With humor and an easy familiarity, Cardinal Timothy Dolan toured Iona Preparatory School in New Rochelle Monday after celebrating Lenten Mass for the students and faculty.
"You've got a splendid reputation here at Iona (Prep)," Dolan said to the students after the Mass was completed. "Everywhere I go I hear praise about you from alumni.
"You stand for so much," he said.
Dolan was making one of his first visits to Westchester County after returning from the Vatican where he was appointed to the College of Cardinals.
Brother Thomas R. Leto, president of Iona Prep, couldn't remember a visit by a cardinal to the school.
It was a unique experience for the prep school students to have Dolan visit and talk with them one on one, he said.
"He's larger than life," Leto said, "and his message is one of joy, happiness and the work of the Lord."
Jonathan Diakanwa, 17, of New Rochelle, was one of a small group of students who took Dolan on a quick tour of the school before having lunch with him and taking a group photograph.
"He was really cool," Diakanwa said, referring to Dolan. "He came up to me and shook my hand."
The senior student was proud of the way the school prepared for the visit.
"I thought it went well," Diakanwa said. "A lot of the kids took part."
Dolan was invited to visit by senior Joseph Noschese after Dolan served Mass in October 2011 at the Church of Holy Family in the Bronx.
"I sent a letter and got a response from his secretary," Noschese said. "I was walking down the hallways and teachers were congratulating me," much to his surprise that Dolan had agreed to the visit.
Michael Florio, 16, a junior from Eastchester, got to help serve Mass with Dolan Monday.
"It was so cool," he said. "I got to hold his hat for him. It was nice to be with him."
Florio said the students were well versed in protocol in dealing with a cardinal by the time of Dolan's visit.
"We actually prepared for him quite a lot," he said.
Dolan was presented with a note from the students, a gift basket of Iona Prep apparel—"Sweatshirts," Dolan said. "Good they're mediums. Way to go," the tall, broad shouldered cardinal quipped—and a Celtic cross carved out of stone from the Isle of Iona.
The cardinal was shown the Jakeway Library and newly renovated biology and chemistry labs and popped into several classrooms to greet students.