The Coat of Arms of His Excellency,
The Most Reverend Robert Joseph Cunningham, D.D.
Bishop of Syracuse
Blazon: Arms impaled. Dexter: Azure, a Latin cross throughout Or, the lower shaft entwined with a dolphin, head to base, and in chief dexter a crescent Argent. Sinister: Gules, upon a chevron Argent three stars Sable; a fleur-de-lis of the second above two oak leaves and in base a Paschal lamb standing Proper.
Significance: The Episcopal heraldic achievement or bishop’s coat of arms is composed of a shield with its charges (symbols), a motto scroll and the external ornamentation. The shield, which is the central and most important feature of any heraldic device, is described (blazoned) in 12th century terms, that are archaic to our modern language, and this description is presented as if given by the bearer with the shield being worn on the arm. Thus, where it applies, the terms dexter and sinister are reversed as the device is viewed from the front.
By heraldic tradition the arms of the bishop are joined, impaled, with the arms of his jurisdiction. In this case, these are the arms of the Diocese of Syracuse. These arms are composed of a blue field with a gold (yellow) Latin cross, of The Faith throughout sunburst. Entwined about the lower arm of the cross is a silver (white) dolphin which was the emblem on the coin of the chief Greek city, Syracuse, of ancient Sicily. To the upper left (chief dexter) is a silver (white) crescent to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary in her title of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the United States.
For his personal arms, His Excellency, Bishop Cunningham continued to use, with a slight modification, the arms that were adopted at the time of his selection to receive the fullness of Christ priesthood as he was selected to become Bishop of Ogdensburg.
His Excellency’s personal arms are composed of a red field on which is seen a silver (white) chevron to represent a carpenter’s square, for St. Joseph and the chevron contains three black stars that are taken from the Cunningham family coat of arms. Above the chevron is a silver (white) fleur-de-lis for St. Louis, King of France, who was the titular patron of the parish where His Excellency was serving at the time of his call to the episcopacy. Below the fleur-de-lis are two gold (yellow) oak leaves, taken from the arms of the Diocese of Ogdensburg where Bishop Cunningham served joyfully as bishop. Below the chevron is a Paschal Lamb, termed “Proper,” for “as it appears in nature,” which is taken from the tabernacle door at St. Louis Parish and is emblematic that it is through the Paschal Mystery, that salvation has come to the world.
His Excellency, Bishop Cunningham’s motto is taken from the 8th chapter of the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, “Lumen Gentium,” and it refers to the teaching of the ancient church fathers that the church is “ECCLESIA MATER NOSTRA,” “our Mother The Church.”
The achievement is completed with the external ornaments which are a gold Episcopal processional cross, that is placed in back of and which extends above and below the shield, and the pontifical hat, called “gallero,” with its six tassels, in three rows, on either side of the shield, all in green. These are the heraldic insignia of a prelate of the rank of bishop by instruction of The Holy See of March 31, 1969.
By: Deacon Paul J. Sullivan