GARDEN GROVE, Calif. — Retired schoolteacher Dolores Rommel has followed the Rev. Robert H. Schuller almost her entire adult life: She was baptized in his church as a young woman, sent her children to his Sunday school and laid her husband to rest near the soaring, glass-paned Crystal Cathedral that was to be the televangelist’s ultimate legacy.
But when the Roman Catholic Church bought the famous sanctuary and its cemetery in bankruptcy court last year, Mrs. Rommel began looking for another spiritual home. She has resigned herself to being entombed in a Catholic cemetery so she can be near her husband, but not without plenty of soul-searching.
“I have no choice. I am going to be buried there because that was his choice and we paid a lot for that vault,” said Mrs. Rommel, who bought a two-casket tomb with her husband in 1997. “At the time, who would know that this was going to happen?”
The Crystal Cathedral congregation recently announced that it will vacate its modernist steel-and-glass church by June 2013.
The Diocese of Orange re-baptized the church Christ Cathedral this month and plans to turn the Protestant landmark where the “Hour of Power” TV ministry is based into its spiritual and administrative headquarters. The fast-growing, 1.2 million-person diocese bought the church campus for nearly $58 million last year.
Reaction to the church’s sale was at first bitter: The children of one prominent philanthropist publicly threatened to disinter their father from its cemetery and another congregant sued for $30 billion, saying the transfer to Catholic hands had “permanently desecrated, defamed, polluted and cursed” the church.
The diocese will grant the congregation six months rent-free at a nearby Catholic church. Filming of the “Hour of Power” will continue.
“We could film in a studio,” said John Charles, the new CEO of Crystal Cathedral Ministries. “We’re still going to have the same great preaching, the same great music and pulpit guests. The ministry is not about the building - it’s more about our congregation and who we are.”
The Rev. Christopher Smith, the Catholic episcopal vicar and rector of the newly baptized Christ Cathedral, recalls as a child watching from his grandparents’ backyard as the young, energetic Mr. Schuller preached from the roof of the drive-in theater’s concession stand that stood there.
The diocese hopes to honor Mr. Schuller and the history of his ministry with a museum that begins with the drive-in movie theater and ends with the Catholic acquisition.
“I just hope that we attend well to all the different people who are affected by this and also that this place be seen as a place where everyone is welcome to find hope and consolation and inspiration, whether they’re Catholic or not,” Father Smith said. “That’s the bishop’s desire - that we are a real credible witness to Christ in the world through our work here.”