MID Monongahela Valley Catholics embrace new pontiff
Teacher Beau Quattrone was a fourth-grader at Transfiguration Catholic School in 1978 when Pope John Paul I was elected.
Thirty-five years later, Quattrone was teaching in the same building – now Madonna Catholic Regional – watching with students at the Monongahela school as the world learned Wednesday afternoon that the Roman Catholic Church had a new leader, Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
The new pontiff took the name Francis.
“I was just 10 years old,” Quattrone recalled. “I didn't fully understand. We were not taught like we teach the kids now about the election of the Pope and the conclave.”
Like millions of Catholics worldwide, Valley residents watched Pope Francis ascend to the Throne of St. Peter, with a flock of 1.3 billion followers.
Quattrone shared the moment with his daughter, Elizabeth.
“It's a good day to be a Christian,” Beau Quattrone said.
“I'm happy that we have a new Pope and that I lived through history,” Elizabeth added.
Following a prayer service Wednesday evening at St. Sebastian Church in North Belle Vernon, Monsignor Roger Statnick delivered his regularly scheduled lecture to two dozen parishioners.
His subject: Constitutions of Vatican II and the church's involvement in the modern world.
“This certainly sounds familiar, and maybe the cardinals in the conclave had this in mind,” Statnick said of the church's modernization.
“This (philosophy) focuses on the struggles of human life and the church's place within those struggles.”
Before speaking, Statnick sat at a table enjoying soup with parishioners Carol Shernisky, Sandy Wawro, and Bill and Sandy Monro.
It wasn't lost on the group that the election of the new pope was a groundbreaking decision.
The pontiff is the first member of the Jesuit order to lead the church, the first non-European to hold the position, and the first pope to take the name Francis.
Statnick suggested that the name choice was as purposeful as it was symbolic, given that St. Francis of Assisi was, himself, revolutionary.
“Francis was really about a new way to proclaim the Gospel. He left the monastery and preached in the towns and cities,” Statnick said. “I think the interesting thing is this is the first time someone is from the New World, if you will.
“The Jesuits are formed in (St.) Ignatius' tradition to be able to take your spiritual life into the world and to carry it with you no matter what the circumstances were.
“They're big communicators. There are some interesting avenues which this choice naturally opens.”
Statnick acknowledged the new pope will face the scandals over pedophile priests and reports of sex abuse and cover-ups in the Roman Catholic Church.
“The real issue is going to be dealing with the problems as much as they still exist and to heal the hurt that has been created by them,” Statnick said. “Part of the healing process is re-establishing the trust that the Church can deal with its problems in an up front and direct way and solve the problem, not just ignore the problem or move the problem.”
In a lighter moment, Wawro admitted she was tuning into the “Dr. Phil” program Wednesday afternoon and was surprised to see the papal announcement live.
“I think it's great that we've gotten away from the Europeans, not that I have anything against Europeans,” said Wawro of California, Pa.
“I think it's great that no one expected him. … We need something different, and maybe he'll be it.”
Sandy Monro was more excited about the new pope's hands-on approach, noting the pontiff had visited HIV patients and washed their feet.
“He's for the sick and the poor,” she said.
“They say he's very, very humble,” Wawro added. “He doesn't even own a car.”
Earlier Wednesday, Madonna Catholic Principal Sharon Loughran Brown announced that white smoke was seen from the Sistine Chapel, an ages-old sign of the election of a pope.
She encouraged teachers and students to go to the lunch room to watch the events occur.
The students left for home at the end of the school day as the world waited for a new pope to emerge. Brown encouraged them to continue to follow the story when they got home.
“This is history for us. We are joyous about having a new pope,” Brown told the students before they prayed at the end of the school day.
Brown said later that the moment illustrated for the students that “the church is so much bigger than Monongahela.”
The students echoed her reaction.
Eighth-grader Maggie Rider called the election, “History in the making.”
“I think it's great that we have a new pope,” fourth-grader Jacob Brigode said. “I think this is a good moment in history.”
“It will be cool to pass on to our kids that we were here,” eighth-grader Mackenzie Stablein said.
“It's very good that they came to a conclusion very quickly, and it was not drawn out,” eighth-grader Tyler Pakish said. “I think they made a good decision. It marks a turning point.
“This is a great opportunity for the young people to get involved in the history. It really brings people together when something like this happens.”
Teachers said the students' excitement was heartwarming.
“It is a great opportunity for this generation to experience this,” Jayne Robbins said. “We were lucky that it happened during the school day. That made it special.”
Tracy Grandinette, director of advancement at Madonna, had an extra reason to celebrate.
“The kids said ‘You got a pope for your birthday.'”
Second grade student Gracie Rodriquez watched intently in a classroom after the other students left for the day as her mother, preschool teacher Janie Rodriquez, collected books.
“I thought it was awesome,” Gracie Rodriquez said. “This is history.”
Statnick said the showcase of the pope's election is a positive – as long the spectacle goes hand in hand with substance.
“It's fine to enjoy the pageantry and the drama and the theater as long as there's more to it, because that can't be all there is to it,” Statnick said.
“For me, it's about being genuine and authentic, so that gives people even more hope and excitement. My hope is (Pope Francis) provides a lift and a newfound confidence in God and the Catholic Church.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635. Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-684-2642.