“From the Archives” The History of Our Saint Thomas More Statue

On the left as you enter the Basilica of Saint Mary from South Royal Street is an impressive, large marble statue of Saint Thomas More, a patron saint of the Diocese of Arlington. The statue was generously donated by a parishioner, Robert Odle, and dedicated on July 22, 2014. Sculpted in Italy, it is based on a 1527 portrait of Thomas More by Hans Hoblein the Younger, a German artist and printmaker. The statue stands in an area that was originally the baptismal niche. In 1972, when the church was remodeled after changes sparked by Vatican II, the baptismal font was moved to its current location in the sanctuary. At one time, our statue of Saint Joseph was in that niche before being returned to the sanctuary. Other statues displayed there at various times include a replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta and our statue of Saint Anthony of Padua, now at the back of the church with Saint Therese of Lisieux.

Behind Saint Thomas More is a stained glass window depicting Nicodemus visiting Jesus to discuss His teachings, including a profound theological treatise on baptism (John 3:1-21). The Nugent family donated the window in the 1930s in memory of Annie Nugent (1877-1936). Their daughter, Eleanor, was the parish choir director and organist for many years and known for her charity to both the church and Saint Mary’s Academy. She made a donation to the church that enabled the purchase of a new pipe organ in 1985.

Thomas More was the Lord High Chancellor of England under King Henry VIII. A scholarly lawyer, he was the highest judge in the nation and a member of the king’s Privy Council. A devout Catholic, he was martyred for maintaining his faith, refusing to acknowledge Henry as the head of the Church in England.

Like Saint Thomas More, Robert Odle (1944-2019) was a devout Catholic, lawyer and public servant who lived his faith while serving in a wide range of governmental offices. In 1985, he returned to private practice and was involved as pro-bono counsel to several foundations operating in Central and Eastern Europe, and Russia. A convert at age 18, Odle was an active and generous parishioner at Saint Mary for 42 years. He was instrumental in the renovation of the sanctuary and the restoration of the Stations of the Cross. He also volunteered to bring Holy Communion to homebound and sick parishioners. An avid reader of history, religion and politics, Robert Odle had chosen a perfect mentor in Saint Thomas More.

Kitty Guy, Parish Historian

Throughout 2020, the Basilica of Saint Mary will present “From the Archives.” It is a weekly feature online and in our bulletin spotlighting the history of the parish. All of our “From the Archives” features are located here

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