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Joy, surprise as priests celebrate a world first

Few were more surprised by the election of Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the Pope than members of his own order in Canberra.

The early morning announcement was greeted with celebration by the six members of the Society of Jesus Xavier House in Yarralumla, led by Father Frank Brennan.

With 140 members in Australia, the 20,000-strong Jesuits are known for service in education and serving the poor worldwide.

Father Des Purcell said members of the order were not usually considered candidates to become leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

''It was a delightful surprise and I think it represents a wonderful move of change,'' he said. ''I am very impressed by his humility, his prayerfulness and his commitment to those living in poverty in South America and around the world.''

Father Purcell said Pope Francis had encouraged his fellow Argentinians not to travel to Rome for the papal conclave but to donate money to the poor.

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''There is no doubt he has lots of things to do, reforming the Vatican curia, tackling issues of sexual abuse and providing good leadership to the church around the world,'' he said.

Pope Francis is expected to be formally installed at a special mass next Tuesday, the feast of St Joseph.

The 76-year-old made a name for himself leading a simple life, forgoing a luxurious mansion reserved for the archbishop of Buenos Aires and travelling by public transport.

The Jesuit order runs some of Australia's leading schools, in keeping with their reputation as an intellectual force within the Catholic Church.

Former students of Melbourne's Xavier College and St Ignatius' College in Riverview, Sydney, include Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten.

Father Purcell said several Jesuit priests worked at high levels in the Vatican bureaucracy, providing theological and social scientific expertise to the Holy Father.