Talk About Timing: Group from Gardner-Webb in Rome When New Pope Was Revealed

Print Friendly

Planned-in-Advance Spring Break Trip Provided Unexpected Memories

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – When Dr. Nancy Bottoms planned a spring break trip last year to Italy for a group from Gardner-Webb University, she had no idea they would be in Rome during the significant and historic naming of a new Papal (Pope) for the Catholic Church.  Members of the group from Gardner-Webb were among thousands of spectators from all over the world who gathered at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s square when the final vote was announced and Pope Francis of Argentina was elected.

“We could not have predicted that a pope would resign or have inside information on when the conclave of cardinals would begin, nor did we know which vote would end in election,” said Bottoms, assistant professor in the School of Performing and Visual Arts.  “Since luck put us in Rome at the right time, we were in St. Peter’s square to witness the smoke that marked the results of each vote.”

Heather Wyatt of Gaffney, S.C., a graduate of GWU’s GOAL (Greater Opportunities for Adult Learners) program, who is now a graduate student at GWU seeking a Master of Accountancy, was one of the main photographers on the trip.  “I entitled one of the pictures ‘Waiting on the Pope.’  We were actually waiting on the smoke.  What an experience,” said Wyatt, whose husband also experienced the event.  When black smoke billows out of a Vatican chimney, it indicates cardinals have not reached a decision, but when the smoke changes to white it signifies a final vote naming a new pope.

“Some of our group stood in the cold rain on the first night and saw only black smoke.  On the third day, standing (while raining again) with thousands were Rebecca (Ennis) and David (Dunham), who had the best view to see the first wisps of white smoke rise over the Vatican walls.  Then the cheer rose from the people and the bells tolled.  We rejoiced and chanted (after the pope’s name was given), ‘Francesco, Francesco, Francesco,’ as a man directly in front of us shouted and cried as he fell to his knees,” said Bottoms.

Other members of the group were with a crowd at Trevi Fountain (popular site to throw coins and ask for blessings) when the white smoke appeared on viewing screens at that location.  “Although I wasn’t at the Vatican, being able to say I was still in Rome when the pope was elected is something I will always remember it as a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Allison Drennan of Gastonia, N.C., a senior and graphic design major with a minor in public relations.

Among other historical sights the group visited was Assisi, the home of St. Francis.  Bottoms added, “This was a moment never to be repeated, and we were there.

Organized through the GWU Office of International Programs, the group from GWU included students of various studies and alumni: Joanne Bolet-Cafaro, Steven Calabrese, Pam Darrow, Allison Drennan, Rebecca Ennis, Stephanie Haylock, Hannah Mayfield, Caitlin Pinkerton, Gina Santos, Janice Smith, Jennifer Willis, Brett and Heather Wyatt.

As well as faculty and staff members, Bottoms, Paula Casper, David Dunham, and Kaye Schenck.

Located in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb University blends a liberal arts core curriculum with more than 55 major and minor programs of specialized study, a comprehensive academic experience that flows from our Christian commitment to intellectual freedom, service and leadership.