03/14/2013 10:22 am ET Updated May 14, 2013

What's in a Name? The Most Profound Papal First

Much has been said about Pope Francis being the first papal selection from the New World or the first to be selected from the ranks of the Jesuits, but most amazing to me is that he is the first to select the name of Francis. This speaks volumes as to who he is and how he sees his role.

There are many orders in the Catholic Church. I personally was educated at a Benedictine university (St. John's University in Minnesota) and raised my children in Dominican and Crosier parishes. Those who know religious orders know that the Jesuits and the Franciscans (founded by St. Francis of Assisi) stand at opposite ends for the demographic spectrum.

The Jesuits were historically the confessors to kings and educated royal youth. It is therefore unsurprising that they became the sponsors of great universities throughout the world and advocates for causes that capture the attention of the world's elite.

Conversely, the Franciscans have always directed their attention to the poor and downtrodden. St. Francis never was ordained as a priest. He and his followers lived in their community as "lesser brothers," fratres minores in latin. The Franciscans are called the Order of Friars Minor even though they are one of the major religious orders on the planet. Their legacy is not prestigious campuses in the world's largest cities, but laboring in world's unnoticed crevices amongst those most in need of their help.

Growing up I had an Advent calendar on my bedroom wall with envelopes to send my loose change to the Franciscans to help the poor. As a parent, I helped my children consider Jesuit universities during their college search (though they ended up at schools sponsored by the Congregation of Holy Cross -- the University of Notre Dame and the Diocese of Dallas -- University of Dallas).

It is indeed profound that the first Jesuit Pope did not chose to honor St. Ignatius, the order's founder, but instead selected the patron saint of an order known more for its humility than the tall spires of its institutions of higher learning. Following the example of St. Francis, who left life as a nobleman to preach repentance barefoot and dressed in rough tunic, Pope Francis has also chosen a more humble personal path. The "Primitive Rule" or "Regula primitiva" St. Francis laid down for those in his order was "To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps." A close review of Pope Francis' life reveals that he has taken this order to heart.

One day while praying at the small church of St. Damian, just outside the walls of his hometown of Assisi, Italy, St. Francis felt the eyes of Christ gazing at him from the cross and heard a voice call to him, "Francis, go and repair my house, which you see is falling down." Francis immediately set out to rebuild St. Damian thinking that was what he had been called to do. Only later did he come to realize that his charge had been to rebuild the church more broadly. The Jesuits' Francis -- Francis of Xavier -- also took this charge seriously by bringing the Catholic Faith to India and Japan.

Pope Francis' name has made his agenda clear. While political leaders define their goals with phrases such as hope, change, or forward, popes define their mission by what name they select for their papacy. You can expect Pope Francis to go about the task of rebuilding a church beset on all sides by relativism and secularity to embrace a more profound commitment to its mission of preaching the Good News while exhibiting compassion. You should not expect Francis to do this with lofty speeches or profound pronouncements, but rather with a degree of humility rarely seen on this planet and a devotion to simply "follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps."

Hon. Mark R. Kennedy leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).