When Pope Francis was elected on March 13, Jesuit Father Richard Ryscavage was texting back and forth with some of his former seminarians who are now in Argentina. Fr. Ryscavage had gotten to know these friends about 25 years ago when they studied theology together in Cambridge, Mass., when the Jesuit School of Theology was part of Harvard Divinity School.
“Yes, I heard of him 25 years ago,” said Fr. Ryscavage of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the man who is now Pope Francis. “His reputation was unusual. He was close to the poor and concerned with them. He was a simple man and a prayerful man.
“Personally, he was a very skilled spiritual director, adept at helping people in their prayer life. Men would go to him just for that direction,” said Fr. Ryscavage, who is a professor of sociology and Director of the Center for Faith and Public Life at Fairfield University in Connecticut.
Fr. Ryscavage said the pope was humble. “He had a quality of trying to stay in the background. He loved to spend time with the poor and would regularly go to the barrios. He was especially concerned with AIDS patients and would visit them often.”
Fr. Ryscavage said his friends halfway around the globe were “very happy” about Cardinal Bergoglio becoming pope, although they — like many Jesuits — were surprised. “It was really shocking to all of us,” said Fr. Ryscavage.
As a Jesuit, the pope is extremely familiar with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and Fr. Ryscavage said he wouldn’t be surprised if it’s reflected in the pope’s talks. Fr. Ryscavage notes that the exercises indicate that “we’re supposed to start by reforming ourselves.”
For more of Fr. Ryscavage’s thoughts on the first Jesuit pope, visit the Minuteman News Center.