Creating the art of the arms

Achievement designer is a local deacon with far-reaching talent


PROVIDENCE — It started as a fascination with history and heraldry that would one day develop into a passion with an international clientele for Deacon Paul Sullivan.

Click here to view a slideshow of the Bishop-elect or click here to view or order individual photos from the slideshow.

Deacon Sullivan, director of the Office of the Diaconate for the Diocese of Providence, is honored to add Auxiliary Bishop-elect Robert Charles Evans to the long list of bishops he has designed what is known in the parlance of the field as a “heraldic achievement,” or coat of arms.

He has been designing religious heraldic achievements as a hobby since 1976.

“Bishop Evans had a very clear idea of what he wanted to see in his design and a very clear idea of how he wanted it presented,” says Deacon Sullivan. “So, it was my job to produce that for him.”

The bishop-elect went deep into his roots when deciding on a design for his achievement.

“He had the concept of the anchor that looks very much like a Chiro, the symbol for Christ; the anchor, the symbol of hope, also the state of Rhode Island; Spe, the Latin word for hope. It reads “Saved in Hope,” so it’s a play on the State of Rhode Island, it’s a play on his motto, it’s a play on a lot of different things.”

The Stella Maris shines brightly over a sea of azure on the blazon, or field of the coat of arms, like the North Star shining over the blue of the sea of our lives.

“So, it was very simple what he wanted it to say, but how he wanted it presented was very specific,” says Deacon Sullivan.

There are three parts to each achievement. There is the artwork, and the blazon, or field, it appears on, but there is also an important descriptive component that accompanies the work. It is the English description of what has been created, with the details noted from the bearer of the achievement’s perspective.

As a bishop without canonical jurisdiction (an auxiliary bishop), Bishop Evans’ personal arms occupy the entire shield.

Deacon Sullivan was just a young boy when he first became interested in the art of heraldry.

A family friend, the Rev. Thomas Maloney, was chosen to serve as an auxiliary bishop of Providence in the 1960s. He had just returned from Europe and was visiting with Deacon Sullivan’s family as he prepared for his ordination.

“He had been the rector of the American College of Louvain,” Deacon Sullivan recalls. “All the stuff he brought home with him just fascinated me as a 10-year-old. I must have drawn his coat of arms a hundred times.”

Although Bishop Maloney passed away from cancer only two years after his ordination, the heraldic spirit never flickered for the young Sullivan.

In the years to come he would acquire a personal library on the subject.

He began to advertise his services, and in 1976, he was commissioned to design his first achievement for Bishop Eugene Gerber of the Diocese of Dodge City, Kan.

The following year, he was commissioned for two more designs, and four the following year. He has expanded to creating 31 over the course of a year, and all over the world, from Kenya to Guyana.

What’s on Deacon Sullivan’s drawing board now?

In his art bag are designs for the new auxiliary bishop of Joliet, Ill., and the new archbishop of Milwaukee.

“This just fascinates me,” Deacon Sullivan says of his craft.

Description of Bishop Evans’ Coat of Arms

The episcopal heraldic achievement, or bishop’s coat of arms, is composed of a shield, which is the central and most important part of the design, a scroll with a motto and the external ornamentation. The design is described (blazoned) as if the description was being given by the bearer (from behind) with the shield being worn on the left arm.

These arms are composed of a blue field on which are placed a silver (white) anchor and a silver (white) estoile (multi-point star). The anchor, the symbol of the State of Rhode Island and of its motto “Hope,” has the uppermost arm from the Greek letter Rho (P) which, in combination with regular cross-arms forms the combined letters Chi-Rho (XP) that are the representation of Christ.

The symbolism of this anchor is magnified by Bishop Evans’ motto, “SPE SALVI,” the title of an encyclical by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, which translated means; “SAVED IN HOPE.” Thus, Christ is the security; the anchor, . . . in whom we trust; in whom we hope, . . . for salvation and Eternal Life.

Also displayed in Bishop Evans’ design, in the upper right, (“to chief sinister”) is a multi-pointed star called “an estoile.” The position of this star is to liken The North Star, the navigational aid of the Northern Hemisphere, and it is “upon a sea of blue,” to honor the Most Blessed Virgin Mary in her title of “Star of the Sea.”

In this title, Mary is the Patroness of the Pontifical North American College in Rome where His Excellency, Bishop Evans was a student and then later served as an administrator.

As a navigational aid, this star, Mary, the Star of the Sea, is the guide to the redemption that is Christ the anchor and the hope of humanity.

The achievement is completed by the external ornamentation which are a gold (yellow) processional cross that is placed in back of the shield and which extends above and below the shield, and the pontifical hat, called a “galero,” with its six tassels in three rows on either side of the shield, all in green.


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