A Look Back

Originally developed under the guidance of pioneering evangelist Reverend Robert H. Schuller for his Garden Grove Community Church congregation, the campus was home to one of the first megachurches, the Crystal Cathedral. Schuller’s televised “Hour of Power” shows from inside the Arboretum and Crystal Cathedral, his ministries, and his insistence on using top architects and designers such as Richard Neutra, Philip Johnson, Richard Meier, and Gin D. Wong, created the basis for an international Christian center, which continues today.

In 2012, with the blessing and support of Schuller, the 34-acre campus and its buildings were sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. The Cathedral itself is believed to be the first Protestant Church to be converted to a Catholic place of worship. The campus has now become the new spiritual center of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, the Christ Cathedral Campus.


“This is the place where we carry out the mission of Christ, not as individuals, not as individual parishes, but always as a communion of faith whose unity is signified in the gathering of the Bishop and the people.”

Very Reverend Christopher Smith
Rector Emeritus, Christ Cathedral
Arboretum and Tower of Hope, circa 1970.

A look back

Protestant mega-church leader Robert Schuller began preaching while perched on top of the snack bar at the Orange Drive-In Theater in 1955. As his drive-in congregation thrived, he built the 1,400-seat Garden Grove Community Church nearby, with a sound system that still allowed him to address people seated outside in their cars. In 1975, the congregation outgrew Rev. Schuller’s first church building, now known as the Arboretum, largely due to the worldwide reach of his “Hour of Power” television show.

Dr. Schuller wanted his larger, permanent church edifice to uplift the human spirit. “When you’ve worshipped in a drive-in as long as I have,” he said, “you’ll come to the conclusion that a roof that comes between your eyeballs and the infinity of space limits your capacity for creative imagination.”

He searched for well-known architects and chose legendary American architect Philip Johnson and his partner John Burgee. Johnson and Burgee, in the late 1970s, presented their design for an “all-glass church” to Schuller. Upon seeing the first model, Schuller is said to have responded, “Wow! It looks like a Crystal Cathedral!” And the ‘Crystal Cathedral’ name stuck. According to Scott Johnson, design partner at Johnson Fain, the building incorporated Schuller’s wishes. Johnson stated that Schuller wanted “a building that was both a building and not a building, so that in a sense he could be in an enclosure, but it would be as if he were out of doors, which is where he began his ministry: so this building was an entire shell of glass.”

Thus the Crystal Cathedral became the principle place of worship for Crystal Cathedral Ministries, a congregation of Schuller’s Reformed Church in America. After filing for bankruptcy, the ministry sold the building and adjacent campus to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange for its new cathedral. The building now is being renovated to accommodate the Catholic liturgy. When complete it then will be consecrated and formally renamed Christ Cathedral, the new seat of the Diocese of Orange.

Diocese leaders purchased the former Crystal Cathedral for the same reasons that Rev. Schuller first built it: Having outgrown existing space, the Diocese is overdue for an appropriate cathedral. The property’s central location and the church’s size are ideal, and its cost, even with renovations, is less than half of Phase 1 of the Diocese’s previously planned cathedral
complex in south Santa Ana.

When the Diocese’s bid was accepted, Dr. and Mrs. Schuller urged Orange County Catholics to “steward this campus [to] keep it a light in Orange County that will never go out.” That light continues to shine just as the Schullers desired, as Christ Cathedral undergoes an innovative $29-million transformation, thanks to a dedicated team of architects, landscape architects, builders and staff who respect the famous site’s legacy as a worldwide center of worship.

“With 1.3 million Catholics in Orange County, and 4.3 million Catholics in Los Angeles, we see this campus as a great center for the Church in Southern California and these buildings will contribute to mightily … and not just here, but across the world.”

Very Reverend Christopher Smith
Rector Emeritus, Christ Cathedral