When Pope Benedict XVI surprised the Catholic world by announcing his pending retirement on Monday speculation immediately turned to his successor and a Canadian is near the top of the list.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet's name has been one of many bandied about in the aftermath of the first papal resignation in over 600 years. If the former archbishop of Quebec City is elected by his follow cardinals to lead the world's more than one billion Catholics, he would be the first non-European pope in more than a millennium.
"I think it would be an incredible boost for the church in Canada to have a Canadian as the pope," Immaculate Conception school principal Donncha O'Callaghan said. "I think that would be absolutely amazing and I think it would add huge strength to the church in Canada.
Ouellet, 68, is currently the head of the Congregation for Bishops and is considered to be close to Benedict. O'Callaghan said the fact the Ouellet's name is alongside cardinals from Africa and South America as the favourites show a new worldview for the church.
Local Catholic Dan Paxton said he thinks a Canadian pope would help the church increase attendance across the country.
"It would be a big thing for Canada," Paxton said. "It was the same thing when John Paul II took over, in Poland it was amazing."
Diocese of Prince George administrator Father Richard Beaudette agreed it would be special if Ouellet was selected as Benedict's successor.
"It would be quite an honour," Beaudette said. "But Canada wouldn't get any special consideration, I don't think."
The 85-year-old Benedict made the announcement on Monday morning in Rome, but intends to stay in office until the end of the month. Church officials hope to have a new pontiff installed before the celebration of Easter on March 31.
Benedict was the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415 and cited health reasons for his surprise decision. Beaudette said ever since reforms during the second Vatican council in 1965 created a retirement age of 75 for bishops, it was possible for a pope to retire.
"I'm sure most people will be quite surprised, maybe even shocked, but the life of the church will carry on," he said. "We always have a process, so there's never really a vacuum."
Beaudette compared the situation in Rome to that in Prince George where Bishop Gerald Wiesner retired in January and Bishop-elect Stephen Jensen isn't slated to be ordained and installed until April 2. In the absence of a bishop, a group of diocesan priests elected Beaudette as the interim administrator.
Both Paxton and O'Callaghan called Benedict's decision courageous and they hope that it opens the door for future popes to also step aside if the rigours of the job prove to be too much to handle.
"I think sometimes it's like the Queen, they figure they're obligated to be there until they die and I don't think that's the best idea," Paxton said. "When a person is 85 years old, it's tough to be asked to do what they have to do day in and day out."
Benedict succeeded Pope John Paul II in 2005 and O'Callaghan said he will be remembered as someone who was a great writer and was in charge when the new English language Roman Missal was introduced in 2011.
"I think the word 'faith' very much comes to mind," he said when asked about Benedict's legacy. "I think it's very fitting that the year in which he is retiring is the year of faith."