by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Even before Pope Francis stepped onto the balcony in St. Peter’s Square to greet Catholics around the world for the first time, a pastor in Leawood already approved of the first papal decision he’d made.
“What a great name the new pope chose,” said Father Francis Hund, pastor of Church of the Nativity, with a smile.
At first, Father Hund — who now shares his first name with the pope — wondered for a moment if he’d heard the name correctly as he watched the announcement at the rectory.
He’d just read in the days leading up to the conclave that Francis was among the names that had never been used by a pope.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina — himself a member of the Society of Jesus, an order founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola — took the name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.
Father John Schmeidler, OFM Cap., pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Lawrence, figured as he watched the announcement with a class at St. John School that the new pope must have chosen his name to honor St. Francis de Sales or St. Francis Xavier
“But when he started speaking, what he was saying was very much Franciscan,” said Father John, who is a Capuchin Franciscan, an order founded on the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi.
“He might be talking about Assisi,” he quickly realized, noting that some of the qualities that immediately came to mind were a desire to unite people and to work with the poor and lift them up, all considered part of the Franciscan charism.
Like Father Hund, he was surprised by the pope’s choice of name, but was also pleased by it.
“He somehow caught that spirit of Francis and caught that spirit that I’ve always caught,” said Father John. “It’s just edifying to know the pope has that same spirit.”
It’s been a spirit that Father Hund has found easy to connect with all of his life.
Named Francis Joseph in honor of both of his grandfathers, Father Hund “grew up in the country, so I loved gardening and farming.”
His green thumb comes in handy in the garden of his rectory, though he relies on the help of the patron saint of animals and ecology; St. Francis was widely known for his love of all creation.
“I have a couple statues of St. Francis out in the yard and different representations of St. Francis throughout the house,” said Father Hund.
And all anyone has to do to understand that St. Francis’ name resonates not only among Catholics but people of many faiths is to visit a garden store and see just how popular those garden statues are. St. Francis also embodied mercy and forgiveness, and Father Hund sees those qualities, as well as joy and service, going a long way in today’s world.
“Those are all part of that evangelization message that the world so longs for today,” he said.
The new pope’s name immediately sparked some good-natured teasing of the pastor by his parish workers.
“The staff here,” he said, “when I came back afterward, they claimed my head was a little too big.”
But he can dole it out, as well — sometimes to the two priests who also serve at Nativity.
“I’ve had the joy of reminding them they get to use the name Francis every time they pray the eucharistic prayer,” he said.