He was a surprise choice to be new top dog of the troubled Roman Catholic Church, and will take the name Pope Francis I.
The secret conclave began on Tuesday with a first ballot, and four ballots were held Wednesday. Bergoglio was not among the small group of frontrunners identified by most media before the feverish election run-up. But he should have been - in the previous papal election, he reportedly received the second-highest number of votes after Joseph Ratzinger (the previous recently-resigned pope).
At 76, Bergoglio has slowed a bit with age and is feeling the effects of having an infected lung removed in his teens - two obstacles against him at a time when many say this pope should be relatively young and strong.
Francis is the first Jesuit pope, the first from outside Europe in more than a millennium, the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first pope since John Paul I to take a previously unused papal name.
The 115 cardinal electors also dodged the race bullet - dashing the hopes of Ghana's Cardinal Peter Turkson to be the first black pope ever - by choosing another whitey for the driver's seat. Somewhat ironic, considering how swarthy, Mediterranean and dark Jesus must have looked...
Bergoglio's done the sack-cloth-and-ashes routine for many years in Argentina, never living in the ornate church mansion in Buenos Aires, preferring a simple bed in a downtown room heated by a small stove. For years, he used public transport and cooked his own meals.
But his papal position could be stalked by past decisions. He has:
+ encouraged his flock to oppose both abortion and euthanasia.
+ affirmed church teaching on homosexuality, saying on the one hand that gays must be accepted with respect, compassion, sensitivity and no discrimination...while on the other hand calling the pursuit of their equal rights the devil's work.
+ argued that gay adoptions discriminate against children.
+ been accused of failing to stand up publicly against Argentina's brutal military dictatorship from 1976-1983, with its regime of torture, death and kidnappings.