The Coat of Arms of the Congregation of Marian Fathers
of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary
The new rendition of the Coat of Arms designed for the Congregation of Marian Fathers for the 100th Anniversary of its Rebirth and Reform.
AT THE BEGINNING
For many centuries, there was a need for a sign that could be used as identification of an individual community as well as its representation in the external communications. This function was successfully fulfilled by an imprinted image of a seal. After all, a seal is a hallmark not only of individuals but also of various groups, communities, and associations. An imprint of a seal can be compared to some degree to a coat of arms, because they both perform similar functions: They are symbols of ownership and identification of an individual or a community. At the same time, they testify to that community’s spiritual life, in which has been strongly imprinted the group’s individuality, message, and charism. A seal produced by applying a hard die to an appropriate plastic mass or paint plays the role of a testimonial of trustworthiness and legal validity. It is also an expression of its owner’s will and a controlling agent protecting the integrity of a document or an item on which it has been placed.
From the inception of the Marian Order its Founder and first General Superior, Saint Stanislaus Papczyński, recognized the need to have a seal. It was necessary to guarantee the legality of documents presented to the religious and civil authorities for approval of the Institute and its rules, as well as for its new foundations.
The details regarding the origin of the Order’s first seal and its subsequent changes are described in the biography of Saint Stanislaus Papczyński, written in the first half of the 17th century by the Venerable Servant of God, Fr. Casimir Wyszyński. We are giving here the entire excerpt, especially because the extant imprinted image of the first Marian crest is difficult to read.
It would appear as if the Venerable Servant of God Father Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary could foresee all these [persecutions] when founding the Congregation and laying its first basis at that location. The place was named ‘Noah’s Ark’ as if to protect it from the deluge of infernal persecutions. Although the Congregation has been founded under the title of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, the Founder wanted first to protect his Order with a seal with a dove carrying a green branch, [thus] expressing his hope for outlasting all dangers. And just like there were only eight survivors in the Noah’s Ark, the eight monks remaining in the Congregation saved it from drowning. Thanks to the protection and kindness of the Highest Shepherd Innocent XIII, who approved this Institute anew, the flood of persecutions ceased. The seal with a dove was replaced by a seal with the image of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, which is being used until present.
(Stróż duchowego dziedzictwa marianów
[Guardian of the Marians’ Spiritual Heritage] Warszawa-Stockbridge 2004, p.134, nr 109)
A dove holding an olive branch on the Blessed Father Founder’s seal. The imprint comes from Protocollum Ordinis Beatæ Mariæ Virginis Immaculatæ Conceptionis of 1705. The surrounding inscription reads: Congregatio Immaculatæ Conceptionis Beatissimæ Virginis Mariæ Clericorum Marianorum Defunctis Suffragantium
From the historical accounts and surviving seal imprints, we know that in 1731 the Order had two seals: one larger and one smaller (both were oval in shape and measured respectively 35x30mm and 28x25mm. [cf. J. Bukowicz, MIC, “Wprowadzenie [Introduction]”, in: Album zmarłych ojców i braci Zgromadzenia Księży Marianów [Album of the Deceased Fathers and Brothers from the Congregation of Marian Fathers], Warszawa 1990, p. 1]) Along with their signatures, all letters of the General Superiors also bore the Order’s seal. The larger seal had on its rim the inscription: SIGILLUM MAIUS ORDINIS IMMACULATÆ CONCEPTIONIS B.V. MARIÆ, while the following inscription was engraved on the smaller seal: SIGILLUM ORDINIS IMMAC. CONCEPT. B.V. MARIÆ. In addition, every monastery was obliged to obtain a seal bearing the names of the monastery and of the church’s titular saint (por. S.M. Sydry MIC, Organizacja Zgromadzenia Księży Marianów w XVIII wieku, Stockbridge 2002, s. 109 [Organizational Structure of the Congregation of Marian Fathers in the 18th century]). Therefore, as it transpires from the above, shortly after its inception, the Congregation of Marian Fathers took as its sign the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary Immaculate. From the moment of taking the authority over the Order by Fr. Andrew of St. Matthew Deszpot in 1722 and the ratification of the Marian laws in 1723 by Pope Innocent XIII, this image has been and continues to be the Order’s crest.
The seal of the Order displayed the Immaculate Mother of God holding a lily in her right hand and crushing a snake’s head with her foot. The Blessed Mother’s head was crowned with 10 or 12 stars (perhaps 10 stars pertained to The Rule of the Ten Evangelical Virtues of the B.V.M., upon which the Marians made their religious vows at the time). A radiant aureole embraced Mary’s entire figure. It is worth noting that the Order’s seal symbolized to the olden Marians the power of the General Superior. In a public act, the outgoing Superior General passed on to his successor the seal of the institute, which proudly bore the inscription in its rim sigillum maius ordinis, meaning the great seal of the Order.
Aside from several minor differences, the above description accurately reflects the imprints (known as “wafer” imprints) of four 18th-century Marian seals that survived to our times. The Order used this seal up until the beginning of the 20th century or the time of its renewal and reformation performed by Blessed Archbishop George Matulaitis-Matulewicz. This is corroborated by the imprint of the Order’s seal placed on the Fr. Vincent Sękowski’s letter to the Holy See of August 7, 1910, in which he asked for the re-approval of the Congregation and its renewed Constitutions.
The imprint of the first seal used in the renewed Congregation; this imprint is shown on the protocol of the Congregation’s General Chapter celebrated in Gdańsk in 1923
Great Seal of the Congregation affixed on the official document issued by Superior General – Francis Buczys, MIC on May 18, 1948.
Seal of the Marian House at Bielany-Warsaw, Poland, affixed on a document dated November 1923.
IN THE RENOVATED CONGREGATION
The first official document of the renovated Congregation bears the seal that was used by the General Superior Fr. Sękowski. This document is a short protocol, prepared after the election of Fr. George Matulewicz to the General Superior’s office by the first General Chapter of the renovated Marian community (the original document is presently located in the Archives of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in Rome). This Chapter took place in Gelgaudiškis, Lithuania, on July 14, 1911 – three months after Fr. Sękowski’s demise. Its participants were: Frs. G. Matulewicz, F. Bučys, and J. Totoraitis. Therefore, it seems highly probable that the seal might have been among a few things left behind by the General Superior of the olden Marians. Probably, the seal was made out of brass, which seems to be confirmed by a closer scrutiny of its round impression of 5 cm in diameter. The imprint is an inverted image of the die normally used for making impressions in wax; in case of the above-mentioned protocol, the die was used to make an impression in blue ink (probably, for the want of wax).
Fortunately, there is another surviving imprint of the same seal – made earlier with the use of “wafer” method. We find it in the acts of the called Three-year Chapter, which took place in Marijampole in September 1838. On the rim that seal bears the Latin inscription: SIG: MAIUS: ORD: CC•REGL: MARIANORUM•SUB•TIT: IMMTÆ•CONCEPT: B.V. MARIÆ:
Analyzing the contents of the inscription, one can easily conclude that the seal was created shortly after 1786, when the Holy See renewed its approval for the Marians, while the Constitutions of the Order displayed in its title for the first time the slightly altered Institute’s name that was faithfully repeated in the inscription on the seal’s rim.
We don’t know what has happened to that seal, which is also missing from the Congregation’s archives. However, noteworthy is the fact that the next important legal document of our Community – the protocol of the General Chapter celebrated in Gdańsk on July 16-19, 1923, and presided over by the Father Renovator, bears a seal whose general appearance and the inscription of the rim clearly refers to the one left by Fr. Wincenty Sękowski to the renovated Community. It is similar in case of the image of the Immaculate Mary placed in the Congregation’s Constitutions, released in 1930, and the seals used by General Superiors – direct successors of our Blessed Renovator.
Also, it ought to be mentioned that – right from the day of their arrival in the U.S. in 1913, – the Marians used the seals created in the image of Fr. Sękowski’s seal (cf. pictures in the text).
All these facts confirm the clear will of the renovated Congregation to preserve the model of the imprinted crest, used by the last General Superiors in times preceding the renovation of the Institute.
The following generations of the renovated Marians continued to use the old model of seal. Except for a brief period of certain liberty in presenting the Immaculate Mary on the Congregation’s seal (especially in Poland), its basic graphic concept still closely reflects the model from the bygone centuries. In modern renditions, Mary’s person is surrounded with a radiant halo. In her right hand she holds a lily, and she crushes a snake with her foot. A crown of 12 stars encircles Mary’s head. The law of the renovated Congregation thus defines the symbolism of the Marian Crest:
The seal of the Congregation used by the Superiors, as well as by other officials of the Congregation, bears the image of the Most Blessed Immaculate Virgin Mary holding a lily in her right hand and crushing the head of the serpent with her foot. An inscription that is proper to each respective Superior encircles it.
(From the Directory of the Congregation, §181)
Seal of the Congregation of Marian Fathers affixed on the document signed by Bl. George Matulitis-Matulewicz, on April 14, 1922 in Vilnius.
In today’s reality, which demands the Congregation’s presence in various mass media, a necessity arose for creating a uniform emblem – a Coat of Arms, as it were – that would become our Congregation’s clear and concise iconographic symbol for use inside and outside the community. Thus motivated, the General Chapter of 1999 issued the following declaration:
The General Chapter, led by a concern for attaining greater unity in the Congregation and following the example of other religious communities, sees a need to establish a uniform graphic symbol for the whole community, which would serve to more easily identify the Congregation. Such a symbol already exists and has been used effectively for several years in almost all Provinces of the Congregation. It unites within itself the spirit of Vatican II, the old symbol of the Marian Community (the image of the Most Blessed Immaculate Virgin Mary) and the motto of the Congregation given by Father Renovator. This Coat of Arms expresses in a concise iconographic/verbal form the character of our Congregation: its charism, mission, and key elements.
The Marian trait of this Coat of Arms is expressed by the image of the Immaculate Mary on the shield. The inscription on a banner (below the shield) Pro Christo et Ecclesia refers, on the one hand, to the activity of Blessed George and, on the other hand, to the Chapter VIII of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church entitled: “Mary, the Virgin Mother of God in the Mystery of Christ and the Church.
Therefore, the General Chapter, wishing to legalize the existing practice, decided to introduce a symbol/crest modeled after the above-given description for the use by the entire Congregation. The Chapter also gave consent for all the confreres to use this symbol on the letterheads, publications, etc., thus representing and identifying the Congregation on the outside (C 13, D 194).
(Declaration No. 1 of the General Chapter of the Congregation of Marians of 1999)
© Ms. Rosita Bartoszewska from Warsaw designed the contemporary image of the Blessed Mother for the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Marians, while the concept of the entire Coat of Arms — shield and ribbon — was created by Fr. Leszek Czelusniak, MIC, and Mr. William Sosa.
The creation of a unified Marian Coat of Arms provided a perfect opportunity to “introduce to the world” the Congregation’s motto – Pro Christo et Ecclesia (“For Christ and the Church”) given to it by Father Renovator. The motto proclaims the program of apostolic endeavors undertaken by the Marians during the past hundred years.ia.
© A contemporary rendition of the seal used by the Congregation.
A wooden carving of the Marian Coat of Arms, on display at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, MA, USA.
© A contemporary rendition of the seal used by the Congregation.
One of the fruits the Jubilee of the 100th Anniversary of Renewal and Reform of the Congregation celebrated in 2009 was to create a new version of the coat of arms. This task was commissioned to a Gdańsk artist – Mr. Tomasz Steifer (1955-2015) – who is also an art historian and a founding member of the Polish Heraldic Society. One of the main motives behind this initiative was a wish for a graphic symbol of the community that would unite more expressively the old Marian crest from the first centuries of the Order’s life with the motto given to the renewed Congregation by Blessed Archbishop George Matulaitis-Matulewicz. The coat of arms was designed in accordance with commonly recognized principles of heraldry. The image of Mary, whose graphic representation symbolically indicates that she is with child, is a reproduction of the imagery used on one of the 18th-century Marian seals. The coat of arms itself is reminiscent of the Baroque style, which is reflective of the period of the Congregation’s founding. The new version of the Marian coat of arms was approved for the use in the entire Congregation by the decree of the Superior General Fr. Jan M. Rokosz, MIC, issued on November 3, 2009, in which we read: (…) “After consulting with many of our confreres and having obtained the consent of the General Council in its session on October 2, 2009, I ratify the coat of arms as the official and legally binding graphic sign of the Congregation of Marian Fathers. Furthermore, I direct that from now on this coat of arms be used on seals, letterheads, and our publications in accordance with proper law.” (See the text of the entire decree in pdf format.)
The General Chapter of 2017 included in a detailed description of the Marian coat-of-arms in §15 of the Constitutions of our Congregation:
According to the tradition, the coat-of-arms of our Congregation consists of a baroque shield with the image of Mary, Immaculately Conceived, standing on a crescent moon and holding in her right hand the stem of a lily; Mary’s foot crushes the serpent’s head. Mary’s head is encircled by twelve stars, while Mary’s entire figure is surrounded by rays in the shape of a mandorla. A ribbon bearing the motto of the Congregation is placed under the shield.
The Capitular Fathers and Brothers reserved for the General Chapters the right to make every possible future changes to the coat-of-arms:
The pattern and the description of the Coat-of-Arms is kept in the Archives of the General Curia and is protected by law. Modification to the Coat-of-Arms belongs to the General Chapter with a qualified or two-thirds majority.
(Directory of the Congregation, §2)
Compiled by Andrew R. Mączyński, MIC
© A contemporary rendition of the latest seal
used by the Congregation.
© A contemporary rendition of the latest seal
used by the Superior General of the Congregation.