Catholic renovation of Crystal Cathedral to begin

The former Crystal Cathedral will close to the public as it undergoes a transformation from a space built as a television studio as much as a sanctuary into the spiritual home for the Orange County Catholic community of more than 1.2 million people.

Beginning Sunday, the newly named Christ Cathedral will be closed for construction as crews launch a $29-million effort to restore the more than 75,000-square-foot space.

The Diocese of Orange has been working with liturgical consultants and architects to modify the church built in the vision of the Rev. Robert Schuller into one that meets the requirements of a Catholic cathedral.


“The beauty and inspiration evoked by the cathedral grounds and its architecture are only surpassed by the extraordinary communities of faith that now call this campus home,” Bishop Kevin Vann said in a statement. “The cathedral will be an international center of faith and evangelization, a vessel for the love of God, a beacon of faith, a home for neighbor and traveler, and a sanctuary for the human spirit.”

The bishop announced in September that two architectural firms, Johnson Fain and Rios Clementi Hale Studios, had been selected to lead the design process.

The architects said they want to create a sense of cohension among a cluster of buildings on the campus, created by different designers with varying ideas. Their intent is to make it clear the campus is a spiritual place, welcoming to a diverse Catholic community as well as people of other faiths.

“You need to start those kind of experiences as you’re pulling into the parking lot,” architect Mark Rios said at the time of the announcement. “It shouldn’t feel like you’re at the mall. You’re on a journey to a sacred cathedral.”

Catholic scholars said the church has converted the temples of other faiths, and even secular spaces, into cathedrals. But in more modern times, the project stands as a rarity, as it is believed to be the first Protestant megachurch to become a Catholic cathedral, the primary church within a diocese.

One of the first steps in the renovation will be to remove the pipe organ — reportedly one of the largest in the world — so it can be shipped to Italy and refurbished in time for the cathedral’s reopening, set for 2016.

The renovation process of the 34-acre campus began in July, when the diocese took possession of the grounds from Schuller’s ministries, which had fallen into bankruptcy.

The renovations started with the Arboretum, where the congregation of St. Callistus Catholic Church began gathering earlier this year when its Garden Grove church became home to the former Crystal Cathedral ministry.

The Arboretum was the first sanctuary built by Schuller and had a unique design that allowed him to preach to a congregation inside as well as to people who sat outside in their cars, much like the Orange drive-in theater where his ministry began.

Later, Schuller broadcast his sermons worldwide from the Crystal Cathedral — a sprawling, open-aired fabrication of metal and glass that became closely tied to Schuller and his sunny theology.

The building was designed in the late 1970s by the noted architect Philip Johnson. It took more than two years to build, and stood 12 stories tall, with an exterior of more than 10,000 panes of mirrored glass.