The United States’ Youngest Cardinal

A profile of Daniel DiNardo

On June 17, Cardinal Daniel Di- Nardo expressed “grave concern over the FDA’s current process for approving the drug Ulipristal (with the proposed trade name of Ella) for use as an ‘emergency contraceptive.’ Ulipristal is a close analogue to the abortion drug RU-486, with the same biological effect—that is, it can disrupt an established pregnancy weeks after conception has taken place.”

Cardinal DiNardo expressed these concerns as chairman of the US bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, the latest in a line of responsibilities he has assumed in recent years. As recently as 1997, he was simply “Father Dan,” a 48-year-old Pittsburgh parish priest, before he was appointed coadjutor bishop of a small Iowa diocese. At the age of 54, he was appointed coadjutor bishop of Galveston-Houston, and at 58, Pope Benedict made him a cardinal—the first cardinal from a diocese in the South, and the youngest American cardinal since Cardinal Roger Mahony received his red hat in 1991.

Following the consistory of 2007, Pope Benedict appointed Cardinal Di- Nardo a member of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (2008) and the Pontifical Council for Culture (2009). In the fall of 2009, he assumed the leadership of the US bishops’ pro-life efforts. He will take part in any conclave that occurs before his 80th birthday in 2029 and appears destined to be one of the leading American ecclesial figures of the next two decades.


Born in Ohio in 1949, the future cardinal grew up in suburban Pittsburgh. He attended a Catholic grade school with 1,600 students; at the age of 14, he entered the Bishop’s Latin School, a now defunct Jesuit-run pre-seminary high school. Upon graduation, he entered the Pittsburgh diocesan seminary and studied at Duquesne University.

He then received Catholic University of America’s prestigious Basselin Scholarship, which is awarded to seminarians of superior academic promise and culminates in a master’s degree in philosophy. The seminarian’s master’s thesis was titled “The Status of the Image in Good and Bad Rhetoric: Plato’s Phaedrus, Gorgias, and Sophist.”

“I went to a Jesuit high school, and for the first few years of college, I majored in the classics,” Cardinal DiNardo told CWR. “Therefore, I had eight years of Latin and seven years of Greek before ever getting near theology. When I studied philosophy in a special program at Catholic University, I ended up studying Plato. I joke that I already had a tendency to live in the fourth century AD by the time I began my theological studies.”

He earned a subsequent degree in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University and was ordained to the priesthood in 1977.

The young Father DiNardo served as a parochial vicar in Pittsburgh before returning to Rome to study the Church Fathers at the Augustinianum. “I consider the Fathers of the Church to offer us an original, faithful, and magnificent unpacking of the Scriptures and the Gospel in brand new situations of culture,” Cardinal DiNardo told CWR. “They were so clear on the meaning of Jesus Christ and so natural in their appreciation of the Church’s witness and the Body of Christ in the world. They did their work with great focus. I think their example is a sterling one for teaching and for practical living of the Gospel, even today.”

“St. Augustine,” he adds, “has more intelligence in his little finger than most of the rest of us put together. We have a lot to learn from him.”

After earning his licentiate in sacred theology in 1981, Father DiNardo returned to Pittsburgh, where the late Bishop Vincent Leonard appointed him assistant chancellor of the diocese and a part-time seminary professor. In 1984, he went back to Rome for a six-year stint as a staff member of the Congregation for Bishops.

Father DiNardo did not desire to remain in the Roman Curia, according to Father Lou Vallone, a high school friend and Pittsburgh priest. “He never shirked what the Church asked of him, but never gave up his ideal of being a parish priest,” Father Vallone told CWR. “He requested to be brought back to Pittsburgh from his assignment at the Congregation of Bishops specifically to become a pastor.”

In 1994, Father DiNardo became founding pastor of a suburban parish. “He brought it from 600 families having Mass in an office building to 1,500 families with a temporary church, offices, classrooms, hall, and residence,” recalls Father Vallone.


If Father DiNardo’s reputation as a pastor began to blossom in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, it came to full flower in northwestern Iowa. In 1997, Pope John Paul II appointed him coadjutor bishop of Sioux City, and the following year, he acceded to the see, succeeding Bishop Lawrence Soens. At his episcopal ordination, he invited Bishop Raymond Burke to join the bishops of Sioux City and Pittsburgh as a co-consecrator.

Mother Kateri Marie of the Eucharist, prioress of Sioux City’s Discalced Carmelite monastery, recalls that on the day of the press conference announcing his appointment as coadjutor bishop, Father DiNardo asked if there were any contemplative orders in the diocese and visited the monastery on his way back to the airport.

“It was during Bishop DiNardo’s time with us that our young prioress was diagnosed with brain cancer,” she added. “We only needed to call him on a given occasion, and he was there to pray with her and us. His sensitivity and compassion were so very evident and so appreciated.”

During Bishop DiNardo’s tenure in Sioux City, the diocese became one of the most vocation-rich dioceses in the nation and by 2005 ranked 19th in the ratio of seminarians to Catholics. “We sponsored regularly scheduled evenings where the bishop shared a meal and prayer with young men and their pastors to discuss the idea of priesthood and meals with young women to discuss the idea of religious life,” Father Brian Hughes, then vocation director, told CWR in 2006. Between 1998 and 2004, said Father Hughes, “the bishop met with over 1,500 young men and women,” adding, “among our seminarians we consciously and deliberately emphasize the importance of adherence to the Magisterium of the Church, a regular prayer and devotional life, and dedication to works of charity, especially among the poor.”

“I think most people found Cardinal DiNardo to be forthright,” says Joanne Fox, a Sioux City Journal reporter. “I recall in one interview he stressed, ‘There is no bishop school. You learn to be a bishop by doing it.’… He spoke of one’s prayer life becoming ‘very honest and very clear.’ He cited his main challenge as bishop was always trying to be a good shepherd.”

But Bishop DiNardo’s record there wasn’t flawless. In 2002, when clerical abuse scandals made headlines nationwide—in time, Bishop Soens would be accused of abuse—the Des Moines Register reported that a retired Sioux City priest who had been credibly accused of abuse had been saying daily Mass at the Sioux City cathedral. “In retrospect, as we look back, we would say that even that limited activity…is not indicated for someone who has abused minors,” Bishop DiNardo told the newspaper. “I can only say that it was wrong.” Bishop DiNardo permanently removed the priest from ministry, but his handling of the situation was criticized by the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.


In early 2004, Pope John Paul appointed Bishop DiNardo coadjutor bishop of Galveston-Houston; he became coadjutor archbishop later in the year when Galveston-Houston was raised to the dignity of a metropolitan archdiocese. In 2006, he acceded to the see, succeeding Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza.

In 1900—when the five largest cities in the United States were New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Boston—Houston was a small city of 44,000. By 1990, it had become the nation’s fourth largest city, behind New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. If Pittsburgh and Sioux City represent two strands of American Catholic culture that flourished in the past—one urban, the other rural, both influenced by European immigration—then Galveston-Houston represents the American Catholicism of the future.

“We have incredible variety. We celebrate Mass in up to 17 languages in our archdiocese,” says Cardinal DiNardo. “We are delighted not only by the presence of our Hispanic community, but by the presence of our brothers and sisters of numerous other cultures: Vietnamese, Filipino, Korean, Chinese, and more. I see all these populations as enriching the archdiocese, bringing both a devotional impulse and an intense commitment to our local community of faith. I see the many cultures which form the Body of Christ in Galveston-Houston as a very hopeful sign of unity.”

During his years in Galveston-Houston, “Cardinal DiNardo has placed emphasis on liturgy and catechesis, but that does not mean other areas are less important,” says Father Lawrence Jozwiak, rector of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.

He has stressed the importance of the Eucharist—the Mass—and other communal forms of worship: strong and effective preaching; good and appropriate music applicable to the Scriptures; the importance of chanting; being faithful to the Church’s liturgical principles and guidelines, etc. Plus, Cardinal DiNardo emphasizes the importance of good catechesis: explaining effectively the Catholic faith and teachings and passing them on to all the people, whether young or older, knowledgeable or not-so-knowledgeable, Catholic or non-Catholic.

In doing so, Cardinal DiNardo has led by example, says Dr. Dominic Aquila, vice president for academic affairs at the University of St. Thomas, a Basilian university whose fidelity to Ex Corde Ecclesiae has been praised by the Cardinal Newman Society.

“Cardinal DiNardo loves the liturgy and is committed to excellence in the music accompanying liturgies in his diocese,” says Dr. Aquila. “He himself sets a high musical standard. He loves to sing and chant.”

“Liturgical abuse isn’t that bad here in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston,” says Tito Edwards, a Houston layman who writes the blog Custos Fidei. Edwards believes that Cardinal DiNardo’s primary accomplishment, “from my orthodox-leaning point of view…is improving how the liturgy is celebrated in the archdiocese.… Slowly, but surely, word began to spread of how well certain Masses were celebrated within the two years of Cardinal DiNardo’s elevation to archbishop’s seat in Galveston-Houston.”

For his part, Cardinal DiNardo has spoken repeatedly at US bishops’ meetings in favor of forthcoming liturgical translations that aim to better convey the content and majesty of the original Latin text. “The new English translation of the Roman Missal will be very helpful for allowing the beauty of the original Latin, which is so filled with scriptural references, to become more apparent to our people,” Cardinal DiNardo told CWR. “I also believe the role of the immigrant communities, which bring with them some of their particular celebrations of the liturgy, will be helpful to the Church. The liturgy is an ongoing work of prayer and discipline, and the current renewal of the sacred liturgy is continuing the growth and progress we have realized since Vatican II, while also preserving the rich heritage of the Church.”

Msgr. William Stetson, a priest of Opus Dei who serves as secretary of the Pastoral Provision for the ordination of former Episcopal Church clergy, notes that Cardinal DiNardo has been very supportive of the local Anglican Use parish.

Father Pat Garrett, a priest ordained in 2009, says that “the Church has often faced criticism from our neighbors for an inadequate use of the Bible in our faith and worship. However, since becoming shepherd of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Cardinal DiNardo has significantly changed people’s perception about the role of the Word of God in the Catholic faith.… In his homilies and talks, Cardinal DiNardo always provides deep, rich insight into Scripture, demonstrating his own love for and in-depth knowledge of Scripture.” Dr. Aquila concurs: “Cardinal DiNardo’s passionate love of Scripture serves him well in the Galveston-Houston region, with its strong Baptist and Bible church traditions.”

The cardinal has made special efforts in recent months to defend Pope Benedict—a pope whose homilies, he told CWR, “will one day be seen in the same class as St. Leo the Great’s homilies.” “At a recent dinner in Houston of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Cardinal DiNardo encouraged us to defend Pope Benedict XVI against ill-formed criticisms of his papacy,” says Dr. Aquila. “Typical of his personal investment in issues of high importance, Cardinal DiNardo offered to write or call personally anyone we heard offer misinformed, public criticisms of the pope.”

Some cardinals make their influence felt through political statements; others, through bricks and mortar. Cardinal DiNardo’s “personal investment” in others may be the means through he will exercise his greatest influence. “I have noticed personally the tremendous impact he has had in unifying the many cultural diversities of the archdiocese,” says local Catholic writer Vanessa Barnes, who was “most touched by the thoughtful compassion he showed” during recent hurricanes.


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About J. J. Ziegler 55 Articles
J. J. Ziegler writes from North Carolina.