News from  Rome that Boston Cardinal Sean P O’Malley is under consideration  to replace Pope Benedict as leader of the Catholic Church is no surprise to supporters of the Irish American reformer who have come out in favor of the Boston cleric.

One of his oldest friends from seminary school, Jack Healey, commented on O’Malley’s “Irish humility” which is going a long way to making creating a “buzz” around Rome. He could be an underdog choice at the conclave.

“He has a deep sense of Irish humility — maybe too much,” Healey said. “He has a good sense of humor but it takes a while to get that out of him…He’s an exceptional person.”
He continued, “Sean walks in the sandals of St. Francis.

“He’s one of these exceptional people that come along, like they do in sports, except he’s in religion…He would light up Catholicism. I hope he gets it.”

The rumors surrounding O’Malley were started by an article and blog written by the highly respected  John Allen, in the National Catholic Reporter. The Vatican correspondent reported earlier this week, “I can confirm the O’Malley buzz from personal experience. Right now, it’s tough for an American journalist to walk into the Vatican Press Office without fielding questions from colleagues about him.”

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Allen maintains that although an American Pope is a long shot the 68-year-old Irish American is a good choice considering his “strength of his profile as a reformer on the church’s sexual abuse scandals, and partly because of his Capuchin simplicity as a perceived antidote to the Vatican’s reputation for intrigue and power games.”

O’Malley’s old friend Stateside seem to agree. Speaking to the Boston Herald ten years ago his friend Jack Healey said, “I said 30 years ago, maybe longer, I always thought he was going to be the first American to be the pope.”

Healey and O’Malley met at St. Fidelis Seminary in Herman, Pennsylvania, when they were teenagers. Since, Healey has left the priesthood and works as the director of the Human Rights Action Center in Washington, D.C.

Speaking earlier this week Healey said, “He’s holy. He’s a great human being. We would be lucky to have him.”

His friend added, “He’s a smart dude.” Healey confessed that while he was struggling with his Master’s O’Malley was “getting two Ph.D.s at the same time.”

Healey still recognized O’Malley’s humility despite his position as Archbishop. He says, “He’s a humble son of St. Francis…He’s been this way since he was young.”

Even back when they were teenagers Healey maintains, “We all knew Sean was the man — no question.”

Thomas Groome, a theology professor at Boston College, is also starting to come round to the idea. Speaking to NBC news he said that when his name initially surfaced he laughed it off but now he’s starting to think O’Malley is in with a chance.

He commented on how O’Malley’s actions following the revelations of cover ups within the Church had “come closest to satisfying the victims.” O’Malley sold the archdiocese's palatial headquarters and used the money for victim settlements.

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Groome commented on the fact that his simplicity and the fact that he "isn't a hardened idealogue" would bring a very different style of papacy.

He said, “We'd go from Prada booties to sandals and no socks.

“He wouldn't be a blustering public personality like John Paul. You'd have to go back to John XXIII to find someone analogous."

He concluded, “There are 117 cardinals and probably 116 of them would love to be pope.
“The one who wouldn't is O'Malley and that could be why he gets it."

Following Benedict’s announcement last week New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan was being mentioned as the top US pick for the Vatican but he has played down the rumors. At Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral he joked that these rumors were coming from “people smoking marijuana.”

Similarly O’Malley has insisted that the idea of being chosen is out of the question. His spokeswoman Kellyanne Dignan told NBC, “As the Cardinal said last week at his press conference, he has a round trip ticket to return home and will rely on the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit as the College of Cardinals enter the conclave in March.”

Here’s NECN’s report on the speculation