Chapter X: The Seal and Motto
For my Special Gifts division we needed a brochure which would tell the story. An elaborate, costly one would not be necessary for the general appeal. For the big givers, corporations and others, however, an artistic, complete yet brief exposition was an essential.
Our publicity staff came through with some fine copy, but putting it in final form meant much time and added effort for me. We should put in color on the cover the seal of the college. But we had no seal. How does one get one? I contacted a financial engraving company in New York, designers of coats-of-arms for bishops and others. They would do it. It would take some time. Also, it would cost $800. We had neither the time nor the money.
I decided to do it myself. I sent Zelda Lyons to the Rundel Library to select and bring back several books on heraldry. After reading two or three of them, I gained a sense of crests, shields and seals. There was an accepted general shape and design to them, combined with features relevant to the institution, the family, or the diocese involved.
The major portion of the seal must be the arms of St. John Fisher - no question about that. Where could we get, at once, this heraldic device? I remembered the construction of More House and Fisher House on St. Michael's College campus in Toronto. Before coming to Rochester, Father Gerry Anglin and I inspected the progress every evening. We had seen them install over each main portal of Fisher and More the arms of the two patrons cast in stone. They were artfully colored to bring out the detail.
On a hasty trip to Toronto, I arranged with Father Hugh Mallon to have a news photographer friend provide us with an 8 x 10 print of a photograph of the Fisher arms. Next day I returned to Rochester with it. It had been checked in 1935 for authenticity when Fisher House was constructed.
To make certain that we were using the proper Fisher arms, I wrote to Father Joseph Wey, C.S.B., who was doing graduate work at Cambridge University in England. Cambridge was the scene of much of Fisher's life. Joe Wey, a Texas boy, was a novice with me when we joined the order. I sent him $100.00 with a request to have a professional photographer make photos of the arms of St. John Fisher and any manuscripts and inscriptions that he might regard as relevant.
Father Wey soon supplied me with many photos of the arms and portraits of John Fisher hanging in University common rooms. Included were reproductions of documents in our patron's handwriting. They were signed "Jo Roffs", an abbreviation of Joannes Roffensis (John of Rochester), John Fisher was Bishop of Rochester, England. One can readily understand why such a busy man would use a short-cut signature. I was pleased to see, in recent years, that the college students chose to entitle their yearbook, "Jo Roffs."
Father Wey, who did us this yeoman service, later served for several years as Superior General of the Basilian Fathers.
I secluded myself in the office one night and in some six hours sketched, labeled and described the seal of the college. Next morning I took the design to a commercial artist to refine and embellish the original draft which was done on yellow foolscap with directional arrows and notes all over the page. The artist returned a good job as did the engravers and the printers who distributed the colors on the final product. We used the plate at once for the shiny white front cover of our Special Gifts booklet. I am sure there are samples in the college files. The booklet proved to be fine introduction to likely donors and we received many compliments on it.
When one is under pressure to meet printing deadlines, he just doesn't have time for consultations. I consulted no one in the design and composition of the seal. Searching for a motto, or inscriptive words, I settled on the text of Psalm 118, chiefly because it was also the motto of the Basilian Fathers and I thought I knew it from memory. "Doce me b'onitatem et disciplinam et scientiam" (Teach me goodness, discipline and knowledge) was the way I had it engraved. Later, Father McCorkell was mildly furious. He insisted the words, "Doce me" should be at the end, not at the start. I squirmed out of it undisturbed. It was a "fait accompli." The position of two itty bitty Latin words was too trivial compared to our campaign involvement.
How time marches on! In a recent (Pius XII) revision of the Roman Psalter, that particular Psalm CXVIII, the longest psalm in the Bible, has been completely restructured. In the Confraternity edition now widely used, the English equivalent reads, "Teach me wisdom and knowledge for in your commands I trust." Something has happened to the goodness and discipline of our original inscription. These were the things we expected the college to stand for. I know that "goodness" and "discipline" continue to be educational aims at St. John Fisher. Whether or not the psalter changes or the new translations of the Bible attempt to change the motto of the College is unimportant. What is important is that the spirit of the psalmist prevails. He wrote those beautiful words for God's praise and glory. For the same reason the college was founded. There is no doubt that the same spirit does prevail at St. John Fisher College.