In Middletown this morning, the pastor of the third largest Roman Catholic parish in the Diocese of Trenton got the news of Pope Benedict XVI's stunning resignation at 5:45 a.m. via a text message from a parishioner.
Rev. Jeffrey Kegley of Saint Mary said he immediately realized the importance of this historic moment, because the last time a pope stepped down was 600 years ago.
"It's shocking to the whole Catholic community," said Father Kegley. "He is a holy, humble man, and a very bright man. He is sharp as a tack to be able to do this, in freedom. It shows humility, to say you can't continue to do the job."
Pope Benedict XVI, 85, announced early Monday though the Vatican in Rome that he will step down at the end of the month, citing deteriorating health. The pope is the spiritual leader of the world's one billion Roman Catholics.
Now, a new pope will be chosen by the Cardinals to replace the Pope Benedict, who is the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
At Mater Dei Prep High School, where a portrait of the Pope hangs in the front foyer, people came to school this morning buzzing about the news. There was a prayer for special intentions for the Pope this morning, and thoughts are turning to how a pope is replaced.
"For us, in regards to the world of education, it's a great teaching moment," said Mater Dei Principal Steven Sciarappa.
All students at Mater Dei Prep have a daily religion class, and many would be delving into the richly detailed process of how popes are selected and announced.
For Sciarappa, Pope Benedict will be remembered as a man whose lasting legacy was to bring Catholics back to a calmer place in a hurried world. "He reminded everyone to be still, to be reflective, and to analyze yourself. That is what spiritual journey is about."
"He said to be prayerful, to get back to church, learn your lessons, let people guide you through your faith journey."
The Bishop of Trenton, the Most Rev. David M. O'Connell, issued a statement saying he felt some sadness at the announcement, but was impressed by the "courage and devotion" demonstrated by the Pope, who he once met in Washington D.C.
"In a world where power and influence are sought after and held tightly, this passing of the papal crozier speaks volumes about Pope Benedict XVI's humility and desire that the Catholic Church be led effectively and well," the bishop said.
You can read the full text of the Pope's declaration via VaticanRadio.