WHEELING - The Rev. James Fleming hopes the selection of a Jesuit as pope will promote a better understanding of the Society of Jesus and of the way the Catholic Church interacts with the world.
"We are very excited to have our brother Jesuit chosen as the pope," said Fleming, who was selected last week to become president of Wheeling Jesuit University in July.
Fleming, currently executive vice president of WJU, said all Jesuits take a special vow of obedience to the pope. As the pope looks around the world at the needs of the church, Fleming said, Jesuit priests are prepared to be sent as missionaries to places where the church may not be well established to help fulfill those needs.
"It's really a vow of availability," Fleming said. "It's kind of interesting that we will now be vowed to our own brother."
Fleming termed Pope Francis - formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires - a "very prayerful man" who was raised by Italian immigrants in Argentina. Fleming pointed out Bergoglio studied theology in Germany, giving him an international background and the ability to speak several languages.
Fleming also pointed to Bergoglio's choice to lead a simple life as cardinal, opting to live in a small apartment rather than the traditional cardinal's residence and to take the bus to work instead of using the cardinal's limousine. Fleming said residents of Argentina tend to be either very poor or very wealthy, and he believes Bergoglio's choices demonstrate he is "clearly on the side of very poor people."
"He has a great pastoral style," Fleming added.
Francis is the world's first Jesuit pope - a significant development since the Jesuits were suppressed for about 40 years beginning in the late 18th century. In what Fleming called a political power play by princes of western Europe, the pope in 1773 basically dissolved the order. The Society of Jesus was later restored to the church, but as the 266th pope, Francis is the first Jesuit to sit in the Chair of St. Peter.
Fleming also is impressed that the Papal Conclave selected "an outsider" - a cardinal from the Southern Hemisphere who was considered more of a pastor to his people than an administrator for the Vatican. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, worked for many years in the latter capacity.
In addition to Fleming, the bishops of West Virginia and Steubenville also expressed joy and excitement regarding the selection of a new pope.
The Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, described the choice as "one of the best surprises we could expect."
"Catholics should be very grateful to the Holy Spirit for this choice. Pope Francis represents a selection that has the universal church in mind, not just regional preferences. He is the first Pope from either of the Americas," Bransfield said. "This couldn't have happened in the 20th century but it has in the 21st century. This historic choice shows that the Cardinals were as concerned about the world as they are the Vatican."
The Most Rev. Jeffrey M. Monforton, bishop of the Diocese of Steubenville, said the choice of Pope Francis was a "gift of the Holy Spirit."
"Since the announcement of the resignation of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, we have prayed incessantly for God's guidance of the cardinal electors for the next successor of St. Peter," Monforton said.
"Pope Francis comes to us from Buenos Aires, Argentina, but now is the Vicar of Christ and for whom I am most delighted to serve as one of his bishops. The church in South America has blessed us with one of its sons to bear witness to a world that there is always hope. How appropriate the papal election occurs as we approach closer the end of Lent, the top of the Easter mountain, in which all of God's promises are fulfilled."
Staff Writer Shelley Hanson contributed to this report.