MIDTOWN — A day after 160 Catholic elementary schools across the region held open houses for prospective parents, Cardinal Timothy Dolan paid a visit to Cathedral High School Wednesday and re-emphasized the importance of keeping parochial educational facilities alive — while also displaying his signature sense of humor.
“We can’t let these kids down,” Dolan told DNAinfo New York, getting serious for a moment in between lighthearted jabs at students. “We’re in it for the long run. So have we had to make some terribly neuralgic decisions to close some schools? Yeah. But the goal of that is to strengthen and expand and solidify those that remain.”
Twenty-four Catholic schools in the archdiocese, which covers Manhattan, The Bronx, Staten Island and several suburban counties, closed at the end of the last school year, as the costs to maintain them have skyrocketed.
But Wednesday was a day to focus on one of the schools still standing. Dolan celebrated Mass and visited classes at the all-girls school at East 56th Street and First Avenue — and brought his typical playfulness to spice up the school day.
He poked fun at the students’ frowning faces when they enter the building — and their smiles when school lets out — and took a couple of light jabs at a Mets fan manning the elevator. He also cracked a joke about one of the subjects he found more challenging as a teen.
“I hate science,” Dolan quipped before entering a third-floor biology classroom. “What if it smells like rotten eggs in there?”
Students said they were caught off guard by Dolan’s shtick.
“I didn’t know he was that funny,” said senior Danae Ruiz. “I thought he’d be more serious and just say, ‘Praise Jesus’ a lot. But I like the humor.”
“He’s very sweet. He’s so nice,” added fellow senior Patricia Binagi. “I thought he was going to be more strict and religious, but he’s very light-hearted.”
While Dolan got in his fair share of one-liners — including telling the Mets fan elevator operator, “I thought we’d be stuck in the cellar with you operating it" — his tone was also uplifting.
He told the approximately 580 teen girls who packed into the first-floor gym that he was proud to serve them and he hoped they would stay on track.
“Life is a war, life is a battle, life is a struggle between good and evil,” he said. “Controlling the darker, more scary sides is what religion is all about.”
Dolan said Cathedral epitomized everything a parochial education should be.
“When we think about our Catholic high schools, yeah we think about the buildings, the courses, religion,” he said. “But it’s all about the girls. When you see them smiling, courteous, you see them well behaved, eager to learn, that’s what it’s all about.”