What pulled Christianity out of the Dark Ages so many centuries ago? It was St. Benedict’s simple rule for the monastic life, “prayer and work,” known in Latin as ora et labora. Christ Cathedral and its sprawling 34 acres does not manifest its beauty and serenity by itself. A small number of joyful, dedicated workers devote themselves to its upkeep. In doing so, they embody that Benedictine motto from so long ago, “prayer and work.”
Day porters, events crew, facilities maintenance and grounds upkeep are just some of the unsung areas of responsibilities. The work often goes unnoticed, but without such labor, the gem that is the Christ Cathedral would be without its pristine shine.
Genaro Estrada is one such individual on the campus, part of the small group of five events staff recognized by their trademark blue shirts. Genaro has dedicated himself to the Orange diocese for 37 years, from its early years under Bishop Johnson at Marywood to its current leadership guided by Bishop Vann.
“Genaro is one of the nicest people you will ever meet,” events manager Hector Pantoja said. “Every time he sees that someone needs help, he is ready to assist. Every time I give him something to do he always says, ‘Gracias a Dios que hay trabajo,’ or, ‘Thank God there is work’.”
From servicing the bishop’s residence to distributing the Orange County Catholic around campus and transporting tables and chairs, Genaro and his colleagues dutifully and cheerfully bring a sense of comfort and personality to the campus.
“These men have dedicated their entire adult lives to making sure that every meeting is set up correctly, and that every event has what it needs,” Pantoja said. “They all are very unique at their work and complement each other very well.”
Martha Avalos has been a day porter on campus for more than six years. Along with a small contingent of co-workers, Martha’s areas of responsibilities range from Christ Cathedral Academy’s lunchroom to the windows of the Arboretum and the cathedral itself. For large-scale events, the day porters work behind the scenes, ensuring a wedding reception or diocesan luncheon flows smoothly.
“Our daily goal is to make sure the surrounding environment is a welcoming place to pray, congregate and work,” Facilities Manager Violeta G. Ochoa said. The campus workers quietly encourage the prayerful atmosphere by their own respectful behavior and attitude. “I love my job,” Martha said, who considers it a privilege to work on such sacred ground. What may be seen as polite behavior elsewhere becomes an occasion for conversion.
After all, there is another Person constantly present on the grounds, the Eucharistic Lord. Martha, for instance, frequently visits the Blessed Sacrament chapel before the start of her shift. Joe Nguyen, 73, goes to the oratory on break. “He often sings to the Holy Spirit while he is working,” Pantoja said.
Facilities maintenance and ensuring consistent functionality of the large campus falls largely on the shoulders of two reliable workers, Kris Silver and Armando Duran. Along with the events staff and day porters, these dedicated individuals are often the first human impression visitors receive on first arrival at Christ Cathedral. They are frequently approached and asked any number of questions, such as directions to a building, Mass times, and questions about the history of Christ Cathedral. The warm and friendly reception reflects the spirit of not only the campus, but Catholicism’s talent for hospitality.
By feeling welcomed, the visitors, vendors, and other guests respond positively by the friendly attitude of the facilities and events employees. “We hope that people enjoy their visit to our property,” Ochoa said. “We often see people sitting, laughing and praying which gives us the motivation to continue doing what we love, serving others.”
Serving others reflects the motto of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, who urged those pursuing his path of spirituality to become “men and women for others.” Such a teaching is embodied in those whose vocation is to service the other. Without any fanfare, these few but beloved workers quietly transform Christ Cathedral into a symbol of hope for humanity and a reflection of the ageless Church teaching for merging prayer and work.
That men and women are made in the image and likeness of God raises the value and dignity of both work and worker. “It must be said over and over again that work is for man, not man for work,” Pope St. John Paul II proclaimed. “The worker is always more important than profits and machines.”
For Hector Pantoja, the experience of supervising the wise and veteran events staff has impacted his own worldview. “Gaining their friendship has been a big blessing in my life as they truly care about me and everyone else around them,” he said.