A Landmark O.C. Church Transitions After Sale

CCATHEDRAL-VERT
Designed by architect Philip Johnson, the Crystal Cathedral was completed in 1980. It has about 2,700 seats and until 2013 was used by the Crystal Cathedral Ministries. / Liz Monroy / el Don
Designed by architect Philip Johnson, the Crystal Cathedral was completed in 1980. It has about 2,700 seats and until 2013 was used by the Crystal Cathedral Ministries. / Liz Monroy / el Don

By: Aaron Vasquez

Roman Catholic worshippers flock to the iconic mega-church

Sunlight breaks through the windows of the Crystal Cathedral, washing over the iconic Hazel Wright Memorial organ, the walking fountain and thousands of empty chairs.

The grand halls echo only with the occasional footsteps of construction workers.

The church remains largely unused. Seats gather dust, while the landmark structure sits in silence.

The distant chanting of rhythmi Vietnamese hymns breaks the monotony of far-off hammers banging away in the background.

Father Tuyen Van Nguyen leads a service, not in the iconic church, but in the adjacent arboretum.

It’s a significantly smaller building, and sometimes they have trouble finding room for everyone Nguyen said.

For many, this will be the new normal until the Christ Cathedral opens its doors in 2015.

The St. Callistus parish found a new home when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange purchased the property from the Schuller family in December.

“It’s a very open and inviting place. Everyone of different faiths are allowed and should come worship here,” congregation member Alfredo Garcia said.

Many changes need to be made before it can be a traditional Roman Catholic Church.

“They bought it as a mega-church, and now they are just modifying it, just to be more Catholic,” churchgoer Eherlinda Garcia said.

The parish has 10,000 members, a mixed congregation with many Latino and Vietnamese followers. At masses, some chant in Vietnamese, while others sing in Spanish.

“I think … the church is trying to stay with the times,” congregation member Alfredo Garcia said.

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The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange purchased the property from Crystal Cathedral Ministries for $57.5 million in 2011, and will spend an additional $50 million to renovate the grounds in an effort to modernize the site.

“This is an exciting time in the history of our diocese as we transform our new home, and look toward a hopeful future,” Bishop Kevin Vann of the Orange Diocese said.

Robert Schuller wanted to keep the site holy and supported the dioceses purchase Eherlinda Garcia said.

The Schullers and their congregation have now flocked to the newly named Shepherds Grove church, which formerly housed the St. Callistus parish.

As part of the deal with St. Callistus, rent will be free until Dec. 30, but afterward will cost about $25,000 per month.

Members of the Catholic parish welcomed the new space proudly.

“We are so excited for this gift from God,” Rodolfo Munoz said. “God deserves a palace, and now he finally has one here.”

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