, a Jesuit priest and the president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges & Universities in Washington, D.C. "Obviously, it's incredible."

The Jesuits, or the Society of Jesus, are a religious order in the Roman Catholic Church. Established in 1540 by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuits number about 19,000 priests and brothers worldwide, according to the website of the Jesuit Conference of the United States.

No man in the order had ever become pope, until Wednesday.

"I never thought I would see a Jesuit pope, so it's very exciting," said the Rev. Dan Joyce, a Jesuit priest, assistant vice president for mission and identity at St. Joseph University in Philadelphia and a native of Bridgeville.

"We're delighted to have a member of the Society selected," said the Rev. Robert L. Niehoff, a Jesuit and president of John Carroll University in Ohio. "That was the furthest thing from our expectations. But we are confident that his Jesuit spirituality will help him in his ministry."

The Rev. Brian O'Donnell, superior of the Jesuits at Wheeling Jesuit University, said he was "amazed" that the cardinals chose a Jesuit.

"Jesuits tend to elicit strong reactions, pro or con," he said. "My own personal thought is, Jesuits are willing to ask questions, and if you aren't comfortable with that, then you aren't too thrilled about Jesuits."

Jesuits in the United States are often associated with education, and John Carroll, Wheeling Jesuit and St. Joseph are three of the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities nationwide. Members of the order are also often perceived to be more progressive, and the election of a Jesuit pope raises the question of whether the selection could signal a cultural shift in the church.

"I think that his commitment to social justice will be progressive," said the Rev. Frank Case, a Jesuit priest who is vice president for mission at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. "He is known to be a doctrinal conservative, so issues having to do with sexuality, contraception, things like that, will probably not shift at all, or not shift much."

As he read more about Pope Francis Wednesday, Father Niehoff said he was impressed with the man's commitment to the poor in Argentina and the simplicity of his lifestyle, including his decision as an archbishop to forgo the service of a chauffeur in favor of public transportation.

The simplicity with which he lives his life, and the way he has been engaged with society, lives up to the ideals of Jesuits, Father O'Donnell said.

Another characteristic of Jesuits is an openness to reality and an openness to change, Father Lucey said. But he said it was too soon to say what it will mean for the Catholic Church to have a Jesuit pope.

"It's a phenomenon we've never experienced before," he said.

It was not too early, however, for excitement to ring out at Jesuit schools across the country following the papal announcement.

"I got calls from John Carroll alums all over the country, who were just excited and wanted to share their excitement with me," Father Niehoff said. "And of course, everyone wants to know if I've met the guy. The answer is no."

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Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.


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