In designing his shield, a bishop has an opportunity to depict symbolically aspects of his life and heritage and elements of the Catholic faith that are important to him.
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.
On Bishop Neary’s side, the processional cross above the shield is a Celtic cross in honor of St. Patrick, the bishop’s patron saint, who was a missionary bishop to the Irish people and is known as the “Apostle of Ireland.”
The cross and anchors are a symbol of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the religious order of the bishop. The anchor is an ancient Christian symbol, signifying that in the storms of life we must cling to the cross and the hope it brings. It is a visible symbol of the motto of Holy Cross chosen by the bishop: “Ave Crux, Spes Unica” — “Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope.”
The river symbolizes the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized, thus reminding us of our own baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. It also recalls the great rivers in areas where the bishop has served: the Nile River in Uganda, the Columbia River in Oregon, and the Mississippi River in Minnesota.
The fish recall Jesus’ call of the fishermen to be his disciples, as well as the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Fish are also a symbol of Christ, which was used by the early Christians to identify themselves as followers of Jesus. (The Diocese of St. Cloud is blessed to be in a region that provides ample opportunities for fishing its beautiful lakes and rivers.)
Last, the six-pointed star recalls Mary, Star of the Sea, a title attributed to her since the eighth century, meaning that Mary is the star to be followed on the way to Christ.
The coat of arms of the Diocese of Saint Cloud, includes a silver chalice stamped with a black Benedictine cross on a blue field emblazoned with gold fleurs-de-lis. The silver chalice represents St. Cloud the priest; the cross symbolizes the contribution of the Benedictines in the spiritual growth of the diocese; the fleurs-de-lis represent the royal origin of St. Cloud; the blue field is the state of Minnesota, land of sky blue waters.