Considering that he was ordained a priest on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker (May 1, 1962) and a bishop on the feast of St. Joseph (March 19, 1975), it makes perfect sense that Cardinal Roger Mahony was pointedly apprised of the need for a new cathedral church in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on … the feast of St. Joseph.To be precise, it was March 19, 1994, and the cardinal was in the sacristy of St. Vibiana Cathedral, preparing to ordain three new auxiliary bishops for the archdiocese. But right before the procession was to begin, Sir Daniel Donohue took him aside and said, “The board of the Daniel Murphy Foundation wishes to suggest that we build a new cathedral.”“You can imagine how distracting that was — hearing this from the president of a major Catholic foundation, right as we’re about to begin this major celebration,” Cardinal Mahony recalls with a laugh, 18 years later. “But that was really the catalyst.”And since that day — the feast day of the patron saint of carpenters, builders and all workers — much more of the cardinal’s time over the next eight years was devoted to spending time, thought and energy in conceptualizing, designing, developing and building what is today the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the mother church of the archdiocese.Nearly ten years after its Sept. 2, 2002 dedication, Cardinal Mahony spoke with The Tidings about the development process for what is often referred to simply as “the Downtown Cathedral.”Q: After March 19, 1994, what was the process leading up to a new Cathedral?A: The original idea was to tear down St. Vibiana and rebuild on that site, but that wasn’t going to be practical, especially after we commissioned Jose Rafael Moneo as the architect. He had thought perhaps of leaving up a wall of the old St. Vibiana, but there was no steel reinforcement at St. Vibiana, so we had to start from scratch. And then the Los Angeles Conservancy said no way; they filed lawsuits against tearing down St. Vibiana’s, they would not hear of compromise. So we found a new site for a new building, at Temple and Grand.Q: What were your priorities, design-wise and liturgy-wise?A: My focus was totally on the interior of the Cathedral and its use; I was not as concerned with the exterior. I was focused on a house of prayer being sufficiently large and accommodating for the kinds of major liturgies we have there, to accommodate the liturgy of the post-Vatican II church, and also to function as a model for other churches. Along the way, we developed quite an extensive notebook about what was needed.I had two Gospel-based priorities for the new Cathedral: I wanted Christ the Light of the World to be highlighted. And that we achieved through the use of natural light, rather than more traditional stained glass, so that we have a brighter interior than you find in many churches or cathedrals. And second, I felt it was important that in coming to the Cathedral, people experience a journey with Jesus — through the great bronze doors with their symbols, along the two ambulatories to the back, turning to encounter the baptistery, and then walking toward the altar, alongside the saints, as it were. And then, to recognize that our journey continues beyond the altar, beyond the Eucharist, to build “a new Jerusalem,” as is symbolized on the tapestry behind the altar.Q: By the late 1990s, few Cathedrals had been built in the post-Vatican II era, so most people’s idea of a Cathedral was probably more traditional — St. Patrick’s, Notre Dame, that sort of design.A: Yes, there were very few. The first really was St. Mary’s in San Francisco, in 1968, which had been well underway in design by the time the Council ended in 1965. And after that, some of the older cathedrals were being renovated to reflect what the Council had promulgated — Seattle, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, for example — and some were more successful than others in achieving what they wanted.Q: Was there anything you could learn from, or was that even an issue?A: Moneo said we have two tasks in building this Cathedral: one, to bring with us the Catholic tradition, and two, to say something new about Cathedral building. He said, “If you just want to duplicate another Cathedral, all you need to do is go take a picture of what you want and copy it; you don’t need me.” And in fact, the interior is quite traditional, with the cruciform design.When Msgr. Kevin [Kostelnik, Cathedral pastor] and I visited him in Spain, he told us, “Many of my buildings look unusual from the outside. My hope is that people will say, ‘I hope there is something better inside,’ and that people will want to go inside, because that is where the real life of any building is.”Q: Do you still keep in contact with any of the folks who worked on building the Cathedral?A: Well, a number of them have moved on, of course. But I hear from Terry Dooley (executive with Morley Construction) a lot. And just recently I was celebrating Sunday Mass at a parish, and a fellow came up to me afterwards and said, “Hi, I was a carpenter who worked on the Cathedral. That was such an honor.” That kind of thing happens more often than not. These people really took pride in what they were doing, because for them, this was not just building another building in downtown Los Angeles. And as a result, we got extraordinary craftsmanship; in fact, some have asked where we got that wonderful stone work on the exterior, when it’s actually concrete.Q: Talk about the support of the non-Catholic community in getting the Cathedral built, and in supporting it since.A: I smile sometimes because I hear people refer to “the Cathedral,” not “the Catholic Cathedral.” It tells me that it has taken on the role of the city’s Cathedral church. We installed the cornerstone that bears the words from Isaiah, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples,” and it really has become that, especially when you consider that there aren’t many churches remaining in the downtown area. The Cathedral has really helped renew the city’s civic center area.There is another feature that I am pleased with: Until 2002’s opening, I would guess that 99 percent of our Catholic people either had no idea what the Cathedral was, or had never been to it. So for the first time, many in our Catholic community knew we had a Cathedral church — that yes, we have a mother church. Of course, we still have many who have never been to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, but they certainly know about it and they know where it is — which was not really the case with St. Vibiana. We had, for practical purposes, 850 seats at St. Vibiana, with the columns and poor sightlines. And if you had relatives coming into town, you’d never say, “Let’s go visit the Cathedral.” Over the past ten years, we see many people coming to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels with relatives, either on tour or for worship.Q: Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?A: Oh, yes. After being able to live there and work there and use it, I would definitely put in more parking. We had no idea what the response would be, or that it would be so incredible, and 625 parking spaces is just not adequate, especially for major events. If I could, I’d add another 200 or so spaces, another parking level or two below ground. But the City Department of Transportation and the parking authorities have been very helpful in coordinating traffic flow, especially for major events, so that people enter from Grand Avenue and exit from Hill Street. And we also are able to double-park to accommodate more cars. Q: What have other dioceses and bishops said to you about the Cathedral?A: Well, when Los Angeles hosted the USCCB’s spring meeting in June 2006, we closed the Cathedral at 3 one afternoon so we could have a liturgy with the bishops. We wanted them to experience it, since many were there for the first time and had certainly heard or read about it. And they enjoyed it very much. A number of them, in fact, came to me afterwards and said, “Could you do me one favor? Please do not ever visit my cathedral.” Why not, I asked. “Because first, you’ll be lucky if it’s open, and second, if it is, there will be no one there to welcome or assist you.” I thought that was a wonderful compliment for our Cathedral.Q: What other thoughts come to mind, 10 years later?A: None of us really had any idea what would happen with the Cathedral after it opened. But in early 2002, at one of our board meetings, a member said, “There’s one thing we haven’t considered: What if no one comes?” He thought we needed to line up bus companies to bring people in so it wouldn’t be empty. We decided, “Let’s open it first and see what happens.”So we opened on Labor Day, and of course it was packed, but we knew the proof of its acceptability would be the day after when people were back to work and to their regular routine. Well, for the 7 a.m. Mass, we had 1,400 people in attendance. And they kept coming all day, and the next day — and that was the end of worrying about whether people would be interested in coming to the Cathedral.The other thing that comes to mind very profoundly for me is how our capacity to build a new Cathedral, a new mother church for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, is totally in God’s divine providence. Think about it: To emerge from a recession in the mid-1990s in time to raise the necessary money that it would require, and to have it bought and paid for by the time the next recession came about? All of this was obviously in God’s providence, and what a wonderful blessing it has been for us all.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0831/mahony/{/gallery}