Crystal Cathedral is reborn as Christ Cathedral, the center of O.C. Catholicism

Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove
Priests Brandon Dang, left, Christopher Smith and Nizolaus Thai chat in the newly renovated Christ Cathedral, which opened its doors Wednesday.
(Spencer Grant)

Eight years after the Diocese of Orange purchased the Crystal Cathedral — the glittering glass church in Garden Grove where the popular “Hour of Power” TV show once beamed the late Rev. Robert H. Schuller’s sermons across the globe — the cathedral reopened its doors Wednesday with a dedication ceremony, marking the end of a two-year, $72.3 million renovation.

Renamed Christ Cathedral, the 78,000-square-foot structure and surrounding campus is now the center of Catholicism in Orange County and the seat of Bishop Kevin W. Vann.

The sanctuary will celebrate 11 weekend Masses in four languages starting Saturday, according to Father Christopher Smith, rector and episcopal vicar of Christ Cathedral. The more than 12,000 worshipers can choose from English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Mandarin.

The cathedral is the last building on the Christ Cathedral campus to finish renovations.

“The cathedral stands as a physical sign of unity of the 62 parishes in the Diocese of Orange,” Smith said. “We’re kind of the center of town for Orange County Catholics and others.”

One innovative aspect of the renovation, Smith said, are “quatrefoils,” specially designed window shades that were added to 11,000 panes of glass to control sunlight.

Instead of the bright light that used to come in through the glass building, Smith said the quatrefoils offer a softer glow, giving the cathedral’s interior an “ethereal look.”

Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove
The Crux Gemmata, a 1,000-pound crucifix, hangs over Christ Cathedral’s marble platform and altar.
(Spencer Grant)

Additions also transformed the cathedral into a place for Catholic liturgy, including a marble platform and altar; a 1,000-pound crucifix hanging above it; a cathedra, the bishop’s chair; an ambo, where the Bible is read aloud during Mass; reconciliation chapels where confessions will be heard; a Blessed Sacrament Chapel for private prayers in front of the Eucharist; and an octagonal baptistery with a cross-shaped baptismal pool.

Aspects of the renovations also showcase the diversity of the Diocese of Orange, which, according to its leadership, is now one of the most diverse and fastest-growing in the U.S.

The south end of the cathedral features a hand-painted mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness saint of the Diocese of Orange and the Americas.


Relics from Korean, Vietnamese, Mexican and American martyrs — as well as Pope John Paul II — are encased in the altar. And the entryway of the cathedral includes portraits of several saints, including Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church; Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first person born in the U.S. to become a saint; Lorenzo Ruiz, a 17th-century Filipino saint; and Oscar Romero, the archbishop from El Salvador who spoke out against poverty and injustice and who was assassinated in 1980 and canonized last year by Pope Francis.

The diocese is also in the process of building a 2-acre, outdoor shrine to Our Lady of La Vang, a Vietnamese Marian apparition, in a courtyard dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

“We’ve tried very hard to reflect the area we’re in,” Smith said.

On top of the physical renovations, the community underwent a transformation as well.

St. Callistus, a parish in Garden Grove, was relocated to the Christ Cathedral campus — where it held Mass at the cathedral’s Arboretum — so that it could start the process of becoming a cathedral parish, the “mother church” of the diocese.

“We’ve grown from going through a period of grief because of what was being left behind to coming to an understanding that we have been called to be the cathedral parish,” said Trudy Mazzarella, a parishioner at what is now called the Christ Cathedral Parish, “and that it’s very special to have that kind of responsibility.”

In addition to performing normal parish functions, cathedral parishes also serve the entire diocese by celebrating special Masses, such as ordinations, and other events put on by the bishop.

Excitement for the cathedral’s opening has “grown exponentially,” Mazzarella said, comparing the dedication to the joy a family feels celebrating Christmas.

Since 2012, Mazzarella has also served as director of tour ministry for Christ Cathedral, organizing group and individual tours for visitors from 63 countries.

“I’m already getting phone calls and emails from people all over the United States wanting to get in there, and asking, ‘When can we book a tour?’” she said.

Kim Myeong Ho poses for a photo in front of the Christ Cathedral.
Kim Myeong Ho poses for a photo in front of the Christ Cathedral.
(Spencer Grant)

While the dedication marks the transformation of the cathedral’s interior — and community — one thing that wasn’t touched in the renovations was the building’s iconic exterior.

Designed by the Postmodern architect Philip Johnson, the old Crystal Cathedral became the largest glass building in the world when it was completed 39 years ago.

Though the reflective exterior is a far cry from the traditional architectural style of most Catholic churches, Smith said the diocese wanted to preserve the legacy of the Crystal Cathedral and its founder.


“We see ourselves as continuing in the footsteps of a great Christian preacher who built Christ Cathedral in the first place,” he said.

Schuller retired in 2010 and died in 2015. His grandson Bobby Schuller, a pastor in Irvine, is continuing the “Hour of Power” broadcasts in the evangelical tradition.

Kandil writes for Times Community News.