Local Catholics react to election of Pope Francis

By The Compass | March 22, 2013

“I don’t know him at all, but what I’m hearing is the spontaneity of it all,” said Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Louise Hembrecht, community director. “I’m delighted with his name, with his emphasis on the poor,” she said. “We’re delighted, of course, that he took the name of Francis.”


Students at St. Rose/St. Mary School in Clintonville celebrated the election of Pope Francis March 14 by making paper miters, the head covering worn by bishops and popes, and enjoying “popesicles.” (Submitted photo | For The Compass)


She also praised Pope Benedict XVI for his courage “in recognizing at this time in his life that he doesn’t have the energy.”

“He gave much to the church and his encyclicals were simple and down-to-earth and touched on some of the issues that Pope Francis is modeling,” said Sr. Louise. “So I think even though there is a difference, there is also continuity.”

Another Franciscan sister, Jane Riha, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross, noted that Pope Francis “has a new and vibrant approach to the papacy.”

“In his fidelity to the church, he will call forth integrity and reform at this time in history,” said Sr. Jane. “I have great hope in the credibility of his strong witness to the Gospel message to be present to the poor.” She said that the Franciscan way of life includes “a call to walk with the people on the margins.”

“St. Francis lived many centuries ago when the church needed reform,” Sr. Jane said. “No doubt, St. Francis will grant courage to Pope Francis in the call to conversion and reform of the Catholic Church.”

Jesuit Fr. John Schwantes, director of the Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh, belongs to the same religious order as Pope Francis. Upon learning the new pope was a Jesuit, he said his reaction was shock.

“I never expected to be living my Jesuit life during a period when a Jesuit was a pope,” he said. “My sense is that Pope Francis embodies the core grace of the spiritual exercises: laboring with Jesus who was poor and humble in service of God’s kingdom. For Pope Francis it seems that the church’s primary way of laboring with Christ is in service of the poor and the least among us. I personally find this very inspiring.”

Fr. Schwantes said he believes the new pope’s faith will inspire others. “I was touched by the way he asked everyone to pray for him and then said, ‘Good night. I will see you tomorrow.’ How wonderfully human, humble and welcoming,” he said.

As the first pope from Latin America, Pope Francis has brought joy to Latino Catholics.

“It is truly a historic occasion that shows the emerging influence of Latin America in the Catholic Church,” said Carlos Hernandez, Hispanic ministry director for the Diocese of Green Bay. “It’s also a great moment for the Catholic Church throughout the world, since it caused great joy for many Latin Americans.”

Choosing his name after St. Francis of Assisi, a simple man and servant of Jesus “is a clear sign of love for the Mexican church since the first evangelization in those lands were Franciscan fathers,” added Hernandez. “As the Hispanic ministry director, I look forward to continue working with Bishop David Ricken serving the people of this region. We also look forward to collaborating with our new Pope Francis serving the people who are increasingly shaping our world regardless of their faith in the universal Catholic Church.”

Carlos Herrera, Hispanic ministry coordinator at St. Therese Parish in Appleton, said the new pope’s background as a Jesuit is “something special.” Herrera attended a Jesuit high school and university in Guadalajara, Mexico, and was a seminarian with the Society of Jesus from 1994 to 2003. Herrera said Hispanics from St. Therese are also enthusiastic about Pope Francis.

“He will understand the struggles of all Latin American people regarding issues and faith,” one parishioner told Herrera. “He will represent the interests of the Latin American people,” said another. The new pope from Argentina is a source of pride for the Hispanic community, said Herrera.

“I am delighted that he took the name Francis,” said Audrey O’Neil, a member of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Green Bay. “I have a brother named Francis. My second name is Frances. I am just so thrilled. I feel a connection to him already. I think he’s going to be a wonderful pope. He seems more in tune with the people. With Pope Benedict, he was getting older and in ill health. I give him credit for resigning to let someone a little bit younger take over.”

“I am very pleased with the selection,” said Audrey Schaffer, St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Green Bay. “First of all he’s from South America and he’s a very humble man and I think he’s going to be very much with the people and I’m very happy about it.”

When the new pope was announced, Bob Gehr of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Neenah said that, even though he knew very little about him, “I was totally impressed with the way he conducted himself, that he was so humble.”

“He’s a very conservative and modest person. He’s someone we need,” added Gehr. “The Catholic Church has been losing ground, so to speak, in the last few years. I think Pope Francis will bring back some of the real meaning and beliefs of the Catholic Church.”

Mary Ann Gruber, another St. Margaret Mary parishioner, said she first had reservations about the selection.

“Initially there were questions in my mind because I hadn’t heard his name so much in the news,” she said.

Gruber said she has a good feeling about Pope Francis’ strong stance against abortion, same-sex marriage and other issues. “I was glad to hear he is Jesuit because he is strong in the faith. He would not alter things. … Our church needs to have firmness and truth.”

“I was a little surprised the cardinals chose a new pope so quickly,” said Edward Sypek, of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Neenah. “I thought it would go a little bit longer.”

Sypek said he is not interested in the “firsts” Pope Francis brings to his pontificate.

“I think it’s an interesting irony that the parents of Pope Francis are Italian immigrants who moved to Argentina. So we have an American pope who is also an Italian pope, again,” said Sypek. He believes the Holy Spirit will guide him. “We have to just let the guy get his feet wet and see what happens.”

Steve Figi, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Menasha, finds the new pope in touch with the world.

“When you start hearing about a person who dedicated his life to practicing what the dear Lord asks us to do, you feel good,” he said. “I saw no insulation between the way Pope Francis lives his life and the way the common person who is a member of the Catholic faith lives their life.”

“My first impressions of Pope Francis were very favorable,” said Fr. Michael Ingold, pastor, St. Margaret Mary Parish in Neenah. “I believe his message of humility and simplicity is going to be wonderful and refreshing for the church. I think it’s going to be a wonderful change.”

“I was really surprised and a little bit disappointed we elected someone that old,” said Capuchin Fr. Larry Abler, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Menasha. “But I was sure enthused by the things he had to say, especially his love for the poor. He seems to be kind of spontaneous and not into all of the high church stuff. He seems to be right down to earth, which always hasn’t been true with all our popes in the past.”

Because the new pope “is the kind of man who will want to get out and walk on the streets,” said Fr. Abler, “I think he is going to drive the Swiss Guard crazy.” The Pontifical Swiss Guard of the Holy See is a unit made up of Swiss soldiers that guards the pope and Vatican, much like the U.S. Secret Service guards the president.

Norma Meidl moved from Mexico to the United States 24 years ago. “When I found out from my friends the new pope was from Latin America I was pleased. It is great we have a Spanish- speaking pope,” said the St. Margaret Mary parishioner.

“The most important thing is that he is a good choice and he knows what he is doing,” she said. “They chose him for the right reasons, not just because he is from Latin America. It’s a huge plus that he is from Latin America. Most of the popes have been from Europe. To have one from our continent is great.”

Brian Fogerty, a member of Corpus Christi Parish in Sturgeon Bay, said his first impressions of Pope Francis were of a humble man. “I think it’s hard to remain yourself when put in a position like that, but he seems to be a very humble man, and I think he will remain that way,” he said. “The more I find out about him, the more I think he will operate much like a parish priest.”

Fogerty believes Pope Francis’ heritage “will be a totally different experience for the church, and it’s going to have a huge impact on the world.”

“I think he’s an excellent choice because of his Jesuit training,” said Joe Angerer, who attends Corpus Christi Parish in Sturgeon Bay. “I have a high respect for the Jesuits — the ones who stayed with the rule — because they live with a lack of ornamentation, they’re very austere, and yet they’re very intellectual; they founded many of the universities of Europe.”

Fr. Carl Schmitt, pastor of Corpus Christi in Sturgeon Bay, said the pope is a model for all Catholics.

“My thinking is that the world needs someone who cares for the poor and the marginalized without being righteous about it,” he said. “I think Pope Francis is what every good Catholic should be.”

The fact that the election of Pope Francis surprised so many people “confirms once again that the Holy Spirit is running the church,” said Fr. Schmitt. “In fact, this whole thing — with Benedict XVI stepping down, and then Francis being elected — is so Holy Spirit-driven.” He also noted that choosing a Latin American pope brings honor to Hispanics in this country.

“The Hispanic culture is the lifeboat of the church, and (Pope Francis) is a part of that,” he said. “He understands their culture more fully than the rest of us. His roots will affirm the enormous contribution the Hispanic people can make to the church.”

Betty Sternard, a member of Corpus Christi Parish in Sturgeon Bay, said the papal election was an eye-opener in many ways.

“I was impressed by the number of people (at the Vatican). There are a lot of us,” she said. “And their level of devotion was so amazing. My first impression of Pope Francis is that he’s very humble, down-to-earth, and will give the church a new energy and a glimpse of the church of the future.”

Pope Francis will bring a fresh vision for Catholics, she said. “Because he’s a pope of firsts, he’s starting fresh, and so is the church. No precedents, no preconceptions. But he’s still very orthodox and traditional, and I hope will strike a happy medium between the young people and the old.”

“The Jesuits have always sought out the highest quality people to serve Christ and his mission here on earth,” said Deacon John Ingala, a member of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Oshkosh. “Pope Francis fits that mold.”

Fr. William Van Dynhoven, parochial vicar of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Manitowoc, believes Pope Francis “offers us a lot of opportunities and new beginnings.”

“Because he’s from Latin America, we can connect well and that will really resonate with the Latino population,” said Fr. Van Dynhoven. “Here in Manitowoc and in our diocese, we see a strong influx with the Hispanic culture. To have that connection that Pope Francis has, it will help deepen our appreciation of the Hispanic culture.”

The pope’s name holds special meaning to Catholics in Manitowoc, he added.

“The name Pope Francis is so fitting because it’s a reflection of our parish’s name here in Manitowoc. St. Francis is so beloved at our parish and around the world, so having that name will connect with Manitowoc in a special way,” said Fr. VanDynhoven.

After hearing the new pope’s name, Sr. Marie Kolbe Zamora, a Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity who is the theology program director at Silver Lake College of the Holy Family, said she was thrilled, but also thought, “We need a reform in the church, but we need a Franciscan reform.”

She then heard the new pope’s chosen name and “I was floored,” she said.

“By choosing the name Pope Francis it indicates his attitude and program with his papacy,” said Sr. Marie. “And the humility he showed in gestures as he was presented to Rome and the world, that showed he’s a man with the heart of St. Francis.”

Fr. Matt Settle, pastor of St. Anthony Parish, Niagara; Sacred Heart Parish, Aurora; St. Margaret Parish, Pembine; and priest moderator at Immaculate Conception, Florence; St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Armstrong Creek; and St. Joan of Arc Parish, Goodman, said it is exciting to have a pope from the Western Hemisphere. “I think it’ll have an impact in how his ministry is received in a big part of the Catholic world,” he said.

“Everything I’ve read and heard has been very hope filling,” Fr. Settle added. “John Paul II was gifted with writing but not quite as accessible. Pope Benedict had a real gift of teaching what John Paul II had written. Benedict could put it into ordinary language. My initial sense is that Francis is going to show us” what John Paul wrote and what Benedict taught.

Margaret Stauber, a member of St. Anthony Parish, Niagara, said she is thrilled that the pope chose the name Francis. “I like the fact that he’s very humble. I respect him very much for what he has done for the poor,” she said. “I think his push will be caring for our neighbor. I think we need to do more of that.”

Yvonne Voss, also a member of St. Anthony Parish in Niagara, said she “instantly felt a connection” with Pope Francis when he asked people to pray for him and his ministry.

“He’s humble and compassionate, yet is willing to stand up for what we believe as Catholics,” she said. “He gives us an example.”

Mary Keyser, a member of St. Margaret Parish in Pembine, said her first impression of Pope Francis is that he reminds her of Pope Pius XII. “Francis is a marvelous choice of names for a humble man,” she said.

“He’s an awesome pick,” said Mark Vander Linden of Sacred Heart Parish in Appleton. “We don’t have too much social justice lived out in our church. Pope Francis does that. I think the Holy Spirit had a lot to do with (the selection). I think this pope will lead us all in the direction of more emphasis on social justice.”

Jan Reffke, also of Sacred Heart Parish, agreed.

“I think he’s going to be good. His humble life is a good thing. I don’t know a whole lot about him. … He is a very humble man. I have a lot of hope that he will straighten things out (in our church).”

“I’m very pleased about the way of life he has chosen,” said Rachel Graskey of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Oshkosh. “He’s very frugal and very meek, which is refreshing. I’m hoping it’s a smooth transition and that he can bring some peace to the Catholic Church. I hope he can join the eastern and western portions of the church together.”

Bill Sloey, another St. Raphael the Archangel parishioner, believe major changes are in store for the church.

“(Pope Francis) thinks from the bottom up — from the people upward — not from the administration down. He’ll try to encourage people to come back (to the church) and decentralize the process,” he said.

St. Raphael the Archangel parishioner Mark Ridenour was impressed with Pope Francis’ “incredible sense of humility.”

“I like that he picked the name Francis and that the first thing he did was to ask us to pray for him. I think he’ll bring (a new perspective), being the first pope from the Western Hemisphere and not putting in a lot of time in Rome. I think he’ll be good.”

Contributing to the report were Jaye Alderson, Patricia Kasten, Jeff Kurowski, Sam Lucero, Kay Palmcook, Jean Peerenboom, Monica Sawyn, Benjamin Wideman and Steve Wideman.

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