By Amanda Coronado
As the white smoke billowed from the Sistine Chapel, a schoolwide announcement at Santa Margarita Catholic High was made.
Turn on your televisions.
The daily routine was out the window as faculty, teachers and students watched history unfold—the election of a Pope Francis.
“It was exciting,” said freshman Peter Menke on Wednesday. “It made me proud to be a Catholic. It’s cool that with all the technology out there these days, they have kept the same tradition (in announcing the new pope). This is a big deal not just for Catholics, but in history as the pope is a world leader.”
Though instant communication is such a signficant part of daily lives, Principal Ray Dunne said this was a unique opportunity for students to be a part of a time-honored tradition.
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“In this world of tweets and Facebook, no one knew as we were watching the smoke,” Dunne said. “It’s wonderful that we could all be a part of an ancient tradition. It was a remarkable experience to watch the beginning of a new chapter in the church’s history. There was great interest among students and excitement he was from the New World.”
Campus Ministry Director Nancy Hormuth said she got chills as the new pope made his first appearance and gave the papal blessing.
“It was a very sacred moment,” she said. “He is a people’s pope. I hope he brings hope to this generation.”
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Craig Smith a 2000 graduate of Santa Margarita and a former religion teacher at the school, was in Vatican City when the news was announced. A delayed flight allowed the devout Catholic, currently getting his doctorate in religious education at Fordham University, to witness history. A Costa Mesa resident, Smith was interviewed by several television news organizations while waving his Santa Margarita “We Believe” flag.
“This is a day I will never forget,” Smith said. “To be there, in St. Peter's Square, is to catch a snapshot of the richness of the Catholic Church. I stood, side by side, with men and women from all over the globe. A priest from Toronto, a nun from Guadalajara, a middle-aged married couple from Houston and even a few local Italian lay men and we were all together—praying, laughing, sharing our faith.
"When we saw that white smoke, hugs, laughter and joy took over. And then we met our Holy Father Francis I and we all as one Church, one voice and one community prayed those prayers so dear to Catholics throughout the world. Now those were truly precious moments.”
Prior to the election of the pope, students had learned about the conclave process in religion classes. Several organized mock conclaves to promote interest and understanding of an ancient tradition. They locked themselves in their classrooms, turned off their phones and went through the selection process casting their votes for the next church leader.
Santa Margarita sophomore Ryan Dugan said the mock meeting of the cardinals helped him understand the process.
"It allowed me to feel a part of it," he said. "I got to experience what it's all about."
Maria Johnson, chair of the Religion Department, said she hoped the exercise gave students a greater appreciation for the church's rich history and tradition.
"The Church is so much bigger than what we might experience in our parishes and school," Johnson said.
TELL US IN THE COMMENTS: How did you learn of the election of the pope, and what does it mean to you?