Bro. Gary Cregan stood in rapt attention watching the 42-inch flat screen TV as students and others worked out around him.
Cregan, the longtime principal at St. Anthony’s High School, camped out in the middle of the school’s East Northport Physical Therapy office Wednesday afternoon waiting anxiously, excitedly as a new pope was announced to the Catholic world.
“Wow!” Cregan quietly exclaimed as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, of Buenos Aires, stepped out onto the Vatican balcony. The smell of muscle ointment and sweat filled the training room around the principal as he took in the historic moment.
“Ironically, there are very few TVs that operate in our school,” Cregan chuckled. “We’re low tech by design. We knew [here] we’d have a TV.”
While white smoke filled the air over St. Peter's Square, classes emptied out at the South Huntington Catholic school, which is run by Franciscan Brothers and affiliated with the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
You might think there were several choice spots on campus for Cregan, whose daily uniform consists of a heavy black robe, to watch the election of Pope Francis I. But with its large TV and focused company of rehab warriors, this was as good a place as any.
“I figured he’d be upstairs watching somewhere,” said Rebecca Root, a freshman from Oakdale working her way back from a torn meniscus during soccer season. “This was the spot to be today.”
Root and others quietly peddled away on stationary bikes next to Bro. Gary as history unfolded before them.
Despite the setting, the moment was a watershed one for the Catholic faith. And while there are several factors that make the new pontiff unique, Cregan was immediately struck by Bergoglio's choice of name.
“More importantly is his choice of his first name Francis, probably after Francis of Assisi,” Cregan said. “That’s a very telling indicator of where his heart is. It gives me great hope. He was a saint of the Middle Ages who put people over things. He put God first in his life and made such a powerful impact on the Medieval Church he transformed it from a church connected to the wealthy to one connected to the church of the poor.”
Cregan just returned from the Vatican, touring with the school chorus over winter break.
The timing couldn’t be better for the 2,600 students at St. Anthony’s. Bishop William F. Murphy is scheduled to say mass at the school Thursday morning.
“I would suspect it’s going to be discussed in most of our classrooms tomorrow,” Cregan said of the new pope. “I’m delighted and elated that the Holy Spirit has moved us.”