For a person fluent in the ancient language of heraldry, the multicolored coat of arms of Arlington's new Roman Catholic Bishop John R. Keating offers a brief lesson in history as well as biography.
The right side of the shield reflects both the family and the spiritual odysseys of the new bishop, who was ordained Thursday. It is a modified version of the traditional Keating family coat of arms, which, the bishop said in an interview, he did not know existed "until my father sent away for one a few years ago."
The traditional four green nettles on a silver field, divided by a red saltire, or stylized cross, has been modified. The top nettle is replaced by a red eagle's head, the traditional symbol of St. John the Evangelist, Keating's baptismal patron.
At the bottom is a blue anchor taken from the armor of Pope Pius X, who Keating characterized as a "teen-age hero" and who has continued to be a patron.
The left side of the shield bears the symbols of the diocese that he heads. A wreath of 10 white stars on a blue field symbolizes Virginia, the 10th state admitted to the Union.
Below the red chevron, or bar, of St. Thomas More, the patron of the diocesan cathedral, a white crescent on a blue field stands for the Virgin Mary.
The shield is topped by the gold cross, symbolic of a bishop, and a green pontifical hat, trailing three ranks of tassles, also symbolic of a bishop, on either side.
Keating has chosen for his motto, "Be Rooted in Him," from St. Paul's epistle to the Colossians.
In discussing the coat of arms, Keating explained that his devotion to Pope Pius X did not reflect a sympathy with the dissident movement of Catholic traditionalists who honor the turn-of-the-century pontiff solely for his steadfast opposition to the "modernism" of his day. Followers of rebel Archbishop Marcel LeFebre have named their movement for Pius X.
Keating said his admiration for Pius X stemmed from extensive study of the whole of the pontiff's 11-year pontificate, as well as his humanity. "He is the antithesis of those saccharine statues you see," Keating said. "He looks like a peasant."
Next week, Catholics in all corners of the sprawling 21-county diocese will have an opportunity to meet their new bishop in get-acquainted masses in five different cities. The meetings will begin at 7:30 p.m. He scheduled the tour, he said, because only a limited number of church members could attend his formal installation Thursday.
On Monday he will be at Sacred Heart Church in Winchester; on Tuesday he will return to St. Thomas More Cathedral in Arlington; Wednesday's celebration will be at St. Leo's Church in Fairfax; on Thursday he will be at St. Mary's Church in Fredericksburg; and on Friday at St. Rita's Church in Alexandria. All masses are open to the public and will be followed by receptions.