Branding in Catholic Universities

by | Dec 12, 2021 | Branding, Graphic Design

Shared Branding Vision Across Catholic Education

I started my career in higher education at a small catholic college. For a newbie professor, it was a safe and collaborative environment that helped me hone my craft. It was also a great introduction to Catholic culture in Pittsburgh – and globally. This college had a very significant international contingent amongst its student population. At that time, I learned a lot about how students expressed their religion locally and abroad. Perhaps most importantly, I learned how the similarities and differences in practicing their Catholicism inspired their learning outcomes and work ethic. I still stay in touch with many of my students from this early part of my career – over 12 years ago!

When I started researching branding in Catholic colleges and universities throughout the United States, I had hoped to find some of this familiar culture, tone, feeling, and overall spirit of the many brands consistent with my experience. For the most part, I believe the consistency is there as many of these brands resonated with me.

There is one over-arching theme I’d recommend you consider when reviewing these logos. Many of these institutions share a common mission grounded in history, principles, and people. Yet they each communicate something different, even if ever so slightly. This has the beginnings of an interesting case study that can explore many aspects of religion-centered branding and symbology:

  • The use of religious symbols as visual metaphors
  • The repetitive use of certain symbols that intend to evoke a specific set of emotions
  • The repetitive use of single symbols that historically communicate a specific concept, but because of differentiation in brand design, communicate new concepts or variations. 

Some notable takeaways:

  • 21 campus buildings
  • 42 shields
  • 30 abstracts
  • 3 torches
  • 45 logos use red

The highlighted brands below were designs that stood out to me.

The gallery of 143 collected logos is displayed at the bottom of the page.

Let me know what you think on Twitter or LinkedIn!


Catholic institutions benefit from the immersive and rich history of Catholic symbols that carry deep visual metaphors. For an institution to willingly not use them in favor of an abstract design is a risk I respect considerably. I would not necessarily argue that this strategy rejects those symbols but instead differentiation in the marketplace related to a particular institution’s geographic competitors. Amongst the sample size, there is a decent collection of abstract logos that are relatively reserved while risky as a choice in execution.


Nearly 1/3 of the brands in this collection use logos. According to Simply Catholic in their article “Artistically Announcing Identity“…
“Modern heraldry finds its origins with the Battle of Hastings in 1066 — when knights concealed by battle armor were first identified with decorated shields. Later developments incorporated the shield design into body coats, banners and even coverings for horses. These coats of arms subsequently became synonymous with the knight’s family, especially following the Third Crusade (1189-92). The shape and character of ecclesiastical heraldry are closely tied to these developments since the Church adopted many of the customs and traditions of the culture.”
While shield motifs are a dominant presence in higher ed branding, they aren’t without meaning. History, legacy, honor…duration are all critically important characteristics to this segment of institutions.


Serif usage is overwhelming in this segment. Only 13 logos within the sample utilize sans-serifs. Similar to the use of heraldic shield motifs, serifs also denote history, legacy, tradition, and duration. Many of the serif typeface compositions are set in block-justification or left-aligned, though there are some that are particularly expressive. 


According to

The use of a seal by men of wealth and position was common before the Christian era. It was natural then that high functionaries of the Church should adopt the habit as soon as they became socially and politically important.

Seal designs are technically complicated especially considering the concepts overall design communicates visually. The amount of more minor elements inside an enclosed shape diminishes detail and hurts overall visibility. The images sampled here demonstrate a seal design’s intrinsic incompatibility with more minor scales. The Cardinal Stritch University logo is beautiful, repetitive, and pattern-based. Its readability does not diminish as much as the other two brands featured here. A lot of that has to do with the symmetry of the logo – despite being a hectic design, there is less visual information to decode as the balance simplifies the interpretation of the design.

Campus Buildings

One of the outstanding characteristics of Catholic-based institutions is the impressive architecture you can see on campus. So many universities lean heavily into their architecture. I anticipated the Catholic segment of brands to do the same, though only 21 of 143 do. The renderings of these buildings are also quite diverse but skew more traditional than contemporary. For example, Quincy University, Marquette University, Mount Mary University, and  Misericordia University utilize a more modern approach (3/4 angles, stroke-based versus fill-based, fewer details/elements) to building illustration versus a traditional approach (flat, solid color, front-profile perspective) seen in the logos of Mount Aloysius, University of Saint Mary, and the University of the Incarnate Word. The key takeaway here is that you can have a campus building in your brand, but the quality of the illustration can make or break the brand. 

Take a look at the brands below and share your thoughts with us on Twitter! #CommCentered

Alphabetical List of Catholic Colleges and Universities

Alvernia University – Reading, PA –
Alverno College – Milwaukee, WI –
Ancilla Domini College – Donaldson, IN –
Anna Maria College – Paxton, MA –
Aquinas College – Grand Rapids, MI –
Aquinas College – Nashville, TN –
Aquinas Institute of Theology – St. Louis, MO –
Assumption College – Worcester, MA –
Assumption College for Sisters – Mendham, NJ –
Athenaeum of Ohio-Mount Saint Mary’s of the West – Cincinnati, OH –
Augustine Institute – Greenwood Village, CO –
Ave Maria School of Law – Naples, FL –
Ave Maria University – Ave Maria, FL –
Avila University – Kansas City, MO –
Barry University – Miami Shores, FL –
Bellarmine University – Louisville, KY –
Belmont Abbey College – Belmont, NC –
Benedictine College – Atchison, KS –
Benedictine University – Lisle, IL –
Boston College – Chestnut Hill, MA –
Brescia University – Owensboro, KY –
Briar Cliff University – Sioux City, IA –
Byzantine Catholic Seminary of SS. Cyril and Methodius – Pittsburgh, PA –
Cabrini College – Radnor, PA –
Caldwell College – Caldwell, NJ –
Calumet College of Saint Joseph – Whiting, IN –
Canisius College – Buffalo, NY –
Cardinal Stritch University – Milwaukee, WI –
Carlow University – Pittsburgh, PA –
Carroll College – Helena, MT –
Catholic Distance University – Charles Town, WV –
Catholic Theological Union – Chicago, IL –
Chaminade University of Honolulu – Honolulu, HI –
Chatfield College – Saint Martin, OH –
Chestnut Hill College – Philadelphia, PA –
Christ the King Seminary – East Aurora, NY –
Christendom College – Front Royal, VA –
Christian Brothers University – Memphis, TN –
Clarke University – Dubuque, IA –
College of Mount Saint Joseph – Cincinnati, OH –
College of Mount Saint Vincent – Riverdale, NY –
College of Saint Benedict – St. Joseph, MN –
College of Saint Elizabeth – Morristown, NJ –
College of Saint Joseph in Vermont – Rutland, VT –
College of Saint Mary – Omaha, NE –
College of Saint Mary Magdalen – Warner, NH –
College of Saint Scholastica – Duluth, MN –
College of the Holy Cross – Worcester, MA –
Creighton University – Omaha, NE –
De Paul University – Chicago, IL –
DeSales University – Center Valley, PA –
Divine Word College – Epworth, IA –
Dominican College – Orangeburg, NY –
Dominican House of Studies – Washington, DC –
Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology – Berkeley, CA –
Dominican University – River Forest, IL –
Dominican University of California – San Rafael, CA –
Donnelly College – Kansas City, KS –
Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit – Pittsburgh, PA –
D’Youville College – Buffalo, NY –
Edgewood College – Madison, WI –
Elms College – Chicopee, MA –
Emmanuel College – Boston, MA –
Fairfield University – Fairfield, CT –
Felician College – Lodi, NJ –
Fontbonne University – St. Louis, MO –
Fordham University – Bronx, NY –
Franciscan School of Theology – Berkeley, CA –
Franciscan University of Steubenville – Steubenville, OH –
Gannon University – Erie, PA –
Georgetown University – Washington, DC –
Georgian Court University – Lakewood, NJ –
Gonzaga University – Spokane, WA –
Good Samaritan College of Nursing and Health Science – Cincinnati, OH –
Gwynedd-Mercy College – Gwynedd Valley, PA –
Hilbert College – Hamburg, NY –
Holy Apostles College & Seminary – Cromwell, CT –
Holy Cross College – Notre Dame, IN –
Holy Family University – Philadelphia, PA –
Holy Name Medical Center School of Nursing – Teaneck, NJ –
Holy Names University – Oakland, CA –
Holy Spirit College – Atlanta, GA –
Immaculata University – Immaculata, PA –
Iona College – New Rochelle, NY –
Jesuit School of Theology – Berkeley, CA –
John Carroll University – University Heights, OH –
John Paul the Great Catholic University – San Diego, CA –
King’s College – Wilkes-Barre, PA –
La Roche College – Pittsburgh, PA –
La Salle University – Philadelphia, PA –
Labouré College – Dorchester, MA –
Le Moyne College – Syracuse, NY –
Lewis University – Romeoville, IL –
Loras College – Dubuvue, IA –
Lourdes College – Sylvania, OH –
Loyola Marymount University – Los Angeles, CA –
Loyola University Chicago – Chicago, IL –
Loyola University Maryland – Baltimore, MD –
Loyola University New Orleans – New Orleans, LA –
Madonna University – Livonia, MI –
Manhattan College – Riverdale, NY –
Manor College – Jenkintown, PA –
Maria College – Albany, NY –
Marian Court College – Swampscott, MA –
Marian University – Indianapolis, IN –
Marian University – Fond du Lac, WI –
Marquette University – Milwaukee, WI –
Marygrove College – Detroit, MI –
Marylhurst University – Marylhurst, OR –
Marymount College – Ranchos Palos Verdes, CA –
Marymount School of Practical Nursing – Cleveland, OH –
Marymount University – Arlington, VA –
Marywood University – Scranton, PA –
Mercy College of Health Sciences – Des Moines, IA –
Mercy College of Ohio – Toledo, OH –
Mercyhurst College – Erie, PA –
Merrimack College – North Andover, MA –
Misericordia University – Dallas, PA –
Molloy College – Rockville Centre, NY – http://www/
Mount Aloysius College – Cresson, PA –
Mount Angel Seminary – St. Benedict, OR –
Mount Carmel College of Nursing – Columbus, OH –
Mount Marty College – Yankton, SD –
Mount Mary College – Milwaukee, WI –
Mount Mercy University – Cedar Rapids, IA –
Mount Saint Mary College – Newburgh, NY –
Mount Saint Mary’s College – Los Angeles, CA –
Mount Saint Mary’s University – Emmitsburg, MD –
Neumann University – Aston, PA –
Newman University – Wichita, KS –
Niagara University – Niagara University, NY –
Notre Dame College – South Euclid, OH –
Notre Dame de Namur University – Belmont, CA –
Notre Dame of Maryland University – Baltimore, MD –
Notre Dame Seminary – New Orleans, LA –
Oblate School of Theology – San Antonio, TX –
Ohio Dominican University – Columbus, OH –
Our Lady of Holy Cross College – New Orleans, LA –
Our Lady of the Lake College – Baton Rouge, LA –
Our Lady of the Lake University – San Antonio, TX –
Presentation College – Aberdeen, SD –
Providence College – Providence, RI –
Quincy University – Quincy, IL –
Regis College – Weston, MA –
Regis University – Denver, CO –
Resurrection University – Oak Park, IL –
Rivier College – Nashua, NH –
Rockhurst University – Kansas City, MO –
Rosemont College of the Holy Child Jesus – Rosemont, PA –
Sacred Heart School of Theology – Hales Corners, WI –
Sacred Heart University – Fairfield, CT –
Saint Ambrose University – Davenport, IA –
Saint Anselm College – Manchester, NH –
Saint Anthony College of Nursing – Rockford, IL –
Saint Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry – Rochester, NY –
Saint Bonaventure University – Saint Bonaventure, NY –
Saint Catharine College – St. Catharine, KY –
Saint Catherine University – St. Paul, MN –
Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary – Wynnewood, PA –
Saint Edward’s University – Austin, TX –
Saint Elizabeth College of Nursing – Utica, NY –
Saint Elizabeth School of Nursing – Lafayette, IN –
Saint Francis College – Brooklyn Heights, NY –
Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing – Peoria, IL –
Saint Francis University – Loretto, PA –
Saint Gregory’s University – Shawnee, OK –
Saint John’s Seminary – Camarillo, CA –
Saint John’s Seminary – Brighton, MA –
Saint John’s University – Jamaica, NY –
Saint John’s University – Collegeville, MN –
Saint Joseph Seminary College – Saint Benedict, LA –
Saint Joseph’s College – Rensselaer, IN –
Saint Joseph’s College – Brooklyn, NY –
Saint Joseph’s College of Maine – Standish, ME –
Saint Joseph’s University – Philadelphia, PA –
Saint Leo University – St. Leo, FL –
Saint Louis University – St. Louis, MO –
Saint Martin’s University – Lacey, WA –
Saint Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology – Wickliffe, OH –
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College – St.Mary-of-the-Woods, IN –
Saint Mary’s College – Notre Dame, IN –
Saint Mary’s College of California – Moraga, CA –
Saint Mary’s Seminary and University – Baltimore, MD –
Saint Mary’s University – San Antonio, TX –
Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota – Winona, MN –
Saint Meinrad School of Theology – St. Meinrad, IN –
Saint Michael’s College – Colchester, VT –
Saint Norbert College – De Pere, WI –
Saint Peter’s College – Jersey City, NJ –
Saint Thomas Aquinas College – Sparkill, NY –
Saint Thomas University – Miami Gardens, FL –
Saint Vincent College – Latrobe, PA –
Saint Vincent Seminary – Latrobe, PA –
Saint Vincent’s College – Bridgeport, CT –
Saint Xavier University – Chicago, IL –
Salve Regina University – Newport, RI –
Santa Clara University – Santa Clara, CA –
Seattle University – Seattle, WA –
Seminary of the Immaculate Conception – Huntington, NY –
Seton Hall University – South Orange, NJ –
Seton Hill University – Greensburg, PA –
Siena College – Loudonville, NY –
Siena Heights University – Adrian, MI –
Silver Lake College of the Holy Family – Manitowoc, WI –
Spalding University – Louisville, KY –
Spring Hill College – Mobile, AL –
SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary – Orchard Lake, MI –
Stonehill College – Easton, MA –
The Catholic University of America – Washington, DC –
The College of New Rochelle – New Rochelle, NY –
The College of Saint Rose – Albany, NY –
The College of Saints John Fisher & Thomas More – Fort Worth, TX –
The Institute for the Psychological Sciences – Arlington, VA –
The Mexican American Catholic College – San Antonio, TX –
Thomas Aquinas College – Santa Paula, CA –
Thomas More College – Crestview Hills, KY –
Thomas More College of Liberal Arts – Merrimack, NH –
Trinity Washington University – Washington, DC –
Trocaire College – Buffalo, NY –
University of Dallas – Irving, TX –
University of Dayton – Dayton, OH –
University of Detroit Mercy – Detroit, MI –
University of Great Falls – Great Falls, MT –
University of Mary – Bismarck, ND –
University of Notre Dame du Lac – Notre Dame, IN –
University of Portland – Portland, OR –
University of Saint Francis – Fort Wayne, IN –
University of Saint Joseph – West Hartford, CT –
University of Saint Mary – Leavenworth, KS –
University of Saint Mary of the Lake/ Mundelein Seminary – Mundelein, IL –
University of Saint Thomas – Houston, TX –
University of Saint Thomas – St. Paul, MN –
University of San Diego – San Diego, CA –
University of San Francisco – San Francisco, CA –
University of Scranton – Scranton, PA –
University of the Incarnate Word – San Antonio, TX –
Ursuline College – Pepper Pike, OH –
Villa Maria College of Buffalo – Buffalo, NY –
Villanova University – Villanova, PA –
Viterbo University – La Crosse, WI –
Walsh University – North Canton, OH –
Washington Theological Union – Washington, DC –
Wheeling Jesuit University – Wheeling, WV –
Wyoming Catholic College – Lander, WY –
Xavier University – Cincinnati, OH –
Xavier University of Louisiana – New Orleans, LA –