Bishop da Cunha’s Coat of Arms reflects his roots

By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff

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FALL RIVER, Mass. — “Sufficit tibi gratia Mea,” (My grace is enough for you), taken from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, are the words emblazoned on the motto scroll of Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha’s Coat of Arms as a reminder to the newly-minted bishop of the Fall River Diocese that God’s grace will see him through the challenges that all Christians face in the modern world.

The idea of a coat of arms originated in Europe as an art of heraldry, and was utilized initially by knights as a way of identifying themselves and setting themselves apart from their enemies. Family crests also are traditionally designed as a coat of arms, symbolizing the history of a family name. As the coat of arms evolved through the years, many people and institutions have adopted the tradition; incidentally, many towns or cities use a coat of arms, and those are called civic heraldry. 

The Church adopted heraldry as a means of approving and authenticating documents as well as an indication in ownership of Church buildings. A bishop will use his coat of arms to decorate his episcopal throne, vestment, and tableware. To this day, a bishop’s coat of arms is used in official correspondence and sealing of important documents.

Heraldic tradition dictates that the arms of a diocesan bishop be “impaled” (joined) with the arms of his jurisdiction; the “Dexter impalement” (left side of the shield) bears the bishop’s jurisdiction while the “sinister impalement” (right side) of the design bears the personal arms of the bishop.

There are symbolic meanings found in the various color choices and symbols used in coats of arms. Some of these colors can include gold (generosity), silver (peace or sincerity), red (warrior or martyr), or green (hope, joy and loyalty), while symbols can include an anchor (hope, religious or steadfastness), angels (dignity or glory), a baton (token of authority) or a bear (strength, cunning or ferocity).

Designed by heraldist Pierre de Chaignon la Rose, the arms of the Diocese of Fall River are composed of a shield with its symbols surmounted by a bishop’s mitre (hat). The shield is a silver field on which is displayed a blue bend (the diagonal line) of wavy lines, the heraldic translation of water; the falling bend, going from upper left to lower right, conveys Fall River, the title of the diocese. A red cross, symbolizing redemption and the graces which flow from the cathedral as the Spiritual center of the diocese, is placed over the wavy bend.

At the center of the cross, a circle is incorporated in which sits a six-pointed silver star to honor the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the title of the diocesan cathedral; the design pays homage to the litany of Loreto, where Our Lady is called the “Morning Star.”

Domini Sumus” (We are the Lord’s) was the motto of retired Bishop George. W. Coleman and was taken from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Designed by Deacon Paul J. Sullivan of Narragansett, R.I., the coat of arms bears a design that reflected Bishop Coleman’s life and Irish heritage, and newly-elected Bishop da Cunha is also paying tribute to his roots in his Coat of Arms.

This is not the first Coat of Arms that Bishop da Cunha has had, but the slight redesign continues to pay tribute to his religious community and his roots, and also replaces the connection of his former home in the Archdiocese of Newark and adds in the Diocese of Fall River.

The left side now bears his jurisdiction in the Fall River Diocese, while the right side is more personal by representing where he has come from, and the influences that have shaped his life. The coat of arms is designed by the Very Rev. Michael M. Walters, J.C.L., V.F., director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the Archdiocese of Newark, and is based upon an original design by the Rev. Matthew R. Mauriello of the Diocese of Bridgeport, with artwork by Carolyn Martins-Reitz. 

The bottom part of the shield signifies the bishop’s life in Brazil, where he was born and where he received his first formation in the faith from his family and through the Sacraments of the Church. The colors of the flag — green and yellow (heraldic gold) — recall the flag of Brazil. The green of the flag is referenced by the indented green line, which also refers to the motto of the bishop’s home state of Bahia, “Per Ardua Surgo” (I rise through difficulties). The indentations were created to look like steps to remind Catholics that growth in the faith is sometimes accomplished through enduring difficulties. The globe in the center bears a banner with the words, “Ordem e Progresso” (order and progress). 

The top part of his shield represents the Society of the Divine Vocations, the religious order to which Bishop da Cunha belongs. Founded in Italy in 1920 by Blessed Justin Russolilio, the religious order spread rapidly throughout Italy, France, Argentina, the United States, and Brazil, beginning its work in the bishop’s hometown of Bahia in 1950. The circle represents the world and the triangle represents the Trinity; they are interlaced which indicates the Vocationist mission to bring the world to God and God to the world.

To represent the precious nature of the Christian vocation, the colors of silver and gold were chosen. The symbol has been placed on a blue field, which is the color of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a reminder to Bishop da Cunha that his vocation began with his Baptism in the Immaculate Conception Parish in Gavião, Bahia, continued with his studies for the priesthood in Immaculate Conception Seminary, and his years of ministry as a priest and bishop in the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., which is under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception.

The shield is completed by the episcopal hat and cross, and the scroll bearing his motto: “Sufficit tibi gratia Mea”; words to remind Bishop da Cunha that God’s grace will see him through all the challenges as he begins his ministry as the shepherd of the Fall River Diocese.

© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts