The symbolic cross and anchors “coat of arms” of the Congregation of Holy Cross has evolved since Blessed Basil Moreau founded our religious order in 1835.
Fr. Moreau had a strong devotion to the holy Cross carried by Jesus on the road to Calvary. One of Fr. Moreau’s favorite hymns, which dates back to the sixth century, was “Vexilla Regis” (“The Banners of the King”). One stanza in the hymn contains the sentence: “O Crux ave, spes unica” (“Hail the Cross, the one hope”).
Fr. Moreau’s model for his fledgling congregation was based on the Holy Family – Jesus, Mary and Joseph. He dedicated the priests to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the brothers to St. Joseph and the sisters to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The patroness of the entire Congregation is Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows.
Fr. Moreau would sign his letters, “Yours in the Hearts of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph” and he published a prayer book called “Daily Prayers to the Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.”
An emblem encompassing the idea was put on stationery Fr. Moreau used in the 1840s. The design of the seal — intended to be the seal of the Association of Holy Cross — included a single, large anchor with a sash encircling it. The anchor was symbolic that the cross is the anchor for Christian faith. The sash included the initials “J.M.J.” for Jesus, Mary and Joseph. There were three hearts resting on the stanchion post of the anchor: the Sorrowful Heart of Mary lies on the left with a sword piercing it and seven flames at its top; the pierced Sacred Heart of Jesus is in the middle with a crown of thorns around it and a small cross atop; and the pure heart of St. Joseph is on the right with lilies arising from the top.
When Fr. Moreau petitioned for papal approval of the congregation and its constitutions, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples at the Holy See did not accept devotion to the three hearts, especially a devotion to St. Joseph. Fr. Moreau modified the emblem to include a simple cross with two anchors crossed near its base and the motto “Spes Unica” in a banner beneath. The rules of the priests and brothers of Holy Cross in 1858 describe the seal as “a cross to which shall be fixed two anchors” and the words “Spes Unica” underneath (Rule 54:11).
The second wave of evolution came in 1859 when an English translation of the Constitutions was printed in Le Mans. It was called “Constitutions of the Congregation of the Holy-Cross.” The addition of the word “the” into the formal name of the Congregation was most likely an error on the part of the translator, however, it stuck for 65 years. Additional seals and coats of arms printed by Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, Ind., in 1864, 1872 and 1922 included “the” in the name of the Congregation. “Congregation of the Holy Cross” also appeared in stained glass on the front door of the Main Building at St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas. That building was constructed in 1878.
During that timeframe, a shield with horizontal lines, rays emanating from the Cross and more detailed anchors may have been included for artistic effect. The rays are said to symbolize the glory of the Cross or the Cross in its glory. Two anchors, rather than one, provided symmetry.
Also during that time, all documents with the coat of arms were identified in French as “Congregation de Sainte Croix,” the Congregation of Holy Cross, in French Canada.
Rev. James Donahue, C.S.C., General Superior of the Congregation, served from 1926 to 1938. He fostered the idea of reuniting Holy Cross with the ideals of its founder, Fr. Moreau. When the 1924 Constitutions were published, the coat of arms no longer included the word “the” in the Congregation’s name.
The 1951 Constitutions were specific: “The coat of arms of the Congregation of Holy Cross is in a modern French heraldic blue shield, a golden Latin cross with rays; in a point, two silver anchors saltier-wise behind the Cross. The motto: Spes Unica.”
A greater use of the Latin inscription has been a more recent development, with examples from 1988, 1996 and 2012.
In 1978, Rev. Anthony Lauck, C.S.C., worked with the Symbols Committee of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Ind., to design a new symbol for their coat of arms. Fr. Lauck produced a heraldic shield with a stylized cross and anchors, a design that’s been imitated by other Holy Cross communities in the former of a pendant, pin, ring or seal. That design was used by religious in Bangladesh at their trade school, where they used a stamping press to mass-produce aluminum pendants for distribution to Holy Cross communities. It also was copied at the 2004 General Chapter so that the cross and anchors pendants could be chrome-plated and distributed to participants.
Information provided by Br. Larry Stewart, C.S.C., Midwest Province of Brothers