The religious studies department at West Virginia University was surprised by the news of the pope stepping down.
WVU religious studies professor Jane Donovan said the timing was especially shocking because he is stepping down around lent. She said this is one of the biggest holiday seasons in the Catholic church.
Donovan was also surprised about the relatively short notice.
"It is also quite shocking to have a pope give two weeks notice. That's unusual. That's like you would give for a regular job, and this is a pretty big job," Donovan said.
Cardinals from around the world will gather at the Vatican to choose a new pope. Vatican sources said there will be a new pope by Easter.