Heraldry For Parish History

Among the various ways that a parish community can record and mark its history is through the use of heraldry. Many are familiar with the custom of churches having incorporated into the architecture of the building, or in a church building’s decoration, the coat of arms of the reigning pope and the bishop at the time the church was constructed or consecrated. The use of the coats of arms of the pastors who have served the parish can be similarly used.

In a previous assignment where I served as Rector of a Shrine Church I entered into a project to devise what would be considered attributed arms for all of my predecessors so that the tenure of each Rector could be remembered by means of a coat of arms for each displayed in the Rectory Office. I was even able to devise a coat of arms for my successor as well!

I arrived at my current parish assignment as Parish Administrator, a common practice in many dioceses including my own. The idea is to have a new priest serve as Administrator (a temporary appointment) for a time until it is determined if the man is a “good fit” for the parish at which time, usually one year, he would be appointed Pastor with a six-year renewable term. In my case I served as Administrator for two years because as the end of my first year was approaching our bishop resigned and a new bishop arrived who wanted to take some time himself to settle in to the diocese before making any major decisions.

At the time my tenure as Administrator began I devised a coat of arms for the parish community. In June of this year I was appointed Pastor of the parish and my official Installation takes place later this month. To mark this start of a new chapter I decided to undertake a similar project of devising coats of arms for my predecessors to be displayed in a suitable place somewhere in one of the parish buildings.

There have been 23 priests in charge of St. Joseph Church, Washington, New Jersey since its establishment as an independent parish in 1871. Of those 23 one of them, Rev. John Eagan, served here for only 11 months in 1943 as Administrator. In addition, one of the priests, Rev. John Auchter, actually served here for six years but was never an incardinated priest of the Metuchen Diocese. Rather, he was and always remained, a priest of the neighboring diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania on loan to the Metuchen Diocese. Consequently, he only had the title “Administrator” but was, for all intents and purposes, the Pastor of this parish as much as any of the others. So, while Fr. Eagan is not counted among the Pastors of St. Joseph Fr. Auchter is counted among their number. As a result I find myself now as the 22nd Pastor of St. Joseph.

For the purposes of this project I found it rather daunting to face the prospect of devising 21 attributed coats of arms. Therefore, I decided to try and pare down the list. But, what criteria should I use to do so. I decided to look at the entire history of the parish in stages. At its foundation in 1871, by Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley, the nephew of St. Elizabeth Ann (Bayley) Seton, the parish was part of the then Diocese of Newark which, at that time, covered the entire state of New Jersey. Just ten years later, in 1881, the parish became part of the newly established Diocese of Trenton encompassing eight counties in the central part of New Jersey. A century later St. John Paul II decided to separate the four northern counties of Trenton and erect the Diocese of Metuchen in November of 1981. Once again, the parish of St. Joseph found itself in a new diocese. It was this last separation, becoming part of the diocese in which it currently finds itself, that I decided to use as my dividing line. At least for the time being this project encompasses the coats of arms of the seven Pastors the parish has had since the erection of the Diocese of Metuchen. At some point in the future other coats of arms can be added until all the Pastors are represented.

Creating attributed arms is both a challenge and a lot of fun. All but two of my predecessors are deceased and the living ones could not be easily consulted. In addition, two of the seven who served here since 1981 are non-armigerous because, sadly, they both were convicted of crimes and sentenced to prison. As such, it is not appropriate to devise coats of arms for them and had they been armigerous the privilege of having a coat of arms would have been lost to them.

In each case the attributed arms contains charges that allude to their names or to some other strong association with them. That way, each is somewhat easily associated with the priest it represents. In all cases their personal arms are emblazoned impaled with the arms assumed for the parish itself and the shield is ensigned with a simple priest’s galero. No mottoes were used in the depiction of these achievements.


The Arms of St. Joseph Parish, Washington, New Jersey (est. 1871)

The arms are based on those of George Washington for whom the Borough and Township where the parish is located are named. His arms showed two red bars on a silver (white) field with three red stars above. Here the colors have been reversed and the stars changed to three fleurs-de-lis, a symbol of St. Joseph.

Scanned ImageRoos2Good

Rev. William Roos 16th Pastor 1979-1983

The name “Roos” alludes to a rose in Dutch, hence the three roses.

Scanned ImageAuchter2Good

Rev. (later Monsignor) John A. Auchter (Administrator) 1983-1989

The lamp is from a German coat of arms associated with the family name. The chief contains the arms of the Diocese of Allentown, PA of which Fr. Auchter was an incardinated priest. After his time in New Jersey he returned to his own diocese and was later promoted to Prelate of Honor with the title “Rev. Monsignor”. However, when serving here he was still simply a priest.

Scanned ImageSantillo3Good

Rev. Michael Santillo 18th Pastor 1989-1992

He does not have a personal coat of arms so the parish arms are impaled with a blank shield. The design on that half of the shield is a technique to fill empty space in heraldry called “diapering” and it is merely decorative.

Scanned ImageKochon2Good

Rev. Michael A. Kochon 19th Pastor 1992-1999

Father Kochon’s arms consist of a flaming sword which is symbolic of his patron, St. Michael the Archangel and a wild hog’s head erased. In French the word cochon, similar to his surname Kochon, means pig so his personal arms allude to his given and family names.

Scanned ImageAscolese3Good

Rev. (later Mr.) Robert J. Ascolese 20th Pastor 1999-2006

He does not have a personal coat of arms so the parish arms are impaled with a blank shield. The design on that half of the shield is a technique to fill empty space in heraldry called “diapering” and it is merely decorative.

Scanned ImageBaran2Good

Rev. Blaise R. Baran 21st Pastor 2006-2015

Father Baran’s name means “rain” in Persian, hence the raindrops. His patron, St. Blaise, is alluded to by the two candles crossed in saltire which are used to give the Blessing of Throats on the feast day of St. Blaise.

Scanned ImageSelvesterGood

Rev. Guy W. Selvester (Administrator 2015-2017) 22nd Pastor 2017 – 

Readers of this blog should know the symbolism of my arms by now but the division line sapiné (shaped like fir trees) alludes to my family name which was originally Silvestri (later anglicized to Selvester) which means a forest dweller or woodsman. The green and gold (yellow) tinctures are for my Irish ancestry and the cross for the centrality of my faith in my life. It is a cross fleury so that the fleurs-de-lis are references to both the Holy Trinity and Our Lady.

7 thoughts on “Heraldry For Parish History

  1. Geoffrey Gamble

    The parochial arms are beautiful, and the designs of the priestly arms – by combining elements indicating surname and given or saintly first names – are in perfect accord with the original intent of heraldry – i.e. someone 500 years from now could fathom the identity of the person the arms represent.

    However, I believe that the impalements are inappropriate. Impalements indicate marriage. In the case of ecclesiastical heraldry, it indicates the “marriage” of the bishop to his diocese. When dioceses succeeded Roman administrative units in the 4th or 5th centuries, a bishop was “married’ to his diocese for life. St. Augustine and his brother bishops would find it odd indeed today to see that Catholic bishops regularly “divorce” their dioceses and go on to “marry” a richer spouse! The most recent New Jersey example of this is Cardinal Tobin, who left his midwest “spouse” to “marry” a far more wealthy one in the form of the Archdiocese of Newark.

    As you indicate, pastors rotate quite frequently with 6, 10, or 12 year terms, depending on the diocese. Therefore, they really do not “marry” their parishes, at least not indefinitely. They lead them. An ‘escutcheon of pretence’ would be more accurate.

    What might be nice is, in parochial arms, which I think is a wonderful idea. The arms of the diocese could be placed in chief or in canton to indicate corporate allegiance. Also, it would make differencing the arms easier to achieve, since many parishes inevitably would want to use holy patronal images on their arms and a diocesan chief or canton would make them distinct.

    1. guyselvester Post author

      Thanks for your comment. Interesting ideas all but impaling personal arms with those of a jurisdiction is a long-standing and venerable custom in the Church. You’re wrong in your assertion that it implies only a “marriage”. You’re taking it a little too literally. It’s also incorrect to apply the rules and customs of heraldry for non-ecclesiastics to ecclesiastical heraldry (your assertion about an escutcheon in pretense being more accurate). Impalement also implies jurisdiction over something or even simply a relationship, even a non permanent one (i.e. the Prefect of the Pontifical Household impaling his own arms with those of the pope he serves). The use of impalement as a form among many of marshaling was certainly borrowed from marital arms and, yes, you are correct again that it was meant to imply the “marriage” of a bishop to his diocese. The 4th or 5th C. thinking on the matter, however, had nothing to do with it since heraldry wouldn’t even appear for another 700 years. However, as you note, such a relationship frequently no longer lasts for life, not only because of the translation of a bishop to a new See but also because of simple retirement. We live in times where there is even a retired pope!

      In addition, it’s important to point out that any form of marshaling arms together, not just impalement, could imply a “marriage”, including an escutcheon in pretense. In addition, impaling isn’t even a Universal custom so it could hardly be asserted that it means only one thing (i.e. the relationship akin to a marriage). In fact, Pastors of parishes do, indeed, hold jurisdiction over their parishes as collaborators with the bishop and sharing in his ministry as his representative in the parish. Such jurisdiction is perfectly expressed via impaling and the fact that it won’t last for the entire life of the pastor is irrelevant. An impalement does not, as is often erroneously assumed, “become a part” of the individual’s coat of arms. Rather two distinct coats of arms are being marshaled together and displayed on one shield. A man’s personal arms remain his alone; the arms impaled with a jurisdiction are his arms of office and he uses them during that tenure however long or short. Even in actual marital arms of armigerous spouses there is a lack of permanence.

      Consider this: in the glory days of heraldry (14th-17th C.) if an armigerous person’s spouse died and they remarried (not uncommon) their achievement changed. I think it’s impractical to incorporate the arms of the diocese entirely into Parochial arms. I try to borrow a charge or tincture to allude to the diocese when designing parish arms where possible. But, just as a good coat of arms shouldn’t be an individual’s pictorial CV so, too, corporate arms shouldn’t seek to do something similar. The arms of the parish are for that parish, not to mark it as merely the local franchise of a big corporation. That’s great for chain stores and fast food restaurants but not for parishes. So, I have no problem employing the traditional and respected custom of impaling the personal arms of the pastor (whether granted, assumed or attributed) with those of the parish as arms of office. It perfectly symbolizes his relationship to the parish. That such a relationship doesn’t last for life is immaterial.

      Impaling arms was employed by the Church borrowing from the idea of how marital arms were marshaled not for the purposes of communicating it was for life, which, experience has shone, it clearly isn’t. Rather, the image of marriage was evoked to remind the bishop that he was to treat his flock like his spouse; with tender care, and a willingness to sacrifice his own desires to put theirs first. So, too, Pastors of parishes are exhorted to look on their parishioners in the same manner.

  2. mrbbaskerville

    Thanks you for a very interesting post. I am currently scoping a regional history project (in Australia), and had been thinking of how to incorporate religious history into the larger history. You have given me some good ideas of how to use parish histories and parish heraldry as a way too achieve that aim. The Catholic and Anglican dioceses are both much larger, geographically, than the region, so the parish is a better building block.

  3. Australis

    Father: what a fantastic exercise. Love your blog and all the expert information you convey. Absolutely first class. I’m wondering whether you see impalling as limited to the Pastor / Parish Priest or whether it or other methods of showing the affinity with the parish is available to others who serve? For example, I was thinking in the past of paying homage herakdicslly to the parish’s Church organists and choir directors and wondered whether they might be entitled to marshal, quarter, have an augmentation if the parish arms or something similar. Or indeed whether this might be the case of an external ornamentation (albeit I didn’t know what).
    Love to hear your thoughts.
    God bless

  4. pilgrimway2015

    I love the arms of St Joseph in Washington. When I first looked at it, I knew that saint and that president were being represented without knowing the name of either parish or town. It was a neat “aha” moment to read further. Very cleverly done.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s