It is hard to believe that it was one year ago when white spoke came from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel and the bells were ringing. I was finishing my last year of theology studies at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. I recall going to swim laps in their indoor pool, and returning to the monastery in flip-flops, shorts, and a T-shirt, with the towel flung over my shoulder.
I could hear the bells ringing from their Basilica when I approached the monastery door. Just before I went inside, my classmate and monk of St. Vincent, Br. Maximilian Maxwell (now Fr. Maximilian), was yelling “Habemus Papam!” at me out the window. I told him, “Okay, okay, I hear you–I am coming.”
There the two of us sat together and watched the historic event unfold before our eyes. The 266th pope. It seemed to take forever for our new Holy Father to emerge from the curtain, as newscasters and commentators struggled to fill the time. The sights and sounds from St. Peter’s square seemed to jump out of the television. It felt like we were there. It was only my second experience of a papal election. The first coming in 2005, during my senior year at Conception Seminary College, with the election of Pope Benedict XVI.
Finally the Pope emerged, seemingly shocked by the multitude and the reception. Pope Francis. Few really seemed to know all that much about him. It seems liked everyone was simultaneously searching Google for “Jorge Mario Bergoglio.” Commentators sounded like they were quoting Wikipedia verbatim and acting as if they had known it all along.
Br. Maximilian and I sat, eyes glued to the T.V. The newly elected Pope presented himself as a man of humility, asking for the prayers and blessing of the huge crowd gathered at St. Peter’s square. Br. Maximilian gave me a high-five, because that’s what he likes to do.
For Br. Maximilian and I, he was Pope when we were ordained. So, when we offered our very first Mass, our Mass of Thanksgiving, “Francis” was the name we uttered during the Eucharistic prayer. I could not have asked for better company in witnessing this event. Br. Maximilian and I were classmates for four years, helping one another persevere toward the priesthood with the support of brothers. It was a time to be especially proud to be a Catholic.
God bless all of the good work Pope Francis has accomplished during his first year. May the Lord continue to strengthen him in his witness in leading the Roman Catholic Church. Happy Anniversary, Ad multos annos!