Coat of Arms of the 7th Bishop of Kansas City – St. Joseph

Bishop Johnston’s coat of arms as bishop of Kansas City – Saint Joseph was illustrated by Johnston_CoatofArmsa priest of the Diocese of Kansas City – Saint Joseph. Below is Father Gill’s explanation of the coat of arms.

Arms impaled. Dexter: Azure, a bear passant Argent above a cross bottony Or, on a chief embattled Or a crescent Azure between two White Lilies proper. Sinister: per fess indented Azure and Gules, in chief a mullet of eight points Or and in base three escallops Or.

A bishop’s coat of arms is composed of a shield with its charges (i.e. symbols), a motto scroll and the external ornamentation. The shield, which is the central and most important feature of any heraldic achievement, is blazoned (i.e. described) using a standardized, traditional vocabulary. It is described as if the arms were being worn by the person describing them, thus the dexter (right) side of the shield is on the viewer’s left and the sinister (left) side is on the viewer’s right.

It is customary in North America for the coat of arms of the bishop and those of his diocese to be depicted together on the same shield. The coat of arms of Bishop Johnston and the Diocese of Kansas City – Saint Joseph are depicted side by side. This is called impaling in heraldry. In addition to its use in episcopal arms, impalement of two coats of arms is also use by married couples. By impaling his arms with those of his diocese, Bishop Johnston shows that he is “married” to his diocese.

The dexter side of the shield shows the arms of the Diocese of Kansas City – Saint Joseph. The arms of the diocese are a combination of charges chosen to represent the history of the diocese. The current coat of arms is a combination of the coats of arms of the former Diocese of Kansas City in Missouri and the Diocese of Saint Joseph, which were combined in 1956 to form a new diocese, the Diocese of Kansas City – Saint Joseph. From the arms of the Diocese of St. Joseph were taken the two white lilies, a flower traditionally associated with Saint Joseph. The color white calls to mind Saint Joseph as a model of chastity. The blue crescent moon, a symbol and color traditionally associated with the Virgin Mary, come from the arms of the former Diocese of Kansas City in Missouri. This symbol recalls that the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception is the principal patron of the diocese and titular of the diocese’s cathedral. At the center, the white bear also comes from the old arms of the diocese of Kansas City in Missouri. The white bear is a symbol of the State of Missouri and can be found on the state’s Great Seal.

For his personal arms, depicted on the sinister side of the shield, Bishop Johnston has retained the design he adopted when he became the bishop of Springfield – Cape Girardeau, which was designed for him by Deacon Paul Sullivan. Bishop Johnston’s personal arms are divided into two parts by a zigzag line, which is inspired by the coat of arms of his home diocese of Knoxville. The line symbolizes the mountains so prominent in East Tennessee, where Bishop Johnston was born and raised and served as a priest.

In the upper portion of the arms honors the Most Blessed Virgin Mary under both her titles as Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Our Lady of Guadalupe, two titles for Mary that hold special significance for Bishop Johnston. In both images, Mary is depicted wearing a blue veil with eight pointed gold stars. Bishop Johnston has entrusted his ministry as a bishop to the love, protection and intercession of our Blessed Mother.

In the lower portion, Bishop Johnston chose to include three scallop shells. The scallop shell is a symbol strongly associated with Saint James the Greater, the bishop’s baptismal patron. Moreover, the scallop shell also is the symbol of pilgrims and is used in his arms to remind us that all of us are pilgrims on a journey of faith until we reach our heavenly home. Lastly, one of Bishop Johnston’s scallop shells is taken from the coat of arms of Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI, who called Bishop Johnston to the ministry of bishop in 2008. The red and gold colors of the lower field acknowledge Bishop Johnston’s mother’s family, which emigrated from the Black Forest region of Southwest Germany near the Rhine River.

Bishop Johnston has selected for his motto the Latin phrase “CARITAS CHRISTI URGET NOS.” This phrase is taken from Saint Paul’s second Letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 5:14) and expresses the bishop’s firm belief that in every aspect of our life in Christ, as members of His Mystical Body, in all of our thoughts and actions, it is “the Love of Christ that urges us on.” The motto is also an encouragement for all Christians during this earthly pilgrimage

The external ornaments are those prescribed for a bishop according to the Instruction of the Holy See, Ut Sive, of March, 1969. The shield is ensigned with a gold (yellow) episcopal cross. In heraldry the cross behind the shield is the true emblem of Episcopal heraldry. In addition, above the shield is placed a green ecclesiastical hat called a “gallero” with twelve tassels pendant on both sides. This broad brimmed hat, once worn in formal processions, is no longer used but remains a heraldic emblem for clergy in the Catholic Church. The reason it is green is because green, and not violet, was the original color worn by bishops.


October 27, 2016
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph