DD: I am in Rome as a student in theology studying for the priesthood. Bishop Rhoades asked me to come here for my studies, and I gladly accepted. I am currently in my first year of theology, so if things continue as scheduled, I will be ordained a priest in about three and a half years. I will be in Rome for either four or five years, depending on whether the Bishop wants me to do further studies after ordination.
NS: How did you feel when you found out Pope Benedict was resigning?
DD: When we found out that Pope Benedict was resigning, it came as a shock to most of us. Benedict was for all of us the Pope of our vocations since he was in office when we were accepted into the seminary and when we arrived in Rome. Having been able to go to many of his Angelus addresses and served for some of his Masses, he had become something of a grandfather figure for us, so it was a very emotional time for us, especially during his last Wednesday general audience. When he left the Vatican on Feb. 28, the papal helicopter flew almost directly over the North American College, where all of us were stationed on the roof and got to wave goodbye to him. I think everyone felt a slight tug of the heart at that moment, as though we were saying goodbye to an old friend.
NS: What has it been like over there since the announcement was made? Was it busier than usual with extra tourists and all the media?
DD: Two factors have made it a lot busier than normal over the last couple of weeks. The first, of course, is the Conclave and the election of the new Pope. The second is the fact that we're beginning to head into Rome's normal tourist season. I stepped into St. Peter's Basilica just yesterday (Wednesday) and was surprised by how crowded it was. I don't think I have ever seen that many people in the basilica since coming here.
NS: You were on the roof of a building and the pope's helicopter went right over when he left the Vatican. Can you describe that, please?
DD: Like I said above, it was like having a small farewell party for an old friend. Most of us gathered on the roof of the college about fifteen minutes before the announced time that the Pope would be leaving the Vatican. About ten minutes before his departure, we began tolling the bells at the college, and the Vatican bells began to sound not long after that. Cardinal (Timothy) Dolan and a few of the others were also up there with us. When the papal helicopter flew over, we all shouted and waved to him, displaying American flags and even a Bavarian flag. We watched the helicopter until it disappeared into the mountains in the distance as it headed for Castel Gandolfo.
NS: Where were you when the new pope was announced, and what was it like over there?
DD: My parents and I were down at St. Peter's Square for the two black smokes and we also saw the world-famous seagull. We were also there for the final white smoke. At first, we were unsure of the color because it was somewhat grayish in color due to the chemicals from the two previous black smokes. When we saw that it was definitely white, the entire place erupted in cheers — "erupted" is putting it mildly. We were so ecstatic that we threw all reservation out the window and began shouting and cheering and hugging everyone around us. I don't believe I have ever felt such excitement as I experienced that night.
NS: What do you think of the new pope?
DD: Viva Pope Francis! He is certainly taking his role seriously, especially following in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi, his namesake, in his concern for the poor. It will be interesting to see what the next few months bring as he settles into his position. Whatever transpires, the Holy Spirit is in control!