Christ Cathedral


By Staff     3/14/2016

Just four years after acquiring the world-renowned Crystal Cathedral property, the Diocese of Orange is well on the way to transforming its 34 acres into Christ Cathedral, the spiritual and physical center for Catholics near and far.

Despite some challenges – including the complexity of renovation projects, an accelerated timeline and ambitious fundraising goals – a number of major milestones have been reached.


  • Crystal Cathedral Ministries’ sooner-than-expected decision to relocate to rental property at the former St. Callistus Catholic Church required a rush to prepare facilities onsite at Christ Cathedral in order to accommodate the displaced parishioners, who quickly relocated and formed the foundation of the new Christ Catholic Cathedral Parish. Today Mass is celebrated daily at the renovated Arboretum and more than 10,000 people attend 11 weekend Masses offered in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese. Restoring and modernizing the 1961 structure proved difficult, requiring seismic strengthening and installation of an innovative underground air conditioning system, but it has won numerous architectural awards.
  • The executive and administrative offices and many diocesan ministries moved from the former Marywood High School – the Diocese’s first headquarters – to the newly renovated Pastoral Center on the cathedral campus.
  • Callistus School also moved successfully and on time into its new home next door in the Pastoral Center, becoming Christ Cathedral Academy.
  • Several small chapels have been dedicated and are in daily use, including the Chapel in the Sky on top of the Tower of Hope, the Unity and Reconciliation Chapel in honor of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange in the Cathedral Cultural Center, and a new Oratory in the Pastoral Center.
  • Bishop Kevin Vann selected John A Romeri, former director of liturgical music for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, as the first Christ Cathedral Director of Music Ministries. Dr. Romeri will lead the development of Christ Cathedral Parish’s music program and the liturgical music program that will support major diocesan celebrations.
  • Hundreds of special events have been held on the Christ Cathedral campus.
  • A special tabernacle previously located in a German museum has been purchased for the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. An 18th century painting by a Mexican priest of the original image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was donated by an anonymous benefactor and will hang in the future chapel.
  • The cathedral’s Hazel Wright Organ — one of the most famous musical instruments in the world – which was sorely in need of a thorough rehabilitation, was shipped to its original manufacturer in Padua, Italy for restoration and is about 90 percent complete.
  • Perhaps most notable among the many milestones reached by Christ Cathedral to date is its successful fundraising efforts. Through the For Christ Forever Campaign, Capstone Campaign (“lead gift” campaign), and existing Diocesan resources, more than $73 million in funding is allocated for the renovation of the cathedral sanctuary. The Orange Catholic Foundation is continuing to work toward meeting the Capstone Campaign fundraising goal of $60 million, of which $25 million has been raised. The largest capital gift ever made to the Diocese, a remarkable $20 million, was generously contributed as part of these remarkable efforts by a donor who has chosen to remain private.


“We have done an amazing amount of work in a small amount of time,” said Father Christopher Smith, rector and episcopal vicar of Christ Cathedral.

“This is a cathedral in progress and we want to keep moving forward,” Father Smith added. “It is beautiful, and will only become more breathtaking as our transformation moves steadily forward. The beauty of architecture helps to lift people’s minds and hearts to God, like the beauty of music and painting.”

When the Diocese acquired the property, it estimated that $53 million would be required to renovate a campus that had a great deal of deferred maintenance and to transform the Christ Cathedral into a Catholic worship space. But the cost to fully implement the master plan will exceed that amount and thus will span multiple phases.

The first phase is focused on completing the “worship level” of the cathedral for a target dedication in 2019 and the Diocese is currently looking at project scope refinements to reduce the estimated cost of the project. A more than one-acre expansion of the Cathedral Memorial Gardens cemetery will also be included as part of Phase One. The cost of the cemetery expansion is estimated at $7.5 million and will be funded by future cemetary sales.

“These are among the most remarkable buildings that have ever been built,” displaying the talents of prominent architects Philip Johnson, Richard Neutra and Richard Meier, noted Robert Neal, the former chair of the architectural and renovation committee and the volunteer who guided the renovation of the first four buildings.

Bishop Vann marked the beginning of the first phase of construction with the blessing of workers and a large crane in December 2015. The more than 10,000 panes of reflective glass are being removed, reconditioned and remounted. This is a critical first step prior to construction within the Cathedral’s gleaming reflective skin and will take eight to 10 months to complete.

“This will be a center of gathering for Catholics and a center of gathering for everyone,” said Father Smith. “We have come up with design concepts that will meet that goal of being a center of unity for the diocese.”