Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki and emcee Portia Young talk during the virtual Catholic Schools dinner on Tuesday, April 13. (Photo by Tim Townsend)

There may not have been much “dinner” at this year’s Catholic Schools Dinner — but there were plenty of laughs to make up for it. During the hour-long virtual event, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee was joined by James Cardinal Harvey, Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York and Bishop Donald J. Hying of Madison in a joyful, humor-infused celebration of all that Catholic education has to offer.

“I’m just going to imagine that we are at the Hyatt and there’s table after table, and we’re filing into the ballroom, and we’re getting ready to celebrate Catholic schools,” said emcee Portia Young, herself a Catholic school graduate and current Catholic school parent, as the evening commenced.

Titled “Crosiers, Comedy and Catholic Schools,” the event raised money for the Archdiocese’s Grant Initiatives for Today’s Students (GIFTS) Program.

“We need Catholic schools — our society needs it, we need Catholic schools, but really, in the truer sense, Catholic schools need us also,” said Archbishop Listecki.

Joining Young and Archbishop Listecki via Zoom was former Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan, who currently shepherds the Archdiocese of New York. Cardinal Dolan called his seven years in Milwaukee “extraordinarily happy” and spoke glowingly of the Catholic schools of this archdiocese, calling them “certainly one of the more sterling and exemplary cases of Catholic education in the United States.”

“I’ll do anything, go anywhere, talk to anybody on behalf of our Catholic schools,” said Cardinal Dolan. “All the challenges we talk about in the world and in the Church … all of those are taken care of in an exemplary way in our Catholic schools.”

Bishop Hying is a native son of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and a product of Catholic education. “All of us know that Catholic schools are a family, and when you walk into a Catholic school, you just probably feel something different, because God is at the center and we educate the whole person,” he said. “Tonight is a worthy project that all of us passionately believe in.”

But fundraising wasn’t the only goal of the evening. “We’re also here to share some laughs, because Heaven knows we could use some right now,” said Young.

Here are a few of the anecdotes the evening’s esteemed guests shared:

Archbishop Dolan recalled that, in seventh and eighth grade, “I was in charge of the bake sales. I got to eat the leftovers, and that was always a boost — the cakes and the pies that weren’t sold. I did get in trouble once for taking the Hostess cupcakes out of (another student’s) lunchbox. These are very confidential facts, folks, and they obviously did not come out in the investigation that was done on me before I became a bishop.”

In eighth grade, Bishop Hying was voted by his classmates as “most likely to be the first American pope.” “I think it’s because on Wednesdays we had a choice of either going to study hall or going to Mass, and I always went to Mass,” he said. “The bar was set pretty low. Just because I went to Mass they always thought I was going to be pope.”

Cardinal Harvey recalled that he was often asked to leave class to serve funerals. In fact, he did it so frequently that “I pretty much knew the pastor’s homily,” he said. “He practically always gave the same one, and he had it down to a T. Well, one time, toward the end of eighth grade, after I heard this reflection so often, at a certain point the pastor had a momentary slip — he kind of lost his train of thought, and there was an awkward silence for a couple seconds. So I just chimed in and gave him the line … he looked down at me with such a stern look, I thought he was going to slug me. The other server was so afraid. I thought he was going to run out of church.”

Cardinal Dolan was also a frequent funeral altar server, he said. “I loved them because you got out of class. In those days, you often rode in the limousine to the cemetery. There would always be one of those cigarette lighters, and you would push them down and pull them up. We would take the incense that we were carrying — the little grains of incense — and put them in the cigarette lighter. And the car would fill up with the smoke to such an extent the driver once had to pull aside, thinking there was a fire. That day, we didn’t get our $2 tip — which also was a great benefit of serving — you got $2 to divide among the two servers. But we forfeited it that day because of the incense incident.”