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St. Patrick Parish welcomes election of Pope Francis

St. Patrick School religion teacher Mary Seyer holds up the cell phone message she received announcing the election of a new pope. "White smoke! We have a pope!" the message from Pope Alarm read. "The pope to be announced on TV soon."

The election of Pope Francis was greeted with joy by the pastors of St. Patrick Church and students at the parish grade school.

"I think overall there is just tremendous excitement and enthusiasm for the person who was selected and for the name he chose," said Father John Gerritts, senior pastor of the parish.

"I think he is going to emphasize in a very vibrant way the church's call to reach out and serve the poor, to evangelize, to be a missionary church, to be a church that lives what it preaches," said Gerritts.

The former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, is the first pope in the church's 2,000-year history to choose the name Francis -- after St. Francis of Assisi, remembered for his work among the poor in the 13th century. Pope Francis is also the first non-European and first Jesuit to lead the Catholic Church.

Father Patrick McConnell, associate pastor of St. Patrick Church, shared Father Gerritts' happiness with the new pope.

McConnell said he also felt a sense of peace, knowing that the Holy Spirit continues to work in the church.

"It's really easy to look at this with human eyes and say, well, the cardinals picked him for this reason or that reason," he said. "But this man is the next choice of the church not because of what we want, but because of what the Lord wants."

McConnell said he, too, is delighted over what he has learned about Pope Francis through the media. The pope is said to be a humble man who lived in an apartment, used public transportation and cooked his own meals while archbishop of Buenos Aires.

"It told me very clearly that he has a love and a desire to do what Christ asked us to do from the beginning -- serve and love the church and the most needy of the community, and reach out," McConnell said of the pope's name choice.

Students at St. Patrick School also greeted the election of Pope Francis with enthusiasm and joy.

Religion teacher Mary Seyer had downloaded a "Pope Alarm" ap onto her smart phone that sent a message when white smoke came the chimney at the Vatican on Wednesday of last week.

"White smoke! We have a pope!" the message read. "The pope to be announced on TV soon."

Principal Mary Piasecki then went on the school's public address system and announced, "Habemus papam," Latin for "We have a pope."

More than 90 middle-schoolers gathered in Seyer's classroom to watch the introduction of the new pope on television.

"I like that he can speak seven languages and that he is so humble. I also think that he is a funny and nice guy," said sixth-grader Anna Hinz, one of a group of students invited to comment on the selection of the new pontiff.

"I was ecstatic - jumping around like crazy. It was exciting that our new Catholic leader had been chosen," said sixth-grader Skyeler Siwik. "I like that he can relate to people of all backgrounds, (including) those with not so much money and living in poverty."

Sixth-grader Hannah Burns liked Pope Francis' decision to visit the grave of St. Peter before being introduced to the massive crowd at the Vatican.

"I like that he is the first pope from Argentina and took a vow of poverty as a Jesuit priest," she added.

Father Gerritts said his first reaction to the announcement of the new pope was trying to figure out who he was. Then the pastor was surprised and delighted to learn that the pope had taken the name Francis.

Gerritts said Pope Francis appears to be a grandfatherly type of man whom people are drawn to for advice and comfort.

Pope Francis has a background in pastoral ministry, while Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI was an academic, Gerritts noted. He said the difference in backgrounds will probably be reflected a difference in leadership style.

Gerritts praised Pope Benedict's decision to retire, saying that it sent a message to the world that none of us are irreplaceable, and that there is value to a life of quiet prayer, study and meditation.

The local pastor said he doesn't expect any major change in the church's doctrinal teaching, but that he does expect a change in emphasis.

Gerritts said he believes one of the points of emphasis will be, "We're not just a church that preaches, but a church that lives what it preaches."

After serving a parish in Rhinelander for 16 years, Gerritts came to Hudson just over a year ago.

"I'm enjoying my time here," he said. "I've really fallen in love with the Hudson community. I'm looking forward to hopefully having a long and vibrant ministry in Hudson."

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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