Category Archives: Priests

Third Priestly Arms

Recent days have been busy and I have now completed a trifecta of sacerdotal arms all, as it happens, for priests who are also Benedictine monks. They’re from different communities and made their requests independently of each other. In addition, they have all proven to be men of exceeding patience because their projects kept getting sidelined by commissions I’d received to prepare a coat of arms for a new bishop. Those commissions are always time sensitive so all other considerations would have to go by the way side whenever I’d receive one.

Finding a window in the calendar I decided to make the extra effort to complete this three long-standing commissions. This is the last of the three.

These arms reflect the armiger’s community, apostolate, family history and monastic name. The inclusion of the chaplet encircling the shield indicates that he is a Professed Religious in vows and the galero indicates he is ordained to the priesthood. Not all Religious armigers choose to use the chaplet, especially if they are also ordained priests. It is a matter of choice.

In fact, it is worth pointing out that while there are specific external ornaments which may be used by an armiger to indicate what rank they hold, or honors they have received, none of these are required to be used. If an armiger should so desire, he/she may simply bear a shield and motto, or indeed even just the shield alone. I mention that last part because everyone in ecclesiastical circles seems to make such a big deal out of the motto. (Bishops especially). Mottoes are, strictly speaking, not really part of the coat of arms. It has become customary to display one’s motto in the achievement of arms but that, too, is not necessary.

Another Presbyteral Coat of Arms

Sometimes, fate interrupts the desire for armorial bearings. This armiger was having a coat of arms designed for him. Sadly, the heraldist working on it for him passed away. With much of the work done but not yet finalized he came to me requesting my help. The original design was very busy with many charges included and a bit too liberal a use of various tinctures. (Keeping a coat of arms to fewer tinctures is always a good idea).

I didn’t feel as though the whole thing could be scrapped to start over. Rather, I tried instead to clean up the design a bit while still maintaining the original ideas. I also made a few suggestions about tinctures. Working with the armiger we were able to come up with something with which he was pleased and also with which I was, at least, satisfied. It’s not the achievement I would have designed had I had the opportunity to start from scratch. Nevertheless, it is a decent, if crowded, design and there aren’t any egregious violations of tincture rules.

I must admit it was odd working on a project that had been started and brought rather far along by someone else. It was also an odd feeling to make changes to something that another heraldist had done and, being deceased, couldn’t defend or explain his choices. Still, it was a privilege to help this particular armiger out and, I think, we ended up with a rather nice coat of arms for him. (…if I do say so myself)

Armorial Bearings of a Priest

Here is one of my more recent commissions. It is the armorial bearings of a priest who is also a Professed Religious in vows. The black galero at the top of the achievement indicates his status as a priest. The chaplet – not often seen these days in heraldry – is used in the achievement as an external ornament indicating a person in Religious Vows. It is often seen in the arms of an Abbess (along with the veiled crozier) who, unlike an Abbot, does not make use of the galero. It is also seen in the armorial achievements of Professed Knights of Malta, whose Knights of Justice are Professed Religious in the Roman Catholic Church.

This armiger is both a monk and a priest. The motto is taken from the Holy Rule of St. Benedict.

A Priest Among the Cardinals

On November 28, 2020 Pope Francis created new cardinals. Among them was Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap (86) who, for the past forty years, has served as the Preacher of the Pontifical Household. Given his advanced age Cardinal Cantalamessa requested to be dispensed from the requirement of receiving episcopal ordination prior to receiving his red hat. While it is not unprecedented it is still rather rare for a Cardinal of the Roman Church not to be a bishop as well. (Contrary to an erroneous idea that never seems to die there were no “lay cardinals” in the Church. All the cardinals who were members of the College of Cardinals previously but had not received ordination were, nevertheless, tonsured clerics and, therefore, NOT members of the laity).

Following the correct customs which are sometimes ignored by the foolish or the ignorant (see: the coat of arms of the late Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ), Cardinal Cantalamessa ensigns his coat of arms with the scarlet cardinal’s galero but does not make use of the episcopal cross behind the shield because he lacks the episcopal character. As a cardinal, he may make use of pontifical insignia when celebrating Mass solemnly (the mitre, the ring and the crozier) and he may wear a pectoral cross. He also has the option of wearing scarlet cardinal’s robes or his own Religious Habit. It was interesting to note that at the Public Consistory at which he was created a cardinal he wore his habit with a surplice and did not wear the scarlet choir dress of a cardinal.

Ad Multos Annos!

Sacerdotal Assumption

These are the armorial bearings I recently designed to be assumed by an American priest. The blazon is:

Divided per pale Azure and Gules; overall two keys in saltire, blades to chief with notches forming the outline of a trefoil, the dexter Or and the sinister Argent; between in chief a fleur-de-lis Argent; to dexter the Sacred Heart of Jesus Or, enfiled of a crown of thorns and wounded Gules enflamed Or; to sinister a rose Or, seeded Gules. The shield is ensigned with a priest’s galero with cords and two tassels all Sable. Below the shield on a scroll is the motto, “Piscatores Hominum”.

Sacerdotal Arms of Gaunt

Recently a priest from the UK shared with me the recent (November, 2018) grant of arms he received from HM College of Arms. Of course there was a very fine example of Letters Patent illustrating the grant as well as laying out the blazon of arms. This is not an inexpensive or a quickly done process. Being a subject of HM, the Queen it was altogether correct, however, for Fr. Adam Gaunt to petition for and receive a grant of arms from the legitimate heraldic authority within the country in which he lives. It may take some time; it may cost a rather tidy sum but in the end it is well worth it.

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The coat of arms itself (below) is illustrated ensigned by the appropriate ecclesiastical hat for a priest of the Church of England. That is to say with two black tassels suspended from cords composed of black and white skeins twisted together.

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The Letters Patent also depict an heraldic crest on a helm with a horse and mantling which is most often seen employed in the arms of a layman not in holy orders. (below)

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In addition, there are illustrations included of a heraldic badge, as well as an heraldic standard which is composed of the arms, crest and badge. (below)

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Father Gaunt was kind enough to explain that, “The arms are an adaptation of those attributed by “ancient and uniform tradition” to my ancestor Gilbert de Gaunt, Earl of Lincoln.”

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“He, (Gilbert) was of Flemish origin and related to the Counts of Flanders, who used the same heraldic colors and metals.”

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Here in the United States we do not have a heraldic authority. That is not to say that Americans cannot employ coats of arms. On the contrary, Americans are armigerous but we may legally and correctly, which are two different things, assume a coat of arms. That is to say we are able simply to design and adopt a coat of arms for our own use. In England there is a heraldic authority which is not a government office but a private corporation which operates as a part of the royal household. While it is technically illegal for a person to assume a coat of arms in England there isn’t a very great likelihood that there will be any legal repercussions to doing so as there might be in, say, Scotland or South Africa. However, it is quite incorrect simply to assume arms in England.

Instead, it is both right and, I would hazard a guess, quite delightful to do as Fr. Gaunt has done and receive a grant of arms from HM College of Arms. Well done Fr. Gaunt!

More Clergy With Multiple Versions of Their Arms

A couple of years ago I wrote about clergy who make use of more than one version of their coats of arms depending on offices held or circumstances of use. Once again I’ve come across a fine example.

The current Lord Lyon King of Arms, the principal heraldic authority for Her Majesty in Scotland is not only a heraldic expert and a jurist but he is also an ordained clergyman in the Scottish Episcopal Church (a.k.a. the Anglican Church north of the border). The Rev. Canon Dr. Joseph John Morrow, CBE, KStJ, QC, DL, LLD possesses a very nice coat of arms of his own.

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This coat of arms can be displayed all alone or, as Lord Lyon sometimes has chosen to do, with the helm, mantling and crest of the typical armorial achievement.

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However, sometimes this coat of arms is also displayed with the external ornaments proper to the Office of Lord Lyon King of Arms.

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Additionally, the Office of Lord Lyon has its own armorial bearings which may be used by the incumbent of the office of Lord Lyon in a “greater” form:

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as well as a “lesser” or smaller version.

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Finally, the current Lord Lyon may choose to impale his personal arms with those of Lord Lyon and display them with the external ornaments of the office, including the red lion supporters:

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or he may impale his personal arms with the arms of office and display them with some of the external ornaments of Lord Lyon as well as his own crest and supporters.

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Same man; same arms; many versions.

20 Years Armigerous!

On September 27, 1997 I was ordained a priest. This year marks the 20th anniversary not only of my sacerdotal ordination but also of that moment when, being a priest, I assumed a coat of arms. I had been designing, tweaking and modifying a design of my own coat of arms since i first began to settle on a design of my own in 1984. But, the various versions of a coat of arms that I had, which consisted of simply a shield and motto with no other external ornaments, was never really “used” by me. In other words, I hadn’t put it on anything or made any kind of public use of it.

This was for two reasons. First, I knew it was still a work in progress. It would take me from 1984 and that initial, rather poor, design all the way until 1992 until I was truly satisfied with the design of my coat of arms. Second, I didn’t want to adopt the arms with the usual external ornaments of helm, mantling and crest only to exchange them for a priest’s galero when the day came. I preferred to wait until I was entitled to use the galero, so I waited until ordination.

Padre don Guy Selvester

Shortly after my bishop called me in to tell me that my ordination had been decided for certain (8 months earlier than anticipated , as it turns out) I contacted the late Richard Crossett, an American heraldic artist of great talent. He got to work right away in late July, 1997 and I had the finished artwork by late August in plenty of time for my Sept. 27th ordination. His artwork was used for the program cover at my First Mass and I also registered the arms with the American College of Heraldry on whose Board I now happily serve. The blazon is: “Or, a Greek cross fleury Gules; a chief sapiné Vert“.

I always liked Mr. crossest’s interpretation of my coat of arms. I’ve been fortunate to have a couple of dozen renderings of my coat of arms done over the years but I’ve always considered this one to be special. I don’t have an “official” version of my arms since they are assumed, not granted as is perfectly acceptable and is, indeed, the norm in the context of being an American. Nevertheless, this is what I consider to be the closest thing to an official version of my personal arms, primarily because it was the first time I had them rendered by someone other than myself and because it was done in conjunction with my ordination. This coat of arms was one of the ways I marked becoming a priest.

Twenty years later that motto is still my daily prayer: “Guide Me, Lord”.

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.

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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.

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Rev. William Roos 16th Pastor 1979-1983

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Coat of Arms of a Priest

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The newly-assumed armorial bearings of the Rev. Jon Tveit of the Archdiocese of New York (above).

The main portion of the shield depicts a gold (yellow) field surrounded by a green border the edge of which is scalloped with convex semicircles. This is done to suggest a clearing in a forested area, the trees represented by the green border and the clearing by the gold field. The armiger’s surname, Tveit, is from the Old Norse that translates to, “a field cleared from a forest” or a person who dwells in such a place. (A similar name in English would be Thwaite). In the middle of this “clearing” is a red scallop shell. This is primarily a symbol of the armiger’s principal baptismal patron, St. John the Baptist. In addition, the shell is a charge in the coat of arms of Benedict XVI, the Pope-Emeritus, whom the armiger greatly admires. It was during the pontificate of Benedict XVI that Fr. Jon came to a deeper understanding of his faith, discerned his priestly vocation and entered the seminary to begin his preparation for priesthood.

The upper third of the shield, called a “chief” is silver (white) and on it are two red hearts with a red fleur-de-lis between them. The colors red and white are taken from the coat of arms of the Archdiocese of New York for which the armiger was ordained and in which he engages in his priestly ministry. In addition, the white background is a color often associated with the virtue of Purity to which the armiger always aspires and tries to cultivate in his own life. He has a great devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary in his personal devotional life so the hearts symbolize that. The fleur-de-lis has long been used heraldically as a symbol of both Our Lady and her spouse, St. Joseph. Fr. Tveit attended St. Joseph seminary in Dunwoodie, NY.

The only external ornament is the black, broad-brimmed pilgrim hat called a “galero”. In heraldry this is used in place of the traditional helmet, mantling and crest to indicate that the bearer of the coat of arms is a cleric. The color of the hat, the cords and the tassels as well as the number of tassels developed over the centuries to differ depending on the rank of the bearer. A black hat with black cords and one black tassel suspended on either side of the shield indicate the armiger is a priest.

The motto, “Non in Arcu Meo Sperabo” below the shield is taken from Psalm 43:7 and translates to, “For I will not trust in my bow”.