The Most Reverend Robert Joseph Cunningham, D.D., J.C.L.
Thirteenth Bishop of Ogdensburg
Blazon: Arms impaled. Dexter: Azure, a seme of oak leaves Or; a tower Argent. Sinister: Gules a chevron Argent, charged with three stars Sable, between to chief a fleur-de-lis of the second and to base a Paschal Lamb Proper.
Significance: The episcopal heraldic achievement, or bishop's coat of arms, is composed of a shield, with its charges (symbols), a motto scroll and the external ornaments. The shield, which is the central and most important feature of any heraldic device, is described (blazoned) in 12th century terms, that are archaic to our modem language and this description is presented as if being given by the bearer with the shield being worn on the arm. Thus, it must be remembered, where it applies, that the terms dexter and sinister are reversed as the device is viewed from the front.
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, these are the arms of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, in New York.
These arms are composed of a blue field on which is displayed a seme (that is: a scattering of no specific number) of gold (yellow) oak leaves and a silver (white) castle tower. These arms of the See symbolize its name: "ogden," which is derived from "oakdene," represented by the oak leaves and "burg," which is represented by the tower, a common symbol in heraldry for a fortress or a fortified city.
Ogdensburg was the site of the Indian settlement of La Presentation, founded in 1749 by Abbe Francois Picquet for converted Iroquois. Fort Presentation was built by the British at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War and was held by them until 1796. The settlement that grew-up about the fort was named after Abraham Ogden (1743-98), a New Jersey lawyer who bought land there. This makes the oak leaves on the diocese impalement even more appropriate because the Ogden family bear oak leaves as an integral part of their coat of arms.
During the early part of the War of 1812, Ogdensburg was important on the American line of defense and on February 22, 1813 both the fort and the village at Ogdensburg were captured and partly destroyed by the British.
Ogdensburg was incorporated as a village in 1817 and as a city in 1868.
For his personal arms, His Excellency, Bishop Cunningham has adopted a design that reflects his life as a priest and now as a bishop. The design is composed of a red field, which is taken from the arms of the Bishop's home diocese of Buffalo. Thereupon is placed a silver (white) chevron, to represent a carpenter's square, taken from the seal of Saint John Vianney Seminary, where Bishop Cunningham prepared for the priesthood. The chevron is also emblematic of His Excellency's second Baptismal patron, Saint Joseph, patron of the Diocese of Buffalo and upon the chevron are three black stars taken from the Cunningham family design.
Above the chevron is a silver fleur-de-lis for Saint Louis, King of France, who was the patron of the parish where the Bishop was serving when he received the call to receive the fullness of the most holy priesthood as he was named Bishop of Ogdensburg. Below the chevron is a Paschal Lamb, in heraldry referred to as "proper," or as it usually appears. This charge, taken from the door of the tabernacle of Saint Louis Parish, also reminds the Bishop of his home parish of Saint John the Baptist, who was the first to refer to Christ as the Lamb of God.
For his motto, Bishop Cunningham uses the phrase, "ECCLESIA MATER NOSTRA." This phrase, from the 8th Chapter of the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, LUMEN GENTIUM, expresses the Bishop's profound belief that the lives of all of the faithful can reach the goals that God has in store for them by being nurtured, educated, loved and sustained by the efforts of THE CHURCH OUR MOTHER.
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.
By: Deacon Paul J. Sullivan