California’s New Cathedrals


California is special. The weather is close to perfect, the waves are made for surfing, the coast at Big Sur rivals the Amalfi Drive, and there is the persistent myth that everyone is Hollywood-handsome, slim, and sexy. It is also a fact, however, that this home of the sybaritic lifestyle rests on two major geological fault lines atop the earthquake-prone Pacific Rim. The natives don’t talk about it much, but in moments of candor they’ll admit that they’re in denial and that the “Big One” is inevitable.

So it had to be risky for two California dioceses to build large new cathedrals in the past decade. Both Los Angeles and Oakland felt they had to do something about their old cathedrals, which had been damaged by earthquakes and were in need of costly repairs. They might have chosen simply to designate other churches in their area as cathedrals. Instead, both decided to start afresh near where their old cathedrals stood. God willing and engineers providing, they hoped to create churches that would survive all future quakes. They hoped Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles and Christ the Light in Oakland, like the great cathedrals of Europe, would endure for hundreds of years.

From the beginning, there was noisy but not unexpected opposition to the new projects: the age of big cathedrals is over, one heard; they are far too expensive; the money would be better spent on new schools, on the poor, and on affordable housing for the immigrants who have flooded the...

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About the Author

The Reverend Willard F. Jabusch is chaplain emeritus of the University of Chicago.