Thomas W. Keefe: A pope in the model of St. Francis

Thomas W. Keefe: A pope in the model of St. Francis

President Thomas W. Keefe's editorial as it appeared in the Dallas Morning News on March 14, 2013.

After being selected by his fellow 114 cardinals, Pope Francis had little more than an hour to choose the name he will use for the remainder of his life and throughout eternity. The last two popes to select a unique name were Pope John Paul I in 1978 and Pope Lando in 913.

His selection, as a Jesuit, of a Franciscan name is groundbreaking and tells us a great deal. His choice of Francis, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, tells us even more and suggests a man who will focus his papacy on the root of Roman Catholicism: the gospel of Jesus Christ. St. Francis, who is reported to have said, "Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words," lived a life of extreme poverty and service. In taking that name, Pope Francis has committed to following the model of St. Francis.

As Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis lived a life of true piety and humility, taking public transportation to work, living alone in a small apartment and cooking his own meals. It would be a mistake, however, to think of him as merely a humble, pious church leader.

He has guided the church in Argentina through troubled times. In the midst of a military junta, he maintained a steadfast commitment to serve the weakest and most impoverished while, at the same time, maintaining a meaningful dialogue with political leaders whose first priority was certainly not the protection of the weak and the poor.

The cardinals' election of the first pope in modern history from outside Europe, and the first Jesuit pope, speaks to the exponential growth of the Catholic Church in South America over the last 40 years and its continuing commitment to serve the poor.

Hispanics represent a vital demographic in the Catholic Church. In the U.S. alone, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Hispanic believers make up more than 35 percent of the Catholic population and more than 50 percent of Catholics under 25 years old. Pope Francis, born in Buenos Aires to Italian immigrants, is well-suited to speak to the needs of an international church.

The Society of Jesus, a Catholic order committed to scholarship and social justice that is more commonly known as the Jesuits, lives by the motto "men for others." A Jesuit selecting a Franciscan name in honor of the saint most famous for his willingness to live the way Jesus Christ called us to live indicates a supreme commitment to the Christian faith.

Without question, the most important feature to this Catholic is Pope Francis' selection of a name that demonstrates a fervent and faithful commitment to the gospel. I believe the new pope suggests a model of life for the church of which we can all be proud.

At a time when the Catholic Church needs a responsible leader who can provide administrative reform, doctrinal clarity and a fidelity to the gospel message of Jesus Christ, we have been served well by the selection of a man who not only, in Texas lingo, walks the walk, but talks the talk.

Thomas W. Keefe has been president since 2010 of the University of Dallas, a Catholic co-educational university with campuses in Irving and Rome. Keefe can be reached at

PHOTO: Rome Student Alexander DeKeratry


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