Not long after the white smoke emerged from the Sistine Chapel last week, a giant Vatican flag appeared outside of St. John Vianney Seminary residence hall.
To take part in the celebrations of electing a new pope, seminarian students Sam O’Donnell, James Downey, Joseph Wright and Cole Daily decided to make a 60-foot by 30-foot Vatican flag.
“When we found out that the pope was going to resign, we wanted to have a celebration that would live up to the proportions of the one they had when Pope Benedict was elected, to use as a tool for evangelization,” O’Donnell said.
Four seminarians hung the flag as soon as white smoke billowed. It covered almost 80 percent of the windows outside of SJV, blocking the sunlight that enters the dorm as well as window exits, which didn’t bother O’Donnell.
“I don’t think we had any concerns regarding safety,” O’Donnell said. “We were just trusting in the Holy Spirit to provide for us.”
Father Paul Gitter, SJV spiritual director, was impressed by the flag.
“I thought it was fantastic,” Gitter said. “It was just incredible what they accomplished. We knew they were planning things for the conclave, but it was a surprise to us because we saw what everybody else saw.”
Sophomore Ashley Barutt said she was surprised that the seminarians made the flag themselves.
“I think that’s pretty cool,” Barutt said. “I thought all of it was exciting to see. (There is) nothing wrong with a little celebrating, especially when you have something to celebrate.”
The main safety concern about hanging the flag wasn’t with the size of the flag itself, but the way students physically hung it up, Downey said.
“The only safety concern I ever had with the flag was the points where I was hanging out of the fifth floor window with just an ankle locked in the bed frame,” Downey said.
St. Thomas’ Residence Life handbook states “residents may not sit in or lean out of windows or pass people or objects through windows at any time,” but since SJV’s residence hall is technically owned by the diocese, some university policies don’t apply.
The Vatican flag was held in place by ropes, which ran across the fifth floor windows and then taped to bed frames inside individual’s dorm rooms. Although the flag’s support seemed to be durable, it couldn’t stand the gusts of Minnesota wind.
“I was in my room reading, and I heard this sound,” Wright said. “I looked around and then all of the sudden, daylight floods into my room and it was one of those really blinding moments. The corner had been torn off.”
The seminarians didn’t feel the need to take down the flag, so they made the decision to repair it by hanging out of their windows again.
“We stapled it down between the yellow and the white tarp after Joe heard a pah-pah-pah-pah-POW!” Downey said. “I took out the screen and kind of held on as much as I could while leaning out of the window.”
Gitter said he also didn’t think the flag was a safety concern.
“We have plenty of emergency exits in the building,” Gitter said. “There would be no difficulty for people to exit if necessary.”
After working hard on making and maintaining the Vatican flag, the four seminarian students want to keep it and pass it on to future seminarians so they will have the opportunity to use it as well.
“We’re going to save the flag and use it sparingly in the future” O’Donnell said. “We don’t want it to become something that is overused, mostly just for big events like the election of a new pope, which hopefully won’t happen for quite awhile now.”
Anne Becken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.