For one last ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 25, the California sun poured through the glass walls of the Christ Cathedral, the building formerly known as the Crystal Cathedral, before the entire space is transformed from a glittering stage set for televangelist Rev. Robert Schuller’s “Hour of Power” broadcasts into an environment suitable for a Catholic Mass.
The occasion was the annual Orange County Catholic Prayer Breakfast, a gathering of clergy and lay leaders, and the purpose was as much to say goodbye to what the Crystal Cathedral was as to proclaim what it would become.
Three years ago, the Diocese of Orange, currently headed by Bishop Kevin Vann, purchased the 35-acre campus in Garden Grove, not far from Disneyland, for $57.5M. It housed Schuller’s then-bankrupt Crystal Cathedral Ministries, which started in a former drive-in theater in the ’50s, and ended with the iconic 1980 Cathedral building by architect Philip Johnson as its centerpiece.
Schuller’s congregation, now called Shepherd’s Grove and headed by grandson Bobby Schuller, moved to the former St. Callistus Catholic Church building in June, 2013. Those parishioners now worship on the Cathedral campus, for the time being inside the Richard Neutra-designed Arboretum building. The St. Callistus school, now called Christ Cathedral Academy, is also on the campus and serves about 200 students in grades K-8.
The property also has a Neutra-designed office building called the Tower of Hope–home now to parish headquarters and future home of a studio for Catholic network EWTN and several ministries–the Cultural Center, designed by Richard Meier, and large swaths of lawn, fountains, and statuary.
As striking as the Cathedral itself is the soaring Prayer Tower, also designed by Johnson, which features bells and a chapel at its base.
But on this day, breakfast sponsors and guests had the interesting experience of dining inside what would become the seat of the Diocese, which is now nearly completely gutted in preparation for a major overhaul. This includes the Hazel Wright organ, which has been removed from its surrounding structure and sent back to the workshop of Fratelli Ruffatti in Padova, Italy, where it was built.
The day before the breakfast, the Los Angeles Times and the Orange County Register both ran stories detailing the plans for the transformation of the Cathedral’s interior. Click here and here to see renderings of the design. Pews replace theater-type seats; white, petal-shaped shade structures on the inside of the 10,000 glass panels will keep out most of the sun; and walls will surround the altar area, creating a more enclosed, contemplative atmosphere.
Until then, with no shade and no air conditioning, the Cathedral’s massive doors were open to offer relief from the recent heatwave. Under a huge hanging portrait of Christ on the cross, attendees listened to a talk by Dr. Tim Gray, president of the Denver-based Augustine Institute, a theology school whose motto is “Transforming Catholics for the New Evangelization.”
This was a theme popularized by Saint Pope John Paul II, and Gray spoke of the historic reluctance of American Catholics to be aggressive evangelists, a task largely left to other Christian communities. But he said that the Christ Cathedral campus could signal a shift in that.
“The Holy Spirit is working in a powerful way,” he said, “at a pivotal, key time, at the intersection of a special time and a special place, that you’re going to be a part of. The Christ Cathedral, I believe, is going to be one of the flagships for the New Evangelization.”
During the talk, he spoke of the Church’s emphasis on Apostle Peter, the first Bishop of Rome and, for Catholics, the first pope, while many Protestants have chosen to emphasize the words of convert evangelist Paul. Dr. Gray said:
This beautiful, 36-acre campus was built by our Protestant brothers and sisters. Now, the Catholic Church is here. In my prayer, preparing for this talk, the message was this, let them know that Peter and Paul belong together. The Word and the Sacrament belong together, and you can do something special here, as a campus, for the Word, and for the Word Made Flesh in the Eucharist, that you are to bring Peter and Paul back together.
This is to be a reconciliation with our Protestant brothers and sisters. It’s amazing how their magnanimity, and Rev. Schuller’s magnanimity, to give this campus to the Catholics, and the Catholic reception of that, is a sign of the times, of the New Evangelization, and that’s an exciting thing.
Talking to Breitbart News after the ceremony, Bishop Vann said, “This campus has already been part of the community, in the history of Dr. Schuller and his preaching. My hope and prayer is that it will be here to educate, to be an icon of the New Evangelization, preaching the Gospel.”
Asked if the campus could provide a focal point for West Coast Catholics, Vann said, “It can become a center of mission west of the Mississippi. My personal hope — I just pray to do God’s will, whatever that may be.”