Disclaimer: None of the names used below are real, but the people probably are.
Get ready, because they’re coming.
Begotten amid the excitement and fervor surrounding a papal election…awaited with the highest anticipation… christened in utmost devotion with the name of the new Holy Roman Pontiff himself.
They’re cute. They’re cuddly. And they’ll be arriving just in time for Christmas.
“We Just Can’t Wait”
Todd and Jenny Taylor of Allentown, Pennsylvania exemplify the “conclave baby” movement, and provided some insight into the thought process and inspiration behind the tradition. Both devout Catholics, the Taylors are recent graduates of Franciscan University in Steubenville, and were just married last fall. When Pope Benedict announced his retirement in February, the Taylors decided to name their first child after the new pope, “as long as the name wasn’t something weird like Anacletus or Urban.”
“We knew we weren’t pregnant yet, but we were trying, so we just thought what a great opportunity to show our support for whoever the new Pope would be,” explained Jenny. Todd described the day of the new Pope’s election. “We saw the white smoke, and then we saw the little cardinal come out on the balcony to announce the name of the new Pope. As soon we we heard the name ‘Francis,’ we both looked at each other and just knew. I opened a fresh box of wine, Jenny lit some candles, and we read our favorite Christopher West passages to each other. So yeah, we actually missed seeing Pope Francis when he came out on the balcony. I don’t even know what he looks like.”
“I’m So Willing To Wait, But Come On Already!”
Some single Catholics, worried about missing out on the “baby Francis” bonanza, are frantically seeking Catholics of the opposite sex who are willing to get married quick. Megan Jones, a junior at Christendom College, has started an online network for like-minded students from her school as well as the University of Dallas and Thomas Aquinas College. “I know I can’t be the only one who wants a conclave baby but also wants to wait until marriage. I’m hoping to find the right guy out there, and soon,” she explained. “I even have a little sales pitch: ‘English major with concentration in Latin seeking good Catholic guy to get married fast and make a little Francis. Love is a verb – so let’s conjugate’!” Megan hasn’t had any responses yet.
Across the country at Wyoming Catholic College, Matt Harris has established a similar online network with Ave Maria University and St. Thomas More College. “I know the right girl is out there – someone who wants to get married right away and start a future with a little bundle of Popeness. I’m hoping someone out there likes my ad: ‘Catholic cowboy seeking Catholic cowgirl – let’s saddle up and ride off into the New Evangelization together.’ “ Matt is still waiting eagerly for a response.
Dr. Kevin Williams, Professor of Conjugal Studies at Catholic University of America, is an expert on the conclave baby phenomenon. “While not new, this has really picked up in the last three or four decades, beginning nine months after the election of John Paul II when the population of Poland nearly doubled overnight. We witnessed the same effect in Germany in the January 2006.”
Professor Williams also pointed out that conclave babies are by no means confined to the native country of the Pope. “This is truly beginning to emerge as a global phenomenon,” he explained. “The whole world is getting into this. We can expect a lot of little boys named Francis, Francisco, Franz, and Frankenwaalden to arrive before the year is out.”
Not Always Easy
While the idea of a conclave baby is typically associated with feelings of excitement, anticipation, and even religious piety, the reality behind the phenomenon is not always so idyllic. Mark and Sally Johnson of Wichita, Kansas, are among those planning on naming their next child Francis in honor of the new Pope. However, they also have a seven-year-old son named Benedict. “It’s been a trying time, juggling the different emotions we’ve had,” explained Mark. “When Benny was born, we were so elated and proud to have a son named for the Pope. We just got so into it with him, even in the little things. We had a little stroller decked out like the Pope-mobile - just little fun things like that. But that excitement is gone…at least with that son.” Sally also has had a hard time. “Do we still love Benny? Of course. It’s just a different kind of love, that’s all. And we still try to treat him like he’s our son. It’s only fair.”
Being a conclave baby has carried with it a different kind of misery for Paul Imbelli, a forty-nine-year-old chef in New Jersey. Imbelli, the child of Italian immigrants, was named for Pope Paul VI. She is also a woman. “My parents really wanted a conclave baby, and they knew I was the last child they would be able to have. It didn’t matter to them that I wasn’t a boy. You would think they would be happy with Paula or Paulette or something, but no. They even gave me the middle name Victoria, so my initials would be Paul V.I. Tell me that’s not causing issues. I’ve explored my legal options but apparently renaming your parents is still against the law. We’ll see.”
Good Boy, Frankie
Some couples who are unable to have children have sought to fulfill their dream of having a conclave baby by simply naming their pet dog or cat after the Pope. Art and Shirley Jackson of Miami, Florida, just adopted a beagle, who they named Frankie, after Pope Francis. “He’s great,” said Art. “But the joy we have now with Frankie didn’t come without it’s share of heartache…see, we had a rottweiler named “B16,” after the last Pope.” explained Art. “Well, just like you can’t have two popes, we felt it wasn’t right to have two dogs named after popes. The monastery down the road wouldn’t take him, so we uh…we had to have him…gosh, this is hard…” As Art trailed off and wiped away a tear, Shirley jumped in. “Let’s just say he’s now our little ‘rottweiler emeritus’ and leave it at that.”
Good idea, Shirley.
Let’s leave it at that.