Category Archives: Priests

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.

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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”.

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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”.

Cathedral Dean

Here is the coat of arms of the Very Rev. Fr. Donald Richardson, BTh, STB, MA, KCHS who is presently the Dean of the Cathedral and Basilican Church of the Immaculate Mother of God, Help of Christians  more commonly known as St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, Australia. He has long been armigerous being a heraldry enthusiast himself and the cathedral church has made use of a corporate coat of arms different from that of the Archdiocese for a long time. When he was appointed Dean I told him I would prepare a nice emblazonment with his own arms impaled with the cathedral arms.

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Because his personal arms are so similar to the arms of the cathedral I chose to use a line of separation in a color other than black since black wouldn’t provide a clear enough separation. There’s nothing wrong with this. many other artists and authors have advocated it as well. (See: Carl Alexander Vov Volborth’s works, Heraldry: Customs, Rules and Styles and The Art of Heraldry)

In addition, while Fr. Richardson does not possess a Roman Honor his arms are ensigned with the galero used for what is collectively known as “Minor Officials” which would include cathedral deans and/or rectors, rectors of shrine churches or seminaries, basilica rectors, Vicars Forane, Religious Superiors, etc. This galero has two tassels pendant on either side of the shield and they may be shown hanging one below the other or, as here, side by side from a median knot. Father will bear these arms “pro hac vice”, that is to say, during his tenure as Dean of the Cathedral only.

The cross of Jerusalem is included in the achievement to note that he is a Knight Commander in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. The motto means, “Lord, It Is Good For Us to Be Here” (Matt. 17:4)

Sacerdotal Coat of Arms

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The coat of arms recently completed for a very patient priest in the USA who was ordained in May of 2015. The blazon is:

Gules, an ancient harp below an ancient crown all Or; on a chief Azure fimbriated Or between two thuribles Or with two wisps of smoke rising on either side Argent, the Sacred Heart of Jesus Or, enflamed Or wounded and enfiled by a crown of thorns Sable. The shield is displayed on the cross of the EOHS and suspended below the shield is a badge of a Chaplain of Magistral Grace of the SMOM. Ensigning the shield is a priest’s galero with cords and two tassels pendant on either side all Sable. On a scroll below the shield is the motto, “Surge Domine“.

The field is composed of two colors: a red field with a blue chief so the chief is separated from the field by a gold (yellow) fimbriation to avoid violating the tincture “rule” (which, as Heim proved in his book, Or and Argent isn’t so much a rule as a custom).

The principal charge, a crowned ancient harp, alludes to the patron of the bearer, David, the King who by tradition is considered the composer of many of the Psalms. The charges on the chief allude to the bearer’s devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the sacred liturgy. The two thuribles with smoke rising from them represent the liturgy itself. There are references in both Scripture and Tradition of the rising incense being like our prayers in worship ascending to the Lord. In addition, incense represents a sacrificial offering such as one finds in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The shield is ensigned with a black priest’s galero. In addition, the shield is placed on the cross of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher in which the bearer received the rank of Knight Grand Cross prior to his ordination. The badge of the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta is suspended below the shield as the bearer was a Knight in that order prior to ordination as well. Upon being ordained a priest the armiger was “translated” from being a lay knight to being a Chaplain of Magistral Grace.

On a scroll below the shield is the motto, “Surge Domine”.

Coat of Arms for a Priest

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The arms (above) were recently designed and emblazoned by me for an American priest who is also a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

The priest has a devotion to St. Anthony, his baptismal patron, and is a Third Order Dominican. The gyronny of eight that makes up the field is taken from the arms of the Order of Preachers. In addition, the black and white recalls the arms of the city of Lisbon where St. Anthony was born. The plate charged with a red cross at the center alludes to the arms of the city of Padua, where St. Anthony died and is buried. In addition, this charge represents the sacred Host used at Mass because the armiger has advanced studies in the sacred liturgy. Finally, the counterchanged wavy bar in base alludes to three things: the lake at Mundelein where the liturgical studies were undertaken at the Liturgical Institute there; his home state, Michigan, which is situated in the Great Lakes; a charge in the arms of the diocese in which he serves.

The shield is ensigned with the motto meaning “In Spirit and in Truth”, the priest’s galero and the cross of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

Coat of Arms of a Priest

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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.