Most of us are probably familiar with DePaul University’s coat of arms, but have you ever wondered what it means, or where the ideas for the symbols came from? In the 1950s, a handful of university administrators took on the task of creating DePaul’s armorial seal and motto. Leading the charge were Mr. Arthur Schaefer, Director of Public Relations, and Rev. Alexander Schorsch, C.M., Dean Emeritus of the Graduate School.
In a 1990 letter to then DePaul President Rev. John Richardson, C.M., Mr. Schaefer recalled a conversation with “Father O’Malley [7th President of DePaul] that our various college catalogues were of uneven quality… with no common logo for the name and worst of all a seal that bore little relationship to the university’s mission—especially the physician’s symbol and the engineer’s wheel.” (DePaul University Ephemera, Box 2, Folder 9, Special Collections and Archives, DePaul University, Chicago, IL) A picture of the circular old university seal is shown.
Later in the same letter, Mr. Schaefer explained how the university motto was adopted as well. “I learned from early minutes of St. Vincent’s College that one of the faculty was assigned the task of coming up with a motto, but nothing ever came of it… I invited [Fr. Schorsch] to suggest a motto. He came back with five, all taken from the Bible, and we agreed on the Via Sapientiae.” (Ibid.)
The seal’s layout was designed by William Ryan, a heraldry expert in New York. Mr. Ryan was President of Ryan-West Banknote, a company that “printed or engraved securities and heraldic symbols” for Catholic institutions. (New York Times, 23 July 1981) After a visit to DePaul to “absorb its origins and local history,” Mr. Ryan created the seal in early 1954, and it was adopted by the university later that year. The cost for Mr. Ryan’s services? $150. (Ephemera, Box 2, Folder 9)
Symbolism of the University Seal
The following description is from The DePaulia, published on 9 April 1954, announcing the new Armorial Seal:
…the seal features a traditional coat of arms and a new university motto, Viam sapientiae monstrabo tibi, ‘I will show you the way of wisdom,’ taken from Proverbs IV, 11.
The main section of the field, consisting of a series of nine checky panes (a distinctly French charge) forms an heraldic cross, representing the Catholic faith. In the center pane is the heart, the symbol of charity, for St. Vincent de Paul, titular head of the university, whose lifetime of service to God and humanity has made him the international symbol of charity. The pane above the heart is charged with a crescent, the symbol of Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception, under which she is the patroness of the United States.
The chief (upper compartment) is devoted to the coat of arms of modern France, the country of St. Vincent de Paul, with its three fleurs-de-lis honoring the Triune God. The embattled lines of partition at the base of the chief, the heraldic equivalent of a fort, betoken Fort Dearborn, established by the United States on the site of Chicago—just a short distance from the present downtown DePaul center. The phoenix on the crest, the symbol of immortality or the Resurrection, is derived from the seal of the Archdiocese of Chicago, whereon it betokens the resurrection of Chicago after the great fire.
The University Seal uses many symbols to convey meaningful aspects of DePaul’s Catholic, Vincentian, and urban mission and identity. If a new coat of arms or seal were created today, what symbols would you now include? How would you illustrate what is important to DePaul University in 2020?
Michael Van Dorpe, Program Manager for Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission and Ministry. Special thanks to the DePaul University Archives and Special Collections.