Posted by: L. E. Barnes | November 18, 2011

From Crystal Cathedral to Catholic Cathedral

Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral will soon be changing hands. According to the LA Times, the Catholic Diocese of Orange has won a bid to purchase the famous California church:

In the end, 2,000 years of tradition carried the day.

An Orange County bankruptcy judge ruled Thursday that the Crystal Cathedral, a monument to modernism in faith and architecture, will be sold for $57.5 million to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, which plans to consecrate it as a Catholic cathedral.

The ruling was a blow to Chapman University, which had fought bitterly down to the final moments of the bankruptcy case for the right to buy the property as a satellite campus.

It also marked the end of a remarkable chapter in the history of American Christianity, one that was written in glass and steel by the Crystal Cathedral’s founder and guiding light, the Rev. Robert H. Schuller.

In a day filled with drama and deep emotion, Chapman had pressed its case with a newly escalated bid of $59 million, only to complain that it had been blindsided by the Crystal Cathedral board, which came down firmly on the side of the Catholic Church.

In the end, Schuller himself gave his blessing to what once would have seemed unthinkable: the conversion of his sleekly modern masterpiece in Garden Grove, a place where fresh breezes blow through open walls and church services feature talk-show-style interviews, into a Catholic cathedral redolent of incense and ancient ritual.

In a letter to the court, the 85-year-old minister said he could not abide the thought that Chapman might someday use the cathedral for nonreligious purposes. Catholic leaders assured him, he said, that they would “take on your calling of proclaiming Christ’s message to humanity” and “care for this campus like the treasure it is.”

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Kwan issued his ruling shortly after 7 p.m. to the tears of members of the cathedral’s congregation, who had sat through the long day in court.

“I only have one word to say and that’s ‘devastated,’ ” said the Rev. James Richards, who has volunteered at the Crystal Cathedral for 10 years. He said congregants want to continue to worship in their church.

Congregant Bob Canfield said he felt “thrown under the bus.”

Under terms of the bid, the diocese will let the church lease back core buildings for three years, but then it has to find a new home. One possibility is St. Callistus Catholic Church nearby. Chapman had been willing to let the church stay on most of the property for as many as 20 years.

Bishop Tod D. Brown, who has been campaigning for years to build a cathedral, said he was moved, “painfully so,” by testimony from congregants.

“I’m kind of drained,” he said. “This is a bittersweet experience. I say this because I have the deepest respect for the Crystal Cathedral ministry.”

Brown also said, without elaborating, that the inside of the cathedral will be renovated to accommodate Catholic worship.

On the one hand, I’m glad to hear that the Catholic diocese is getting this splendid building to celebrate the Mass and other sacraments. (And now it will be a true cathedral!) Yet on the other hand, I’m sorry that Schuller’s ministry dug itself into such a deep pit of debt and has had to resort to this drastic — and doubtless humiliating — measure.



  1. Thanks for sharing this. I feel the same way you do.

    • Hopefully, God will bring good out of this for all involved.

  2. At Bible study yesterday morning, a lady told me this deal went through. Her son lives in that California diocese and the first time she visited him, he knew so little about Catholic churches that he took her there for mass! They ended up finding a Spanish liturgy nearby instead! Wealthy diocese, she said, from what she could tell. But I’ll always remember how the church building was ridiculed in a Simpsons episode. If you don’t know, I can’t tell you!

    • I haven’t seen that Simpsons episode. When did that one air?

      So that fellow thought the Crystal Cathedral was Catholic and took his mother there for mass? I bet they were surprised when they got there and saw what kind of service it really was! LOL!

  3. In years to come this may be seen as a watershed event in the Church’s history.

    • Or at least it might for that diocese. As I said, I pray that both the diocese and Schuller’s congregation somehow end up benefiting from this, though it’s certainly not an ideal scenario for obtaining a new Catholic cathedral.

  4. I would love to go to Mass there someday.

    • Yes, maybe I should make a ‘pilgrimage’ out there someday!

  5. I agree with Christian. It will prove to be a watershed event. What pleases me is that Schuller had great respect for the Catholic Church and for Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. Do you supposed the good bishop had anything to do with this? Some day he will be made a saint on the liturgical calendar.

    I’d love to visit the cathedral once it’s been made ready for Mass.

    • Do you know whether Robert Schuller and Fulton Sheen ever met? Perhaps this in fact had something to do with this.

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