Marisa Dashney, with her father Kevin at the piano, have their performance recorded by Salt+Light TV for the virtual Cardinal’s Dinner. Photo courtesy John Ecker

Archdiocese forges ahead with unique Cardinal’s Dinner

  • October 23, 2020

You could be forgiven for cursing COVID-19 because it is robbing Toronto Catholics of yet another opportunity to gather and celebrate. But John Ecker doesn’t think that the pandemic forcing the annual Cardinal’s Dinner online Nov. 5 is so bad.

With Toronto recording hundreds of new COVID-19 cases a day, Ecker is not about to argue with reality. The archdiocese won’t and shouldn’t cram 1,700 people together in the Metro Convention Centre for a joyous evening of conversation, stories, food and wine. But joyous evenings come in many flavours, including virtual.

“Hey, you can’t sit down in person,” conceded Ecker. “But order a meal and enjoy it.”

Thanks to a relationship Ecker has forged with Recipe Unlimited, attendees at the no-cost, virtual event can order dinner from Swiss Chalet or East Side Mario’s and get 10 per cent off. The catering menus at The Pickle Barrel and Marigolds and Onions are available at 20 per cent off.

Beginning at 7 p.m., the evening will stream on the archdiocese’s Facebook page ( and be broadcast nationwide on Salt + Light ( The evening will also include a musical performance from Kevin and Marisa Dashney.

“It’s a neat way of having dinner,” said Ecker, a veteran fundraiser with the archdiocese who has been working on the Cardinal’s Dinner organizing committee. “Imagine you are tuning in at 7 and you’ve ordered your Swiss Chalet, and you’ve ordered it with a discount with some money going to the Cardinal’s Dinner.”

The dinner helps fund a couple dozen Toronto Catholic charities. During the broadcast, diners will get to learn more about how those charities will use the money through up-close video profiles of beneficiaries of the dinner.

“The opportunity for that face-to-face networking is obviously not there,” conceded Ecker. “But it’s an important dinner that provides needed funds for charities. And it’s also a great opportunity for His Eminence (Cardinal Thomas Collins) to provide a message and leadership, not only for Catholics but for all of us.”

Rather than formal speechifying, Collins will sit down with CTV broadcast journalist Alicia Markson for an interview. It’s a “more intimate” approach that people will appreciate, Ecker said.

Like many who have endured the isolation and anxieties of the COVID era, Ecker hopes next year’s dinner will be live and in person. But he’s not going to let the opportunity of this year’s Cardinal’s Dinner escape.

“We’re going to capture a broader audience, to a degree — an audience beyond the Archdiocese of Toronto,” he said.

For information on the Cardinal’s Dinner, see

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