PROSPECT HEIGHTS — The right half of the shield in Bishop Robert Brennan’s coat of arms, the side personal to a bishop, contains a blue cross, gold lamb’s head, two red scallop shells, and a white star with seven points.
“It connects all of the different Catholic experiences of my life,” Bishop Brennan said.
The design pays homage to the Brennan family coat of arms, which features a royal blue heraldic lion below two open-palmed red hands on a white background. Bishop Brennan replaced the lion with a royal blue cross to represent the Catholic faith. The ends of each of the cross’s arms resemble a fleur-de-lis, a stylized lily used as a symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The red hands, meanwhile, were replaced with red scallop shells to allude to two different saints — John the Baptist and James the Greater — that hold special meaning to Bishop Brennan. The red color recalls the fact that both of these saints gave their lives as martyrs of the faith.
“I went to St. John the Baptist High School and St. John’s University,” Bishop Brennan said. “With St. James, I was ordained on the feast of St. James and now I’m going to the cathedral of St. James, so that’s kind of a neat thing.”
The gold lamb’s head at the center of the cross is a tribute to the coat of arms of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, where Bishop Brennan served as a priest and auxiliary bishop for nearly three decades. And the white star at the bottom of the cross symbolizes the Blessed Virgin Mary, with each of the seven points representing a member of his nuclear family.
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Another personal touch of a bishop’s coat of arms is the scroll below the shield that contains the bishop’s motto. Bishop Brennan’s motto is “Thy will be done.”
The choice was an ode to his grandfathers. One of them died before he was born, and the other before he turned four. As he tells it in the homily from his installation Mass in the Diocese of Columbus, it was a family ritual to visit the cemeteries where they were buried. On one of the gravestones, the one of his grandfather that he hadn’t met, the words “Thy will be done” were etched in stone.
“This has to be my first encounter with the Sacred Scripture,” Bishop Brennan said in the homily. “So, years later, when I was to choose a motto, I went right to the words ‘Thy will be done.’”
Bishop Brennan goes on to further credit his grandfathers for teaching him “a deep and abiding faith,” and with passing on a “legacy of faith, hope, and love” that his parents in turn passed on to him and his siblings.
In addition to the scroll, another external ornament of Bishop Brennan’s coat of arms is a gold cross that sits on top of the shield.
Above the cross is an ecclesiastical hat, in the form of a galero — a broad brimmed hat with tasselled strings formerly worn by clergy. The galero seen in Bishop Brennan’s coat of arms is green with six tassels draped along each side of the coat of arms. This represents his hierarchical status as a bishop. It only changes if his rank changes.
Bishop Brennan designed the personal portion of his coat of arms when he was elevated to auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in 2012, and it will stay with him wherever he goes.
Upon Bishop Brennan’s installation to the Diocese of Brooklyn, however, the left side of the shield in his coat of arms will change to reflect the diocesan shield. This happens each time a bishop moves to a new diocese; he adds his present diocese’s shield.
The Diocese of Brooklyn shield is divided into four quadrants. The top left is red with a king’s crown, and the top right is blue with a queen’s crown, representing the diocese’s two counties: King’s County, Brooklyn, and Queens County, Queens. “King” and “Queen” are also references to Christ the King, and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The bottom two quadrants — the left blue and the right red — each contains a white circle (roundel) overlapped by wavy blue bars. This is a reference to a fountain that is also representative of Christ the King and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In the middle of the four quadrants is a miniature white shield with the same red scallop shell that is present in Bishop Brennan’s personal shield. It too is honoring St. James the Greater, the titular head of St. James Cathedral Basilica in the diocese.