Monsignor Gregory Ketcham, director and head chaplain at St. John's Newman Center on the University of Illinois campus, said his first reaction when he learned about the selection of a new pope was a feeling of joy.
"There is a great deal of joy in knowing that the Holy Spirit has brought us this individual who will provide everything our church needs," he said.
Ketcham said his first impression is that Pope Francis is a humble man who will be a great spiritual leader for Catholics around the world.
"When he made his first public appearance, the first thing he did was to ask the people to pray for him before he made his first blessing to the people of the world," Ketcham said. "Pope Francis is obviously a man of great humility."
He said the pope's decision to take the name of Francis affirms his humility since St. Francis of Assisi was a humble man.
"A lot of people can identify with how gentle St. Francis of Assisi was," he said.
Ketcham said he believes Pope Francis will inspire Catholics around the world to grow in holiness.
"The pope needs first and foremost to be a holy man who encourages others to draw closer to the Lord in holiness," he said.
Ketcham said the election of a pope from Argentina will be especially popular for Latin American Catholics.
"One of the most beautiful things about the election of Pope Francis is that it provides affirmation to Latino Catholics," he said. "The church is thriving in Latin America.
"And by taking the name of Francis, the pope is providing affirmation to the Italians at the same time since St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of Italy."
Ketcham said the biggest challenge facing the new pontiff will be to counter a trend toward secularization around the world. Ketcham said it is also significant that the cardinals elected for the first time a member of the Jesuit order.
"The Jesuits are a very intellectual religious order, so Pope Francis follows in the footsteps of both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, who were both very intellectual popes," he said. "I suspect we may sense the spirituality of Jesuit founder St. Ignatius of Loyola through the new pope's ministry."
Retired Monsignor Albert Hallin, 84, of Champaign, said he wasn't surprised by the selection of a pope from outside of Europe.
"He certainly was among the group of possibilities. I think it's a tremendous outreach to the New World," said Hallin, a priest for 52 years who retired in June 2012 after being at the helm of Holy Cross Church in Champaign from 1997 to 2005 and later at St. Boniface in Seymour and St. Joseph in Ivesdale.
"I think it's long overdue. I'm absolutely convinced this is no doubt the work of the Holy Spirit," said Hallin.
Hallin said it helped the selection process that the cardinals were not also burdened with the funeral of a pope.
"That's why they could speed up the process," he said. "In my circles, everyone seemed to think it (the selection) would be in the first day or two."
Father Joe Hogan, vicar of the Champaign Vicariate, which includes the 18 Catholic parishes of Champaign, DeWitt and Piatt counties, said he was overjoyed to see Francis appear on the balcony to speak to the people of the world.
"I love his holiness, which I think is the most significant virtue for any leader," Hogan said. "During the conclave, I was thinking, 'I would like to see a pope from Africa or South America,' so having a pope from South America is going to be wonderful."
Hogan, pastor of St. Patrick's Church in Urbana and St. Mary's Church in Champaign, said the 300 to 400 persons who regular attend Spanish Masses he celebrates on Sunday afternoons at St. Mary's Church are likely "jumping for joy" at the prospect of a pope from Argentina.
Hogan said he believes Pope Francis will be a reformer who inspires Catholics to work more fervently for social justice.
"I'm impressed with his work with people with AIDS and the poor and the uneducated," Hogan said. "I like the idea of a pope who emphasizes social justice, and I think he is going to inspire people in that direction."
Hogan said there never before has been a pope named after St. Francis of Assisi.
"St. Francis was called by God to reform the Church, and I believe that is part of the reason Pope Francis chose that name," Hogan said. "He is looking to reform the church in a wonderful way."
Kenneth Howell, the former adjunct professor of Catholicism at the University of Illinois, said he was surprised to learn the cardinals had elected someone from the Western Hemisphere.
"It think it was surprising, but in a very happy way," Howell said. "This is the first pope ever elected from the Americas, and it makes sense given the pervasiveness of Catholicism in South America."
Howell described Pope Francis as a very learned man, saying he has a degree in theology and a doctorate in chemistry.
"It is also good that he is multilingual, since I think it is important to select someone who knows at least five or six languages," Howell said. "He is an articulate man who can speak on behalf of the church."
Howell said one priority for the new pope will be to reach out to young people.
"I would say if he continues to reach out to the entire world, especially to the youth of the world like Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict did, it would be a positive sign," Howell said.
Howell said the pope needs to reach out to both Catholics and non-Catholics.
"He needs to stress the distinctiveness of the Catholic faith along with an ecumenical and open spirit to people of other faiths and to people of no faith to dialogue and understand one another," Howell said.
Howell said the new pope can continue to help heal the Church following recent child sex abuse scandals.
"It will take a long time for the church to heal, and we all hope that the sexual abuses are in the past rather than in the future," Howell said. "If he provides leadership as a man of faith, hope and love, he will go a long way to heal the wounds inflicted by deviant practices."
Staff writer Mary Schenk and WDWS radio contributed to this story.