Eight months before the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels opened, the founding pastor was preparing to welcome those who might be interested in volunteering their services to the Cathedral in any number of ministries, from lectors and choir members to docents and tour guides.“I figured I would set up 150 chairs, and that would surely be enough,” smiles Msgr. Kevin Kostelnik, recalling the 2002 meeting in a recent interview at his Cathedral Center office. “But I was told, ‘You better set up some more,’ so I added another 50. Well, we had 450 that night, inquiring on how they could help. I thought, ‘I think this is gonna work.’”Indeed it has. The Cathedral’s volunteer corps (see page 11), numbering around 500, is one of the reasons that the Cathedral has quickly become a center for spirituality, community and cultural enlightenment in downtown Los Angeles, where the residential population has ballooned from 10,000 to 50,000 in the first 10 years of the Cathedral’s operation.“Downtown Los Angeles,” says Msgr. Kostelnik, “has become a vibrant community of people who work, play and pray downtown.”And, in its dual role as the spiritual center for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and tourist destination for travelers from near and far, the Cathedral welcomes more than half a million visitors a year. Many attend Sunday or weekday Mass; many participate in tour groups; many come for lunch in Galero Grill; and more than a few seek the sacrament of penance, available Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-noon.Referring to the latter, Msgr. Kostelnik notes, “We started that right after we opened, and it hasn’t let up. Word gets around that this is a vibrant and active ministry, and people come from all over. And it’s become a deep part of my own spirituality, to participate in and be passionate about the sacrament of confession. It’s edifying, inspiring and humbling.”Just as it was to be named the founding pastor of a new Cathedral in the country’s largest archdiocese, an appointment announced by Cardinal Roger Mahony on Sept. 21, 1997 near the end of a Sunday afternoon ground-blessing ceremony.An appointment that clearly caught the newly-named pastor off-guard.“Yes, it did,” Msgr. Kostelnik admits with a smile. “Cardinal Mahony had never discussed it with me before then. I’d been his priest-secretary and emcee at major liturgies, and I had a desire to return to a parish.”Which is what his appointment as pastor entailed, although it may not have been obvious to those whose attention was on the building of the Cathedral building.“Very few priests get the opportunity to assist in building a Cathedral church,” the pastor muses. “But now, I had the responsibility of building a parish community, with so few people living downtown.”His first step was to meet with the 40 registered households of St. Vibiana’s Cathedral — besides the prospective volunteers, one of two “key groups” that he called essential to the launch of the new parish. As construction progressed, Msgr. Kostelnik made sure to include the St. Vibiana’s community in progress reports, and hosted them on tours during the process.Currently, there are almost 500 registered households, between 60 and 70 percent of them from the downtown area, says Msgr. Kostelnik. Many participate in liturgical and outreach, and the expansion of ministries is a priority, especially in faith formation and religious education for youth.The Cathedral is also increasing its technological capacity. The entire “campus” (including the Conference Center and residence) is WiFi-connected, “and we’re in the process of enhancing our audio and video capabilities,” says Msgr. Kostelnik.The renovation of the interior chapel devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe is scheduled to be completed by this weekend’s tenth anniversary celebration. The artistic aspects of the Cathedral continue to draw comments (mostly favorable) from visitors, notes the pastor.“I’ve heard some people say they don’t like the exterior but they love the interior,” he observes. “Most say that they love the tapestries, and they like to experience liturgy here, especially weekday Masses where we’ll usually have several hundred in attendance. “And they like lunch,” he adds with a smile. “The Cathedral has become a wonderful gathering place for the downtown community, which is a traditional role of a Cathedral church.” Many stop the pastor on his way across the plaza for a meet-and-greet, which is a necessary part of his role as pastor, he agrees, even if it takes time. “You learn how so much of your spirituality is defined by interruptions,” he grins. “So many people want to talk to you — ‘Will you bless this scapular or rosary, will you pray for my mom?’ They want to be in touch with the divine, with God, so being at the Cathedral becomes a way to honor that.”Frequently, Msgr. Kostelnik will encounter a priest bringing friends for a tour, and last year two priests from Australia, on their way back home and faced with an eight-hour layover at LAX, took a taxi to visit the Cathedral.“At every Sunday Mass,” he says, “I’ll ask near the end, ‘How many have made a pilgrimage here for the first time?’ And we’ll go from a handful to several hundred at the 10 a.m. Mass. One Sunday we had India, Korea, England, the Philippines and many states as well as cities from around California.”For Msgr. Kostelnik, who this year marked 30 years of being ordained from St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, this experience as a Cathedral pastor has had, not surprisingly, a significant influence on his priesthood.“I’ve learned how to start over, from the ground up,” he says reflectively. “The idea of starting something new reminds us of our spiritual lives, how we always start anew with the help of Christ, our Mother Mary and the communion of saints, how our spiritual journey is a journey of growth, being able to move forward with one another. And for me, it has been a wonderful journey.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0831/kostelnik/{/gallery}