Abbot President of the American Cassinese Congregation of Benedictine Monasteries

The Right Reverend Jonathan Licari, OSB who was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Duluth in 1976 and has been a monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota since 1982 was elected as the 18th Præses or Abbot-President of the American-Cassinese Congregation on June 23, 2022 during a meeting of the General Chapter of the Congregation taking place at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Kansas. At the time of his election Abbot Jonathan did not yet possess the abbatial dignity. He received the solemn abbatial blessing the same evening as his election from the Most Rev. Elias Lorenzo, OSB who had himself served as the 17th Abbot-President of the Congregation prior to being appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Newark, NJ.

Abbot Jonathan had recently completed a term as Administrator of Mary, Mother of the Church Abbey in Richmond, Virginia and had also just been appointed by his predecessor as Abbot-President, Abbot John Klassen, OSB of St. John’s Abbey as the Administrator of St. Mary’s Abbey in Morristown, NJ (which also happens to be the monastery to which Bishop Elias belongs as a monk. Are you keeping up?)

Abbot Jonathan decided to assume a coat of arms and I was very pleased and honored to assist him in the design and execution of his armorial bearings.

The blazon is: “Sable, a quill pen, point downward Or between two arrows, points downward Argent; a chief wavy, fusily in bend Azure and Argent. Shield ensigned with an abbot’s crozier Or behind the shield with the sudarium attached and an abbot’s galero Sable cords and twelve tassels disposed in three rows of one, two and three all Sable. On a scroll below the shield the motto: “Servire”.”

The field is colored black to allude to the black Benedictine habit. In addition, the area of Minnesota where he was born and raised is known as an area for mining iron ore. The black also alludes to the iron. The gold (yellow) pen in the center is a symbol of administration which is the kind of work the Abbot has been assigned to do during most of his monastic life. The two arrows are a symbol of the Biblical figure, Jonathan, his monastic patron. They allude to the story of Jonathan shooting arrows as a signal to David about whether or not he was safe in the First Book of Samuel, chapter 20.

The shield is divided by a wavy line of division. This is symbolic, once again, of the part of Minnesota where the Abbot grew up known for its many lakes. The upper third of the shield, called a “chief” depicts the familiar blue and silver (white) pattern of fusils (elongated diamond shapes) placed in a repeating pattern along diagonal lines. This is the background of the coat of arms of the Bavarian Royal House (Wittelsbach) and of the State of Bavaria in Germany today. The motherhouse of the Congregation was founded by Boniface Wimmer who was a monk of St. Michael’s Abbey in Metten and the Ludwigsmissionverein was heavily subsidized by the Bavarian Royal Family. So, the coat of arms of St. Vincent Archabbey uses this background in its own arms. In addition, the coat of arms of the Abbot’s own Community at St. John in Collegeville makes use of this background in two of the four quarters on its coat of arms. In fact, of the 18 existing independent houses of the American Cassinese Congregation there are 8 which were directly founded from St. Vincent as daughter-houses and 2 which were founded as granddaughter-houses from St. Vincent. Of those houses 5 of them make use of this Bavarian pattern and/or of its color scheme as an allusion to the Bavarian origins of the Congregation. So, the chief is used to symbolize St. Vincent and Bavaria as the origins of the American-Cassinese Congregation as well as St. John’s Abbey, the Abbot’s own community of origin. It is also an allusion to St. Mary’s Abbey where the Abbot is serving as Administrator for several years.

The motto below the shield is the single Latin word, “Servire” which means to serve.

The shield is also ensigned with those external ornaments that indicate the bearer is an abbot. The gold (yellow) crozier, no longer used in the coats of arms of bishops but retained in the arms of abbots is placed vertically behind and extending above and below the shield. Attached to the crozier is a veil or sudarium. Widely used in the Middle Ages it is rarely seen in actual use today. It dates from a time when abbots were already making use of the crozier as a sign of their authority but had not been granted the privilege of full pontificals which, prior to the reforms of the 1970s, would have included liturgical gloves. The purpose of the sudarium was originally practical; it shielded the metal of the crozier from dirt and perspiration from the hands. Later, it became merely symbolic and has been retained in heraldry to distinguish the crozier of an abbot.

Above the shield is the ecclesiastical hat, called a galero which, in heraldry, replaces the martial helmet, mantling and crest. The galero is black with black cords pendant from it and twelve black tassels arranged in a pyramid shape on either side of the shield. This is the hat assigned to a prelate with the rank of abbot according to the Instruction of the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, “Ut Sive” of 31 March, 1969 (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 61 (1969) 334-40).

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