BELLEVILLE — All eyes were glued to news coverage of the newly elected pope in Peggy Butler's seventh-grade classroom on Wednesday at Blessed Sacrament School on West Main Street.
A hush fell over the excited students as they eagerly awaited the arrival of the Roman Catholic Church's new leader. When Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio appeared on the screen dressed in traditional papal attire, seventh-grader Serena Mendiola shouted, "I voted for him!"
Serena had chosen Bergoglio for a mock conclave planned for Wednesday afternoon, but the arrival of white smoke from a new chimney on the Sistine Chapel interrupted the lesson. The smoke signaled a conclave of cardinals had chosen a new pope following the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI.
When asked why she chose Bergoglio, Serena honestly replied, "I didn't know who to vote for, but picked him because I liked his name."
A heavy favorite to be elected by the Blessed Sacrament conclave of seventh-graders was American Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
Student Jacob Roche, 12, said he would likely still support Dolan in the mock conclave despite the South American Bergoglio's election. Dolan was born in St. Louis and is the archbishop of New York.
Jacob said he supported Dolan for more than his local ties. Dolan also earned Jacob's vote for his support of victims sexually abused by priests, Jacob said.
Following Bergoglio's speech in Vatican City, the students took turns saying a prayer and casting their ballot in a chalice in front of a large projection of the interior of the Sistine Chapel.
The students had been studying how the Catholic Church chooses its leader since November when Butler began lessons related to the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. The council met to discuss church practices in Vatican City between 1962 to 1965.
Butler said it was just by chance their lessons prepared the students for the pope's election.
"They have been really excited once we thought it might be an American," Butler said. "At first we thought there was not a chance, but the past couple of days it looked like it may be more of a possibility."
Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2501.