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Editor’s Notebook

Jerry Sullivan

I’m a Roman Catholic and editor of the Orange County Business Journal—reason enough to forward these thoughts about my faith, the economy and marketing to Bishop Tod Brown of the Diocese of Orange:

Your Grace:

Give up any challenge to Chapman Univer-sity’s bid for the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove.

A bankruptcy court could decide this week whether Chapman University in Orange will get the green light to buy the bankrupt Crystal Cathedral Ministries’ 40-acre campus for $51.5 million.

The court also is expected to consider a challenge to the deal from the Diocese of Orange, which saw an offer of $53.6 million rejected and has come back with $55.4 million.

There are factors beyond price for the court to consider, including various conditions that would allow Crystal Cathedral to continue as a tenant on the campus. Chapman’s offer also holds out the possibility of the ministry having a chance to buy back some of the buildings in the future.

Unusual Case

The case is unusual because Crystal Cathedral Ministries stands to get enough from either bid to pay all of its debts. That opens the door to some discretion, and the court has conditionally decided to give the bankrupt ministry the chance to pick a preferred bidder.

Chapman wants the campus for a health sciences program, with a long-range vision that could include a medical school.

The diocese sees the land and the Crystal Cathedral itself as a site for a much-needed new cathedral of its own.

I respectfully suggest that the plan is one of the most sensible bad ideas I can recall.

It’s sensible in terms of geography and finances.

Garden Grove is situated nicely for a cathedral, which serves as a capital of sorts for a Roman Catholic diocese.

It’s also likely that a deal for the Crystal Cathedral campus would pencil out better than new construction for the diocese, which had set aside a piece of land in Santa Ana for the project before the Garden Grove campus went up for bids.

Good Sense, Bad Idea

There are a couple of reasons I see it as a bad idea despite all that good sense.

The Crystal Cathedral simply does not have a Catholic look or feel. It’s iconic in its own right, and certainly has proved itself to be functional as a place of worship.

Yet it looks as though it would make a wonderful site for the administrative offices of a Catholic diocese—and perhaps that’s the problem.

Better, I think, for the diocese to spend more and build a cathedral that blends fresh aspects of local conditions with the traditions of the church. Better still if the design of a new cathedral incorporates elements that appeal to the Mexican, Vietnamese and other communities of immigrants and children of immigrants that make up much of the diocese today and will likely account for a bigger share in the future.

That might mean courtyards of a certain style, or a roofline that recalls another part of the world, or gardens planted with fruit trees and flowers from hither and yon.

Go visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. Take in the many chapels that honor various incarnations of the Virgin Mary, each with some distinct ethnic or national characteristic.

Think about ways to do the same with the design of a new cathedral. That might saddle your architect with a rather eclectic brief, but there are ways to do that well. Check out some examples of architecture from Carthaginian antiquity. You’ll find influences from the Mediterranean world blended together to wonderful effect.

Don’t do all of that research and spend all that money just for aesthetics, though.

Make the new cathedral a stimulus program. Keep in mind that you can get real bargains on the price of building materials right now.

The diocese, meanwhile, is filled with workers who struggle to make ends meet for their families. Many are skilled at valuable trades. Some are artisans; others are flat-out artists.

Steer work to members of your flock as much as possible and without apology. The church is finally beginning to get beyond its recent scandals of abuse against children. Many of us have stuck by, believing that the institution, on balance, is far better than its worst failings.

Give back by putting those in need to work.

This is a chance to engage two or three generations of Catholics in a unique way. It’s a way to let them know that their faith, while concerned with matters beyond everyday life, also makes them part of a community here on earth.

Tangible Ties

Now is the time to give as many Catholics possible a tangible tie to what should be the most prominent physical feature of the diocese.

You won’t get a better chance any time soon to make a cathedral a true center of the community.

Stand down in Garden Grove, start asking for donations—and get some shovels in the ground in Santa Ana.

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