Famed Crystal Cathedral reopens as grand Catholic church after $77M makeover, blessing of pope

Christ Cathedral, Crystal Cathedral
The former Crystal Cathedral is dedicated as the new seat of the Diocese of Orange, California, under the name Christ Cathedral. |

The famed Crystal Cathedral in California, which was touted as the largest all-glass structure in the world when it was officially opened in 1980, was rededicated Wednesday by the Diocese of Orange after a $77 million makeover and the blessing of Bishop Kevin Vann and Pope Francis.

“The Holy Father prays that the cathedral may serve as a tangible sign of our Lord Jesus Christ’s presence in your midst, and help to deepen your missionary witness to the broader community, and so lead all souls to an experience of his abiding mercy and divine life. In this way, you will be ‘like living stones … built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ (l Pet 2:25),” the pope said in a message sent to Vann and the leaders of the diocese.

The Diocese of Orange noted in a statement posted on Facebook, “Today we celebrated the dedication of Christ Cathedral. It was a historic day for the Catholic community in Orange County and beyond. We are grateful to Bishop Vann for shepherding us to this exciting new chapter."

Vann delivered the first mass and dedication ceremony.

Christ Cathedral
Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange, California, dedicates the newly renovated Christ Cathedral formerly known as the Crystal Cathedral. |

Originally commissioned by late televangelist Rev. Robert H. Schuller, the founder of the Crystal Cathedral Ministries, the building had served as the backdrop of the world's longest-running evangelistic television program in the world, "Hour of Power."

In his book, Your Church Has Real Possibilities, Schuller revealed on page 117 that his aim in building the church was to impress wealthy nonreligious Americans.

"We are trying to make a big, beautiful impression upon the affluent non-religious American who is riding by on this busy freeway. It's obvious that we are not trying to impress the Christians … Nor are we trying to impress the social workers in the County Welfare Department,” Schuller said.

“They would tell us that we ought to be content to remain in the Orange Drive-in Theater and give the money to feed the poor. But suppose we had given this money to feed the poor? What would we have today? We would still have hungry, poor people and God would not have this tremendous base of operations which He is using to inspire people to become more successful, more affluent, more generous, more genuinely unselfish in their giving of themselves,” he said.

Schuller’s church, however, went bankrupt. It was sold along with its adjacent campus in February 2012 to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange for future use as the diocese's new cathedral. According to the terms of the sale, the building and most of the campus continued to be used by the ministry for up to three years before renovation began to convert it to a grander Catholic cathedral.

The renovation of the church, which began some two years ago, involved the installation of 11,000 sail-shaped quatrefoil window shades designed to also help with the acoustics. A Carrara marble altar from Italy was also added along with a 1,000-pound crucifix forged from blackened steel and encrusted with jewels.

Relics from Korean, Vietnamese, Mexican and American martyrs — as well as Pope John Paul II — are encased in the altar

The impressive sanctuary seats almost 3,000 people, The New York Times reported.

While the church was dedicated on Wednesday, it won’t be fully functioning until February 2020, Vann explained in an interview with Crux.

“Much of it will have to do with the tuning of the Hazel Wright organ. The acoustics are going to be very different than what it was before, so it’s been completely redone and restored. During the week it will be tuned, but the Cathedral will be available on weekends for Mass. We’ll just have a digital organ until it’s ready,” Vann said.

Vann said he wants the revived cathedral to reflect the presence of God.

“I would hope that when people see that steeple they will think, ‘God is here!’ and he’s drawing us toward Himself and one another through the ministry and presence of Christ Cathedral, and the presence of God is growing,” Vann told Crux. “I would have never imagined this. I walk across the campus and my mind and my heart goes back to my mother and my father and our parish church where it all kind of started for me, and here I am now, and I’m grateful God’s providence have brought us all together here.”

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