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
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
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