The result of the 1903 conclave was a surprise. Cardinal Rompolla had been expected to be declared Pope. His nomination was vetoed. Giuseppe Melchiorre Cardinal Sarto, Patriarch of Venice, had not been on the lists of likely successors.
At an audience in January 1959, Pope John XXIII recounted how, as a young seminarian in Rome, he had been present in St Peters Square when the white smoke had issued from the Conclave which elected Pope Pius X on 14th August 1903.
Special editions of newspapers were circulating within half a hour.
On his way back, he passed the Church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini quite near the Vatican. There he found an old woman studying the photographs of the new Pope. She said "I don`t know anything about this Pius X... but at least he`s handsome."
Some others at the time were not so enthusiatic about his election. The future Servant of God, Father Giovanni Semeria (Coldirodi, 26 September 1867 – Sparanise, 15 March 1931) and later co-founder of l’Opera per il Mezzogiorno d’Italia, on hearing of the result of the election, is reported to have said:
«Un reazionario! Siamo fritti» ("A reactionary ! We`re cooked !")
In this he was quite prophetic. In 1912, Pope Pius X exiled him from Genova to Belgium.