Most Reverend Nicholas C. Dattilo

“Love Life and Do Good”

Born on March 8, 1932, the Most Reverend Nicholas C. Dattilo is a native of New Castle, Pennsylvania, and attended Mahoning Grade School, New Castle, before attending Saint Fidelis Seminary High School and Jr. College.


Most Reverend Nicholas C. Dattilo
Eighth Bishop of Harrisburg


Bishop Nicholas C. Dattilo was ordained and installed as the eighth Bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg January 26, 1990, in Saint Patrick Cathedral. His seminary education continued at Saint Vincent Seminary in Latrobe and Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia.

Ordained a priest for the Diocese of Pittsburgh by Bishop (later Cardinal) John Dearden on May 31, 1958, Bishop Dattilo served as parochial vicar at Saint Patrick, Canonsburg, until 1971 when he was appointed pastor of Madonna del Castello, Swissvale, and Vicar for Religious Women. In 1981, Bishop Dattilo was appointed pastor of Saint Vitus, New Castle. In 1985, he was appointed Secretary for Clergy and in 1987 named General Secretary and Vicar General.

Bishop Dattilo was named the eighth Bishop of Harrisburg on November 21, 1989 by Pope John Paul II and ordained to the Episcopacy on January 26, 1990.

A number of initiatives and events defined Bishop Dattilo’s episcopacy: the Ecclesial Lay Ministry, re-organization of the diocesan administrative structure, the diocese’s 125th anniversary celebration, parish mergers, establishment of San Juan Bautista as a parish and Saint George as a mission, construction of the Cardinal Keeler Center and the Priests’ Retirement Residence, policies for the protection of minors, including the mandate of zero-tolerance of abuse, and the First Eucharistic Congress of the diocese.

In addition to serving as president of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and co-chair of the Pennsylvania Conference on Interchurch Cooperation, he was a member of visitation and evaluation committees for several Catholic seminaries and served on the Board of Regents for Saint Vincent Seminary in Latrobe.

Bishop Dattilo died on March 5, 2004, and is buried at Saint Lucy’s Cemetery of Saint Vincent de Paul Parish, New Castle. In 2005 the Priests’ Retirement Residence was named in his memory.

With the See of Harrisburg being vacant (sede vacante), Reverend James M. Lyons was elected Diocesan Administrator for the Diocese of Harrisburg by the College of Consultors.  The function of a Diocesan Administrator ceases when the new Bishop, appointed by the Pope, has taken canonical possession of the Diocese (cf. canon 430 §1).

By tradition the coat of arms of a bishop is joined with those of the diocese. On the left, the coat of arms of the Diocese of Harrisburg is based on the arms of the Penn family and the Harris family for whom the city of Harrisburg is named. The shield, divided by a Latin cross a symbol of the Catholic Faith, bears a shamrock to honor Saint Patrick, the principal patron of the diocese.

The black chief (upper partition) displays two silver roundels derived from the arms of William Penn, the English Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania. William Penn bore as arms a silver shield, thereon a black fess (horizontal band) charged with three silver roundels. The crescent from the arms of one of the branches of the Harris family represents John Harris, who emigrated to America from Yorkshire, England, and in 1712 settled Harris’ Ferry, now known as Harrisburg. The crescent is also the revered lunar symbol of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.

For his personal coat of arms, Bishop Dattilo has chosen symbols rich in religious and historical background and significance. The main charge, the tongues of fire, represents the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, and the source of every good deed. The gold crosses on the upper part of the shield are taken from the arms of the Diocese of Pittsburgh of which Bishop Dattilo is a native.

Red represents fire and commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit. Gold is the emblem of the sun, and of divinity.

The motto, taken from 1 Peter 3:8-11, reflects Bishop Dattilo’s conviction that the Christian message achieves its most powerful expression when people “LOVE LIFE AND DO GOOD.”

The single-traversed gold processional cross behind the shield is a sign of episcopal rank. It is the one emblem in ecclesiastical heraldry that is reserved to bishops.

Soon after Bishop Dattilo’s installation, a three-year Consultations Process was begun to assess the needs and resources of the entire diocesan Church in preparation for the next century. This resulted in a major reorganization of parishes and missions, because of populations shifts within the fifteen counties of the diocese.

In a further effort to prepare the diocesan Church for the future, Bishop Dattilo initiated the Ecclesial Lay Ministry Program. Established in 1998, this three-year formation program prepares trained lay leaders who are knowledgeable and faithful to the teaching, governance and sacramental life of the Church.

Also in 1998, Bishop Dattilo directed that the needs of Catholic Schools be studied. This is one part of an ongoing effort to maintain the Catholic identity of schools and ensure that they remain a vital force for Catholic education of diocesan youth.

In 1999, Bishop Dattilo approved construction of a new Priests Retirement Residence to care for priests, who have faithfully given their lives in service to the parishes and institutions of the diocese. Villa Vianney in Lebanon, the former retirement residence for priests, was closed earlier in the year.

Plans were also finalized for construction of a Diocesan Conference Center on the grounds of the Diocesan Office complex, adjacent to the Priests Retirement Residence. A groundbreaking ceremony was held October 1, 1999.

Bishop Dattilo died on March 5, 2004. For the nine months following Bishop Dattilo’s death, the diocese was administered by Father James M. Lyons, vicar general of the diocese.