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 to highlight particular aspects of Catholic faith and devotion that are important to him.
Every coat of arms also includes external elements that identify the rank of the bearer. 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.
A diocesan bishop shows his commitment to the flock he shepherds by combining his personal coat of arms with that of the diocese, in a technique known as impaling. The shield is divided in half along the pale or central vertical line. The arms of the diocese appear on the dexter side—that is, on the side of the shield to the viewer’s left, which would cover the right side (in Latin, dextera) of the person carrying the shield. The arms of the bishop are on the sinister side—the bearer’s left, the viewer’s right.
The central feature of the arms of the Diocese of Knoxville, designed by Deacon Paul Sullivan in 1988, is a cross in gold (Or), taken from the arms of Pope John Paul II, who established the diocese. Three small red (Gules) crosses on this large gold cross represent the three dioceses in the state of Tennessee.
The background of the shield that shows behind the cross is divided quarterly into areas of red and blue (Azure). Charges in these quarters allude to natural features that dominate the landscape of East Tennessee: mountains, a dogwood blossom, and the Tennessee River. A railroad trestle in the bottom right quarter honors the Irish immigrants who brought the Catholic faith to the area, many of whom worked constructing railroads, especially trestles.
In the center of the arms of Bishop Richard F. Stika is a chevron, shaped like an inverted V. The chevron also resembles a carpenter’s square, a traditional emblem of St. Joseph, to whom the bishop has a special devotion. The chevron is divided along the center line (per pale) into sections of red and white (Argent). This coloration alludes to the beams of light that St. Maria Faustina Kowalska saw emanating from the Sacred Heart of Our Lord, who appeared to her in 1931 and spoke of the mystery of his Divine Mercy.
St. Faustina had an image made of this vision of Our Lord, which is inscribed at the bottom with the Polish words Jesu Ufam Tobie (“Jesus, I trust in you”). These words from the image of Divine Mercy form the bishop’s motto, which is written in Latin on the scroll below the shield.
The shield itself is blue and is charged with two symbols in gold, above and below the chevron. These colors traditionally symbolize the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in this context they also allude to the coat of arms of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, where Bishop Stika was born and which he served as a priest for more than 23 years. The gold cross flory—that is, a cross whose beams end in the shape of a fleur-de-lis, or lily—and the crown encircling it—representing St. Louis, King of France—also refer to the arms of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
The fish that appears below the chevron is an ancient symbol of the Lord Jesus. As early as the first century AD, Greek-speaking Christians used a simple drawing of a fish—ichthys in Greek—to identify themselves and their houses because the first letters of the Greek words for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” form the word ichthys. The fish seen on the shield is a pike, an allusion to the bishop’s family name: the Czech word štika refers to this particular type of fish.
Bishop Stika said he wanted his coat of arms to be simple “first of all,” but some charges on the shield can be seen two ways.
“I didn’t want it to be overly complicated, and the designer was very good at guiding me in that direction, and so a number of the symbols that are a part of the coat of arms play a dual role,” he said. “For example, the carpenter’s square bespeaks my devotion to St. Joseph. On the coat of arms, [the chevron is] also red and white, which are the colors of Poland, the colors of my mother’s family.”
The bishop said that “also you can talk about the colors red, white, and blue for the United States, the country which I am gratefully proud to be from.”
The fish “represents Christ from early days” as well as the Stika family, the bishop said.
“I tried to respect my family’s history, my family’s background, the background that I come from—St. Louis—as well as my devotion to the Lord in christological terms, as well as my devotion to St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother,” he said. “So it’s simple when you look at it, but there’s a lot of interpretation that comes from it. That’s why I’m so grateful to the designer because he helped guide me with a touch of noble simplicity.”
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.