The last time a Catholic pope resigned, Christopher Columbus had not yet discovered America.
It was 600 years ago.
"I'm shocked," said Sarah Smith of West Hanover Township after noon mass at St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg. "Just totally shocked."
Rank and file parishioners are not alone. The guy who was appointed by Pope Benedict to head the Harrisburg Diocese was also stunned by pontiff's pending departure.
"I was initially surprised and shocked this morning," said Bishop Joseph McFadden. "As my phone was ringing off the hook at 6 a.m., I was wondering why I was getting all these phone calls."
As a young priest, Father Joshua Brommer—a Lancaster Catholic graduate—heard the bells ringing and was in Saint Peter's Square when Benedict was named eight years ago.
"I saw the white smoke and waited for the bell to swing," Brommer said. "It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life."
He noted that Benedict was a surprising selection then and will leave in surprising fashion.
"We're not used to a pope resigning, especially under good circumstances. So this is a surprise to all of us."
Mechanicsburg's Drew Richards is in Rome and witnessed Monday's history. He talked to abc27 via Skype.
"It was absolutely big news," Richards said. "I was sitting at lunch and all of a sudden there were people running in the streets heading toward the Vatican because they thought something big was going to happen."
Richards said the hope in Rome is that an Italian will succeed the German Benedict.
Cardinals will meet in the coming weeks, including four with ties to Pennsylvania, to decide the next pontiff to lead the world's billion Catholics.
Midstate Catholics have their preferences.
"I'd like to see somebody a little bit younger," said Paul Dlugolecki of Mechanicsburg. "A little bit more contemporary-minded, with a broader world view. Much like Pope John Paul had."
"I would like to see somebody I guess slightly more extroverted than Pope Benedict the 16th but still with the great intellectual vigor he possessed," said Tyler Harnsberger of Lower Paxton Township.
I asked McFadden about the chances of an American being named pope. "I wouldn't bet on it," he said with a chuckle. "I'm sure the odds are long in Las Vegas."