St. Callistus Catholic Church moves to Crystal Cathedral site


On the plaza of the future Christ Cathedral, 3,000 chairs and 7,000 water bottles awaited the faithful. On Saturday, before Mass welcomed families from St. Callistus Church to their new home, an organizer said into the microphone: “Those sitting in the sun will get more blessings from God.”

The service on the grounds once belonging to the Crystal Cathedral started on time at 4 p.m., as a parade of priests led by Bishop Kevin Vann let their words — English, sprinkled with Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese — embrace the multicultural crowd.

“No matter the weather, we must be here,” said Rosa Maria Rosales, a 26-year member of the Garden Grove Catholic church. After lunch, she had attended the parish’s farewell service at the old church, then continued on to this gathering with her friend Mary Sanchez, who cradled a 5-month-old baby.


“Hello and goodbye. Of course, we don’t like to leave the old place, but look at this new place!” Sanchez exclaimed, gesturing at the wide expanse of 35 acres — nearly four times the size of the former place of worship less than a mile away.

“And look at all the people together, for the same reason. Es un milagro,” she added, describing it as a miracle.

The women kept to the shade, while striped umbrellas popped open to shield those closer to the stage. Women sported flip-flops and stilettos, their children eye-catching in pastel sundresses. A grandmother offered napkins to Father Juan Navarro of St. Callistus after he rubbed sunscreen on his cheeks.

“We weren’t looking for a new beginning. Suddenly, we were called,” he said of the move across town. “It’s a way to reflect how we will serve better.”

Last year, the Diocese of Orange bought the property from Crystal Cathedral ministries, which was in bankruptcy, for $57.5 million. Workers then took on seismic upgrades and restored fountains to their original beauty.

Moving St. Callistus to its new home will mean more than just new buildings, the faithful hope. What they really wish for is plenty of new faces.

“This will be a place of welcome for people of all faiths or no faith,” said Father Christopher Smith, rector at Christ Cathedral. “We want it to be a shiny example of what it means to do outreach to the poor or the marginalized.”

And with more than 1.2 million Catholics in Orange County, he said the intent is to “unify the diocese itself.”

“Here we will honor the human person,” Smith said. “We will support the arts, music, dance, painting. We will make it a wonderful home.”

“This is a gift from God,” said Father Tuyen Van Nguyen, pastor at St. Callistus for 10 years. The parish has nearly 10,000 members, 50% of them Latino, 40% Vietnamese, and the rest white or Filipino.

“We’re the very first people God chose to cross the 22 bridge,” Nguyen added, alluding to the Garden Grove Freeway, “and we will work with everyone who needs us.”

Come fall, students will enroll in Christ Cathedral Academy, with classes for preschoolers through eighth grade. Mass will be celebrated at the arboretum on the campus but not inside the former Crystal Cathedral until architectural and Catholic liturgical alterations are finished, officials said. That probably will be sometime in 2015.

Meanwhile, worshipers from Crystal Cathedral, now known as Shepherd’s Grove, will move to the rented former St. Callistus site next month.

Changing locations doesn’t affect how St. Callistus parishioner Lorna Villanueva and her Filipino family feel about their spiritual devotion. All three of her children participate in church activities, from altar service to liturgy readings.

“Because we are here — and it’s bigger — more people will join us,” she says. “The more, the better.”