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Judge to rule on competing plans for Crystal Cathedral

A judge is expected to decide this week whether the bankrupt Crystal Cathedral will go to Orange County's Roman Catholic diocese or to Chapman University.

November 13, 2011|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times
  • Father Tuyen Van Nguyen of St. Callistus church in Garden Grove said he would consider it a blessing if his parish moved to the Crystal Cathedral. The Roman Catholic diocese in Orange County has offered to buy the bankrupt cathedral for $55.4 million.
Father Tuyen Van Nguyen of St. Callistus church in Garden Grove said he would… (Robert Gauthier, Los Angeles…)

Like the Crystal Cathedral, St. Callistus Catholic Church in Garden Grove had a modest beginning.

The former first gathered its flock in a drive-in theater; the latter offered Mass at a roller rink.

Now, the Roman Catholic parish, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, has a sprawling home — a campus complete with a school, a chapel and a 1,200-seat church featuring Spanish, English and Vietnamese services.

Its next home could be even more grand: the bankrupt Crystal Cathedral one mile away. On Monday, a judge is expected to choose between Chapman University and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange as the buyer of the 10,000-pane glass church and surrounding buildings.

Under the Catholic diocese's plan, the Crystal Cathedral congregation would move after three years, with the option of relocating to St. Callistus.

"It would be a big change," said Colleen Sterner, who has been attending St. Callistus since 1983. Her children attended school there, and, she says, "It would be an adjustment."

The diocese has been aggressive in attempting to purchase the Crystal Cathedral and has increased its initial $50 million bid to $55.4 million.

At a recent Mass, churchgoers at St. Callistus expressed mixed emotions about the possibility of moving to the larger church down the road.

"We're all praying to the same God," said Ed Cote, who has worshiped at St. Callistus for 25 years. "Under that thought, why couldn't we pray under the Crystal Cathedral; it's iconic."

Cote said he feels the cathedral's grounds are hallowed. "I think it's very important it stay a house of worship," he said.

Brenda Morales, 26, grew up attending St. Callistus but welcomes a move across the 22 Freeway.

"We're familiar with it," she said of the cathedral. "We would have more people to meet, more things to do."

Attorneys for the diocese updated a purchase plan for the cathedral late last week. In addition, Chapman University, which also is interested in the property, filed a statement reiterating its $51.5-million offer. The main difference between the bids involves the future of the Crystal Cathedral ministry and of the church's memorial gardens and cemetery.

Last week, some Crystal Cathedral congregants told a bankruptcy judge that the "Hour of Power," the church's well-known TV program, should continue, but couldn't if the diocese owned the property.

Under the Chapman bid, the school would allow the church the option of leasing and purchasing core buildings back. It would also allow the church to operate the memorial gardens and continue its broadcasts from the facility.

University President James L. Doti said in a letter that Chapman wants the ministry to "take advantage of the repurchase right."

"The Crystal Cathedral is one of the most significant and beloved buildings in the world, and the ministry should have every opportunity to own it once again," he wrote in an Aug. 4 letter.

Some faculty members at Chapman welcome the opportunity for the university, hemmed in by downtown Orange's historic district, to expand.

"We're pretty much maxed out," said Bill Cumiford, a professor of history and 1963 graduate of Chapman. "There's only so much building and expansion we can do."

Cristian Rogers-Rosales, a sophomore, said his grandmother used to attend the Crystal Cathedral and thinks Chapman's dreams for acquiring the campus are "ambitious."

"It's a humbling experience for the Crystal Cathedral," he said. "It gives them a second chance."

Others argue that the diocese would be the one to give the cathedral a second chance.

Father Tuyen Van Nguyen said the church is growing — more than 44,000 people visit St. Callistus per month.

"It will still be for the people," he said.

But Jaime Landeros of Anaheim said he doesn't want to move to the Crystal Cathedral. His two children, ages 6 and 10, are enrolled at the parish school and he likes the tight-knit community.

"The kids know each other," he said. "The parents know each other."

He's afraid that could change.

Michelle Mata, of Garden Grove, agrees. "I love our church," she said. "I feel an attachment to it."

But Mata said if her congregation moves, she will follow.

"I think our faith is deeper than the building," she said.

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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