Legates help acquire the cathedral and transform it into a Catholic worship space . . .
When Legates in California’s Orange County tell the story of how Dr. Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral became their diocesan cathedral, they use superlatives like “miracle” and “astounding.”
“It’s probably one of the most amazing miracles I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Tim Busch of the Orange County Chapter. Fellow Legate Jim Tecca concurred: “It was one of the most astounding things I’ve ever seen in business.”
The acquisition of the iconic church and its 34-acre complex by the Diocese of Orange started out somewhat inauspiciously as an idea not everyone was ready to embrace.
In fact, when Busch asked, “Why don’t we buy the Crystal Cathedral?” at a meeting of then-Bishop Tod Brown’s executive committee, the bishop and most of those present turned thumbs down.
Bishop Brown in particular was concerned that trying to buy the property, which belonged to Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral Ministries and was in bankruptcy proceedings, could touch off a “holy war.”
“He didn’t want any animosity to exist between two Christian churches,” Busch explained.
However, the idea resonated with Monsignor Lawrence Baird, chaplain of Legatus’ Orange County Chapter, who was at the meeting, leading to discussions about why acquiring the Garden Grove property might make sense for the relatively young diocese of 1.2 million Catholics, still without its own cathedral.
Advisers convinced Bishop Brown that buying and adapting the site would be less expensive than building a new cathedral, and Busch began making inquiries behind the scenes. After Crystal Cathedral Ministries announced that a real estate developer wanted to acquire the property, the diocese made its interest in the site public. That was in July 2011, and by the following February, the $57.5 million purchase had been completed.
Several months later, work began on a series of renovations and restorations that culminated in relocating St. Callistus Church to the Arboretum (the first worship building built on the Crystal Cathedral campus), and moving the diocesan offices and St. Callistus School (since renamed Christ Cathedral Academy) to a four-story building on the property.
Now the focus is on transforming the former Protestant mega-church known as the Crystal Cathedral into a Catholic place of worship called Christ Cathedral. The diocese expects to have the church ready as a fully functioning cathedral in 2016.
“We want the interior to reflect classic Catholic worship,” said Bishop Kevin Vann, who had served as Legatus’ Dallas Chapter chaplain prior to being named bishop of Orange last year.
As he walks the campus in the morning or on his lunch break, Bishop Vann said he sees it as a place of worship and also great energy. “There’s a lot of new life. Everybody’s beginning to feel it, too.”
In particular, he said, “the cathedral points to God and draws others to it.” Furthermore, he added, “it makes a statement that Christ is here, the local Church is here and we’re about the business of preaching the Gospel.”
Serving the Church
Throughout the process of acquiring and developing the site, Legatus members have been key players, giving their time and talent, but also their treasure.
Cindy Bobruk, executive director of the Orange Catholic Foundation, said with their contributions Legates have helped move the project forward and also have supported the $100-million For Christ Forever capital campaign, which will fund the cathedral project along with Catholic education, parish support, priest retirement and diocesan ministries.
Rob Neal is a member of Legatus’ Orange Coast Chapter and chairman of the Christ Cathedral architecture and renovation committee. He said it’s not surprising that Legates in the diocese, which is home to four chapters, would have been extensively involved in the project.
“It’s exactly what [Legatus founder] Tom Monaghan sensed would happen — that he would create a corps of faith-filled leaders in the community who would have the leadership skills and the financial substance to be of great assistance to their faith,” he explained.
Neal said Legates’ participation in the project has been such that when he goes to meetings of the Cathedral Guild — a group of leaders who have supported the Christ Cathedral at a certain giving level — “it’s like going to a Legatus meeting.”
Busch, whose law firm represented the diocese in negotiations for the Crystal Cathedral property acquisition, said it is no secret that many Legates are leaders in the Orange diocese.
“Through Legatus and meeting every month, you get to know these people personally,” he said. “You’re in a position where you can call them up and sort of put together a group so it doesn’t seem like you’re the only guy supporting this idea.”
In advancing the plan to buy the Crystal Cathedral property, for example, he was joined by fellow Legates Mike Hagan and Jim Tecca, a retired Wachovia Bank CEO, who is now chairman of the Orange Catholic Foundation board.
Orange County Legates pose at Christ Cathedral
Legates involved in the project, however, know that it took more than their connections and professional expertise to make the acquisition happen. A significant element was the support of Schuller, whom Busch informed of the diocese’s plans as soon as they were made public.
“The very day I sent the letter,” Busch said, “I got a call from Dr. Schuller on voicemail, saying he was extremely interested in the Roman Catholic Church buying the Crystal Cathedral and to please keep him personally informed as to how the conversation was going.”
Meanwhile, several bidders for the property surfaced, including Chapman University. Initially, although Chapman’s bid was lower, it appeared the university was going to get the property because their proposal included a 30-year lease to Crystal Cathedral Ministries for continued use of the cathedral, something the diocese could not offer.
During the bankruptcy hearing the judge learned that Chapman’s bid was not going to fully pay creditors, so the university increased its bid and sent the offer back to the Crystal Cathedral Ministries board for reconsideration. Thanks to Schuller and his wife Arvella, the board’s vote favored the diocese’s now-lower bid.
In November 2011, the court approved the board’s decision after hours of testimony due to the judge’s disbelief that a debtor would accept a lower bid even though the creditors were paid in full under either bid.
“It was Divine Providence all along,” Busch said.
Another challenging aspect of the sale, he added, was learning after approval by the bankruptcy court that the diocese still needed permission from the Vatican because the purchase exceeded $10 million.
Over Thanksgiving weekend in 2011, Busch called American Church officials in Rome to garner support for the acquisition. “I started calling everybody we knew because we had to have this done and we knew it could take months.” Again, he said, “an amazing miracle happened.”
The diocese received a letter the Monday after Thanksgiving saying the question had been reviewed and the purchase would be approved.
Although the Crystal Cathedral Ministries property was an incredible real estate value for the diocese because of the worth of land and buildings (one estimate put it at $500 million), Neal, a developer and managing partner of Hager Pacific Properties, said buying it was more than a matter of economic calculus.
“This is a remarkable property that is literally unique,” he said. “I would challenge anyone to find another property in the world where you have the handwork of three of the greatest American architects located within 100 feet of each other. It’s located on a very large parcel of land in the geographic heart of one of the most densely populated areas in the world. It’s just unbelievable.”
JUDY ROBERTS is Legatus magazine’s staff writer.