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My episcopal coat of arms

One of the traditions associated with becoming a bishop is having a coat of arms. This is not mandatory in any way, but most bishops around the world have at least an unofficial coat of arms that they use, and some in Canada have received a formal grant of arms through the Canadian Heraldic Authority. The advantage of doing so, of course, is that the resulting coat of arms fully respects the heraldic tradition. As for my coat of arms, the preliminary art came in last week, and I adjusted it slightly in Photoshop to produce the following:

My episcopal coat of arms

The green and gold colours should, of course, be recognizable to readers of this blog, as I have used them ever since I began putting up my own web pages (they are derived from the colours of the Dowd family). Green, in particular, is the colour of hope, and hope is definitely at the core of my spirituality. At the same time, gold represents the glory of God and of heaven, a glory I hope to witness and share in some day. It is the object of my hope.

Old time blog readers will also remember a time when the symbol of a sun had a prominent place (it was later shifted over to the website). I have long been inspired by the title given to Christ of “Sun of Justice”, as found in this quote from the prophet Malachi when speaking of the coming Day of the Lord: “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays” (chapter 3, verse 20).

The stripe, called a bend sinister in heraldic terms, has the same basic shape as a deacon’s stole. It represents the fact that all bishops and priests were once first ordained as deacons, and are called first of all to serve and not be served.

The special horn is actually a shofar, a trumpet traditionally made from the horn of a ram. This musical instrument is meant to announce the glory of God. As well, these sorts of instruments are symbolic of communication at a distance, and so it expresses my interest in media and other means of social communications.

The motto, cor et anima una, is Latin for “one heart and soul”. It is taken from a description of the early Christian community found in the Acts of the Apostles (chapter 4, verse 32). I have already written about my use of this motto here.

Finally, the green hat with tassels, as well as the latin cross, are traditional symbols of the episcopal ministry. Wikipedia has a pretty good article explaining some of the nuances.

I think the artist did a fabulous job, personally. I wanted something very simple and clean: two colours, with a maximum of three easy-to-sketch symbols. Many coats of arms are very complex, and would look good in a tapestry. I wanted something that would look great as a JPEG, and I think I got it. Traditional, yet modern — just the balance I was looking for.

14 Responses to “My episcopal coat of arms”
  1. SDG says:

    A bishop (to be) who uses Photoshop. Awesome. God grant you many years!

  2. Catherine Faulds says:

    Very Beautiful. Congratulations!

  3. Lulu Laxa says:

    Dear Fr. Tom,

    Your Coat of Arms is very beautiful, simple, meaningful,serene and
    very distinct. Your motto, and your choice as a whole, simply
    describes the great person who owns it. Great choice Fr. Tom!
    It will be easy to remember and recognize it.

    The Pope has a very good reason for chosing you as one of the Bishops.
    Congratulations, and we will always keep you in our prayers.See you at
    the ceremony!

  4. Fr. Selvester says:

    I’m glad you mentioned the Canadian Heraldic Authority. Before its establishment most, if not all, Catholic bishops in Canada followed the custom of assuming a coat of arms. That is, they simply devised one themselves and began to use it. This is also perfectly legitimate. It doesn’t mean that assumed arms are less “real” or are less “official” than those granted by a heraldic authority. This is true because many countries, like the USA for example, do not even have heraldic authorities as indeed Canada did not for many years. However, in places where such authorities do exist it is not simply a good idea to use them. In fact, it is required. Now, of course, there are no heraldic police who will come cart you away if you don’t do so. Nevertheless, Canadian bishops should indeed stop the practice of simply assuming arms. Now that there is a heraldic authority in Canada which is an office of the Crown those who are appointed bishop now and in future should ALL be making application to the Canadian Heraldic Authority for a grant of arms.

    Thanks again for mentioning the Authority. Even after 23 years I fear many Canadians do not even realize it exists!

  5. Benoit says:

    Well done, Fr. Tom! As for the “Sun of Justice”, let’s not forget this passage of the Benedictus :

    Through forgiveness of all their sins,
    The loving-kindness of the heart of our God
    Who visits us like the dawn from on high.
    He will give light to those in darkness,
    Those who dwell in the shadow of death.

    (from Luke 1:68-79)

  6. Father Albéniz says:

    I love the motto. Very appropriate under the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI who is working very hard for unity in different fronts including the New Évangelization.

  7. Jared says:


  8. Ricardo Vargas-Godines. says:

    Laus Deo, and you. A beautifull coat of arms. Congratulations.

  9. Louis E. says:

    Isn’t there actually a Vatican heraldic authority,which I would expect to see used by bishops in preference to that of any civil state?…I agree that mere assumption of arms is wrong.

  10. Father Thomas Dowd says:


    I asked the Apostolic Nuncio about that, and I was told there wasn’t anything. I guess the Pope does not need to worry about a heraldric authority, because he is himself the sovereign — in his case, assuming arms and granting arms is the same thing.

  11. Jeremy Stevens says:

    Dear Bishop-elect Dowd:

    First of all, congratulations and ad multos annos (which, to follow up on what the Nuncio said, ought to be an easy request for the Lord to answer, since He’s chosen you at so young an age!). And how wonderful that you’ve made your mark on the new technology – as the wonderful Daughters of St Paul who live near us say, “We use all the modern means of evangelization we know the Apostles would have used if those means had been available to them!” and now you are one of the successors of the Apostles using those means.

    But I write because my background is Latin studies, both classical and ecclesiastical, and I’m wondering if you’ve seen the Vulgate rendering of the line your motto comes from. It’s actually “Cor unum et anima una,” because (odd as it seems to us) Cor is of the neuter gender and anima is feminine, so I think that if you want it to say “of one heart and soul” in Latin, unlike English, you actually need to repeat the “one” to make it modify each element, heart and soul, since the feminine “una” can’t cover both nouns in Latin. I only point this out because you’ll be using this motto in documents that go all over the world, and certainly some of the more senior fellows (especially in Rome) who see it will know the line from Acts (in fact, I think it’s the motto of the Cisterican Order) – and because, Deo volente, you’ll be using this motto a good long time! One of our bishops changed his motto after the consecration booklets had publicized the original design for his arms beside the original advisor missed a Latin grammar mistake, so … these things happen. But do check it out because I could be wrong, and have been over many years!

    God bless you, dear Bishop-elect!

    An old Latin teacher.

  12. Father Thomas Dowd says:

    Dear Jeremy,

    Thanks for your post. Regarding the Latin, I checked both the Vulgate and the Neo-vulgate online, and both render the phrase as “cor et anima una”. So I went with that.

    That being said, I too originally thought it should be “cor unum et anima una”, for exactly the reason you provided. I was somewhat confused at first, until I opened my trusty Kennedy’s Revised Latin Primer (a truly invaluable resource). In the “notes on the concords”, Kennedy states that “an adjective which qualifies more than one noun but does not form part of a predicate with a copulative verb, agrees with the nearest noun”. He gives the following example from Caesar: vir et consili magni et virtutis.

    In Acts 4:32a, erat is being used in a way similar to “there was” in English. Literally translated, the first part is saying “of the multitude of believers there was one heart and soul”. Given the structure, the rule raised by Kennedy would seem to apply. Una, of course, is qualifying both cor and anima, and since the nearest noun in this case is anima, it is rendered as una. Repeating it would be superfluous — and so the Vulgates don’t.

    At least that was my take on it. Hat tip to my father for having worked on this with me a while back.

  13. Fr. Selvester says:

    There is no heraldic authority of the Holy See or of the Vatican or of the Church because the Church is universal. If there were one it would be attempting to supersede the local heraldic authorities in places where they exist and the Church has no desire to do this. Bl. John XXIII wanted to institute a heraldic office of the Holy See and the late Bruno B. Heim (a heraldic expert) talked him out of it saying that it would infringe on the rights of other far more ancient heraldic authorities and pointing out that it would be impossible to create universal heraldic legislation when dealing with matters of taste.

    Just to clarify: in countries where there is no heraldic authority assuming arms is perfectly OK and is the method used. However, in countries where such authorities do exist, Canada being one, they should be consulted.

  14. Susan ADAMS says:

    Hi Bishop-Elect Father Tom,
    Would you please, at some time after your consecration, when you have the time, give me a site that best describes deacons, priests, monsigneurs, bishops, archbishops, cardinals. And if there are any other titles in the list for Roman Catholic positions? let me know. A friend of mine was asking. thanks. Prayers for strength and courage for you always that you can handle everything that comes your way for God in the best way possible. We don’t often see people who desire to serve God so readily these days. God bless and thanks. :)

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