The Dehonian Cross

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I. The History

The story of the “Dehonian Cross,” which consists of a nearly equilateral cross with an open heart in the middle, goes back to the 1970s. In 1978 the German Province, on the occasion of the centenary of the Congregation, celebrated its firstYouth Festival. This meeting was held at our school, the Leoninum in Handrup, in northern Germany, not far from the city of Osnabrück. Also invited to this celebration were the students of our college of Stegen in southern Germany.

The next year we planned a “Youth Festival” at the College of Sebastian Stegen for the 50thanniversary of the school, this time inviting the students of northern Germany. In preparation for the 1979 gathering we held a competition to create a logo. Students at the College of St. Sebastian were challenged to propose a logo focusing on the phrase: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.” This quote was taken from the book “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The competition was directed by the art professors at the school in Stegen: Alfred Erhard and Benedikt Schaufelberger. The winner was student Martin Hattich of Sankt Märgen in the Black Forest. His logo, “Cross with Heart”, was further developed by Professor Alfred Erhard, and not only became the logo of the Youth Festival, but years later the logo is now utilized by many provinces of the Priests of the Sacred Heart as well as at the general level of the Congregation.

II. The Interpretation

At first, the cross with an open heart in the middle looks symmetrical. But on second glance, one sees the irregularity of the four arms of the cross. The opening of the heart shape is  asymmetrical. Therefore, the effect on the viewer is not static, but dynamic, as if the heart is throbbing in the middle of the cross.

Without thinking, one’s gaze on the cross is oriented toward the center, the heart. We are reminded of the two priorities of Christian life:
The first refers to the context of how the cross was created. The student who designed this logo was to illustrate the words of Saint-Exupéry: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.” In a materialistic and often rationalist world, where knowledge through the exact sciences determines the thoughts and actions of many, this representation is an appeal in favor of the ancient biblical idea that sees in the heart the seat of knowledge. It is a reminder not to overlook the ways of the heart, an integral understanding of knowledge: “Then, too, heed your own heart’s counsel; for what have you that you can depend on more? A man’s conscience can tell him his situation better than seven watchmen in a lofty tower.” (Sirach 37,17).

The second priority suggested by the logo goes to the heart of our spirituality as Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: ” Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13). We look at the cross and see the heart. We see the suffering of Christ and recognize his love. The logo is reality: yes, the suffering, the pain, the cross are realities in our lives and in the life of Jesus. But we proclaim a faith that is fastened to the pain, the suffering and the cross. In the midst of suffering I do not discover the darkness of the abyss, but the ever greater love of God and his Son, “who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). So in our faith, and more particularly, in the spirituality of our congregation, the cross and love go together; but not at eye level!

This expresses our founder, Fr. Dehon, well: Jesus Christ is really, in his mysteries and his passion, the book written on the outside and inside. And what are the letters we see outlined in this book? Only this: Love. The scourges, the thorns, the nails, the characters are written into his divine flesh with blood; but do not be content to read and admire from outside this divine writing; penetrate to the heart, and we will see a much greater wonder: an inexhaustible and never-ending love that suffers and gives without getting tired.” (Oeuvres Spirituelles II, 305) This logo’s heart at the center of the cross is not merely etched, but is constructed by an open space. This is an invitation to us to fill this empty space with life. We, Priests of the Sacred Heart, are called to be attentive to the experience of a loving Father, whom Jesus calls “Abba”; attentive to every experience of love that holds suffering. We have to stand next to people, particularly in situations of suffering, violence and injustice because in their lives and in society there is more space for the qualities of the heart so dear to Fr. Dehon: charity, mercy, justice.

Fr. Heiner Wilmer scj