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The Graduate

The Pope brought me to my mountain home

Kelly Conroy
MSM Class of 2012

(3/2013) Pope Benedict XVI made a visit to the United States in late April of 2008. He met with President George W. Bush, addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, visited Ground Zero, and said Masses at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. and Yankee stadium in New York City.

My family loaded into our mini-van with the tickets that we had been fortunate enough to obtain from our diocese to attend Mass with the Pope, and began our 15-hour drive from Florida to Washington, D.C. I was so excited. It was like getting to see my favorite celebrity – Catholic version. He was the head of the Catholic Church, the successor of St. Peter, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – and I was going to be in his presence and hear his words.

So with 46,000 of my closest friends (in a stadium that officially holds 41,000), I chanted what the Italians had inspired: "Ben-e-dicto," followed by five claps. If you’ve never heard it, look it up on YouTube. It’s pretty catchy.

I saw the Pope ride in on the Pope mobile, heard him deliver a homily, and even took a picture with a cardboard cutout of Benedict XVI. It amazed me to hear him speak in English – just one of the 7 languages he’s fluent in, along with 2 others that he can read. While we were in D.C., my family took advantage of all of the typical tourist attractions, but we also made a little side trip.

The spring of 2008 was my junior year of high school. I was attending a small, Catholic high school in Tallahassee, FL and was involved in service and sports, and was just starting to think about college. My parents had given me the Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College and I found Mount St. Mary’s – a Catholic school with a Division One tennis team. The more I read, the more I loved the Mount, and the Pope’s visit offered me the perfect opportunity to visit the campus.

My siblings might have complained a little bit about driving over an hour from D.C. to check out "some school in Maryland that Kelly’s crazy about," but I was determined. I scheduled a campus tour and even found out that the tennis team was playing a match the day I planned on visiting – perfect.

Well, the Holy Spirit had a plan for Pope Benedict XVI being named Pope . . . and maybe one eentsy, tweensy, so small you barely know it exists, part of that was bringing me to the Mount.

"For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11.

I had started to love the Mount in my research, but I fell in love when I visited campus. I’ve been happy here ever since. I suppose I owe a thank you to the Pope – Thank you, Pope Benedict XVI, for visiting Washington, D.C. in 2008!

Fast-forward 5 years from the time Benedict XVI visited the U.S. and nearly 8 years after he was elected Pope, and on Feb. 11, 2013, the news of the Pope renouncing his position as Pope was heard.

Part of his statement reads:

"After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which, in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."

There are over one billion Catholics worldwide and the announcement mostly produced one response: surprise. The Pope caught us off-guard! Most of us didn’t even know that a Pope could resign; the last Pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII nearly 600 years ago.

After letting the news soak in, it seemed to make sense. It was just another way that the Pope was doing what was best for the Church.

Benedict XVI was at the Second Vatican Council as an expert advisor to one of Europe’s most influential bishops. He was a theologian and a professor. He gave up teaching to become a bishop and then a cardinal. He was one of Pope John Paul II’s close friends and trusted advisor. He wrote encyclicals on God is Love (Deus Caritas Est) and Saved by Hope (Spe Salvi) in addition to other writings including his Jesus of Nazareth series.

Benedict XVI radiated his love for Christ and preached the Gospel. He had more people attend his weekly Wednesday audiences than those of Pope John Paul II! It’s obvious that Benedict XVI is a man with a serious commitment to prayer and he served the Church with great adherence to truth and charity. It looks like I have no choice but to give up Benedict XVI for Lent – but I will miss him!

As a Master’s business student, I spend a lot of time talking about management in my courses. We discuss the qualities of being a good leader, such as authenticity, humility, and compassion. Good leaders knows about themselves – how they handle conflict, how they work in a team, and their personal preferences. A good leader uses this knowledge to his or her advantage. The leader should practice putting skills into play so that they can use the right preference at the right time. For example, a leader might realize that he or she tends to always focus on the task at hand and neglect human relations with the other employees. A good leader would take concrete steps to develop human relations and sometimes put the task at hand second in the priority list.

Pope Benedict XVI lived a life of authenticity. He is a quiet, reserved man who is an excellent teacher. He lived out the values of the Catholic faith, and preached them without wavering. He was the head of over one billion Catholics worldwide, and tried to reach out to various parts of the world. Was he perfect? No. There will never be a perfect Pope because humans aren’t perfect. However, Benedict XVI certainly strived to do his best to share the message of Christ and lead the Church.

Benedict XVI’s renouncement of the Bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, was just one more sign of great leadership. If Benedict XVI’s health had continued to decline, the Pope’s secretary would have had to help more with the governing. Benedict XVI showed great humility in that he didn’t keep holding onto the title for himself. He truly wants what’s best for the Church – and he believes that means electing a new pope. As a leader, he also spent much time prayerfully considering his decision. He did not make a rash decision, but rather he based his choice upon careful rational and prayerful consideration.

The Pope’s decision is a challenge to all other leaders – are you doing what is best for others in your organization? If all leaders had the selflessness of the Pope, companies might not engage in greedy, competitive infighting. A leader sets the tone for his or her organization. If all leaders had the humility of the Pope, companies might be more focused on the service or good they are providing rather than individual merits. If all leaders had the patience to make well thought-out decisions, the company would probably benefit in the long run.

Pope Benedict XVI is also a good leader because he knows that his work does not end with the renouncement of his title. He will spend his remaining years in prayer for the Church. Indeed, the work of a true leader never ends.

The prayers of Benedict XVI will be a blessing for the Church as she prepares for the next pontiff.

So much about Benedict XVI is still not known by many Catholics – that he loved cats and playing the piano, and more important things:

On April 29, 2009, Benedict XVI stopped at the town of L’Aquila and visited the tomb of an obscure medieval pope named St. Celestine V (1215-1296). The Pope placed his pallium, a symbol of the pope’s Episcopal authority as bishop of Rome, and left it on the top of Celestine’s tomb. Fifteen months later, on July 4, 2010, Benedict traveled to pray at the relics of the same saint.

In the year 1294, Father Pietro Angelerio, a devout and holy priest, was elected as Pope Celestine V, somewhat against his will, when he was 79 years old, and renounced the papacy just five months later. And now Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to follow in the footsteps of this saint – to become a saint himself.

Some information drawn from Scott Hahn’s articles on the National Catholic Register.

Read other articles by Kelly Conroy