In designing his shield, a bishop has an opportunity to depict symbolically aspects of his life and heritage and elements of the Catholic faith that are important to him.
A diocesan bishop shows his commitment to the flock he shepherds by combining his personal coat of arms with that of the diocese, in a technique known as impaling. The shield is divided in half along the pale or central vertical line. The arms of the Diocese of Saint Cloud appear on the dexter side — that is, on the side of the shield to the viewer’s left, which would cover the right side (in Latin, “dextera”) of the person carrying the shield. The arms of the bishop are on the sinister side — the bearer’s left, the viewer’s right.
On the sinister base, on the right side of the viewer, (personal representation): the cross and anchors are a symbol of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the religious order of the bishop. The anchor is an ancient Christian symbol, signifying that in the storms of life we must cling to the cross and the hope it brings. The river symbolizes the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized, thus reminding us of our own baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. It also recalls the great rivers in areas where the bishop has served: the Nile River in Uganda, the Columbia River in Oregon, and the Mississippi River in Minnesota. The fish recall Jesus’ call of the fishermen to be his disciples, as well as the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Fish are also a symbol of Christ, which was used by the early Christians to identify themselves as followers of Jesus. (The Diocese of Saint Cloud is blessed to be in a region that provides ample opportunities for fishing its beautiful lakes and rivers.) Last, the six-pointed star recalls Mary, Star of the Sea, a title attributed to her since the eighth century, meaning that Mary is the star to be followed on the way to Christ.
By heraldic tradition, the arms of the bishop of a diocese are joined (impaled) with the arms of his jurisdiction, which are seen in the dexter impalement (left side) of the shield. In this case, this is the arms of the Diocese of Saint Cloud in Minnesota.
On the dexter (canton), the major portion is an azure (blue) field. On the field is seen four golden fleur-de-lis in honor of the heritage of Cloud, who as a Prince, renounced all claim to the Frankish throne by being tonsured as a monk and then later being ordained as a priest, signified by the silver chalice in the center of the fleur-de-lis.
The processional cross, the symbol for any bishop, is placed in back of the shield and which extended above the shield. The cross used is a Celtic cross in honor of St. Patrick, the bishop’s patron saint, who was a missionary bishop to the Irish people and is known as the “Apostle of Ireland.”
For his motto, Bishop Neary chose: “Ave Crux, Spes Unica” — “Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope,” the motto of the Congregation of Holy Cross.
The device is completed with the external ornaments which are the processional cross, described above, and a pontifical hat, called a “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.