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Bishop-designate Lewandowski’s sister reflects his spirituality in coat of arms

When a priest is named a bishop, one of the things he has to do is create a personal coat of arms. Most turn to a handful of artists in the country who specialize in episcopal heraldry. Bishop-designate Bruce A. Lewandowski, C.Ss.R., looked no further than his sister.

Felician Sister Mary Francis Lewandowski, 14 months older than the new bishop, is an artist who does graphic design, publishing and website creation for her religious community and others. 

“He said, ‘Why would I ask anyone else?’” she recalled in a video interview from her home in Detroit, Mich., where she works with two other sisters running a nonprofit café for the poor. She told her brother she was honored he asked her to create the design.

As this was her first design of a coat of arms, she did some research on the topic, but started with a conversation with the new auxiliary bishop of Baltimore about what elements he wanted to emphasize. 

Bishop-designate Bruce Lewandowski’s coat of arms was designed by his sister, Felician Sister Mary Francis Lewandowski. (Courtesy image)

“Knowing my brother, I was able to put a more personal emphasis on the way I portrayed things,” said Sister Mary Francis, who serves as director of Felician Publications and Studio Arts and works for the Felician Sisters of North America. “He’s kind of a simple guy in the sense that he doesn’t want real huge decoration and fanfare. He wants to be part of the people and to have what he does accessible to them.”

She said she believes a bishop’s coat of arms should tell people who he is and what he stands for. 

“And I believe it should be a more spiritual piece, not just a historical piece,” she said. “And a lot of the coats of arms that I’ve seen and that I kind of read into, it’s a real historical document, but it doesn’t always tell you who the bishop is.”

She said she tried to tie in Bishop-designate Lewandowski’s spirituality into the symbols she used.

Over the course of two to three weeks, she drafted some options and they shared comments back and forth, trying new ways to express his vision and moving elements. She said he told her that he really wants the Eucharist to be behind it all.

According to the description (or blazon, in heraldic terms) of Bishop-designate Lewandowski’s coat of arms, “The white rays streaming from behind the cross against the red background depict God’s infinite mercy flowing from the Body and Blood of Christ, pervading the whole of our lives.”

A bishop’s coat consists of three primary elements: the episcopal hat, or galero; the shield; and the motto.

For bishops, the episcopal hat is green, with three rows of six tassels on each side. The description notes that the broad-brimmed hat is also the shape of that worn by missionary priests on the early American frontier, as it says, “At a young age, Bishop Bruce had the desire to work as a missionary, trekking through the wilderness on horseback bringing the sacraments to God’s people.”

Bishop-designate Lewandowski chose as his motto, “Because by Your Holy Cross,” a quote from the testament of St. Francis of Assisi that was adopted by St. Alphonsus Liguori in his well-known devotional work, “The Way of the Cross.” St. Alphonsus founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, known as the Redemptorists, in 1732; Bishop-designate Lewandowski is a Redemptorist.

The motto “reflects Pope Francis’ vision of God’s love made known through Jesus, sacrificed on the cross, and the missionary disciples’ vocation to continue the work of Redemption,” according to the description.

For the shield, Sister Mary Francis did not want to create one with divided sections, instead attempting to “create an environment within his shield with no boundaries, with some interacting elements,” which the new bishop liked.

According to the description, “There are no boundaries within the shield as there are no limits to God’s plentiful redemption.”

The Lewandowski family grew up in a Redemptorist parish in Lima in the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio. Toledo is represented on the bishop’s shield by a tower, similar to one on the seal of that city, also reminiscent of a tower in the namesake city of Toledo, Spain. 

“We pretty much grew up sort of in not just the Redemptorist environment, but the whole idea of mission in the church,” Sister Mary Francis said. “It wasn’t really hard for me to think about the elements he wanted and how he would like to see them.”

The Holy Spirit is depicted as breaking the upper edge of the shield “as it is the privilege of the Holy Spirit to inspire new life and envision endless possibilities for the Church, God’s people,” the description says.

The designer noted that she was not sure if that was “allowed” but in her research she did not find any parameters that said it couldn’t be done that way.

“My brother, if you know him, goes to great lengths for the people he serves. And sometimes that requires thinking outside the parameters. … It’s a different way of looking at it or thinking to carry out your mission. And he’s done that and he’s not afraid to rethink things and to let the Holy Spirit work in him,” she said.

The shield also includes a cross over three hills with a lance and a sponge (reminiscent of the sour wine offered to Jesus on the cross); these symbols come from the seal of the Redemptorists to “portray the heart of the bishop’s religious life and formation.”

It also includes the Greek abbreviation for Mother of God (Theotokos), which is found on the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. This “reflects the bishop’s dependence on Mary’s motherly strength and intercession, and his desire to make her known wherever he serves,” the description says.

Overall, the shield is red, interwoven with vibrant colors; the primary colors of red and white call to mind Bishop-designate Lewandowski’s Polish heritage. Acknowledging the time in history of his appointment as a bishop, the description notes, “The vibrant colors reflect hope for recovery during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020,” which hit Bishop-designate Lewandowski’s parishioners and the Latino community in Maryland particularly hard.

For more coverage of Bishop-designate Lewandowski’s upcoming episcopal ordination and to send him greetings, visit www.archbalt.org/bishopbruce

Email Christopher Gunty at editor@CatholicReview.org.

Editor’s note: This story was update July 25 at 8:44 p.m. to clarify biographical information and to provide the latest version of the image of Bishop-designate Lewandowski’s coat of arms.

More coverage of Bishop Lewandowski

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