There’s a serious underground movement afoot in the Diocese. Fortunately, “underground” refers to Christ Cathedral’s undercroft, which, like the entire building, has been going through a major renovation.
When the new Christ Cathedral is dedicated on July 17, the undercroft might appear to play second fiddle to the worship level. However, it will serve the Diocese in a variety of important ways.
For one thing, the revamped undercroft will break with tradition (they typically have high-vaulted ceilings and are used as crypts and for storage space) by featuring lower ceilings. “It used to have 17-foot-high ceilings, but they’ll be lower to be more functional,” says Tony Jennison, the Orange Catholic Foundation’s vice president of Philanthropy and a member of the Diocese’s Cathedral Construction Advisory Committee. “The new space will accommodate air conditioning and heating equipment.”
A more comfortable environment will be essential, since the undercroft’s 44,000 square feet (which matches that of the worship level) will provide space for:
- Vesting area for priests
- Sacristy, to store Christ Cathedral’s holy vessels (Bishop Kevin Vann will have his own sacristy)
- Two sets of restrooms
- Choir rehearsal space
- Two elevators, one for the choir
- Music library and audio-visual room
- Brides’ room, with an adjoining room for families
- Two blower rooms for the rebuilt Diocese’s Hazel Wright Organ
- Additional space for meetings and conferences
The current phase of the Cathedral’s overall work, which thus far has required 300,000 man hours, is 90 percent complete, says Jennison. It is slated to be finished by the end of March.
“We are on schedule and within budget,” says Richard Heim, division president and CEO of Clark Construction’s Western Region, who has worked on this project in a volunteer capacity. “So far, we’ve eliminated the [circular] Pilgrim Stairway and upgraded the existing stairways; relocated the HVAC equipment to inside the cathedral; reworked the layout to avoid the removal of existing columns and bridging beams; and redefined the finishes outside of specific rooms.”
However, “Before any of that work began, we had to cut a huge opening in one side of the undercroft,” says Joe Novoa, director of the Diocese’s Construction Management Services. “But first we had to dig down to that lower level and build a ramp. This allowed us to bring in the A/C and fire pump equipment, along with all the construction material and other equipment, before any of the actual work started. This alone took 10 months.”
The next phase of undercroft work, following the dedication, will accommodate a new St. Callistus Chapel, which will seat 150 to 200 people; small devotional areas, each with its own statue, flowers, candles and kneelers; a mausoleum area with cremation niches; and bishops’ crypts.
Thus far, the Diocese has raised $127 million as part of the Orange Catholic Foundation’s For Christ Forever campaign. Some $52 million of that has gone toward the cathedral project, with the rest used to support the renovation of six other campus buildings, Catholic education, a priest retirement endowment, Diocesan ministries, individual parishes for their own projects, and the creation of a shrine honoring Our Lady of La Vang.
“It’s important to note that more than 26,000 families contributed to the For Christ Forever campaign,” Jennison says. “We really appreciate their generosity.”
He adds that another $2.1 million will be required to complete this cathedral renovation phase to remain free of any construction debt, assuming the donors fulfill their pledges. The Diocese and Orange Catholic Foundation have been grateful for what’s been raised thus far. All parishioners, clergy and staff look forward to the completion of this important work.
“Although I have been in construction for over 45 years and built many iconic projects,” says Heim, “it has been a true honor to oversee this one.”