A prominent house of worship in Southern California has been flipped — from a towering glass megachurch of a flamboyant televangelist to the new seat of the seventh-largest Roman Catholic Church diocese in the United States.
The landmark, originally named the Crystal Cathedral, hosted its first Mass on Wednesday following a $77 million renovation by the Diocese of Orange.
It had served for many years as the backdrop of the “Hour of Power,” which was once the most popular religious television program in the nation. The show’s star was the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, who started his evangelical empire at a converted drive-in movie theater and referred to the 78,000-square-foot cathedral as a “shopping center for God.” His ministry later went bankrupt.
The building was renamed Christ Cathedral and is now the spiritual center for the 1.6 million Catholics in the diocese, which described itself as the fastest growing diocese in the nation. Masses are officiated in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese.
The Catholic Church bought the building in 2011 and spent the past two years transforming the space, from the installation of 11,000 sail-shaped quatrefoil window shades that also help with the acoustics to the addition of a Carrara marble altar from Italy. A 1,000-pound crucifix forged from blackened steel and encrusted with jewels is the centerpiece of the renovated sanctuary, which seats nearly 3,000 people.
“This particular cathedral on the West Coast will be as important to the Catholic Church as St. Patrick’s Cathedral is on the East Coast,” Tim Strader, the co-chairman of the cathedral’s campaign task force, said in a video about the structure’s extreme renovation.
The modernist architect Philip Johnson designed the New Age cathedral, whose appearance has long evoked strong opinions.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York, surveyed the cathedral with Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange in May 2018 while it was being renovated. At Wednesday’s Mass, Bishop Vann said the cathedral was built with tireless labor. The bishop himself traveled to Italy to choose the marble for the altar.
The acquisition and costly renovation of the glass church stands in stark contrast to the deconsecration of a host of religious buildings by the Catholic Church, including a number in New York City. In some cases, the Catholic Church has used some of the proceeds from property sales to pay for settlements with sexual abuse victims.
Crystal Cathedral opened in 1980 and was built by Mr. Schuller on 40 acres in Garden Grove, Calif., at a cost of $18 million. Mr. Schuller was known for his flamboyant purple vestments and upbeat sermons, which drew about 7.5 million American television viewers weekly in the mid-1980s. He stepped down from his position in 2006 and died in 2015.
Christ Cathedral was designed to withstand an 8-magnitude earthquake. There are 135 pews on the main floor and three balconies. The building has a 236-foot steel spire and a 52-bell carillon that were completed in 1990. The renovation required 11 million pieces of scaffolding to be erected.