Archdiocese’s new coat of arms a visual reminder of Church’s mission

The Archdiocese of Detroit’s new coat of arms was unveiled June 3 as part of Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s pastoral letter, “Unleash the Gospel.” Symbols incorporated into the new crest include St. Anne and her daughter, the Blessed Virgin Mary; an open door symbolic of Venerable Solanus Casey — as well as the Church’s need to “go out” and invite others in — and rippling water denoting both the cleansing power of baptism and the geography of the Great Lakes region.

Redesigned crest to replace historic 1937 archdiocesan seal

DETROIT — It’s undeniably part of the history of the Archdiocese of Detroit, but it’s hard to tell a story with a pair of antlers and three mythological birds.

With the archdiocese’s new coat of arms, unveiled Saturday night during the Vigil Mass of Pentecost at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, one certainly doesn’t have that problem.

Marking the release of Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s landmark pastoral letter, “Unleash the Gospel,” following last fall’s historic Synod 16, the archdiocese revealed its new look for the first time since 1937.

The new coat of arms features a more modern look, with images of St. Anne — the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary and patroness of the Archdiocese of Detroit — rippling water and an open door adorning a red, blue and gold shield.

Rich in symbolism

The design is the result of more than a year’s worth of input, prayer and discernment, balancing both the history and future of the Archdiocese of Detroit, said Msgr. Robert McClory, moderator of the curia for the archdiocese, who helped lead a team involved in the effort.

“Initially, we thought about, ‘What is the identity of the archdiocese?’ When people think of the Archdiocese of Detroit, what do they think of, and what visuals are connected to that?” Msgr. McClory said.

Apart from Synod 16, the most obvious choices came about after consideration of some of the recent “turning points” in the life of the local Church, including the naming of St. Anne as the archdiocese’s patroness in 2011 and the accelerating sainthood cause of Venerable Solanus Casey, Msgr. McClory said.

“By common tradition, we’ve always understood that St. Anne was our patroness in the archdiocese, but that hadn’t been definitively declared by the Holy See” until Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement, Msgr. McClory said. “To have St. Anne as a patroness now is a significant change.”

Apart from her role as protector and guide for the Church in Detroit, St. Anne’s embrace of her daughter, the Blessed Virgin Mary — who herself is breaking open the Scriptures — is an intimate portrayal of the role of parents in teaching the faith to their children.

“It’s beautiful imagery that resonates today because we want to uphold passing on the faith to the next generation, and we want to embrace and endorse family life as the primary vehicle for passing on the faith,” Msgr. McClory said.

Opposite St. Anne, the open door offers several profound meanings.

“The door is connected both to Fr. Solanus Casey, who is God’s doorkeeper — the ‘porter of St. Bonaventure’ — and it’s also a door that welcomes people to come in to the embrace of Christ and ultimately to life everlasting,” Msgr. McClory said. “But it also represents our need to go out from the insides of our churches to spread the good news. It’s a very proactive image and a welcoming image.”

The door also ties in with the recent Holy Door of Mercy at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Msgr. McClory added, where “ultimately it’s Jesus standing at the door waiting and inviting us to come in.”

Below the two main images is a depiction of flowing water, which heralds both the mystery of baptism as well as the geography of the Detroit region, surrounded by the waters of the Great Lakes and the Detroit and St. Clair rivers.

The three stars to the upper right of the crest — which remain from the former coat of arms — denote the Holy Trinity and man’s ultimate aim of heaven, Msgr. McClory said.

Telling a story

A major difference between the old coat of arms and the new, Msgr. McClory said, is one’s ability to tell the story of faith using its symbols: Starting with the Old Testament in St. Anne and continuing through the revelation of the New Testament through her daughter, Mary, one comes to Christ through the waters of baptism and is invited through the open doors of the Church to bring others with them to their ultimate fulfillment with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in heaven.

“I think you can really tell a story with this,” Msgr. McClory said. “You can’t do it with the old coat of arms.”

The former archdiocesan coat of arms, left, and the newly redesigned seal.

The former seal, developed 80 years ago when the Diocese of Detroit was elevated to an archdiocese, reflected more of the geographical and cultural history of the region, with antlers denoting Michigan’s abundance of wildlife and three martlets — heraldic birds with feathers instead of feet — representing the “never-ending quest of knowledge” that prompted French explorer Antoine de la Mothe-Cadillac to settle on the banks of the Detroit River in 1701.

Apart from the three stars and the crowning miter, the new coat of arms does keep another element from its predecessor: the shield of St. Isaac Jogues, a Jesuit priest and martyr whose mission to the New World helped pave the way for the Catholic settlers who founded Detroit.

A ‘long lifespan’

Archbishop Vigneron consulted with a wide range of people, including laity and the archdiocesan Presbyteral Council, before deciding to go ahead with the changes, Msgr. McClory said.

While the archdiocese enlisted the help of a Cleveland-based design firm for the project, the process also benefited from Archbishop Vigneron’s experience redesigning the coat of arms of the Diocese of Oakland, Calif., where he served as bishop from 2003-09.

“His experience with that and what he learned from that process was helpful for us in revising this coat of arms,” Msgr. McClory said. “We hope there is enough commonality or homage to the prior coat of arms that we would be able to have some sense of visual continuity.”

Given the number of places the former gold-and-black seal appeared — cemeteries, vestments, printed and online materials, even the marble edifice in front of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament — it could take some time to fully integrate the new crest, and Msgr. McClory said he doesn’t expect the old crest to be “whitewashed” away. Still, he believes the new design will win people over.

“I recognize that for some folks, this is going to be a period of adjustment, but I think as we all pray and see the blessings in the coat of arms, it’s really a great gift to the diocese, and it will allow us to have someone look at it and say ‘What is the Archdiocese of Detroit about?'” Msgr. McClory said. “And I would say we’re about passing on the faith, bringing people to Jesus through the waters of baptism, and welcoming them in through the doors of his love to life everlasting.”

“If we can all focus on the truths that are in the coat of arms, even a person who is illiterate could understand what we’re trying to communicate here, because they see it in the coat of arms,” he added.

Msgr. McClory credited the leadership of Archbishop Vigneron — who also plans to update his personal coat of arms, half of which features the archdiocesan crest — in shepherding the project as a way to inspire the faithful to the new evangelization.

“For me personally, because I’m so used to the prior coat of arms, it was a bit jarring to even contemplate a change,” Msgr. McClory said. “It took me a little time, but then I thought, ‘Wait a minute.’ A coat of arms can change. They’ve changed in other places when there are new realities.

“It’s not a gimmick,” he added. “The archbishop intends this to have a long lifespan. It’s not something that you do every five years, every 10 years, 20 years, even 100 years. It’s a rare undertaking.”