The Rev. Tom Looney, chaplain at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, met Pope Benedict XVI in Toronto while he was a student at a Catholic seminary in 1986.
The Rev. Looney found then Cardinal-Priest Joseph Ratzinger to be a man of small physical stature, deeply humble and extremely bright. He said he was surprised, but not shocked by the historic announcement Monday morning that the 85-year-old pope would resign Feb. 28.
"He's an extremely humble man, and he is acknowledging his age and the burden of the office," the Rev. Looney said.
When Misericordia University President Michael MacDowell learned of the pope's resignation Monday morning, he said, "He will be missed."
Reflecting on how Benedict led the church, an organization with 1.2 billion members worldwide, MacDowell described the pope as a "wonderful man" and said he has "great respect" for him.
MacDowell was inspired by Benedict when he attended an address he gave to Catholic education leaders at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in April 2008.
"I was impressed with how he spoke directly to us as Catholic educators," MacDowell said. "It was as if he was almost talking to his peers in that he understood the importance of education and how difficult it is to manage and operate Catholic higher education and K-12 parochial schools. It was inspirational in the sense that he was very polite. He understood the difficulties we had and he was sympathetic at the same time, encouraging us and saying we are doing a good job."
Joseph Curran, religious studies professor at Misericordia University, reflected on the historical significance of the pope's announcement, saying Benedict is the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years.
The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 amid a leadership crisis during the Great Western Schism.
Benedict, the 265th pope, has arthritis and said he was too weak to fulfill his duties.
Curran said he was surprised by Benedict's announcement he made during a meeting of Vatican cardinals Monday morning, but he understands it because the pope became incapacitated and was due to travel. The pope sets a "great example" because he believes resigning is better for the church, Curran said.
"I see this as a really humble, courageous and generous decision," Curran said. "He's laying aside power and authority. That's not something people do every day."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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