Bishop Kevin Sweeney of Paterson, NJ

On July 1, 2020 the Most Rev. Kevin Sweeney (50) a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn since 1997 will be ordained a bishop and installed as the 8th Bishop of Paterson, New Jersey. The coat of arms he is assuming is the following:

On the left from the viewer’s perspective, is the coat of arms of the Diocese of Paterson. The main charge, the Paschal Lamb holding the banner of victory, is the symbol for St. John the Baptist, the titular of the Cathedral. It was John who said: “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:12).

The trefoil, more commonly called a shamrock is a symbol of St. Patrick. The silver (white) division line with a crenelated upper edge represents the Lord’s protection of the city (and diocese).

On the right from the viewer’s perspective is the coat of arms assumed by Bishop Sweeney upon being named a bishop. It is joined (impaled) on the same shield with those of the diocese to indicate that Bishop Sweeney possesses jurisdiction over the diocese and that he is symbolically “married” to it. This manner of combining two coats of arms on the same shield is the method of marshaling that has been used for centuries by two armigerous people who get married.

The two main colors of the coat of arms are blue and gold (yellow) borrowing from the coat of arms of St. John Paul II whose life and pontificate greatly influenced the vocation and ministry of Bishop Sweeney. The main charge on the lower gold (yellow) field is a red escallop shell. This is a symbol of St. James, the titular of the Cathedral-Basilica in Brooklyn, and is borrowed from the coat of arms of the Diocese of Brooklyn where Bishop Sweeney was born and raised, educated and ordained a priest prior to becoming a bishop. There are three blue drops of water falling below the shell which make the shell also a symbol of St. John the Baptist, the titular of the cathedral in Paterson. In addition, this charge emphasizes the importance of Baptism as our incorporation into the Body of Christ and the call to holiness that is received by all followers of Jesus.

The upper part of the shield, is colored blue and contains two silver (white) horizontal lines as well as a golden rose. The white lines against the blue background allude to the distinctive blue and white habit worn by St. Teresa of Calcutta, the foundress of the Missionaries of Charity. This saintly woman also had a profound influence on Bishop Sweeney and he wished to commemorate her as a saint to whom he looks for inspiration in his priestly, and episcopal ministry. The golden rose is a symbol of Our Lady. The gold (yellow) rose alludes to Our Lady of Knock in particular and by this the bishop honors his Irish heritage. However, the rose also has a double symbolism in that it is an allusion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas. In connection with the appearance of Our Lady to Juan Diego a miraculous blooming of roses in December occurred so this flower, regardless of its color, is associated with Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The motto below the shield, in English and in Spanish, is, “God Is Love – Dios Es Amor”. 

The shield is also ensigned with the gold (yellow) cross placed vertically behind and extending above and below the shield. This is often mistakenly thought to be a processional cross like those used in liturgical processions. In former times archbishops, and later all bishops, had a cross mounted on a staff carried immediately in front of them on all solemn occasions. This cross was a symbol of their rank as bishop. While such an episcopal cross is no longer used practically it has been retained heraldically. In fact, there are other clerics who make use of the ecclesiastical hat with its many tassels but the one true heraldic emblem of a bishop, and the only essential one, is the episcopal cross placed behind the shield.

Above the shield is the ecclesiastical hat, called a galero which, in heraldry, replaces the martial helmet, mantling and crest. The galero is green with green cords pendant from it and twelve green tassels arranged in a pyramid shape on either side of the shield. At one time in history bishops and archbishops wore green before adopting the more Roman purple we see today. In heraldry the green hat and tassels was retained for prelates with the rank of bishop according to the Instruction of the Secretariat of State, “Ut Sive” of March, 1969.

I was pleased and privileged to design the bishop’s personal coat of arms and to marshal them to the arms of his diocese and execute the artwork. Bishop Sweeney and I first became acquainted 28 years ago when we were in the seminary. Ad Multos Annos!

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