Cathedral of Saint Thomas More


Founding Pastor: Rev. Edwin J. Lee, appointed on November 29, 1938.
Parish Founded: 1938
Church Dedication: The first church building was erected in 1942 in what is now the north wing of the school.
Additional Dates of Importance:  Work began on the existing church in 1950, where, until 1961, services were held in the “crypt church.” What is now familiar to us as the Cathedral was dedicated by Bishop John J. Russel of the Diocese of Richmond on December 9, 1961. In 2015, the Cathedral was renovated to its current appearance.

School Information:

Saint Thomas More Cathedral School
Founded: 1944
Founding Pastor: Rev. Arthur Taylor

Led by Mother St. Paul and staffed by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM), STM opened in 1944 with kindergarten, first and second grades. After the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Brown v. Education, which ended the “separate but equal” system in schools, STM was one of the first in Northern Virginia to desegregate. It is this sense of welcome that is a cornerstone and hallmark of our school family. The IHM sisters served faithfully until their departure in 1998. STM is a diverse community with students coming from all over Northern Virginia, Washington and Maryland. In 2006, the school became a National Blue Ribbon awardee for academic excellence. In 2020, STM was named a Purple Star School by the Virginia Department of Education. The Purple Star designation is awarded to military-friendly schools that have demonstrated their commitment to meeting the needs of military-connected students and their families. STEM is extremely important here. In 2013, the school was the first elementary school to build, test and launch a cube satellite. In 2019-2020, the school celebrated its 75th Anniversary and inaugurated an Alumni Service Award named after Sr. Maria Angelica, a long-serving IHM. STM is blessed with an active and committed school family whose commitment to service and outreach is well known. Its community events such as the Auction, Race for Education and new golf tournament for the Elizabeth Ann Seton Scholarship Fund are vehicles for both fellowship and stewardship.

What Makes This Parish Unique?

In addition to a vibrant parish community, Saint Thomas More is also the “mother church” of the Diocese. As such, it is home for the countless number of faithful who come for diocesan events such as jubilee Masses, ordinations and other spiritual and sacramental occasions. The parish is proud of its Cathedral Choir, which for more than 50 years has sung joyfully unto the Lord. It is also especially proud that it was its school that was one of the first in Northern Virginia to desegregate. All are welcome at STM!

Parish History:

A church with humble beginnings, yet with dedicated and committed parishioners, Saint Thomas More eventually became the “Mother Church of the Diocese.” As the Diocese of Richmond grew in Northern Virginia, new parishes flourished. So, it was Bishop Andrew Brennan of Richmond who sent Fr. Edwin Lee to build a house of God in Arlington. Imbued with energy, determination and faith, Fr. Lee led his flock through early days of a burgeoning parish population. The parish worshipped in buildings that were destined to become the nucleus of a school. From its earliest days, Saint Thomas More was a spiritual home to military and diplomatic personnel as well as government employees. With Fr. Lee's retirement due to ill health (he died in 1945), Rev. Andrew Taylor was installed as the second pastor of STM in 1944.

It was Fr. Taylor who oversaw the opening of STM School in 1944. From then until their departure in 1998, Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary staffed the school. The School grew rapidly, and by 1945 a second story was added; by 1947 the school had 17 classrooms, which, in a strange twist of history, were “equipped with germicidal lamps … installed to help reduce the incidence of illness.” Who could have known then that 77 years later the classrooms would be outfitted with hand sanitizers, socially-distanced desks and students masked against the raging COVID-19 virus? In 1952, a new convent was constructed to house the additional sisters who came to teach the expanding student population.

Construction began in 1949 for a separate church building. Until 1961, this “basement” or “crypt” church was the main church for the parish. In December 1961, the cruciform shape we know today rose along Arlington Boulevard. As the parish grew, so did the Diocese, and the need for a Catholic high school was evident. In 1955, STM was one of five parishes that raised $1 million for construction of what became Bishop Denis J. O'Connell. In the mid-1960s, with the Catholic population continuing to grow, parts of the parish boundaries were partitioned, creating what are now Our Lady Queen of Peace in Arlington and Saint Anthony of Padua in Falls Church. In 1969, Msgr. Richard J. Burke became pastor. Under his leadership, more events and gatherings were occurring, so more room was needed. Under Msgr. Burke's guidance, the major portion of the former "first-floor" church was transformed into the parish activities hall, and kitchen facilities were installed. The hall was eventually named in Msgr. Burke's honor. The parish's credit union began in 1970 and has served countless individuals since its inception.

In 1974, the Diocese of Arlington was created from the Diocese of Richmond; Pope Paul VI designated Saint Thomas More as the Cathedral, the “mother church” of this new entity. Bishop Thomas J. Welsh was the Diocese of Arlington's first bishop, installed on August 13, 1974. The Diocese of Arlington stretched as far west as Woodstock and south to Kilmarnock along Virginia's Northern Neck. Growth continued, and now the Diocese encompasses 70 parishes and six missions. There are now 50 vibrant and diverse parochial schools in the Diocese. Saint Thomas More and Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton thus became patron saints of the Diocese. With its designation as Cathedral, Saint Thomas More became “more” than a local parish: It became the focal point of major diocesan events, both sacramental and social. It is here where men of faith become “God's servant[s] first” at their diaconate (both permanent and transitional) and priestly ordinations. For over 50 years, the Cathedral Choir has sung “a new song unto the Lord.” Currently directed by Dr. Richard Gibala, its talented ensembles have performed for popes, cardinals and bishops. Moreover, it provides an invaluable element to the Cathedral's liturgical experience, lifting hearts and souls as we experience the Risen Christ at Mass. The choir's concert series remains a highlight of life at STM.