Emily Polovick was a witness to history. The South Bend native was one of more than 150,000 people to pack St. Peter's Square on Wednesday. She was there as Pope Francis was introduced to the world.
Admittedly, the enormity of what she saw hasn't sunk in quite yet, she said.
"It hasn't quite sunk in yet, but as I read more articles and relay my experiences to more family and friends it is starting to," Polovick, a 2011 graduate of St. Joseph High School, said. "I read one article which said that there were 150,000 people in St. Peter's Square yesterday and I had to reread it and remind myself that I am included in that count."
Polovick, a sophomore occupational therapy student at St. Louis University, is one of a number of local college students to be among the crowd. She's spending the semester abroad studying at Loyola University of Chicago's John Felice Rome Center.
"I didn't have class on Tuesday morning so a friend and I attended the Mass for the Election in St. Peter's Basilica and were ecstatic to get seats and be a part of the beginning of the conclave," Polovick said. "I also was there on Tuesday night for the first signs of black smoke. The amount of people hopefully waiting in the square, speaking all different languages was a sight to behold.
"My peers and I laughed at ourselves, though we knew the gravity of the decision we awaited, it still seemed odd to stare at the screen set up in the square focused on the chimney. Essentially staring at a pipe, waiting for the historic moment of the first signs of smoke."
It didn't take the 115 cardinals gathered inside the Vatican's Sistine Chapel long to make their decision. On day two of the conclave, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.
Polovick was there as the white smoke wafted from the chapel pipe.
"The atmosphere in the square was just unbelievable! I think that almost everyone was surprised to see the sign that a pope had been chosen so early in the conclave," she said. "The crowd reacted with enormous joy and anticipation as everyone surged forward towards the basilica, attempting to secure a spot for when the new pontiff would be announced amid shouts of 'Habemus Papam' and the ringing of the church bells."
The news was greeted with cries, songs, smiles, pictures and calls to family and friends, Polovick said.
"I am eager to see what changes this might bring to the Church as it continues to fully enter the modern age," she said. "Attending a Jesuit school and learning of Pope Francis' humble ways as a cardinal, I am also hopeful that this same spirit of love and attention to social justice will be shared throughout the universal church."
Staff writer Bob Blake: