Heart of Glass

Heart of Glass

Over the past few months, I’ve been following the story of the sale of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, and the ensuing downfall of Robert Schuller, the pastor who founded the church. The building, designed by Philip Johnson, an architect known for his love of glass construction, is a soaring structure of inordinate proportion, all sharp angles and bright, shiny surfaces. On touring it some years ago, I found it garish and inhospitable.

The church was sold late last year to the Diocese of Orange, for use as a Catholic cathedral. Why, I wonder?

Interior of the Crystal Cathedral in 2005. Photo (c) Wikimedia Commons

On one hand, I applaud the diocese for trying to help a Christian ministry in trouble; the Crystal Cathedral corporation was in bankruptcy for an extraordinarily large sum of money. But what does the Church need with a monstrosity like that in its portfolio? And OK, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and this beholder thinks the place is just plain ugly — and maybe you don’t. Even if you admire the building, however, somehow it just doesn’t cry out, “Come celebrate the Paschal Mystery!” Isn’t that what a Catholic church is supposed to do, invite liturgical worship?

It’s astounding to some degree that the Diocese of Orange has the money to make this purchase — $57.5 million — with other funds needed for refurbishing, I’m sure. Perhaps this in itself is a cause for rejoicing, what with several other U.S. dioceses in bankruptcy proceedings because of lawsuits and other things.

Still, I can think of a lot better uses for the money: if they didn’t need it themselves, send it to some of the dioceses throughout the country where services have been radically cut and ministries eliminated because of a lack of funds. I’m hoping that at least an equal amount of money in Orange is being spent on social services for the needy of the diocese.

All this might just be my own personal outrage that the Church of the great cathedrals throughout the world — Notre Dame, Chartes, even the Cathedral Chapel of St. Vibiana in L.A. — would want to add the Crystal Cathedral to its ranks.

The one good thing in all of this, I suppose, is that at least for the Diocese of Orange, in its home parish, there will soon be greater transparency.

Featured photo (c) Arnold C (Buchanan-Hermit) from Wikimedia Commons.


About the Author

Mary Carol Kendzia is a product development director for Franciscan Media Books. She lives in Rhode Island, where she occasionally dips her toes into the Atlantic and reflects on the mysteries of life, among other things.
  • RB2

    Being from Orange County, CA, I was interested in reading this article. As I have kept up with nearly all that has been written on this topic. I am not too fond of a Protestant praise room being converted to a Catholic Cathedral, but its do-able, and the purchase was made instead of a planned $100million plan to build a cathedral from the ground up. The Crystal Cathedral purchase was done to save money in a cash-strapped economy in difficult times and capitalized on a distressed property in these distressed times. Consequently, already existing Cathedral plans($100+million budget) for property that was already bought has been scrapped, in addition to the architect that was working on that no longer existing plan. It wasnt done to help the Schullers as the article states or alludes! Further, ongoing plans for a Cathedral in this county  and the money involved shouldn’t be sent to other dioceses or to help the poor as the author intimates. This diocese of Orange was split off from the Los Angeles Diocese in the late 70’s(1976) and has never had a purposefully built Cathedral for the diocese but was using a pre-existent Church built in the 20’s formally just a regular parish of the Los Angeles diocese. Some may argue whether this is an appropriate time to be building a Cathedral, it may not be. But Bishop Tod Brown who is 75 this year(retirement age), started planning on the Cathedral some few or more years ago and obviously wants to leave his stamp, his legacy in the way of the dioceses ‘first’ Cathedral . His call, no one elses.

    Basically I just wrote this to state that this is the most empty and void article on the subject that I think exists. I wonder why the author, who has no knowledge or even done adequate or any research,  even bothered except maybe she is being paid by the word for her submissions.

    • Mckendzia

      I appreciate your firsthand clarification of this. Indeed,this was not meant to be a thesis on the transaction, only a reaction to what I have seen and read in the media, both Catholic and otherwise.

    • Anonymous

      Hi, RB2! In Mary Carol’s defense, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to ask questions. Her concerns are valid and she’s entitled to her own opinion regarding the architecture of the building. The possible scenarios she suggested for alternate use of the funds show her concern and care for the poor and other struggling dioceses. That being said, thank you for your enlightening history and background of the project.

  • RB2

     There is nothing firsthand in my reply. Just someone who educates his opinion. Additionally, there is hardly a diocese that has built a church or cathedral with money in hand. These things are all done with bank loans necessitating parishioners or a whole diocese to pay these things off in time. Consequently, the idea, proposed by the author of not building and sending the money elsewhere is akin to the Protestant statement of the Vatican selling all their real estate holdings and church properties and ornate worship art to feed the poor! Please!

  • Wbua

    One guy doesn’t make an audience.Hear is an ideal chance for the Holy Ghost to flutter
    out.If the place packs out,God did like it.Then we have a guide to look around the
    building for aesthetics that are not imaginary.


  • John Bowdle, RScP

    I love Philip Johnson’s architecture. There are so many possibilities to make it a truly warm and Catholic place. Historically cathedral building was for the glory of God, provided jobs for craftsmen. and prestige for the community. I am sure this refurbishing will do the same for Orange County. It can always be argued that the money could be used for something else. I am happy this work of art was saved and will continue to be used for the worshio of God.