Catholic students in Catonsville area react to news of new pope

The reaction at Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville to this week's announcement of a new pope in Italy rivaled that of the eager onlookers across the Atlantic Ocean, according to the principal of the all-girls Catholic high school on Academy Road.

After seeing the white smoke billowing from the top of the Sistine Chapel, Sister Mary Thomas announced to the school community that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina had been elected by the 115 members of the conclave of cardinals. 

Students, faculty and staff at the school, which has an enrollment of 490 in grades nine through 12, then moved to various sites in the school building to hear that the first Jesuit priest and the first South American to be elected pope had taken the name Pope Francis.

As they waited, the 160-year-old bell in the school's newly refurbished cupola rang in unison with bells throughout the diocese declaring the imminent announcement. 

"For me, the most beautiful part of the afternoon was waiting with the students to see our new pope for the first time, " said Sister Mary Thomas, in her first year as principal of the school, which was founded in 1852. "They were as excited as the people in St. Peter's Square."

Students at Mount St. Joseph High School, an all-boys Catholic high school in Baltimore, a short distance from Catonsville and the county border, were more subdued in their reaction, according to Jessica Ader, a school spokeswoman.

Ader said the occasion did not merit a ringing of the school's historic bell, which had been installed in a bell tower on the 137-year-old school's campus in 1901, but has since been moved to a location in the school's administrative corridor.

She said that students in the school's theology classes discussed the historical significance of the latest election by a conclave of cardinals since the process began in 1276.

On Wednesday, Clinton Felts, a theology teacher at the school on Frederick Avenue, had the live feed of the Sistine Chapel chimney on the television screen in his classroom when a student asked, "Hey, is that white smoke?"

Students took photos of the coverage with their cell phones, he said in an email.

"It was awesome to see it happen in real time," he wrote.

Students from the school are expected to be among those attending a special Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, on Sunday, March 17, at 11 a.m., Ader said.

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