Dubuque couple in Rome sees new pope firsthand - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Dubuque couple in Rome sees new pope firsthand

Gary and Kay Gansemer Gary and Kay Gansemer

A vacation to Rome, planned well before then-Pope Benedict XVI's resignation, turned into the trip of a lifetime for one Dubuque couple.

Some 150,000 people gathered at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City Wednesday. The crowd included Dubuque couple and lifelong Catholics Gary and Kay Gansemer, who sent KWWL a video message Thursday from Rome.

"Kay and I felt truly blessed to be there last night for the announcement of the selection of Pope Francis as the newest head of the Catholic church," Gary Gansemer said.

On a St. Ambrose University alumni trip to Italy -- planned last year -- the couple happened to arrive in St. Peter's Square just minutes before the white smoke started rising from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, signaling the election of a new pope.

"We arrived in a crowded St. Peter's just at 7 p.m. About five minutes later, we saw the white smoke appear, and we all went crazy," Gansemer said.

The couple's daughter, Jill Gansemer in Dubuque, has been closely following her parents' experience through email exchanges.

"He said to us that he will never forget 3-13-13 being the day that they were able to be there," Jill Gansemer said.

She even found video of her parents from that night, shot by a Pennsylvania TV station. In it, Gary Gansemer joyfully exclaims to the camera, "Great news! Great news! Woo hoo!"

"My dad's one of those people that's kind of like a kid in a candy shop. He loves Christmas, he loves presents, he loves to be surprised by things," Jill Gansemer said. "I think the biggest thing for my mom is the fact that my dad is so excited."

The Dubuque couple was further awestruck to learn the new pope chose St. Francis of Assisi as his namesake, as the couple on their tour had just that morning visited St. Francis' boyhood home.

"It was very special to see this man who has dedicated his life to the poor and choosing the name Francis as a representative of St. Francis, who is so special to the people here in Italy," Gary Gansemer said.

Jill Gansemer said it was the first time her father had been to Italy and that visiting Rome was a lifelong dream of his.

"It's so exciting for me to see that he's there and the dream that he's wanted since he's been a child," she said. "And then, not just to be in Rome, but to be in Rome for one of the biggest occasions, and the first pope from the Americas, and the first 'Francis,' and his first visit."

For these Dubuquers and lifelong Catholics, this historic moment was one they'll never forget.

This isn't the only historic moment Gary Gansemer has witnessed firsthand. He was also in Grant Park, Chicago, when Barack Obama was elected in 2008.

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