From Crystal Cathedral to Christ Cathedral: It's a complicated story

In an enlightening piece about how one can transform a glassed-in megachurch into a Catholic worship space, the Los Angeles Times has presented us with an update on the church formerly known as the Crystal Cathedral.

When the original was completed in 1980 at the cost of $18 million, its most singular feature was its 12,000 panes of rectangular glass. It was quite the landmark in Orange County for many years.

However, the congregation inside the famous church went bankrupt in 2010 and was bought by the Catholic Diocese of Orange for $57.5 million in early 2012.  The church’s founder, Robert Schuller, died last year. The article picks up from there:

The Crystal Cathedral was for decades a powerful symbol of a certain kind of church.
The landmark church was built by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, the famed pastor who brought the drive-in church to Orange County during the beginning of the postwar suburban boom and preached an upbeat, modern vision of Christianity.
The Philip Johnson-designed structure made of steel and more than 12,000 panes of glass became world famous and was a forerunner to other so-called mega churches.
But more than a year after Schuller’s death, the Crystal Cathedral is undergoing a major transformation in both design and ownership. The makeover will transform the building into Christ Cathedral as the Catholic Church takes it over. 

After discussing upcoming tours of the place, the article continues:

Estimated costs for the cathedral are about $72 million, according to the Rev. Christopher Smith, rector and episcopal vicar of Christ Cathedral who is leading the design project.
Four years ago, officials launched the For Christ Forever campaign to help raise funds for refurbishing. They collected about $39 million with an additional $21 million expected to come in during the next two to five years, according to Cindy Bobruk, who heads the Orange Catholic Foundation.
She counts 24,000 families among contributors who gave $25 to $20 million, with the latter amount coming from an anonymous, non-Catholic donor. Priests from the diocese with 57 parishes and more than 1.3 million registered Catholics donated an average of $8,000 each, Bobruk said.

The latter paragraph is confusing, to say the least.

Priests alone donated $8,000 each? Priests make very little money and the idea that 57 of them each came up with $8,000 seems a bit far-fetched. Or was each $8K from each church headed by said priest?

Would love to know who that non-Catholic donor was.

Judging from the comments, a lot of folks can’t figure out why it costs $72 million to renovate an existing church. A breakdown of the costs would have muted that criticism, plus an additional note about what a totally new church would have cost. We’re talking $189 million, if you take as an example what the new cathedral for the Los Angeles diocese cost in 2002. Add the $72 million to the $57.5 million purchase price and you still get a discount.

I would liked to have seen an additional note on why the diocese needs a new cathedral. Maybe many people already know that Holy Family Cathedral is too small and that the 40-year-old Orange diocese doubled in size in 13 years. But not everyone does.

And, as tmatt brought up four years ago in a "On Religion" column, changing a Protestant icon into a Catholic worship space is not as simple as it sounds. Tmatt interviewed an architect who understood the complexities. I wish the Times had devoted more than one paragraph to that process.

There are so many questions . How was the bell tower retrofitted? Will there be a baptistry? Will there be a Stations of the Cross walk? And will the outdoorsy feel of the original church together with a central Catholic altar underneath a 21st-century baldachin look like a permanent outdoor papal Mass site?

I found some of my answers and more details on the cathedral's fundraising web site.

What the Times had was Refurbishing Lite. It wasn't bad but it wasn't enough. Readers are more intelligent than many journalists think they are and a few small fixes and a bit more intellectual heft could have given this piece a lot more weight.

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