Great architecture is more than just structure. It creates a physical and emotional experience. Buildings communicate volumes about the people who build and claim them. From Stonehenge to Solomon’s temple and the great cathedrals of Europe, immense worship centers have always had an explicit purpose well beyond their functionality as a gathering place. These structures were deliberately designed to elevate and focus the visitor’s body and soul on the heavens.
In 2011, the Diocese of Orange was blessed with the opportunity to purchase what is now called Christ Cathedral. According to Cathedral Rector and Episcopal vicar Father Christopher Smith, “We hope that everyone who comes to this campus will experience the love of God in their lives, by how they are treated, by what they see and by what they experience.” Even though the renovations are a few years from completion, the mission to serve as a center of Catholic life is already happening. Every weekend, 12 Masses are celebrated in four languages and attended by as many as 12,000 people. The campus ministries are thriving, and growing.
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With all the good energy that the new Cathedral has brought to the Church, buying a building out of bankruptcy poses a unique set of challenges. Long deferred maintenance and the need to be reconfigured to accommodate Catholic worship are top priorities. From the iconic glass windows to the utility system, everything had to be restored and brought up to building codes. To make the building intrinsically “Catholic” involved reorienting the altar for Mass and Communion, creating a Baptistery and Eucharistic chapel. The sacrificial gifts of the faithful given through the For Christ Forever capital campaign and existing resources of the Diocese have contributed to the funding needed to meet the $72 million budget for the renovations and repair of the cathedral sanctuary, enabling the dedication and first Mass to be celebrated in 2019. A “leadership” giving phase of the capital campaign continues to raise the remaining resources needed to fully fund the project. This fiscally responsible renovation budget will ensure this project will not take away from the Diocese’s other important ministries to the poor, to the parishes, catholic education, seniors and many others.
The initial design concept unveiled in the winter of 2015 for the renovated worship level of the cathedral was a reflection of the team’s “wish list” of amenities and finishes, but the wish list was bigger than the budget. Bishop Vann decided that, while the Cathedral was a significant asset for the diocese, its renovation had to stay within the prescribed budget. “To achieve what we need in order to create a center for our faith in Orange County and lift up the people who worship here, cannot come at the expense of our many other equally important ministries.”
With the Bishop’s directive, Richard Heim, president and CEO of the Irvine office of Clark Construction and Special Construction Advisor to the Bishop, worked with the Diocese team last year to modify some of the design and treatments in a way that holds true to the original vision, honors the architectural significance of the building, but is also within budget. “The aim has always been to create a sense of heaven as intended by the glass and earth through the darker tones of the flooring and seating. Our modified design meets that vision in a way that is awe inspiring, respectful of the donors’ intent, but with added value that in no way compromises the aura of the space.”
Currently, the reconditioning of the glass skin of the building is well underway, which needs to be completed before the renovations to the interior begin in 2017. The Cathedral will be complete and dedicated by 2019.
Windows and walls
The iconic glass structure was in need of significant repair and maintenance from simple caulking to complete reglazing or replacement. The original building was not air conditioned, which was often a source of complaint, and the flat glass surfaces contributed to challenging acoustics. The renovations will add a very sophisticated system of quatrefoils of polished steel, which will deflect UV rays and heat from the glass. This system will allow the building to be air conditioned at a reasonable cost and improve acoustics without compromising the beauty and appeal of the glass structure.
Mechanical, electric, plumbing and air conditioning are located in a basement. To free space the initial concept moved all the utilities to a separate area outside the worship center, however, this proved too costly and inefficient so the new state-of-the-art systems will be located in the current basement area.
Under its previous incarnation serving a Protestant congregation, the cathedral did not feature a prominent area for baptisms. That will change. The conceptual design included building a 30-inch pool for baptisms but would require significant structural improvements to support the weight. Consequently the baptistery pool will be just as elegant, but much shallower, negating the need for additional structural support.
Originally, the altar was envisioned to be at the center of the worship area. Again, this was costly in terms of structural changes and reduced seating capacity. Consequently, the altar has moved back with the seating in a radial fan shape, similar to many of the newer parish churches in the Diocese – maximizing seating capacity and sight lines.
The design shared last year contemplated a variety of exquisite finishes in marble, wood and stone, many imported from proprietary quarries around the world. The final design has equally beautiful finishes from sources within the U.S. and other less-costly sources of equal quality.
Hazel wright organ
The beautiful Hazel Wright Pipe Organ, the fifth largest in the world, is fully restored. The magnificent instrument is resting in a protected warehouse until the interior is sufficiently complete to allow her to be re-installed.
The 34-acre Christ Cathedral campus is already proving to be a launching ground for many new and existing ministries. The site is abuzz with all kinds of new initiatives from outreach to the poor to faith-inspiring theater. “There is now room to bring people together as never before and then send them out faith-filled and energized,” said Bishop Vann. “St. Callistus Parish, which moved to the campus after its acquisition by the diocese, is now called Christ Cathedral Parish. The former St. Callistus School also moved to the campus and is now called Christ Cathedral Academy. Both are thriving on campus. We have the new Immaculate Heart Radio ministry; a state-of-the-art EWTN broadcast facility, the New Hope Crisis Counseling Ministries, and a location to host a variety of outreach programs. Our faith is not something to be kept to ourselves. This entire campus allows us to expand the outreach to the needy, the homeless, those who are sick and those who are imprisoned, so that we can do an even better job of living the Beatitudes in our church.”