The frenzied and waterlogged crowd standing in a rain-soaked St. Peter’s Square, quieted as newly elected Pope Francis asked the world to pray for him.

Several Marquette University students and a seminarian from the Archdiocese of Chicago were part of the crowd witnessing the white smoke rising above the Sistine Chapel as the bells of St. Peter Basilica tolled, confirming “Habemus Papam,” Wednesday evening, March 13.

Pope Francis is the first pope from Latin America and the first to choose the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi. He is also the first Jesuit pope, something which excites seminarian Chris Kerzich, a 2005 graduate of Marquette University and a seminarian living in Rome where he studies at the Gregorian University, founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola. The Jesuits comprise the largest religious order of the church and have a strong commitment to social justice and education.

Hectic days in Rome

Once Kerzich learned Pope Benedict XVI was resigning, he knew the following days would be hectic ones. He said it’s been non-stop since Feb. 11.

“These last couple of days in Rome, there has been a growing excitement over the conclave and who would walk out after those famous words, ‘Habemus Papam,’” he said. “Despite the rain, cold and wind, people flooded St. Peter’s square to see the smoke on the evening of March 12 and during the morning hour of March 13.”

Like thousands of others, Kerzich stood shoulder to shoulder in the square with classmates from the Pontifical North American College on Wednesday.

“On Tuesday evening, the mood in the square was peaceful and serene with a hint of excitement,” he said. “On Wednesday evening, the mood in the square before the white smoke was excitement and a bit of nervousness. As soon as the white smoke came out of the chimney, someone yelled, ‘Viva il Papa,’ and the crowd began to push forward toward the balcony.”

The rain cleared as the white smoke dissipated while the Swiss Guard Honor Guard and Band performed with the Italian Carabinieri Band as they processed to the area directly under the loggia.

“Once his name was announced, I knew exactly who he was and began running through his biography with a reporter that was standing next to me,” said Kerzich. “I knew as soon as he walked out and greeted the crowd with those familiar words of ‘Buona sera’ that this was going to be a familiar and humble pontiff.”

As he listened to Pope Francis’ speech in Italian, Kerzich was touched with the Holy Father’s call to prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and his love for Mary.

“While I was not alive during his pontificate, it looked like I was going back in time and was seeing Pope John XXIII on that balcony,” he said.

History before their eyes

Marquette sophomores Kelly Taylor and Seamus Doyle are part of a semester-long study abroad program in Rome and neither expected to witness the resignation of one pope and the election of another.

“This has been insane!” said Taylor, just hours after the election of Pope Francis. “My boyfriend is actually here visiting from Marquette on spring break. It has been awesome being able to head to St. Peter’s Square the past two days and wait for the smoke. There are so many people from all over the world. It is crazy.”

After the news that the Argentinean cardinal would be the new pope, the atmosphere in St. Peter’s Square and around Rome was joyful, explained Taylor, who added that everywhere she went, people were talking about it.

“I just love that he is a Jesuit pope who chose the name Francis,” she said. “I have a deep connection with the Jesuits being a Catholic and attending Marquette. It is so cool to see a Jesuit leading the church. I also think it is awesome that he chose to be the first Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi.”

Touched by request for prayers

After being present for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s final audience and Angelus, and experiencing the sede vacante, Taylor said she felt blessed to live through the end of one chapter of Catholic history and being in Rome for the beginning of the next chapter.

“This is such an important event in my faith,” she said. “After Cardinal Borgoglio was named pope, we stayed to hear him address the crowd. It was amazing to have him lead us in the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be.”

Taylor was touched by Pope Francis’ request that the world pray for him as he would pray for the world.

“I wasn’t sure what he was saying at first, but my boyfriend and I were standing next to a nice Romanian man who translated it for us. He told us that the pope had asked us to pray for him as he would pray for us and that was very powerful,” she said. “The whole experience was just simply unreal and amazing.”

Father’s visit timed perfectly

For Seamus Doyle, living in Rome during this historical period was made even sweeter with a visit from his father, Thomas, a Marquette alumnus who works for Marquette’s Raynor Memorial Library.

“He was scheduled to visit me here at this time, but incredibly, neither of us expected that all of this would go on while he was visiting,” said Seamus. “It has been so exciting and the atmosphere here is so happy, and almost electrical.”

After a friend text messaged him with the words, “white smoke,” Seamus and Thomas hailed a cab to take them to St. Peter’s Square, but traffic was too congested, so they paid the driver and ran the rest of the way.

“Amazingly, we were able to get into the square,” he said. “The cardinal came out first and announced, but it was so hard to hear. There was a priest from Texas next to us who is in Rome studying, and while we heard he chose Francesco, we didn’t know who the new pope was. The priest told us that he thought it was the Argentinean cardinal and we were surprised by that, obviously; it was so exciting.

For father and son, the election of a Jesuit priest runs close to home as both have a strong connection to the Jesuits, yet the name of Francis surprised them.

“I am thinking that he would have had a little trouble with the Curia if he chose an Ignatius name, but with Assisi they probably felt better,” said Seamus. “We went to Assisi afterwards and there were cameras and crews near St. Francis of Assisi’s tomb and church. They seemed to be interviewing lots of Franciscans there. I think the Jesuit aspect is exciting and that we have a common background. I hope there will be a renewed sense of social justice, and faith, and I look forward to his leadership.”

For Tom, the visit, offered much more than casual sightseeing that he imagined.

“I felt a little special, and it was such a blessing to be there,” he said. “This wasn’t anything I knew would happen, so it was a surprise in the middle of it all. Having this cardinal as our new pope is such a gift. There was a man kneeling down next to us while the pope was giving us his blessing. I learned he was a priest; he was praying and had an Argentinean flag draped over his shoulders. It was so emotional. It was so quiet when we all prayed in silence for him.”

In St. Peter’s Square for Pope Benedict’s last Angelus, Seamus also has tickets to the Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil Mass at the Vatican.

“It was exciting to be at his final Angelus. I went with a family friend who is a Jesuit and works with the Jesuit refugee services next to the Vatican,” he said. “I was surprised that Benedict didn’t say ‘Goodbye’ to us there. There were a lot more people at this Angelus than any other, and that was different and exciting. He talked about faith and what it means to be Catholic in one community. I had wanted to be at his last Mass, but I heard that this was very emotional and that he said ‘Goodbye’ there. I now look forward to attending the Easter Vigil on March 30 under the leadership of our new Holy Father.”