Sold: Catholic diocese buys Crystal Cathedral for $57.5 million

Sold: Catholic diocese buys Crystal Cathedral for $57.5 million November 18, 2011

The bidding war is over, and the Diocese of Orange will soon have a new cathedral in one of the most famous worship spaces in America.


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.”

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57 responses to “Sold: Catholic diocese buys Crystal Cathedral for $57.5 million”

  1. Seems to me that the Book of Job has the answer here:
    “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
    or should that biblical verse now be reversed ?
    “The Lord taketh away — and the Lord giveth — Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

  2. What were they thinking; horrible idea. This is one more sterile big box to house Jesus, hardly a decent place for the Real Presence.

  3. They probably would build anything you wanted them to build, if you gave them the money for it. But, as has been explained on this blog, what they are thinking is that the price is too good to pass up, that they wouldn’t be able to build anything near as good with the same amount of money.

  4. I’ll take St. Peter’s or Chartres or Siena any day…but honestly, I think the Crystal Cathedral is kind of amazing.

    They do need to lose the organ as the focal point though.

  5. I wonder what the baby who was born in a manger would do with 57 million dollars. Who knows? Feed the hungry, perhaps? Clothe the naked?

  6. Look, I hate this building as much as anyone, but isn’t that line of argument a little played-out by now?

  7. I with Romulus on this one. The “money could have been given to the poor” line can be said about anything except, I guess, money given to the poor. It doesn’t move this discussion.

  8. Well Ok Henry, if you put Jesus in the catagory of “bargin hunting”, sort of fits in with our moral relativistic culture.

    That place is an eye soar, from top to bottom. Now if they are going to replace all of that glass with STAINED GLASS, towing over Orange County CA, that’s a different story. So, I guess I will give them the benefit of the doubt that they will at least attempt to make it into something that resembles Catholicism.

  9. And, odds are they would have spent this much, and probably more, to build a new cathedral; the massive LAX terminal now in use right down the road in Los Angeles cost close to 200 million a decade ago.

    Dcn. G.

  10. And if you look at the Diocese of Orange, you will see that they do feed the poor, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, and instruct the ignorant. The Cathedral will be for the Glory of God.

  11. You know — maybe it is because I have traveled so much and we are a universal church (at least that is what the Greek word “katolicos” really means) — that I’m not all that upset at the architectural oddity of it all. Sure, European Gothic is deeply entrenched in our corporate psyche but an architectural style is not doctrinal and “clear glass” versus “stained glass” is not a case of “heresy” versus “dogma.”

    My perspective is very simple: If the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange want to buy this facility and make it into their new cathedral, that’s their choice. And, yes, I’d love to be “on-ceremony” there once just to see how the Living Presence of the Risen Lord would be celebrated in that setting by way of a Roman Catholic Mass.

  12. Well Henry let’s start with the fact that it should look and be that “counter cultural witness” not like the glitzy OC South Coast. I can’t wait to see where they put the stations of the cross.

    I can already predict the outcry when/if a crucificx goes up in the heart of posh OC, visible from the Santa Ana Freeway.

    I guess the one good thing with that much glass, it won’t be very easy to hide Jesus in some back room.

    Nothing about that place is uplifting to God.

  13. Let me get this straight… I see on this thread, the ‘lefties’ saying yea .. it’s a good deal.. saves gobs of money…the ‘righties’ don’t like the building’s looks and . who cares how much we save..
    Why the reversal .. lefties say yea to cathedrals and righties say boo to money saving..
    no wonder we have a national crisis about … ‘no cuts’ and ‘no taxes’.. ‘the other guys stink.’.

  14. Frisco there’s nothing political, left, or right, about this. They may as well have bought the grocey store down the street. I get that that buying this was cheaper than building, but again, it relegates the home of Christ to Filene’s bargin basement. God is Beauty, this is anything but.

  15. Klaire, I coudn’t agree with you more…….
    Just like the Catholic Church is made up of all different kinds of people,(good thing they’re all not like me…)with all different opinions(again); all different likes and dislikes in art and architecture, so too this monstrosity appeals to some and may help them worship more fervently and strengthen their relationship with Our Lord.

  16. To mix postings from the Bench – few could preach like the Rev Schuller ( this is not to say I agreed with him or his content all the time – I am talking the art of engaging an audience and preaching) My mentor in college was a missionary in India for over 20 years and when he came back to the states in the late 1970’s he was amazed at the pure theater of Schuller preaching – his holding the bible in one hand, having a huge american flag being raised up the in front of the glass wall and the choir belting out the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

    When in SoCal I always wanted to tour the place and never have done so. Shuller got his start holding revival services in drive in movie theaters and he always wanted his services to be outdoors-like with Gods sky be the walls of his church.

    I do hope it works out for the people of the diocese- and now I will have no excuse not to visit when in So Cal.

    ( for my more traditionalist friends- when the Diocese of Orange holds a traditional Latin mass in the new Cathedral- out which panes of glass will the priest look out when he faces away from the congregation?)

  17. One amazing thing about this was the money for the Cathedral was being donated by people in one of the wealthier parts of Orange County and they wanted to build a new Cathedral in that area. The priests of the diocese went to the Bishop and respectfully said it needed to be in a poorer area near public transportation so those without cars could come. The people in wealthy areas could afford to drive to the other location. The best thing about this is all the meeting spaces and other areas are already in place. With some rennovation in the sanctuary it will be a beautiful worship space with the space to host large functions and celebrations for the Diocese. It was a good move from a stewardship standpoint of doing the most good without wasting the money donated by the people of God in the Diocese.

  18. Interesting factoid:

    The cathedral contains four bronze statues of celebrated preachers from the 20th century: Billy Graham, Robert Schuller, Norman Vincent Peale…and Fulton Sheen.

    So it already has one saint on board! 😀

    The Crystal Cathedral website notes:

    The pulpit of our ministry has been graced by such historical preachers as Billy Graham. Also, Bishop Fulton Sheen of the Roman Catholic church for several Sundays. In the process we became a positive witness to the Roman Catholic Church, which at its best is still the mother church of Christianity. Norman Vincent Peale, the greatest positive thinking preacher from a mainline denomination in history preached here often. Corrie ten Boom—do you remember her? This was the church that gave her the platform to millions. Henry Nouwen, also a Roman Catholic, and a renowned theologian preached from this pulpit.

    Dcn. G.

  19. He will not be facing “away from the congregation”, because the congregation isn’t the reference point. Rather, he and the congregation will be facing the same direction, together.

  20. When Jesus was having his feet anointed with oil, it was Judas who complained that the money could have been spent on the poor. We have great buildings for the glorification of the Lord. Great art has been commissioned and is with us still today. The money for this purpose would have been specifically raised to have a new cathedral for the diocese. One must remember that a great building like this will draw many people to it who will hear the word of the Lord and donate to the causes of the poor and those in need. There are certainty programs run by the diocese that do take care of those in need.

  21. I’ll just disregard this coming Sunday’s Gospel

    Which you’ll hear in some sort of building, which cost money to build, one assumes.

    Deacon Moore, why is assisting the poor a priority for Christians? Is it because we’re a poverty-eradication project? Is our call to make this world pleasant and prosperous?

    If you’ll allow me to advocate for the poor for a moment, since they spend most of their lives in degrading, inhuman conditions, is there any reason they should be denied a place of their own that’s beautiful and edifying, something beyond the barely utilitarian, where their spirits can soar? It seems to me the poor, far more than the rich, need and deserve a great cathedral in which they can participate in liturgies of staggering majesty.

  22. Manny.. wrongo… Cathedrals are now 100s of millions apiece. 49ers Football cathedral will cost over 1 billion in Santa Clara. Ca.

  23. The Baltimore Basilica was renovated for 34 million dollars, so the cost for the cathedral is probably not out of line. Stained glass was replaced with clear glass when the Baltimore Basilica was restored, as that was what was original to the building. From the pictures, the cathedral is not what I would choose for a church/cathedral, but I suppose it is acceptable. I tend to like something more of stone or brick either of gothic, roman, or modern style. I would wonder about maintenance and heating/cooling but hopefully that has been all checked out.

  24. Rev. Deacon, I have traveled much, in Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America, but I am a North American, from the US, and this is dissappointing no matter from which “angle” you look at it. This “cathedral” is not designed for Catholic Mass or Divine Liturgy: take your pick. It’s not simply that it isn’t Gothic or Baroque – it isn’t designed to celebrate the mysteries of our redemption: yes, ancient Christians (my primary study in Patristics) often had to worship in inconvenient places, but this was rather out of necessity.

    Katholikos, if you want to follow your Greek spelling to its logical conclusion, has more than just the meaning your comment implies: it also means “whole, complete”; this cathedral is lacking any reference point to the 2,000 years of the Catholic architectural tradition, East or West. That’s very problematic.

  25. “So it already has one saint on board! ”

    I agree that Billy Graham has done wonderful work in spreading the Gospel, but I think this is a bit premature.

  26. Laikos
    “This “cathedral” is not designed for Catholic Mass or Divine Liturgy: take your pick. It’s not simply that it isn’t Gothic or Baroque – it isn’t designed to celebrate the mysteries of our redemption.”

    No argument there at all. But I have to wonder why “being designed” from the beginning to be a site “to celebrate the mysteries of our redemption” is even important. Adding a side-chapel for the Eucharist is not an architecturally difficult assignment nor is creating and placing an “Altar of Sacrifice” on that huge platform. I read some folks being concerned about the organ being the backdrop for the center of that stage — but that is also a “non-issue.” A surprising number of already dedicated Roman Catholic Churches have organ pipes in the background behind the altar.

    I agree with Deacon Norb. I cannot wait until the change-over occurs and I can participate in a Mass in that awesome setting!

  27. I can’t help but wonder how many people here would have mocked the Church’s tradition of taking pagan temples and converting them to Christian use. How many of them are in Italy? How many of the same arguments we hear now could have been used then? “This wasn’t designed for use with the mass!” Wow, the Pantheon wasn’t, you are right! And woah, it’s circular! wow!

  28. Has anyone read Judith Dupre’s lovely book “Churches”? The Crystal Cathedral is featured in it, along with such diverse styles as the Sainte Chapelle in Paris and the Shaker Meetinghouse in Sabbathday Lake, Maine. I have given it as a Christmas gift in the past; unfortunately it is now out of print. But it is well worth checking out of the library, or buying used. It gives one an overview of the incredibly varied and beautiful styles of the church buildings in which Christians worship God.

  29. I think that this was a good thing for the diocese. It is not garish. I have not been in it, but it is clearly recognizable from a distance and it is clear that it is a church. In general, I prefer a nice Gothic church, but this is Southern California – that is not our local culture. This does fit in with where we are – none of our Churches in the diocese (aside from the ruins of San Juan Capistrano) was built more than 100 years ago.

    IMO, this is better than gambling on another modern cathedral with all the cost and eventual disappointment – which the diocese had already embarked upon because we have a need. The diocese is without a real cathedral and this works out well for all. In the end, this was a good call by the diocese and Bishop Brown.

  30. Back in June 2004, I had the opportunity to visit Poland and that included the Basilica in Krakow on the grounds of the convent where Sister Faustina Kowalska lived most of her life and started the “Divine Mercy” devotions. Before any of you get all cranked out of shape about what is and is not acceptable cathedral/basilica architecture, you might want to check this one out on the web. Of course, we have to admit that shortly after she died, her writings were actually placed on the “Index of Forbidden Books” but that Pope John Paul II — who had a deep devotion to her and her writings — eventually canonized her as a saint.

    This is only one of many “non-Gothic” architectural wonders among the places of worship in our wider church.

  31. My thoughts exactly, Deacon Frank!
    ….and besides, don’t the poor deserve beautiful places to worship?! For many, they are probably the loveliest places where they will be welcomed and they can call “home”.
    Beauty is transformative.

  32. I like the organ! I want to play it! Can I, can I, can I? What a way to worship God: being able to see all that he has created while worshiping. The problem with the organ is that it is just there! It dwarfs everything in comparison. Now I have been in St. Bernard’s in Akron and their altar is huge. SO I am sure that the church will find a way to put in other worship items to make the organ not so prominent. The organ at st. Bernard’s was in the back. The reverberation was something else: almost 10-second delay. My concern: Will they have people to fill it? They are combining churches here in Ohio.

  33. Wonder what happens if a massive earthquake hits this building. I would assume it is built within code for the area including for earthquakes, but after watching the twin towers in NY come down, it make me wonder. I would hate to be there if one hits to find out.

    On the comment on left and right, there is a difference between many whose concern is to have a church that fits into Catholic teaching and clearly, this one was never intended to ever be used for the Catholic mass. As to funding it, this is not government money being spent, but donations I would assume from mostly Catholics paying for it so it has nothing to do with government spending tax money taken by government force to build a ever larger centralized government. The hypocrisy is on the left who have an issue with private funds being used improperly in their view for the glory and honor of God in a church rather than feed the poor while they have no problem with forced tax money from people being wasted all day long in programs both sides constantly admit are filled with waste and abuse. Remember, it was the Democrats and Obama that in the healthcare debate had no problem with stripping 500 million dollars from medicare easily found in fraud and abuse. Since it was in those obviously present in the program, why didn’t anyone ever demand that someone go to jail for the 500 million dollars being ripped off from the taxpayers.

  34. “To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. ”

    Sound familiar?
    Dcn. Moore, your line has been used before by none less than apostle. But, remember which one. And remember Jesus’ answer.

  35. I am sure that you are right April…they will figure out a way to make the focal point more sacred…
    in any case, I think that you should try it out!

  36. I doubt the organ will go. Its replacement value alone is probably over 6 million.
    A good deal and good use of the Diocese of Orange’s money. Exercising good stewardship. Much more money would have otherwise been spent.

  37. Though neither a Catholic nor a follower of the Hour of Power it seems to me this solution makes great sense to all parties involved, ~$100,000,000 saved by not starting from scratch and a bankruptcy satisfactorily resolved.
    It will be quite an anticipation to see what the Diocese will do to the interior to the honor of Jesus.
    I for one will look forward to visiting the Crystal Cathedral for the first time when this transformation is complete..

  38. Many years ago, before my conversion to the Faith and ever deepening Catholicity, my wife and I attended services here. It is far cry from the “Cathedral” experience of our family, which includes visits, prayer, and Mass in numerous churches in and near Rome. It is, however, a beautiful (albeit modern) structure. I find it fascinating that, in God’s infinite wisdom, it will become a real Cathedral.

    There is much chatter on this blog, but the way I see it, if the Pantheon can be transformed by Holy Mother Church from a temple to all Roman gods into one of the iconic churches of the Eternal City, this is a much smaller step.

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