In designing the shield — the central element in what is formally called the heraldic achievement — a Bishop has an opportunity to depict symbolically various aspects of his own life and heritage, and particular elements of Catholic faith and devotion. The formal description of a coat of arms, known as the blazon, uses a technical language, derived from medieval French and English terms, which allows the appearance and position of each element in the achievement to be recorded precisely.
The field of Bishop Dorsonville’s shield is painted blue (azure), a color long associated with Our Lady. In the center of the shield is a tower painted gold (Or), which is likewise a symbol of the Blessed Mother, who in the Litany of Loreto is invoked as the “Tower of David” and a “House of Gold.” The same charge appears on the arms of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington. Bishop Dorsonville was incardinated in the Archdiocese of Washington in 1999, and he has worked closely with the Cardinal as a member of the Council of Priests and of the College of Consultors.
The tower is charged with a “Chi-Rho”, an ancient monogram for Our Lord, painted red (gules). It is formed of the two Greek letters — chi, which resembles the Latin letter “X” and rho, which resembles the Latin letter “P” — that begin the Greek form of the title Christos, that is, Christ. The spiritual strength symbolized by the tower has its origin in the grace that comes through Jesus Christ, who is “a tower of salvation” (2 Sam 22:51), “a strong tower against the enemy” (Psalm 61:3). Taken as a whole, the design thus alludes to the mystery of salvation through the Incarnation of Christ in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and the redemption that Christ won for us through his sacrifice on the Cross.
The tinctures of the Bishop’s coat of arms have another significance: they are the colors to be found in the national flag of the Republic of Colombia. Bishop Dorsonville was born in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1960, and he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Bogotá in 1985. As an immigrant to the United States himself, throughout his time in this country he has taken an active role in ministry to immigrants, always mindful of the command of the Lord to welcome the stranger (cf. Matt 25:35). In 2005, he was named named Vice President for Mission for Catholic Charities in the archdiocese, and director of the Spanish Catholic Center (Centro Católico Hispano). The open door of the tower on the Bishop’s shield also alludes to the welcome the Church offers to immigrants in the name of Christ.
The scroll below the shield bears the Bishop’s motto: Sacerdos in Aeternum. These words from Psalm 110:4 — “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’” — are echoed in the Letter to the Hebrews, which applies them to Our Lord and his self-sacrifice on the Cross. Bishop Dorsonville has been involved in the formation of new priests both in Colombia and in the United States, as a professor at the major seminary in Bogotá from 1995 to 1996, and as adjunct spiritual director at Saint John Paul II Seminary in Washington since 2011. Now, by his ordination as a bishop, he receives the fullness of the priesthood of the New Covenant, which he must always exercise in union with Jesus Christ the High Priest.
The shield is ensigned with external elements that identify the bearer as a Bishop. A gold processional cross appears behind the shield. The galero or “pilgrim’s hat” is used heraldically in various colors and with specific numbers of tassels to indicate the rank of a bearer of a coat of arms. A Bishop uses a green galero with three rows of green tassels.