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Bishop Burbidge's coat of arms has deep symbolism

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Father Philip Bochanski had an interest in flags as a young child and said his interest in coats of arms flowed naturally from that. He’s self-taught and learned about church coats of arms, a tradition that goes back to the 11th century, in seminary.

“It’s like iconography in a way,” said Father Bochanski, executive director of Courage International. “There are lots of rules. What you’re trying to do is come up with a design that’s recognizable for the individual with things in there that speak to their life, but also follow the rules.”

A coat of arms is comprised of hereditary symbols dating back to early medieval Europe, used primarily to establish identity in battle, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. It is surrounded by symbols of the bishop’s office and is known as a heraldic achievement.

Since his time at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., Father Bochanski has designed new coats of arms for 16 bishops and done renderings for about half a dozen more. A rendering is a graphic combination of the bishop’s personal coat of arms and diocesan coat of arms.

“My first original design was for Bishop Daniel Thomas, when he was ordained an auxiliary bishop in Philadelphia in 2006. He is now bishop of Toledo,” he said. “All of the active auxiliary bishops in Philadelphia use coats of arms that I designed, and I was privileged to do the official rendering for Archbishop Chaput when he came to Philadelphia in 2011.”

Father Bochanski said he has also designed coats of arms for several newly named minor basilicas, as well as a handful of Catholic schools.

Most of his assignments come through word of mouth. He works on them in his spare time, and said he finds the work fascinating, similar to putting together a puzzle.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge’s coat of arms, depicting both personal and diocesan symbols, was updated after he was appointed to the Arlington Diocese.

Father Bochanski completed the rendering merging Bishop Burbidge’s personal coat of arms with the Arlington coat of arms. He also did the rendering for Bishop Burbidge in 2005 when he was installed as bishop of the Raleigh Diocese.

“I met the bishop when I was 17 years old,” he said. “He was the dean of St. Charles Seminary and walked me down the hallway to my interview to join the seminary.”

Bishop Burbidge’s coat of arms includes the Cross of Christ designed for his ordination as the auxiliary bishop of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, the Celtic cross representing his Irish ancestry and other symbols that reflect his devotion to the saints.

The fleur-de-lis and star on his coat of arms represent the Blessed Virgin Mary, known also as “Lily among Thorns.” This symbol recalls Bishop Burbidge’s mother, Shirley Lilley Burbidge. The sword represents the bishop’s baptismal patron saint, Michael the Archangel, and the ducal coronet is taken from the arms of St. Charles Borromeo, recalling the seminary where the bishop  also served as rector. His motto, “Walk Humbly with Your God,” is also included.

Father Bochanski said  the work he was able to do for Bishop Burbidge “allowed me to be part of these special moments in his service to the church in a unique way, which I consider a real privilege.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016