The Rev. Ed Malesic was getting ready to say his morning prayers Monday. Then he glimpsed a notice on his iPad.

"I was shocked," said Malesic, pastor of Holy Infant Parish in York Haven. "I had to double check what I saw."

Moments later, Malesic accepted that Pope Benedict XVI had indeed announced plans to resign on Thursday, Feb. 28.

The 85-year-old pope said that he lacks the strength to fulfill his duties. He will become the first pontiff in 600 years to resign.

His announcement sets the stage for a conclave in March to elect a new leader for the world's 1 billion Catholics.

When (Benedict) first became pope, people thought he was going to be very strict and stern because that was his reputation," Malesic said. "But what came from him was a very humble, almost reserved but very kind and gentle person, very thoughtful."

Benedict's resignation is an act of humility, said the Rev. Jonathan Sawicki, pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in York City.

"A humble person knows when they should not do things anymore," Sawicki said. "He had gotten tired, gotten frailer. He chose to go out smoothly to prepare for a faster way for a new pope, no drama or speculation that gets people in an uproar."

In making the retirement decision, Benedict put the Catholic Church before himself, said Deacon Tom Aumen of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Hanover.

"I think it's a courageous decision he's making," Aumen said. "He could hang on and hang on just to be pope. He considered the importance of the universal Catholic Church more than his own continual legacy."

While Benedict's resignation comes as a surprise, the pope did say in 2010 that if a pontiff was too ill or weak to carry on a demanding ministry, he should resign, said the Rev. Sylvan Capitani, pastor of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in New Freedom.

"We're losing a pope who was probably one of the best theological people in modern time," Capitani said. "He's a brilliant theologian, and his books are increasingly precise and clear. He has a brilliant mind."

Benedict is a strong pope despite his physical frailties, Malesic said.

"His strength was in what he would say, not how he said it," Malesic said. "He wasn't a very dramatic type of pope. He's very thoughtful, remained an academic, continued to publish books, continued to discuss the meaning of Jesus for the world."

Scott Kurtzman, a member of St. Rose of Lima in York City, said he attended a Mass done by Benedict at Nationals Park stadium in Washington, D.C. in 2008. Capitani and Aumen said they also attended the event.

Kurtzman said he remains impressed by Benedict's work and teachings.

"He emphasized that the basic values of the Catholic faith can't change with the whims of society," Kurtzman said. "What's right is right and what's wrong is wrong."

Aumen and Kurtzman said they don't think this will be the last time the world will see a pope resign for age or health-related reasons, now that Benedict has done so in modern times.

However, Aumen said he hopes resignations don't become a practice used by popes who decide not to face difficult issues facing the Catholic Church. Nor does he want people to start demanding pontiff resignations because they feel they're dissatisfied with a pope's performance, Aumen added.

Sawicki said he doesn't think Benedict's decision will set a resignation trend among popes, though there could be a possibility for a pontiff resignation in the future. On the other hand, Sawicki said he believes the Catholic Church would still have popes who serve until their deaths.

Though Benedict is resigning, he is leaving a legacy that demonstrated his willingness to think "outside the box" in responding to people's spiritual concerns, Sawicki said.

"It's tremendous, the spirit, the force, the strength that (Benedict) had in order to do what he has done the last eight years," he said. "And he's done that beautifully."

-Reach Eyana Adah McMillan at emcmillan@yorkdispatch.com.