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Larger Than Life: Heroic Statues of the Basilica

Did you know that there are three heroic statues on display at the National Shrine? Crafted from bronze and marble, these larger-than-life sculptures feature stunning depictions of Saints Junípero Serra, John Neumann and Mother Teresa. Today, we invite you to view these remarkable works of art and learn more about the saints they portray.

Saint Junipero Serra portrayed in the East PorticoSaint Junípero Serra

On the lower east portico of the National Shrine, Saint Junípero Serra is portrayed in a heroic marble statue called: “Apostle to California.” This sculpture was designed by Rambusch Decorating Co. in 2017 and shows the saint carrying a model of the Mission of San Carlos and lifting a caravaca cross.

Born in Petra, Majorca, Spain in 1713, Serra joined the Franciscan order at the age of 16 and earned his doctorate at Lullian University before his ministry work brought him to America. Despite suffering from a variety of health complications over the course of his life, Serra founded nine missions in the state of California, and even learned one of the Native American languages in order to share the Gospel more effectively with indigenous people. In 1784, he passed away at the age of 70 and was buried at Mission San Carlos.

St. John Neumann portrayed in the Hostyn ChapelSaint John Neumann

In the Our Lady of Holy Hostýn Chapel, St. John Neumann is depicted in a heroic bronze statue created by European artist Jan Koblasa. The statue stands at the entrance of the chapel and serves as guide to lead pilgrims to Our Lady.

The first male American citizen to be canonized, Neumann felt an early and strong call to the ministry. Although he had intended to be a priest in his home country of Bohemia, when he finished his theological training, there was a greater need for priests abroad. He decided to sail to the United States with only $40 in his pocket. Shortly after his arrival, he was ordained and began working with German immigrants in Buffalo, later joining the Redemptorists. Neumann eventually became the bishop of Philadelphia, dedicating himself to building schools, churches, and a cathedral, and offering education to immigrants. He also wrote two catechisms that would become standard texts in the Church.

Mother Teresa portrayed in the Hall of American Saints

Saint Mother Teresa

Recognized as an honorary American citizen, Mother Teresa is portrayed in a heroic Botticino Fiorito marble statue in the Hall of American Saints in the Crypt Church. The work was designed by artist Robert Liberace and sculpted by Franco Cervietti under the supervision of the Rambusch Decorating Co. 

B​orn ​in Macedonia as Gonxha Agnes Bojaxhiu in 1910, Mother Teresa joined the Sisters of Loreto in Ireland in 1928. Here, she was given her religious name, Mary Teresa, and was sent to Calcutta to be a teacher at Saint Mary’s School, where she later became principal. In 1946, on September 10, Mother Teresa experienced a pivotal moment, a “call within a call” – while riding a train. It became overwhelmingly evident to her that she was to commit her life to the poor. Her realization inspired her to found the Missionaries of Charity, where she dedicated herself to caring for the underprivileged of Calcutta. She eventually expanded her order across the world to minister to the impoverished. Her mercy and sacrifice were so profound that she was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1979. Mother Teresa visited the National Shrine numerous times, with her first visit in 1972 and her last in 1995.


Butler’s Lives of the Saints, ed. Bernard Bangley

Rohling, Geraldine M., PhD, MAEd. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Guide and Tour BookWashington, D.C.: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 2018.

The Way of Saints, Tom Cowan

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The Untold Story of American Catholicism