Recently, while taking a short trip for some post-Easter R&R I went to visit friends in western Pennsylvania. I found myself in the town of Loretto, PA where I had attended college at St. Francis University (but in my day it was still just St. Francis College). In that town is the fine parish church of St. Michael, built entirely at the expense of Charles M. Schwab, the US Steel president whose summer residence was located in Loretto. His former mansion is now the motherhouse of the TOR Franciscans who run the university. Schwab generously built the fine romanesque revival structure and donated it to the parish. Andrew Carnegie donated the church’s pipe organ. Some time ago the church was designated a minor basilica. It’s churchyard is the resting place of its founder, Father (Prince) Demetrius Gallitzin.
While looking around the lovely structure which has been spruced up since the the days when I occasionally saw it as a student some 37 years ago I noted in a side chapel a large display of the basilica’s coat of arms…and almost vomited.
What a poor coat of arms for the purpose intended. In fact, it is simply the Altoona-Johnstown diocesan coat of arms with the base changed to have the arms of St. John Paul II (who bestowed the dignity of basilica on the church) shoved in as well. The motto is the one used by the bishop at the time the church was raised to basilican rank.
The fess with three plates is borrowed from the arms of William Penn. The two charges in chief represent the cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona and the co-cathedral of St. John Gualbert in Johnstown. The cross in base is borrowed from the coat of arms of the aforementioned Demetrius Gallitzin. Of course the ombrellino and crossed keys are typical external ornaments of a minor basilica.
But what a complete lack of creativity this design displays. Instead of alluding to the diocese or to the pope who bestowed the honor it is the arms of the diocese and the arms of that pope shoved together. There is absolutely nothing in there to identify the basilica as being dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel, or being located in Loretto, or to the Franciscan heritage of that place. The slender line dividing the silver Gallitzin cross from the arms of John Paul II is also heraldically unsupportable. From beginning to end this thing is junk.
It was so horribly disappointing to see this is what was used. The raising of the church to the rank of a basilica occurred only in 1996. By that time the internet was an easy place to find the right person or the right guidance on the design and creation of a fitting coat of arms. There is no excuse for the horrible result they ended up with, except the laziness or arrogance of those in charge of that decision.
This basilica coat of arms is useful for one thing and one thing only: to serve as an example of what not to do!