Msgr. Martin Cody Keating: Pastor From 1930-1967
In 1930, Msgr. Martin Cody Keating became pastor, a position he held for 37 years until his retirement in 1967. Msgr. Keating was a chaplain in World War I and a patriot with a deep respect for the country's founding fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson. After his service in World War I, Keating was assigned to a new parish in Fresno, for which he chose the name "Our Lady of Victory" (subsequently renamed St. Therese) in thanksgiving for victory in that war. In August 1945, Msgr. Keating received a patent for a desk ornament of an American flag mounted on a Cross mounted on a Star of David. At the St. Robert Bellarmine parish centennial in 2007, Cardinal Roger Mahony recalled that his older brother attended Bellarmine-Jefferson High School; as a boy, Cardinal Mahony would visit the campus to take his brother to school. He recalled seeing Father Keating dressed in an Army uniform for the flag raising ceremony and opening prayer. "He had great devotion to his country as well as to God," Cardinal Mahony said. Keating was also known as a champion of labor and war veterans. In 1939, Msgr. Keating renamed the parish from Holy Trinity to St. Robert Bellarmine. Msgr. Keating believed that Bellarmine's writings had been an influence on Thomas Jefferson, and that the Declaration of Independence was based on St. Robert's dictum written in 1567: "All men are equal, not in wisdom or in grace, but in the essence and nature of mankind." That theory was advanced by Catholic intellectuals in the 1920s, but is rejected by modern scholars. Msgr. Keating further honored the founders by using colonial architecture for all the campus buildings: church, rectory, and high school (named Bellarmine-Jefferson in joint tribute to St. Robert and Thomas Jefferson).
In 1936, Msgr. Keating also formed the Bellarmine-Jefferson Guards. That same year, the unit served as the honor guard for Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII on his arrival and departure from Burbank. Keating established the Guard unit with this pledge: "I enlist to become a better American: first by thanking almighty God for guiding Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and the founding fathers of this republic in giving me the protection of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States." Pope Pius XII later recognized Msgr. Keating's lifelong championship of patriotism and his advocacy of the cause of labor by appointing him a papal chamberlain in 1937 and a domestic prelate in 1950.