Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jesuit Pope creates excitement at school

St. Paul's staff and students relate to pontiff

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The new Pope being a Jesuit is a big deal -- especially for fellow members of the Society of Jesus.

At the Jesuit high school in Winnipeg, staff and students at St. Paul's were surprised and ecstatic when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J. -- Society of Jesus -- stepped out onto the balcony in the Vatican.

"I said 'Whoa, it's a Jesuit!' " said Father Alan Fogarty, S.J., the school's president.

"Students were running into the room -- the excitement was really there," he said. "They were really seeing something important and close to them." Bergoglio is the first Pope who chose the name Francis, the first non-European and the first Jesuit to lead the Roman Catholic Church.

"Religion classes were on 24-7 smoke watch," said Grade 9 student Zach Rawluk. When the white smoke appeared signalling a new pope had been chosen, students at the boys school were glued to TV coverage.

"I was betting on a Canadian pope," said Grade 12 student, Alex Pankiw. When the Argentinian Bergoglio walked out onto the balcony, it wasn't a disappointment, he said.

"One of my teachers said 'He's a Jesuit!' " said Pankiw. "It was a pleasant surprise, it was just so unexpected. Coming from a Jesuit high school, it's a neat connection."

The school held a mass Thursday morning in honour of the new Pope and to pray for his success, said Fogarty.

"It does hold a significance. We're Jesuits here... I think (the students) will certainly know more about what's going on in the papacy because they know this and had this experience," said Fogarty.

Rawluk and Pankiw are paying close attention. The Jesuits teach them to be a man, or person, for others, and to serve people, said Rawluk. The new Pope showed it by the way he dressed and spoke when he stepped out on the balcony, he and Pankiw both said.

"He was wearing a white, simple cassock and cross," a sign the cardinal from Buenos Aires would remain a humble man of the people, said Pankiw. "He had a simple apartment and was taking a bus to work -- that describes the person he is."

When Francis was introduced and blessed the crowd Wednesday, he asked for a blessing from the people in return -- a telling gesture, said the students at the Jesuit school.

"This is a man on top of the world humbling himself to say 'I need your prayers and your blessing,' " said Pankiw.

"He's saying, 'I don't expect to be the ultimate power, we all have to work together,' " said Rawluk.

The young Catholics said in a modern, secular world, the pope is still a role model for them. The teachings of Jesus Christ -- to serve people and to love unconditionally -- are church values that never change, no matter what happens, said Rawluk.

For the Jesuits, service is a big deal, said Pankiw. St. Paul's requires its 600 students in Grades 10 and 11 to take a Christian-service class, said the Grade 12 student who is still teaching catechism Saturday mornings at his parish, St. Basil's.

Becoming a Jesuit is tough, requiring years of schooling and service, said Fogarty.

"You have to study a lot," said the priest and administrator, who spent 12 years in university, obtaining a degree before studying to become a Jesuit. "It's a long academic road that's flavoured with working with the poor," said Fogarty, who worked in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Uruguay and Chile.

"When my studies got tough and the road seemed to be interminable... if it was just for myself, I'm not sure I would've been able to do it," said Fogarty. "Studying as a Jesuit toward a greater good is really what kept me going -- that kind of struggle and grappling with serious academic work."

Fogarty said he can't predict the future but he has great hope for the skills and ideas the Jesuit Francis will bring to the job of pope.

"It's really about serving the church -- it's a huge mechanism for good. It's not sin-free but the potential is there. With this great leadership, I'm very excited about it."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 15, 2013 A13

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