"Isn't that something? Wow!" the Rev. John Vakulskas, pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Alton, Iowa, said Wednesday morning upon learning that Archbishop Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the former bishop of the Diocese of Sioux City, has been elevated to the rank of cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI.
DiNardo, 58, is one of 23 men, including one other American, who were named Wednesday to join the elite ranks of the "princes" of the Roman Catholic Church.
Yet while the former Sioux City bishop's selection came as a surprise to his Siouxland friends and colleagues, the only real surprise, they say, is that it came as early as it did, just 10 years after he had progressed from the office of parish priest to co-adjutor bishop of Sioux City and, within two years, to bishop of Sioux City, then to archbishop of Galveston-Houston and now to the College of Cardinals. He was Sioux City's bishop for five years.
In a prepared statement, his successor as bishop in Sioux City, the Most Rev. R. Walter Nickless, said the news is "both exciting and gratifying to us all."
As a member of the college of cardinals, Nickless noted, DiNardo will serve as one of the Holy Father's principal colleagues and chief advisers. He will also be eligible to serve as an elector of a new pontiff in the next papal conclave.
"We here in the Diocese of Sioux City can take justifiable pride in his elevation to this important and sacred office," Nickless said, "for it was here that he was ordained as a bishop, and it was here that he honed his skills as pastor, teacher and administrator to such an extent that he was rightly called by the Holy Father to undertake these same roles in a much larger and more diverse archdiocese."
The Rev. Paul Louis Arts, rector at the Cathedral of the Epiphany, said everybody knew that DiNardo was exceptionally talented and the fact that he went from such a small diocese to Houston was a tip-off that he would some day be a cardinal. "He'll be just fine. When he came to us, he was a pastor of a parish in Pittsburgh, and he learned from the ground up," Arts said. "He's very good with people. He remembers names. He remembers people. He's a very personable person and a very able administrator. He's a holy man of God. I was very pleased about the whole thing."
Like Arts, the Rev. Laurence Burns, pastor of Sacred Church in Early, Iowa, was not surprised to see DiNardo "move up the ladder," only at the speed with which he did it. "He was always inspiring, did wonderful homilies. He was easy to be around when he came for confirmation of whatever it might be," Burns said.
Vakulskas said the fact that DiNardo is the first southern U.S. cardinal is particularly gratifying. "It's a surprise that the bishop of Houston is now a cardinal. That's huge!" he said. Los Angeles is as far south as previous and present U.S. cardinals have been appointed, he noted.
As a bishop in Sioux City, DiNardo was always reaching out to his priests and to the people, Vakulskas said. "He was very warm, very engaging. You could tell that he was a happy man and a man of God. His sense of humor is disarming," he said. "He had a real grasp of what was happening in the diocese and was always eager to spread the word of God and do the work of the church. Always eager."
The Rev Craig Collison, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Sioux City, said only the rapidity of DiNardo's elevation is a surprise. The six years DiNardo worked at the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops probably helped, he noted. "I didn't think we would keep him in the Sioux City Diocese for all that long," he said.
Jim Wharton, who served as the diocesan communications director during DiNardo's tenure here and still keeps in regular contact, said that when DiNardo phoned this morning and told him he had been elevated to cardinal, the archbishop was surprised and humbled. Every call that DiNardo has received over the years from the Papal Nuncio has come from "out of the blue," Wharton said, dating back to that first call 10 years ago informing him he was being sent to Sioux City as bishop.
"When I visited with him this morning when he called, he was overjoyed," Wharton said. "He was ecstatic about this news, but also very humble, which is the kind of person that Archbishop DiNardo is. Having worked with him for a number of years, I can tell you that I've never met a kinder, more articulate and more holy person than he."
Unfortunately, Wharton said, he could never make DiNardo a sports fan. He's the kind of guy more comfortable attending an opera at the Orpheum Theatre. Though when duty called, Wharton could drag the then-bishop off to a sporting event, maybe to meet with a possible donor.
Wharton, a longtime fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, said he repeatedly told the bishop, "How can you be a Catholic and not like the Cardinals?" The subject arose again Wednesday morning. Said Wharton to DiNardo: "You know how I love the Cardinals. Well, you finally made the team. And I'm very excited about that." DiNardo's response, he said, was something to the effect that, well, Jim, it just doesn't work. "And good for him. We had very, very different types of interests and likes, but we still were very, very good friends," Wharton said.
DiNardo's cardinals, after all, play in a slightly different ballpark. Sioux City Journal
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Cardinal DiNardo's life in Pennsylvania --- Memorable quote: "If I can't say my homily in seven minutes, it isn't worth saying." My kind of Cardinal!