Traditionally bishops, archbishops, patriarchs and cardinals of the Catholic Church have a coat of arms bearing a motto and embossed with devices telling something about the individual.
Cardinal Hickey’s motto, displayed at the foot of the devoice, is “veritatem in caritate”, truth in charity. As in all cardinalitial coats of arms, a pontifical hat is placed above the central device and a cross is at the rear. The pontifical hat is low-crowned, flat and wide-brimmed. It is scarlet in color. Suspended from it, on either side of the central section, are fifteen tassels, five more than are used on an archiepiscopal coat of arms, and nine more than appear in the insignia of a bishop.
The central section of the coat of arms is divided longitudinally into two halves. Facing it, the left half (called the dexter impalement) depicts the Archdiocese of Washington. Its symbolism is drawn from the Archdiocesan coat of arms devised by William J.F. Ryan of New York in December 1947.
The right half is personal to the prelate. It too was devised by Mr. Ryan in March 1967 and modified in 1980.
The left half is surmounted by a cross of chains, united by a central link. Red, white and blue are the colors. The symbols suggest that the Archdiocese centers on the capital of the American nation, a country of states bound together by a central administration.
The left impalement has four quarters. The blue upper left quarter features a silver crescent, a traditional symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Under the title of the Immaculate Conception, Mary is considered by Catholics to be the patroness of the United States.
The other upper quarter, on the right, is in red. There are three six-pointed silver stars. These have been taken from the Arms of Pius VI who was Pope from 1775 to 1799, reigning at the time of the American Declaration of Independence.
The lower left quarter, also in red, has three five-pointed stars, adapted from the Arms of George Washington.
The final quarter, in blue, features a winged man’s head, an ancient symbol for St. Matthew the Evangelist for whom the Washington Catholic Cathedral is named.
The right half of the device, the personal one of the prelate, is red with an upper section in silver. These are the colors of the Arms of the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan. The reference is to the twenty-two years during which the Michigan-born James Hickey served as a priest of the Saginaw diocese, from 1946 to 1968, first as newly ordained, and finally as Auxiliary Bishop.
The right half of the shield (the “sinister impalement”) is divided into two sections. The shorter upper part features two griffins facing one another on either side of a black “cross crosslet” (a cross whose extremeties terminate in crosses). The griffins’ heads, in red are drawn from the Arms of branches of the Ryan family. The reference is to the prelate’s mother. Her maiden name was Agnes Ryan. The cross crosslet was taken from the arms of Lord Cleveland, a reminder of the prelate’s tenure as Bishop Cleveland, Ohio, 1973-1980.
Dominating the lower part of the right impalement is a golden lion, a feature of Arms of branches of the Hickey family.
After the original work of the Hickey and Washington coats of arms was done by William J.F. Ryan, the combination of the two was accomplished in June 1980 by Anthony W.C. Phelps of Cleveland.