Archbishop Hebda

On May 14, Bernard Hebda, former bishop of Gaylord, Michigan and, most recently Coadjutor Archbishop of Newark (due to succeed in two more months on the resignation of Abp. Myers) was instead installed as the Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minnesota. His arms are:


The blue, seven-pointed star at the top right of the shield signifies Mary and Archbishop Hebda’s placement of his pastoral ministry under her protection. The elderberry tree symbolizes Archbishop Hebda’s Polish ancestry. The tree is widely found in southeastern Poland, from where Archbishop Hebda’s paternal grandparents emigrated. The tree’s Polish name, “bez heb,” also serves as a visual pun of “Hebda.”

The tree also has a theological meaning; as one of the first plants to show signs of life after winter, it is also used to symbolize hope for a season of fertility and graces. According to an official document explaining the blazonry of Archbishop Hebda’s coat of arms, “Being strong and fruitful, the elderberry has also been identified with constancy and pastoral zeal, fundamental traits expected of any bishop.”

The seven green berries — reminiscent of rosary beads — at the top of the tree are a sign that he was named a bishop on Oct. 7, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. With the additional eight berries at the bottom of the tree, the total 15 berries symbolize Mary’s assumption, celebrated Aug. 15. The Norbertine monastery in Hebdów, Poland, was dedicated to the Assumption in the 12th century, and “Hebda” was a common name among those who lived and worked on the monastery’s lands. The four clusters of fruit on the elderberry tree are a sign of the cardinal virtues — prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance — which “sustain the pastoral activity of the bishop.” [NOTE: all of the previous paragraph and the symbolism it describes is really a bit of a stretch, heraldically.]

The checked pattern on the fess is adopted from the coat of arms of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where Archbishop Hebda grew up and was ordained a priest July 1, 1989. According to the blazonry explanation, the placement of the tree on the chequy fess “recalls that Bishop Hebda has roots in the Diocese of Pittsburgh and has drawn his strength from that local Church.”

Recent Commission

Below is a coat of arms for a woman that I was recently commissioned to do. The ribbon surrounding the woman’s oval shield has personal meaning to her and is decorative. The common practice in heraldry is that women don’t use helm and mantling in their achievements which leaves them looking rather empty artistically. Decorative knots, ribbons and wreaths are often employed to surround the shield. If you are wondering if you’re seeing things, yes, that is a whisk in the horse’s mouth. It alludes to the armiger’s love of cooking.





Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen, NJ



On Tuesday, May 3, 2016 the Most Reverend James F. Checchio, a priest of the diocese of Camden, NJ and most recently until February of this year the Rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, will be ordained a bishop in the Church and installed as the fifth bishop of the diocese of Metuchen, NJ, the diocese in which I serve.

His newly adopted coat of arms is depicted, as is the usual custom in the United States for diocesan bishops, impaled with the arms of the diocese. The diocesan arms were designed in 1981 when the diocese was established and modified in 1998. The four quadrants, depicted in silver and gold, the colors of the flag of the Vatican City-State, represent the four counties of the diocese: Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren. The moline cross overall is taken from the arms of Trenton from which the diocese was separated in 1981. In the Trenton arms the cross is gold on a blue field. Originally, it was depicted in the Metuchen arms as black but that was changed in 1998. The red tongue of fire in the upper left alludes to both the Holy Spirit and to the name “Metuchen” which is a Lenne Lanape word meaning “land of firewood”. The crowned letter “M” in the lower right is a reference to St. John Paul II who, as pope, founded the diocese and whose arms depicted a letter “M” in the lower right corner. With the crown it is also a symbol of the Queenship of Mary, the patroness of the diocese. Originally the “M” was also black but when the late Bishop Vincent Breen asked me to undertake a redesign of the diocesan arms in 1998 the “M” was changed to blue along with the cross.

Bishop Checchio commissioned the Italian artist Renato Poletti to work with him on his personal arms and emblazon them marshaled to those of the diocese. The gold escallop shell is a reference to his baptismal patron, St. James the Greater and the silver crescent represents Our Lady under the titles of the Immaculate Conception the patroness of the cathedral of his native diocese of Camden, as well as of the Pontifical North American College and the United States of America. The chevron represents a roof beam and, as such, symbolizes protecting the flock which is the task of a bishop. The sheep and crook are an allusion to his work as rector of a seminary preparing men to be shepherds in priestly ministry.

The motto reads, “Let Us Be Reconciled to God” a fitting message for a bishop appointed during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Ad Multos Annos, Bishop Checchio!


St. Mark in Papal Heraldry

There were three popes in the 20th C. who had served as Patriarch of Venice prior to their election to the papacy. (and two were also later canonized!) They each decided to retain a chief “of Venice” (with the winged lion of St. Mark, a symbol of Venice) in their papal coats of arms. The three were St. Pius X, St. John XXIII and Pope John Paul I.

Archbishop Viganó

As he ends his tenure as Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America we say farewell and THANK YOU to the Most Reverend Carlo Maria Viganó as he begins his well-earned retirement. By his manner and quiet diplomacy he has shone that, indeed, he does know Him in whom he has believed.


Mother M. Angelica, RIP

On Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016, Mother M. Angelica Rizzo, PCPA passed away. She was the Abbess of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Alabama and the Foundress and first CEO of EWTN, the global Catholic television and radio network.

Several years ago she adopted a coat of arms. (below in black and white and in color) It is significant in that despite Poor Clare abbesses not making use of a crozier they are, nevertheless, entitled to use one as a heraldic emblem with the veil attached correctly. In addition, the chaplet surrounding the shield indicates the arms of a Professed Religious and the crown of thorns surrounding the shield is also common in the heraldic achievements of female religious.

May she rest in peace.

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Coat of Arms of a Priest


Above is the coat of arms for an American Benedictine monk and priest. Disappointed that there was not any external ornament in Catholic heraldry that would specifically and immediately identify a coat of arms as belonging to a Benedictine as, for example, the cross fleury behind the shield used by Dominicans, and cognizant that it was inappropriate simply to marshal his own arms to those of his Order (as far too many Religious mistakenly do) I was asked by him to come up with a design that reflected his membership in the Order of St. Benedict.

The principal charge, a raven, is a symbol of St. Benedict and the heart it holds in its beak is a reflection of both a personal devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the part of the armiger as well as an allusion to the motto which means “Bend my Heart” or “Incline my Heart” which is also inspired by a line in the Holy Rule of St. Benedict.

The background is a variation of the blue and silver fusils in bend that can be found in the arms of Bavaria. The monastery to which he belongs is one of several in the U.S. founded by Bavarian monks who came to the U.S. as missionaries in the mid 19th C. and it also forms part of the monastery’s own coat of arms. Here the fusils are placed in a straight vertical position rather than in bend and the field draws in close to create a single fusil in the center as the background for the raven.

This coat of arms was designed by me in 2014 and most recently and very beautifully rendered by the Italian heraldic artist, Marco Foppoli.