At 55 years old and counting, the Garden Grove parish formerly known as St. Callistus is experiencing a rebirth.
The parish, founded in 1961 with its first Mass celebrated in a roller rink, has been transformed into Christ Cathedral Parish.
As the Mother Church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange — the bishop’s Church — Christ Cathedral Parish is host to major diocesan and Church gatherings, and will be where ordinations to the priesthood and diaconate are celebrated.
The Rite of Election for all those in the diocese preparing for initiation into the Church also will be held at Christ Cathedral Parish, as well as special Masses such as the Chrism Mass and the Red Mass, the annual Mass for Catholic judges, attorneys, law school professors, students, and government officials.
That’s quite a change for longtime St. Callistus parishioners.
But most view the transformation as an opportunity to further strengthen one of Orange County’s most diverse parishes, which offers 12 weekend Masses in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, with an average attendance of 10,000 across all services. In addition, the Chinese Catholic Association rents space to hold a Mass in Chinese.
“The transformation of St. Callistus to Christ Cathedral Parish has been exciting, renewing and challenging — like a new beginning,” says Mary Lynn Vargas, co-chair of the Christ Cathedral Community Outreach Ministry and a parishioner of St. Callistus/Christ Cathedral Parish for 37 years.
Such a dramatic change for a parish — whose original members still are called “holy rollers,” a reference to the roller rink — hasn’t been without its challenges, of course. But that’s natural, says Fr. Christopher Smith, rector of the Christ Cathedral.
“This parish not only changed its identity, but literally moved,” Father Christopher says. “And the change is more than geographic. The identity of a cathedral parish is distinct…It takes time for people to not only accept that, but to understand it and take it on.
“I think we’re getting there. Given the magnitude, it has been a relatively smooth transition. Everybody has been just wonderfully cooperative and flexible.”
Over the years, St. Callistus’ complexion has evolved to reflect the cultural diversity of central Orange County, with many native speakers of Vietnamese, Spanish and a large number of Filipinos among its registered households, which now total more than 3,200.
On June 29, 2013, St. Callistus left its home to travel down the street and over the freeway to its new home on the former Crystal Cathedral campus (St. Callistus’ church buildings, ironically, now are being leased to the Crystal Cathedral Ministries).
On Sunday, June 8, 2014, the parish name officially was changed to Christ Cathedral Parish.
Fe Tamparong and her family, of Santa Ana, joined St. Callistus parish in 1971. She says some parishioners have found the transformation to be difficult, but not her.
“Not at all,” says Tamparong, who for the last two years has served as coordinator for the bereavement ministry at Christ Cathedral Parish. “I was excited, because I saw it as an opportunity for us to grow and be different.”
Tamparong says she had gotten comfortable — too comfortable, perhaps — over the years at St. Callistus.
“I kind of took things for granted and did the same old thing,” Tamparong says. “But when [the parish] moved, I felt myself become transformed. I found myself drawn to the environment. I became not just a consumer in church, but a contributor. I felt challenged, and got drawn into different ministries.”
In addition to serving as a ministry coordinator, Tamparong is a docent, lector and Eucharistic minister at Christ Cathedral Parish.
Like Tamparong, Vargas sees the value in giving up comfortable habits when it comes to being a parishioner.
“A new beginning is not always easy,” Vargas says, “but we do it with faith and the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Vargas says the transformation of St. Callistus into Christ Cathedral Parish has created more opportunities for the Christ Cathedral Community Outreach (CCCO) Ministry that began 13 years ago.
“There are so many more opportunities to reach out to the needy, homeless and disenfranchised of this larger community,” Vargas says. “CCCO looks to the future with great enthusiasm for this opportunity to be instruments of the love of our Lord Jesus Christ through our ministry.”
Christ Cathedral Parish celebrates Masses in the 1,300-capacity Arboretum on the campus, and is scheduled to move into the refurbished Christ Cathedral in 2019, Father Smith says. The parish’s parochial vicars are Father Christopher Pham, Father Mario Juarez and Father Quan Tran.
The legacy of St. Callistus will live on in the new cathedral in the form of a chapel in its lower level. St. Callistus Chapel will be part of the second phase of the renovation of the cathedral.
As Father Christopher informed St. Callistus parishioners in educational messages before the parish’s move and name change, “The chapel will honor the legacy of the parish community out of which Christ Cathedral was born.”
And Father Christopher reminded parishioners that the transformation “is at the heart of what we are always called to do as Christians: To be made new!”