Visit to Oakland's new Cathedral of Christ the Light by Peter Menkin

The Great Continental Divide in the Western States in America defines water running east or west. Not just a geologic formation in its younger age 100 million years ago, this awesome and continent defining set of snow-capped mountains offers the barrier of imagination through which migrating Americans traveled to come to what are now States like California (38 million residents).   

Like a book of facts, the majestic formations that characterized this area of the world are spiced even by its denizens, its citizens, its friends as a part of the Pacific Rim. In these words, seemingly encyclopedic in their arrangement and tone, turn to the more man made, the humble, the unusual in the Wild West where in a City named Oakland, situated on San Francisco Bay and sharing with its more romantic and celebrated sister San Francisco the recognition that the construction of a modern Roman Catholic Cathedral captures the visual and religious sensibilities of the diverse worshipers of what these residents, mere humans with a lifetime so short, have built to their God with skill and style and up-to-date techniques for its 600 thousand or more Diocesan members use. A holy place, a Benedictine Monk told this writer, a place of worship, and a House of God this Cathedral of Christ the Light as it is called was a work of devotion and love.    

The Cathedral’s altar contains relics, inserted and sealed in the stone. The holy persons represented are Andrew, apostle; Thomas, apostle; Stephen, deacon and first Christian martyr; Sixtus II, pope from 257 to 258 and martyr; Perpetua, a young wife and new mother martyred in North Africa in 203; Cecilia, Roman martyr of the third century; early Christian martyrs Restituta and Speusippus; Francis of Assisi, founder of the Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscans (1181-1226); Colette of Corbie, Poor Clare who established many reformed monasteries (1381-1447); Francis de Sales, bishop and spiritual writer (1567-1622); Junipero Serra, Franciscan President of the California missions (1713-1784); John Vianney, parish priest (1786-1859); Pius X, pope who allowed children to receive Holy Communion (1835-1914). Two additional, unusual contents of the reliquary are soil from Auschwitz, commemorating the victims of the Holocaust (especially Saints Maximillian Kolbe and Teresa Benedicta [Edith] Stein) and a rock from Calvary.    

The firm responsible for the construction and design is Skidmore, Owings & Merrill with lead architect and designer Craig Hartman. Mr. Hartman is currently working on a second Roman Catholic Cathedral in California, and so was not available for interview. Skidmore, Owings and Merrill supplied this writer with an excellent video presentation that introduces the design concepts in a talk by architect Craig Hartman. Note that Mr. Hartman has numerous important prizes for the work he did on the Cathedral.    

In a Press Statement, Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill says:    

Set on a prominent, two-block site overlooking Oakland’s Lake Merritt, the 1350-seat cathedral is the centerpiece of a 224,000-square-foot complex that includes a mausoleum, conference center, administrative offices, bishop’s and clergy residences, bookstore, café, and community-serving ministries. The design gives special consideration to the Cathedral Center’s physical and cultural place within the city of Oakland. A landscaped public plaza, accessible from all directions, firmly links the center with the city’s commercial downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. Within the cathedral, the experience of light and space, rather than traditional iconography, instills a deep sense of sacredness…    


Cathedral of Christ the Light spokesman told us some bare bones facts about this significant and even unusual structure in its graphic conception and unusual look, so attractive and inviting. This is a well thought through construct of new Cathedral, inviting to its parishioners, visitors, and pilgrims. The Cathedral spokesman answered some questions.    

You are one of those I have questions for, including some clarification. For example, the Docent who was very good told us that the previous Bishop worked with the architect on the construction?    

The project began with Bishop John Cummins. He really got the whole process off the ground. Developed the very large committee and lay people. 2003 Bishop Vigneron was involved in 2003, January 1, 2009. He was there for the early period and groundbreaking.    

Is that so, and can you tell me briefly what he did?    

He was the boss. It was his project. The architect was hired by the Diocese, and so was the liturgical designer.    

Who was on the design committee? Was it a large group?    

There were a good handful on the design committee.    

On my visit to the spacious and even majestic Cathedral I stayed for Communion and noticed there is an Altar, of course, but no rail. We took Communion in a round, standing.    

Vatican II papers really opened up that form of receiving the Holy Eucharist. That was a Vatican II set of directives.    

How new is the Cathedral? It seems so almost breathtaking in its spacious interior, and with the huge figure of Christ created with natural light there is a supernatural sense to the interior. I found it so.    

Most recent Cathedral in the world. The Diocese was formed in 1962. It spun off from the San Francisco arch-Diocese. Estimate closer to 700,000 because of the Hispanic population. It’s a real mix of Vietnamese, Hispanic, and Anglo. Mass for Vietnamese every week; two Masses in Spanish, of course English.    

Sometimes various stories evolve around Cathedrals. They can be true or false. For example, there is a rumor that goes around that there is a cat buried in a tomb in the Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco (Grace Cathedral). The Docent who showed my group around Christ the Light Cathedral said that the Finials on top of the building were the unfinished crown of the Christ the Light Cathedral and represent Mary Mother of God. Did I get the name right?    

Finials: It is not a liturgical design to represent a crown; that is not the case.    

Who was the Judge in the competition offered by the Roman Catholic Diocese to find an architect? Was it the San Francisco Chronicle Architectural Critic Alan Tempko?    

Alan Tempko headed up the selection committee, and the world’s architects were invited to compete.    

What of the naming of the Cathedral?    

The naming was one of the high points that came from a collaborative meeting process.  Former pastor of St. Francis de Sales Cathedral, Fr. Don Osuna, recalls inspirations for the name:    

“The name is a departure from the tradition of naming cathedrals after Mary the Mother of God or a patron saint. In dedicating its mother church to Christ the Light the Diocese of Oakland highlights the role that Christ must play in the new millennium.    

“Only Jesus, ‘light from light, true God from true God,’ can guide the Human Family into the uncertain challenges of future centuries. Jesus himself declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.    

“The name ‘Christ the Light’ also resonates with the image of God’s People so impressively described in Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.  Its opening sentence reads, ‘Christ is the light of nations’ [Lumen Gentium].    

“In it the council fathers express their heart-felt desire that by proclaiming the Gospel to every creature the People of God ‘may being to all the light of Christ which shines out visibly from the Church.    

“Light is a universal phenomenon, celebrated by every country and cherished by every culture. The Cathedral will hopefully provide a resting place – like a candelabra – for those who seek a home and for those who may seek a beacon in the night.”    

When taking a Docent tour of Cathedral of Christ the Light ours told us that the large organs, which are lifted up on the walls of the Cathedral were, “…better than Grace Cathedral’s organ.”  In addition to comments, we were served with a look at various works of art in Cathedral of Christ the Light, including the Stations of the Cross, built to the walls so even a child can reach up and touch them. They are lovely, this writer reports, and modern. Sculptor Andre Bonnett was their maker, as well as other works of sculpture in the Cathedral. He worked with liturgical designer and director Brother William Woeger. There is an interview with both these talented and devoted men of faith later in this article.    

Our Docent told us that Mary is the Diocesan Patron Saint, and there is a sculpture of Mary with a bear (representing the State of California, we were told) on the floor of the Sanctuary. We could touch the Mary sculpture, and were told to notice her eyes. The eyes were especially noteworthy and unusual, one could say shaped like a fish—each eye.    

The sculpture of Christ on the Cross, another work of impact, simplicity and displayed in the sanctuary for all to see, was another greeting to the visitor. But above all was the huge Christ created in light on the high wall of the inside of the building. Just huge, and impressive as both image, work, and graphic. For it does appear as a graphic presentation and if memory serves correct was conceived as such.    

The interior in daytime is entirely illumined by natural light. This is a lovely use of light, and light of its own accord plays a role in the ethos of the Cathedral (Cathedral of Christ the Light).    

Three years in construction, the Roman Catholic Diocese staked $190 million in construction costs on the belief that people will come. Average Sunday Mass attendance in 2009 – 1400    

“It bespeaks a kind of missionary confidence,” said BishopVigneron. “With the attractiveness of the message of Christ, we can build up the congregation.” San Francisco Chronicle Religion Writer Matthai Kuruvila San Francisco Chronicle reported those words, Saturday, September 13, 2008 in the Bay Area morning paper.    

Mr. Kunuvila noted in his report this important matter:    

Instead of naming the cathedral after a particular saint, a designation that might seem to favor one ethnic group, the diocese chose the neutral “Christ the Light” – a reference to the first lines of the magna carta of the Second Vatican Council, which ended in 1965 and began the era of modern Catholic multiculturalism. 

During the Docent tour, ours stayed with us the entire time of her walkthrough, answering questions well. I asked her if she had a question for the Architect, and she said Yes. Her name, Esperanza Quenteros. It was during the tour the title for this article appeared to me, for it represented my initial reaction to the new building: Agog in Oakland: Visiting the “New” Catholic Cathedral Christ the Light . We were told there is a new Bishop in Oakland, California USA. A city that is so very diverse it is billed as a metropolis of unusual diversity with its many kinds of ethnic and national citizens. The Cathedral must accommodate them, and unify the Roman Catholic Community. Just for the record, the current Bishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone offers this about himself in his official biography:
On March 23, 2009 Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Cordileone to be Fourth Bishop of Oakland. His Mass of Installation in the Diocese of Oakland was celebrated on May 5, 2009 at the Cathedral of Christ the Light .
Bishop Cordileone presently sits on the Committee for Canonical Affairs and Church Governance and the Ad Hoc Committee for Defense of Marriage of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB.) He also serves on the Religious Liberties Committee of the California Catholic Conference. 
Bishop Cordileone’s avocations include a life-long interest in jazz music. Even during his seminary studies in Rome he played his alto saxophone in a jazz quintet, and continues to follow the music.
What of the Theological purposes of the Cathedral. On its website, the Cathedral says of itself:
 It is the mother church and spiritual home of all the members of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Oakland, which inspires our diverse community across Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The ministries at the Cathedral and its adjacent campus foster unity through worship, teaching and evangelization, and works of service – especially to the poor and those at the margins of society. The Cathedral functions as a “palace of the poor,” serving those in need by appealing to volunteers and donors who support cultural and community projects from a platform that will exist for centuries. Free health and legal clinics give life to this mission.

Bishop Allen Vigneron said: The Cathedral is to be a place for God and his people to meet. This only happens in Christ and thus the Cathedral is an icon of Christ, re-presenting the meaning of Christ. The Bishop continued with other remarks during the conception of the Cathedral and its building: Through the Cathedral, the idiom of our day can give voice to faith that is timeless.     

He described the Cathedral this way, and it is a kind of charge for Architect Craig Hartman, who worked so closely and well with Bishop Vigneron: Abundant with Catholic symbols and metaphors, woven into a context that has universal appeal, achieved through the shape of the Cathedral and the dramatic unfolding from the Story of Creation to Redemption through Christ…     

Asking for the creation of a place of being, a place of space and purpose, Bishop Vigneron added:    

The Cathedral then is our statement about how we, through whom Christ dwells in the world, dwell in Oakland and the East Bay.
A Catholic Catechism declares: …Christians construct buildings for divine worship. These visible churches are not simply gathering places but signify and make visible the Church living in this place, the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united in Christ. There is no mistake on the charge given Architect Craig Hartman, an Episcopalian who worships in an Episcopal Church in San Francisco: In this ‘house of God’ the truth and the harmony of the signs that make it up should allow Christ to be present and active in this place.
No doubt Architect Craig Hartman shared a similar vision as the Bishop, at least when it came to the concept of using light. He’d been working with this concept previous to his being chosen Architect to build the Cathedral of Christ the Light.  
Skidmore, Owens and Merrill wrote this of their SOM architectural partner Craig Hartman:
The Oakland Diocese’s initial project prospectus called for light as the central focus of the design. In response to a question about which lighting principles he would employ on such a project, Hartman quoted architect Louis Kahn’s pronouncement: “We are born of light . . . we only know the world as it is evoked by light.” 
Hartman was invited to participate in the design competition in large part because of his imaginative use of light and reflection in the then-under-construction International Terminal at San Francisco International Airport. In the competition questionnaire, Hartman evoked the airport terminal project both to indicate his own “predisposition towards lightness and luminosity in architecture,” and as an example of “the recent advances in the technology of glass and concepts in structural engineering” that made the terminal a celebrated architectural work. Light, 
Hartman suggested, could indeed be the key “to create a contemporary design that was still evocative of the Church’s two millennium-old traditions.”

    In the SOM report, again Craig Hartman speaks of his work and design of the Oakland, California USA Cathedral:    

The Diocese asked the design team to think about the cathedral in terms of a three-century lifespan: “We felt that the 300-year standard applied not only to the cathedral’s structural integrity,” Hartman recalls, “but equally to the aesthetic that that building should be architecturally worthy of lasting at least until the 24th century.” According to structural engineering partner Bill Baker, it was equally important to use “an ‘of the moment’ approach to design and material because it was the most honest and sensible way to proceed.” This belief in the rightness of contemporary design led the team away from, for example, a neo-gothic tribute and towards a modern design instead.     

The sanctuary design references two interlocking spherical grids in the form of the “Vesica Pisces,” the conjoined circles that represent both an ancient symbol of congregation and the basic symbol of Christianity—the fish. The interlocking grids will support curved glass walls that are ceramically coated to infuse varying degrees of opacity. The results will be a glowing, variegated, indirectly lit interior space, vaulting up 12-stories to a glass oculus roof which is also in the intersecting circle motif.    

The oculus was designed to focus light on the central altar, provide a view of the sky above, and be a component in a unique, passive cooling system.     

Richard Rapaport, who wrote the article for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, put it right when he emphasized the use of structural integrity, and that it be worthy in its architectural sense to last until the 24th Century. Mr. Rapaport quotes Architect Hartman on the matter, and as well emphasizes another significant element in the design and symbolism of the Cathedral. That is the use of the form “Vesica Pisces,” an ancient symbol indicating meeting place for Christians.    

Skidmore, Owingss, and Merrill reports on its website:    

Bishop Vigneron ultimately believes that the SOM design succeeded both “as an expression of a created Cosmos,” and as a design that “meets all of the requirements for sheltering people to pray.” Beyond that, the Bishop sees something “beautifully worked about the way the design uses wood, concrete, and stone. Each of these materials,” he feels, ultimately “makes its own contribution to the display of light in very powerful yet subtle ways.”    

This writer can’t recall if our Docent mentioned any of the specific awards won by Craig Hartman, but his biography offers these paragraphs in summary with emphasis on some:    

Mr. Hartman’s work has been recognized with over 100 awards for design, which, in addition to 8 national AIA Honor Awards, includes two Gold LEED® Certifications and AIA awards for environmental sustainability at Treasure Island and the University of California, Merced. He also received a Federal Design Achievement Award in the 2000 Presidential Design Awards Program.     

In 2001, Hartman became the youngest recipient of the Maybeck Award, an award presented periodically by the California Chapter of the AIA to an individual in recognition of “lifetime achievement in architectural design.” During the dedication ceremony for The Cathedral of Christ the Light in September 2008, the Vatican’s Knighthood for Service to Society (St. Sylvester) was bestowed upon Hartman by Pope Benedictus XVI. He also received an Honorary Doctorate of the Arts from Ball State University during the May 2009 commencement ceremony.     

Minor City with the beautiful new Cathedral, Oakland had as Mayor Jerry Brown, well know three time Presidential aspirant and grass roots candidate who when the grass in the Springtime of his life was green was Governor of California USA. Then that young man, son of a father who was a popular Governor of California…Jerry Brown, the Catholic Seminary attendee, had the label Governor Moonbeam. At 72, this well-known politician again seeks the Governorship after being Mayor of Oakland, California. He was a centerpiece of fame for the minor California City, described in Wikipedia as a City that “…is a major West Coast port, located on San Francisco Bay, about 8 miles (13 km) east of San Francisco. Oakland is a major hub city for the Bay Area subregion collectively called the East Bay, and it is the county seat of Alameda County. Based on United States Census Bureau estimates for 2010, Oakland is the 41st-largest city in the USA with a population of 446,901.” The current Mayor of the City of Oakland is star of a YouTube that presents a montage of the many faceted laboring and sometimes troubled and crime plagued City of work and working class with its fine homes and tony people living in the Hills above the metropolis. With this thumbnail sketch of the lesser known California City with its marvelous new Cathedral, let us turn again to Cathedral of Christ the Light, spiritual home to Roman Catholics in the City’s region.    

Probably the both spare and moving artwork of the Cathedral adds to its beauty in a way of simple and impressive candor about faith and the place of worship and Christ in the Cathedral’s holy expressions of devotion. This writer talked with sculptor Andrew J Bonnette by phone when he was in his studio. We talked by phone more than once. On one call one of his children answered the studio phone and the youngster said his father had gone out. One recognized by this that the studio was probably in close proximity to his home.    

I live in Afton, in a country area. The home is a civil war era stone house built in 1851.    

I am 44. When I was about 15, my father would hire me to do odd jobs in the shop for him. Cast waxes, and make plaster molds and the like. As time went on the projects were  sometimes rather complex. Some of his mentors from the past I began to know quite well, as they often played a role in his work. Around 1986, he began to suffer from some  terminal physical problems. He died 1987. He was very well known all over the United States as an important sculptor of Liturgical and Sacred art, Gerald S Bonnette.    

I went to technical school for the field of hospital central service technician, (CSR). But I never went to art school. I learned the profession of sculpting,  mold making and how to use wax and clay from my father. He left me with a lot of  equipment and tools, and introduced me to oxy-acetylene torch welding. Most of the other skills I have picked up were self-taught, like Tig welding, stick welding, and metal casting, which were things that my father did not do himself.     

My skills with wood were also self-taught, and to this day I do most of the small wood related tasks myself.    

After the death of my father, the orders for the artwork continued to come to me. I expanded my skills as the need to do so evolved. There was never much time when I didn’t have a project to do.  At the Cathedral of Christ the light in Oakland California, all of the sculptures I am responsible for were cast by myself: The Stations of the Cross, the Madonna and Child with the black bear cub, the Tabernacle reliefs and the life-size crucifix are all designs of my creations. Some people have asked me what is the meaning of the bear cub. The bear cub symbolizes a state of strength, and wisdom of the coronation of Mary as the mother of God. That is all; this is my understanding, otherwise Oakland is a place of the black bear. There was also supposed to be a bronze oak tree near the Madonna. This tree was never fully completed in time, the Cathedral ultimately decided not to place the tree in the Cathedral. It remains in my shop, and someday it may be used for another reason.    

Text of email to the Bishop:    


Fr. Minnihan forwarded to me a photo of the corpus you致e created for the sanctuary crucifix for our new Cathedral.  It is very beautiful.     

Thank you,    

Bp. Vigneron    


Do you like the work done on the Cathedral?    

It is fantastic, the most interesting Church and Cathedral I have ever seen or been in. When I visited Oakland, I was able to see how it was built and I love the physical shape of it. From the outside, it is very well illuminated from all directions. You can see the light coming from the inside from all directions. The light shines in from all directions during the day. It is so unique. I have so many good memories of going in there, everywhere you look there is something to see of history, art and the focus of the real light of Christ is everywhere.    

The reason the Cathedral chose me as one of the artists was mostly because of my personal accomplishments, however without the help of a good friend, Brother William Woeger, I do not think I would have been there.    

Do you say the Stations of the Cross?     

Yes, of course. Attending the processions of the Stations is very important thing for myself and my family. We usually attend mass at Saint Rita’s Catholic Church in Cottage Grove, but there are more than a few Catholic churches where I live. Since childhood, Saint Rita’s Church I have thought of as my church.    

My father was one of the main Liturgical Artists at Saint Rita’s, and there are a few pieces of his work there.    

Did you do much Church work before the Cathedral?     

There is a large 3 dimensional of Christ the King in Madison, Wisconsin. It is 7 1/2 feet from head to toe. It is a full size copy of a very important little bronze crucifix of my father’s design. It looks like a gigantic duplicate of the little crucifix. It is in the courtyard of the Archdiocese. I was paid a fair price for the work, however now that it is done, the cost of it is not important; the meaning of the statue is the only important thing.    

Did you work with the Bishop on the crucifix for the Cathedral of Christ the light?     

Yes, I met with Bishop Vigneron more than a few times. Myself, the design consultants and others met to have dinner in his house in Oakland, California. During our conversations, we arrived at the conclusion that Mary be very gentle looking and have a slightly Middle Eastern appearance because this is the region of the world they were from, and have certain features on the facial expressions of the Madonna statue. The final details of Mary’s eyes were my doing. The entire design was changed more than a few times. She is looking very lovingly at Jesus. I didn’t want her to look hard or difficult at all, and to show that Jesus is our gateway to God.    

Bishop Vigneron said, Oakland is populated by many different ethnicities and that relating to the masses and varieties of the ethnic generations is very important. Nobody really knows for sure exactly how Jesus or Mary really looked, and so you have to use some artistic license in deciding this.    

I spoke with the main architect a few times. We exchanged emails and talked about dimensions and where we would place the sculptures. I wanted people to touch the stations, and some people are not very tall, and so the height of where they are is important. We live in a three dimensional world and seeing is not all visual, and so a lot of our comprehension comes from being able to hold onto what is around us with our hands. It was important to me for the statues to be accessible to everyone.    

Text of email to the Bishop:    

Dear Bishop Vigneron    

The photos sent are of the feet on the large crucifix. They were changed because the size and shape of the feet prior were not acceptable. I am moving forward with the casting.     

Merry Christmas and Happy Newyear    

sincerely, Andrew Bonnette    



Dear Andrew:    

I’m sorry it has taken me so long to respond to this message.  I very much appreciate seeing the feet of the Crucifix.  What struck me first was the thought you put into it in having the nail holes show the result of the flesh being torn by the nails as the Lord’s body pressed downward.      


I am so very eager to see the whole.    


Know that I am most grateful that your talents are enriching our Cathedral.  I hope that you and your family have a blessed Christmas.    


Will you speak briefly of the method you used, and maybe even tell us something of the inspiration that led you to create the Crucifix Christ, and the Mary statue? Can you talk briefly of the meaning of the Mary statue to you, and what your feelings are about Mary?     

I wanted the sculptures at the Cathedral to look slightly Romanesque. There is no perfect art. I have always felt that if an artist is a perfectionist or fancies him or herself a professional artist, that is the opinion of the artist only. If you look at a Romanesque work that was made thousands of years ago, the artist was not thinking of making something perfect. The idea was captured in the act of doing the sculpting. I love the material bronze because it is such a usable material, and it has a beautiful color, the 2,000 year old castings are probably more interesting now than they were back then.    

It makes one want to know something about her and pray the rosary. The rosary is something I pray a lot. I think that was what gave me my inspiration. When I was sculpting Mary I prayed the rosary a lot. I didn’t want to make her look too glamorous. I don’t think that is the right thing to do for making a sculpture that is to be holy, to make it too glittery. I wanted it to be conservative—simple, yet beautiful.    

Bronze is what it is, you can brush it or buff it and then let it patina. Usually you do not have to clean it up and it looks beautiful anyway.    

I do not think that that Mary is often given enough glorifications. She is not the savior of our human race of course, but she is the mother of our lord.    

I hope that the Madonna statue encourages more people to pray the rosary. The holy rosary is something I practice. I am sure it has given me a lot of my inspiration for the work    

Text of email to the Bishop:    

Dear Bishop Vigneron    

The photos sent are of the feet on the large crucifix. They were changed because the size and shape of the feet prior were not acceptable. I am moving forward with the casting.     


Merry Christmas and Happy Newyear    

sincerely, Andrew Bonnette    




Dear Andrew:    

Thank you, again, for your work on our Crucifix.  And thanks, too, for your good wishes for Christmas.  Mine to you and your family.    

Bp. Vigneron    

Dec. 20, 2007    

Doing this kind of work is a labor of love, and there are a lot of hazards. The original design concept probably takes a month or a few days, depending on how you look at it and the complexity. Taking your concept and turning it into a sculpture may take up to a few months for the original, and the final product could take up to a year.    

Welding is important. No matter how thoroughly the attention to detail is, you will always have to weld some part or parts of your work. You need to know how to join pieces of metal together. You need to know how to turn one scale into a larger scale.    

I make a lot of my own tools and machinery, and do invent new concepts in the process. For the most part, I am self-educated on most subjects, even electricity. In the house and shop, that really comes in handy. If someone were going to try to make a sizable and large sculpture, they would want to get familiarized with material and how to handle it. Come up with a good plan, write it down on paper, right down to the last detail, and perform each task as a separate job. That’s key to the whole thing.    

You do get tired. Over the years, my hands have become stronger, my abilities to notice details have increased and certain arm muscles are just stronger than usual. It’s hard work, and you want to get your design done while the idea is fresh in your mind. I like to think of myself as a do-it yourselfer, however I know that I am not an average person–I do not want to be, I couldn’t go down that road again.    

Text of email to the Bishop:    

Dear Bishop Vigneron,    

I wanted to let you know that I do plan on being at the dedication of the Cathedral in September, and thank you for the invitation, it will be faxed to Oakland. I hope that you have been well, and I look forward to seeing you again. The crucifix will be delivered to Omaha this Monday or Tuesday.     

Sincerely, Andrew Bonnette    





Dear Andrew    

I’m glad you are able to be present for the Dedication.  I have received some photos of the corpus for the sanctuary crucifix.  They are exquisitely beautiful.      


I have shared them with my priests and with my co-workers in the Chancery.  One of the secretaries seems near to tears as she spoke about the serenity you have portrayed in Christ’s face.      


God bless you for the gift of your talent in His service.    

If a reader wants to contact the sculptor, write, Andrew J Bonnette, 12487 40th St.    

Afton, MN 55001 USA. A pictorial brochure is available upon request    


An interview with liturgical and design director, Brother William J. Woeger, F.S.C.    

Director, Office for Divine Worship, 100 N. 62nd St., Omaha, NE  68132. 402.558.3100 ext. 3008    

402.558.3026 (fax).

Will you speak some to the subject of art and faith for readers? Perhaps they’ll gain a better understanding of the Cathedral space, and the liturgical role works of art play in a space that accommodates and nurtures faith?    

I’ve been a big fan of the art of borone in Switzerland. Basically, it’s late 19th century Viennese secessionists associated with the monastery of Barone. They were reacting to the romanticism of religious and also to the kind of artist himself as an object of cult and following. That the artist becomes bigger than the work of art itself. The true purpose of art is to serve religion. Ultimately the work was anonymous and the style heavily borrowed from Egyptian. They felt art was closely related to mathematics.    

Personally, I identify more with work that is iconic. It is theology and not just emotional. There should be some content. That was what I was looking for with some of the artists and so we have art that is evocative of the religious; we have art that is devotional, and art that speaks of a culture. It may not be the primary culture of the people who use the cathedral. For example, the art in the holy family chapel is Spanish colonial, and the average age of the paintings is 200 years old. The school of Cusco. The Cusco paintings are anonymous and come out of the school. The two sculptures that are in there are Cusco but they are contemporary. There San Jose Joseph with the child, and Conino Nino. (The Family Chapel.) The immaculate (Mary).    

How did you get involved with the Cathedral project, and when?    

For about thirty years I’ve been travelling around the country as a liturgical designer and I interviewed with the Diocese and was hired. The Bishop and members of his staff and committee. That was Archbishop Vignonor, who is now in Detroit. For about the last forty years Catholic Churches have not been built with Communion Rails because people receive standing. Other than the altar rail, the layout of the Church is really not radical at all, even though the architecture is very, very contemporary. I don’t think anybody, even an architect or a designer than the client is, and nine times out of ten if you’ve got a good client you’ve got a good result. Archbishop Vignoron is one of the best clients I’ve ever worked for. He approached the project in a manner that was open minded and inclusive. When he came in to the Cathedral, the basic concept of the Cathedral was made. He called the project techno – that he appreciated the way a building like that is built. There is never too much. He would affectionately refer to the building as techno, for it had an abundance of technical design. He very much appreciated the whole metaphor of light.    

At your age, when working on the Cathedral, what were the expectations for the liturgical and theological designs?    

I think all of us knew we were doing something special. This was not just “another church.” We knew there were a lot of people looking to see what would happen. We thought we were onto something very positive, and moved forward with it. Relationships were established. I have friends I made I will have all my life.    

The lead architect was very open to the project and input of the people around him. This was not a one man show. He was very responsive to the gifts that were brought to the table.    

Whose idea was it to have the smaller “chapels” throughout the Cathedral?    

Chapel of the Suffering Christ, Courtesy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

Those spaces were there and it was not clear how they were going to function. My job was to work with the committee and the Bishop to reflect on the building and build a theology for it. We came up with the idea of the Chapel of the Suffering Christ because people may be in pain. The family is supposed to remind people that the principle educator of children is parents. Chapel of the saints will be filled with icons. No one has been commissioned to fill the frames. They are quite ornate. The all seasons chapel was created where the average parishioner could make a seasonal statement or where a more spontaneous expression could be made, like a shrine. That changes all the time.    

It was and continues to be a great privilege to be involved in this project. It is one I will continue to stay close to. I came away from the project feeling like I had received a gift to be involved with it.    

The Pacific Rim it is said faces Asia, and the Rocky Mountains divide east from west.  So we’ve said. The cities of the Pacific Rim include those not only in the United States but within this entire global definition. That a Cathedral, in this case a new Roman Catholic Cathedral is to last three centuries, into the 24th Century, takes building skills, imagination, and a lot of work that promises quality. As an addition, so small in the geologic sense, and even small when compared to the proportion of population of the Pacific Rim, this Cathedral of Christ the Light is an addition to the Western United States and especially the City of Oakland and all of California.    

Hyperbole? Of course! What else is a new Cathedral, but a celebration? Regardless of denomination, a house of God, a light of and for believers in Christ, need not and should not be ignored. This writer hopes we have celebrated the addition of a new Cathedral, and expressed the modern and unusual space of light and graphic presentation of the “supernatural” huge Christ as a place of worship for Roman Catholics.    

The second Cathedral for Architect Craig Hartman is going to be built:    

In the Roman Catholic tradition, a Cathedral houses the cathedra – the teaching seat – of the bishop. The Cathedral becomes the focal point of important liturgical events within the diocese and hosts celebrations and other activities closely linked to the diocesan community and its faith. An important distinction for the new Cathedral is the long-range plan to make the complex serve ecumenical as well as parochial needs; and to become an important spiritual and cultural center for all of Orange County.     

The search for an architect capable of translating the many ethnic and cultural facets represented in the Diocese of Orange, while acknowledging the historical architectural and worship traditions of Roman Catholicism, culminated with the selection of San Francisco-based Hartman, the Design Partner in SOM’s San Francisco office…    

Educated at Ball State University and the Architectural Association in London, where he studied under Cedric Price, Hartman was recruited from school by Walter Netsch, FAIA, to join the Chicago office of SOM in 1973. He moved to SOM’s Houston office in 1982, becoming a Design Partner in 1985 at the age of 35. In 1987, he became the Design Partner of SOM’s Washington, D.C. office and ultimately joined SOM’s San Francisco office in 1990 as the Design Partner in charge of Architecture for the West Coast practice.    

[One Press Statement headline reads:] Christ Our Savior Cathedral Design will Feature Innovative Engineering and Extensive Community Service Facilities when Completed.    

If one is in Oakland, visiting San Francisco, hear the organs of Cathedral of Christ the Light. Currently, on every 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month, a brief demonstration of the Conroy Memorial Organ will take place at 1PM as part of the docent-led tour. Join the Cathedral’s organist, Rudy de Vos, as he briefly talks about this magnificent instrument and demonstrates some of the different sounds from its 5,298 pipes.    

The good work of the Cathedral Center is now highlighted in a new brochure, in both English and Spanish. (updated 8-27-2010)    



Unanswered questions regarding the Cathedral of the Architectural firm    

At the time of this posting the writer continues to work on these questions for Skidmore, Owens and Merrill.    

Food for thought and reflection    

(1) In the realm of public work meeting the private, what particulars of architecture and community do you see as most significant and immediately recognizable as necessary? Can you think of a Church or Cathedral that speaks to this ethos and aesthetic in important ways? Is there a particular project with which you are familiar, or worked on, that you could mention in this regard?    

(2) What is the architectural role of the kind of building that is religious or faith oriented in the community, to your mind? What of your own place of worship? Does it or does it not fit your criteria for a good place of its kind within its city or community? In what way?    

 (3) Will you speak for a moment for attribution, if only briefly, about the Western United States and its sense of architectural design in cities as opposed to those sensibilities in the Eastern United States? Can you think of a Cathedral or Church that is memorable and a statement for its own region or area? Even a building that strikes your mind when considering this kind of difficult and probably unfair, and too broad of a question? But there the question is, and I am sure readers will be interested to get a feel for American architecture in this regard.    

The area that occurs to me is in part a statement of design by architect Craig Harman made in his video of the design process for the Cathedral. His words were to the effect that the building was placed so as to be created between the urban Oakland and the natural setting of Lake Merritt. I consider this as a boundary, as outlined in a book     

I reviewed Esther de Waal’s work (link to book review is here: ). (A link to where the video is found is here: )     

Further, a Cathedral is a symbol, and many religious requirements are met in its design. For instance, the direction the altar faces is a traditional matter of religious intent and necessity. It requires some special knowledge within its own sense of value and purpose. Just in that it becomes particularly special, even as religious statement. May we agree on that?    

A reiteration in rephrasing of the questions for reflection:    

In what way is the Cathedral situated within its public and private environs so that it creates a series of boundaries and statements, if that is even so?   
Where or what is the statement about the western parts of the United States in the design of this building, especially as a public place for worship for the community? I understand you are familiar with regional and public design and reason for same in architecture, hence the question.   
The Bishop who worked on the building in its building stage noted that he thought the design “techno.” It does seem so modern and “techno.” Though you cannot speak for him, perhaps you know what he means for on your website you have a genre of buildings that are modern in their particularity. If you understand what I mean, please comment on this form of Skidmore, Owen Merrill work.   
The graphics on the building are striking. Who was in charge, and will you say something of the design team’s vision?

Source by Peter Menkin

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