Encounter St. Thomas More Cathedral




Discover your Cathedral church like never before! Encounter the life of St. Thomas More and the historic faith of Northern Virginia Catholics. Be inspired in the Cathedral where many men have been ordained and bishops have preached the saving Gospel of Jesus. Enter for the thousandth time or the first time, explore the art and meaning of the mother church of the Diocese of Arlington and encounter the heritage of faith it represents. Click on the photo to the left to download a handy summary of this page to take with you on your pilgrimage.



“I rejoiced when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord.'” - Psalm 122


Some Background:

What is a Diocese and what is its purpose?

“The community of believers was of one heart and mind” (Acts 4:32)

A diocese is a particular local Church spanning a certain geographical region. The Catholic Church around the world is made up of over 2,000 dioceses! They are all united in charity under the leadership of the Pope, who is the Bishop of Rome. That's right - Rome is actually its own Diocese, but since it's the place where  our first Pope (St. Peter) went and preached and taught the ways of Jesus - it became a sort of first-among-equals kind of Diocese (having a special pre-eminence over others). Do you know that St. Peter was put to death for being a Christian? Extra points: do you know what this kind of death (to die for the Catholic faith) is called? Answer below.

The purpose of a diocese is to live the mission of Jesus in that local area and for his saving work in the sacraments and preaching of God's Word to be carried out among that people. Opportunities are made available by diocesan leaders to unite the diocese in a common vision incarnated in works of charity and events that build up faith and community.

Our Diocese: The Diocese of Arlington

SealDioceses didn't just pop up all at once. They were established over time - coming about as the Church grew through the centuries. Dioceses would simply cover certain areas where evangelization (proclaiming and spreading the Good News of Jesus) was occurring and then over time as more areas became increasingly populated with Catholics - a new diocese would get established to provide for their spiritual needs.

For instance, the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, covered all of Virginia until there was a need to establish a diocese in the north of Virginia to serve the Catholics living in that area. With the rapid growth in population in Northern Virginia following World War II, several parishes were founded in the City of Alexandria, and Arlington and Fairfax Counties. Our Diocese of Arlington was established in 1974 to serve the needs of the many Catholics in the area. See below for interesting info on how St. Thomas More parish (circa 1938) became selected as the Cathedral Church for the Diocese!

Bishops: Who are they? And what's their purpose?

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name” (Isaiah 43:1)

Each diocese has a bishop. In fact, there essentially would not be a diocese without a bishop! A bishop is a successor of the Apostles. Jesus appointed twelve men to assist him in his ministry and preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth (see Matthew chapter 28)! Many bishops can trace back their line of succession to one of the Apostles! How cool is that?! As bishop, they are bestowed the God-given task of overseeing the people of God in their diocese and safeguarding the mission of the Church in that area. 

However, not all bishops are in charge of a diocese. Some assist a Diocesan Bishop in his role as lead Bishop for that Diocese, while others head various church committees and offices. These bishops who are not the lead Bishop of a Diocese, but assist him or who run Church offices are called auxiliary bishops.

Past Bishops of the Diocese of Arlington

“…hold fast to the word I preached to you” (I Corinthians 15:2)

The first Bishop of the Arlington Diocese was Most Rev. Thomas Welsh - installed as Bishop of Arlington on August 13, 1974. Bishop Welsh was then appointed Bishop of Allentown, PA, in 1983. Most Rev. John Keating took over after that. Unfortunately, Bishop Keating died of a heart attack at only 63 years of age while in Rome in March of 1998 while on an official visit to John Paul II. Most Rev. Bishop Keating is laid to rest in the crypt beneath the Cathedral church - in Burke Hall. Most Rev. Paul Loverde was installed as the third Bishop of our Diocese on March 25 (the feast of the Annunciation), 1999. Bishop Loverde retired on October 4, 2016. Most Rev. Michael Burbidge was installed as the fourth Bishop of Arlington on December 6, 2016. 

To learn more about the past Bishops of the Diocese, click here. (Bishop Paul Loverde Photo Credit: Natalie J. Plumb)

Bishop-Welsh Bishop-Keating Bishop-Loverde

Bishop Michael Burbidge

Bishop-BurbidgeBishop Burbidge was born in Philadelphia, PA. He attended seminary at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, PA. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1984 and consecrated as a Bishop in 2002. Before coming to the Diocese of Arlington, he served as Bishop of the Diocese of Raleigh, NC. His motto is Walk Humbly with Your God.

For more info on Bishop Burbidge's bio - click here.

Did you know Bishop Burbidge plays tennis?!

More fun facts on Bishop:

He's a big fan of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Among his favorite movies is Rocky.

His favorite music includes Country: particularly Kenny Chesney and Alan Jackson.

Keep reading for more fun facts on Bishop Burbidge!

Coat of Arms of Bishop Burbidge

Coat-of-Arms-BurbidgeBishops have a coat of arms which shows what they stand for or what is most important to them in their episcopal (fancy word for of or pertaining to a bishop) ministry. It is an opportunity for a bishop to highlight particular aspects of Catholic devotion. Above is the Coat of Arms for Bishop Burbidge.

It is interesting to note that a diocesan bishop combines his personal coat of arms with that of the seal of the diocese he shepherds. In this case, the Seal of the Diocese of Arlington can be seen on the “dexter” side - the viewer's left on the coat of arms.

For more info on Bishop Burbidge's Coat of Arms, click here.

See where you can spot Bishop Burbidge's Coat of Arms in the Cathedral!

Does the Bishop work alone? What is a Chancery?

Chancery“…there are different forms of service, but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone” (I Corinthians 12:5-6)

While his calling before God and ministry to the people is unique and his alone, the bishop of a diocese relies on many others to assist him in carrying out his mission. The Chancery is the administrative branch of the diocese under the direction of the Bishop. The Arlington Chancery operates in the ten-story building located right near St. Thomas More Cathedral - at 200 North Glebe Road. The many offices in the Chancery serve the Bishop and the people of the Diocese in a variety of ways: through ministry programs, holding events that build up faith and community, and providing charitable services.

(Answer to question above about what is the name for the kind of death when one dies for the Catholic faith (like St. Peter): Martyrdom. A person who dies in this way is called a martyr.)

What is a cathedral? 

“All in his Temple say 'Glory!'” (Psalm 29:9)

The cathedral of a diocese is the official “mother church” or principal church of that diocese - because it is the specially designated church for the bishop. It serves as a symbol of the authority of the bishop over his local flock and as a sign of unity for all other churches in the diocese. The bishop's seat, which is a sign of his authority, is enthroned in the cathedral. The word “cathedral” actually comes from the word that means chair in Latin: cathedra (pronounced “CATH-eh-druh”). Particularly, the cathedra is a symbol of the bishop's teaching authority in the Church. Moses sat on a chair and taught; many would come to learn from him (see Exodus chapter 18). Thus the seat of Moses came to be seen as a sign of his teaching authority. Likewise, the Bishop's seat or cathedra, became a similar sign.  The cathedra is an actual seat in the cathedral church - it is where the diocesan Bishop sits when he celebrates Mass or other important liturgies and prayer services.

Our Diocesan Cathedral: The Cathedral of St. Thomas More

Parish turned Cathedral Church…

CathedraThe Cathedral, standing as it is now, did not always look that way. Initially a part of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, the Parish of St. Thomas More was founded in 1938, arising out of a need to serve the growing population of Arlington.  More specifically, St. Thomas More parish (STM) grew out of St. Charles Borromeo parish (the oldest Catholic parish in Arlington; about a mile and a half north of STM). STM was originally within the geographical area of St. Charles Borromeo parish. To accommodate the growing number of Catholics - STM was established. The first Mass celebrated in the church building was on the First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 1938, by Fr. Edwin Lee, the first pastor of STM - a few days after Thanksgiving. (The people of Arlington had a bit more to be thankful for that year!) 

[Another fun fact about Bishop Burbidge - his other favorite movies include: “A Quiet Man”, and “A Man For All Seasons”, which is about St. Thomas More!]

Why the name St. Thomas More? 

Newly canonized (at the time) Thomas More was chosen as patron. St. Thomas More was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1935. This statesman, civil servant, and lawyer would be a fitting patron for a parish - and, as Providence would have it: Diocese - so close to our nation's capital and federal government.

The church building and parish begins to take shape, parish church turns into cathedral…

The original 1938 church became utilized as part of the school building. In 1942, a new church building was completed. This building is now part of the Cathedral school and it has been renamed Lee Hall after the first pastor. In 1949, work began on what is now called “Burke Hall”, which is now the basement of the Cathedral. It was designed to be a transitional church as well as the foundation for a new church. The current church was eventually built at a final cost of $750,000. The church (now Cathedral), as the edifice we know now, was dedicated on December 9, 1961, which interestingly would be the memorial of St. Juan Diego, herald of the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This is noteworthy given the importance of Our Lady's patronage of the Americas and the proximity to our nation's capital as well as the Cathedral parish's sizable Hispanic population.

In 1974, when the Diocese of Arlington separated from the Diocese of Richmond, St. Thomas More parish church was named by Pope Paul VI as the Cathedral church for the newly created Diocese. As the largest parish in Virginia at the time, it was the natural choice. Changes were then needed to be made to the sanctuary: the bishop's seat (cathedra) was placed prominently behind the altar. Bishop Welsh would be installed as the first Bishop of the Diocese of Arlington.

The Cathedral underwent renovations in 2015.


Cool fact: Mother Teresa visited the Cathedral in 1982! Check out this Arlington Catholic Herald article on her visit and see some cool pics!

As you tour the Cathedral, bear in mind the rich history of the place and the church that once was beneath your feet (in what is now Burke Hall)!

For more of a detailed synopsis of the history of the Cathedral parish, click the following link to watch this video commemorating the 75th anniversary (1938-2013) of the parish: https://tinyurl.com/cathhistory

Click here for more info on the history of the Diocese of Arlington.

What is the difference between a rector and a pastor? 



You may have heard the term “rector” for a cathedral. While a pastor is the shepherd of a local parish, the priest overseeing a cathedral is called a “rector”. The rector has the duty of running the liturgical events and overseeing the various administrative tasks of the cathedral. The bishop is the high priest and shepherd of the entire diocese and has as his specially designated church - the cathedral. The bishop does have the primary role of authority over the cathedral which is administered by the rector. The current rector of St. Thomas More Cathedral is Fr. Patrick Posey.

[Another fun fact on Bishop Burbidge: His favorite ice cream flavors are chocolate chip and cherry vanilla!]

Who was St. Thomas More?

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends” (John 15:13)

St-Thomas-More“The king's good servant, but God's first” - known as Thomas More's final words. More put things of Faith and the ways of God ahead of temporal gain and worldly leaders. He was a trusted adviser of King Henry VIII of England, but when Henry asked him to violate his Catholic principles in support of Henry's assertion to be the “Supreme Head” of the Church in England - Thomas refused. This lead to his death, and he is revered as a martyr. (Photo credit: “Sir Thomas More” by Hans Holbein can be found here.)

Thomas was born in London on February 7, 1478. Thomas learned Latin and Greek at Oxford. He would then go on to become a lawyer. In his mid-twenties, Thomas grew in piety and religious devotion while living near a Carthusian monastery. He would join them frequently for prayers. He ultimately chose to remain in the secular world; he married and was elected to Parliament. But he didn't forget his time with the devoted Carthusian monks, which inspired his deep faith.

Thomas had four children with his first wife, Jane Colt. After Jane's passing, he quickly married Alice Middleton. He gladly received Alice's daughter into his new growing family. Thomas was an affectionate father, regularly writing his children letters while he was traveling for business.

Thomas wrote the book Utopia, about a fictional island community in the Atlantic Ocean, published in 1516.

A faithful civil servant, More gained the respect and admiration of the King Henry. Thomas was known as being intensely loyal to the king. In 1521, he was knighted. Sir Thomas More became Lord Chancellor of England in 1529.

More became at odds with the king, when Henry requested that More support Henry's desire to divorce from his wife, Catherine. More was pressured to support a request for an annulment that was to be sent to Pope Clement VII. More refused to sign and did not attend the coronation of Anne Boylen, Henry's next wife. This angered Henry, who had More arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. More would later be beheaded on July 6, 1535. It is said that he quipped with his executioners that they could help him up the scaffold, but that he would see himself down. His final statement has echoed through the centuries: he declared that he was “the king's good servant, but God's first.” His body was buried in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London, in an unmarked grave.

More-StatueIn 1935, Sir Thomas More was canonized by Pope Pius XI, three years before the founding of the parish in Arlington, Virginia, that would take his name as its own - later to become a Diocesan Cathedral. 

In 2000, St. Thomas More was named patron of political leaders by Pope St. John Paul II.

More's feast day is June 22.

Did you know there was a movie made about More's life?! (It's actually a play too!) A Man for All Seasons, depicting the life and struggle of St. Thomas More, was produced in 1966. If you have not seen this movie - a winner of several Academy Awards - why not check it out!? Common Sense Media rates it as being appropriate for children ages 10 and up (find out more here: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/a-man-for-all-seasons). By the way, as mentioned above, A Man for All Seasons is a personal favorite of Bishop Burbidge!

Some other interesting facts about St. Thomas More - he coined the term utopia, meaning a perfect world or society. He was known for his wit. He is the patron of adopted children. He was the first layperson to hold the position of Lord Chancellor in England. He wore a hair-shirt as an act of penance!

St. Thomas More, pray for us! 

Found out more detail on the life of St. Thomas More here: https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=324

Check out this short video on St. Thomas More: https://tinyurl.com/videostm

Listen to a podcast on St. Thomas More: https://tinyurl.com/podcaststm

For further reading, check out The King's Good Servant But God's First: The Life and Writings of St. Thomas More by James Monti, published by Ignatius Press.

A Prayer of St. Thomas More:

Lord, grant me a holy heart that sees always what is fine and pure and is not frightened at the sight of sin, but creates order wherever it goes.

Grant me a heart that knows nothing of boredom, weeping and sighing.

Let me not be concerned with the bothersome thing I call “myself”.

Lord, give me a sense of humor and I will find happiness in life and profit for others.

-St. Thomas More

Litany of St. Thomas More

Click here for a litany of St. Thomas More, our patron of the Diocese of Arlington.

Another Patron of our Diocese: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

St.-EAS(Photo credit: "St Elizabeth Ann Seton" by Lawrence OP is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was born in NYC in 1774 to an Episcopal family. She married at the age of 19 and had 5 children. Her husband suffered from tuberculosis and was sent to Italy for treatment. Elizabeth and her eldest daughter accompanied him.

While in Italy, Elizabeth and her daughter stayed with her husband's Italian business partners and they introduced Elizabeth and her daughter to Catholicism. After her husband's death they returned to the U.S. and Elizabeth became Catholic in 1805. She started an academy for young ladies but struggled to keep it open.

She met a priest from the French community of the Sulpician Fathers when she was about to move to Canada. In 1809 the Sulpicians invited Elizabeth to move to Emmitsburg where they, along with John Dubois, established Mount St. Mary's University, the first Catholic Seminary for the U.S. With the financial support of a wealthy convert and seminarian, Elizabeth began St. Joseph's Academy and Free School, a school dedicated to the education of Catholic girls.

Later, Elizabeth established a community dedicated to the care of the children of the poor. This was the first congregation of religious sisters to be founded in the U.S. and the school was the first free Catholic school in America. This was the start of the Catholic parochial school system in the U.S. She spent the rest of her life developing the new congregation then known as the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph.

Elizabeth was known as Mother Seton. Mother Seton died on January 4, 1821 at the age of 46. She was canonized on September 14, 1975 by Pope Paul VI. She is the first native-born U.S. citizen to be canonized a saint. Today, her remains are entombed in the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, MD.

Mother Seton's favorite Psalm was Psalm 23 - The Lord is my Shepherd.

Find out more about Mother Seton here:

Audio book, Elizabeth Seton: American Saint by Catherine O'donnell - check it out here: https://www.audiobooks.com/audiobook/elizabeth-seton-american-saint/342794

The Saintcast Podcast: https://tinyurl.com/elizseton  Short Biography - Start at 21:40 - Runs about 13 minutes

There is a stained glass window devoted to Mother Seton in the left transept of the Cathedral.

A Prayer to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton:

Check out the Encounter on visiting Mother Seton's shrine in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

[Another fun fact on Bishop Burbidge: his favorite saints include St. Michael, St. Francis of Assisi, St. John Neumann, and Pope St. John Paul II. Also, did you know that Bishop Burbidge went to seminary right out of high school? Have you considered a vocation to the priesthood or religious life?]

Let's check out this Cathedral!

“Better one day in your courts, than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:11)

Spend time in prayer in the Cathedral - as much or as little as you can - also bearing in mind the schedule of the parish. Perhaps call ahead to make sure there will be no other events or celebrations occurring that may conflict with your visit. Check the parish's website for Mass times: https://www.cathedralstm.org/.

Download the Cathedral Tour PDF!

Sample Schedule for a Family's Saturday Visit

9:00 am  Breakfast together as a family
During this time you can talk about: 
 What a diocese is, the Cathedral's history, Bishops of the Diocese, the life of Ss. Thomas More
and Elizabeth Ann Seton, and fun facts about Bishop Burbidge 
10:00 am  Pack up your items and your family!
10:30 am  Head to the Cathedral
What to do in the car? Listen to a podcast about our patron saints
11:00 am  Cathedral Tour 
12:30 pm   Head out to lunch and fun activity
(you will want to decide where you are eating before your visit) 
4:00 pm  Confession & Prayer time
 Prayers to the patron saints: Litany of St. Thomas More, Prayer to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
5:30 pm   Mass
(or you can head out to dinner after confession and come back for Mass the next day) 
6:30 pm  Head out to dinner
(you will want to decide where you are eating before your visit) 
 Perhaps talk about the Tying it All Together section of the Encounter
8:00 pm   Head home - Discuss what's next in your journey of faith as a family 


Need a place to eat? Fun with the kids? Check out these other fun stops!

Ballston/Arlington area has some of the best places around and a lot of variety.

What are you in the mood for? Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch, Dinner Dessert? American, Italian, Moroccan, Lebanese, Mediterranean, German, Turkish, Spanish, European, French Russian, Vegetarian, Southern, Greek, Mexican, Salvadorian, Peruvian, Yemeni, Fondue, Steak, Burgers, French-American? It's all here.

Some of the highest rated places in the area:

The Ballston Quarter Market - www.ballstonquarter.com
With over 10 restaurants, there is a variety to choose from. This is an indoor/outdoor eatery.

El Pollo Rico - www.elpolloricoarl.com
Perfect mouthwatering Peruvian rotisserie chicken. This place has been around since 1987 and has 3 locations, Arlington being the first to open.

The Italian Store - www.italianstore.com
This is a market/deli. Not directly in the Ballston/Arlington area, but not too far and still in Arlington. You want some great pizza? This place has the best in the area.

The Melting Pot - www.meltingpot.com/reservations.aspx?location=arlington-va
Fun for kids because they love to dip things but can be a bit expensive. They are only open for dinner and only take reservations.

Across the street from the Cathedral:

La Jarrochita - https://www.yelp.com/biz/jarochita-2-arlington?osq=la+jarrochita
Authentic Mexican tacos and other foods.

Pupuseria Doña Azucena - https://www.yelp.com/biz/pupuseria-do%C3%B1a-azucena
Authentic Salvadorian pupusas and other foods.

Fun with the kids:

Bowl America in Falls Church

Super, Awesome, & Amazing at the St. James in Springfield
This place is a little further out, but has some great reviews.

Play at Nook in the Ballston Quarter

The place is more for kids 0-5 years old. There is currently limited availability (due to COVID-19) so check ahead. They have created some play-at-home activities for you to enjoy.

BusyBees in Falls Church
This place is also more for toddlers. Call before you decide to go.

Scramble Indoor Play in Alexandria

National Children's Museum in DC

Tying it all together…

“We, though many, are one body in Christ” (Romans 12:5). In our Diocesan Cathedral we can experience the unity of our local Church. The Mission of Jesus bears fruit in our Diocesan community - served and lead by our Bishop, Michael Burbidge. Let us remember to pray for our brothers and sisters of faith here in our local Church - and around the world - and for our Bishop as he guides us. Perhaps reflect on these questions:

  • What was the most inspiring thing you encountered in this Cathedral visit?
  • Do you view your Diocesan church any differently after today's visit? If so, how?
  • Does anything particularly inspire you about the life of St. Thomas More?
  • Thomas More as devoted to the ways of God above all else in his life, undergoing even martyrdom, for the sake of Christ. Do you approach Church teaching with similar conviction?
  • Before I-395 was constructed, Route 50 was a main thoroughfare into DC. Reflect on what it means to have Christ Our Lord stand with arms outstretched in love over thousands who daily travel to and from our nation's capital.
  • How might you grow in your relationship with Jesus as a result of this visit today?


After this Encounter, what's next?

Get to know your local parish church a bit more! What is the history of your parish? What sacred art can be found there? Does anything particularly inspire you? Perhaps plan an occasion where your youth program or family takes some time to study and discover your local church? Or perhaps plan a day to explore our nation's “home” church: the Basilica of The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Above all: remember that Jesus is present, in a substantial way - in the Holy Eucharist - in every Catholic church! Be mindful of that as you encounter the richness and meaning of what is in front of you right at your own parish or in discovering the beauty of the national shrine.


Works Cited

Catholic Online https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=324 September, 2020.

Consultation with Cathedral of St. Thomas More staff, September 2020.

Historical Archives of the Cathedral of St. Thomas More, found here: https://www.cathedralstm.org/about/parish-history/ August & September, 2020. 

Pocket Catholic Dictionary by John A. Hardon, S.J., published by Image Books-Doubleday, New York: 1985.

Talking Catholic Podcast Talking Saints - St. Thomas More: https://tinyurl.com/podcaststm September, 2020.

Video commemorating the 75th anniversary of St. Thomas More parish: https://tinyurl.com/cathhistory August & September, 2020. 

https://catholicexchange.com/what-is-the-chrism-mass October, 2020.