By Natalie Romano
When you think of cathedrals you think stained glass windows, pointed arches and ornate decorations. But how about robo-cams, levitating video screens and electronic missalettes?
Step into Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral in San Bernardino and soon you’ll see it all.
“We have smartphones, smart homes and slowly we’re building a smart church,” says Father Duong Nguyen, SVD, Pastor of Holy Rosary. “We have to upgrade our church with the times.”
During the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, Fr. Duong has spearheaded a major interior renovation of the 94-year-old church. So far, about $250,000 worth of repairs have been made to the the aging Cathedral in both form and function. High dollar items include state of the art sound and live streaming systems, new lights, carpeting and upholstery. Additionally, stained glass windows now gleam after being refreshed, and Bishop Alberto Rojas’ motto hangs near the altar to reflect the presence of a new Ordinary Bishop. The mottos of prior bishops grace the church’s entryway.
Long-time parishioners say they are thrilled with the facelift. Norma Nemec, who serves as a sacristan, has attended Holy Rosary for more than 60 years.
“It’s beautiful. Everything is clean,” says Nemec. “It was getting old and it’s now all refreshed.”
Parishioner Felita Mobleza says she’s seen three bishops and more priests than she can count, but never such a beautiful church.
“The carpet, the pews, the stained glass windows; it looks lovely,” says Mobleza. “It deserves to be in a cathedral.”
While the transformation is nice to look at, Fr. Duong has more in mind.
“The Cathedral is the mother of all churches,” explains Fr. Duong. “One of the aspects of this is our evangelization. We want to have an impact on society, an impact on the lives of people...With all this technology that we have here, we can go beyond the walls of the church to share the good news.”
What makes that possible is the advanced sound system and live stream cameras. Tired wires and speakers were upgraded to Bose equipment designed for churches and their specific sound needs. That includes an induction loop system which allows parishioners with hearing aids to connect directly to the sound system. At the entrance, you’ll see two mounted cameras for live stream events. Newly installed sensors underneath the floor trigger those cameras to follow the priest, lector or cantor wherever they go. No camera operators are necessary. The combined cost of the systems was about $140,000, with the Cathedral and the Diocese, through a grant from Caritas Telecommunications, splitting the tab.
The changes were instantly appreciated.
“The sound is so much better, it really is,” insists Marge Peterson, parishioner. “Before it was hard to hear sometimes, now it’s so distinctive.”
The improved sound quality is notable online as well.
“What I love is I can go on Facebook or YouTube and see the livestream Mass,” says Veronica Rios, parishioner. “You actually hear it really clearly.”
Fr. Duong says parishioners also complained that the Cathedral’s soft lighting made it hard to read the hymnals and other printed materials. Thanks to donor and local business owner Ron Rezek, the Cathedral is now equipped with brighter lights. To beautify the building, decades old carpet and upholstery were ripped out and replaced. Shades of blue now cover the pews and Bishop’s chair. The colors were specifically chosen to honor Mary, the Cathedral’s namesake and to match her image in the stained glass windows. Parishioners Bill and Janice Lemann donated the funds for both the upholstery and carpet.
“It is my hometown parish. I have a special fondness and loyalty to it,” explains Lemann, a member of the Parish Finance Committee. “It is the seat of the Diocese, and we need to do the best we can for the Diocese...my wife was quite a force behind the effort.”
Cathedrals are considered the church of the Ordinary Bishop. Consequently, they are often larger and more lavish than other churches. Holy Rosary, however, was built in 1927 as a parish church and not elevated to a Cathedral until the formation of the Diocese in 1978. Its last expansive remodel was in the late 1990’s and included a new tower, stucco and restrooms. Meanwhile, neighboring dioceses have poured millions into their cathedrals. In 2002, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles erected a large modern structure full of art, relics and beautifully sculpted bronze doors. In 2012, the Diocese of Orange bought and remodeled the famed evangelical Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. The now re-named Christ Cathedral showcases a 1,000-pound jeweled crucifix and an altar made of imported Italian marble.
Lemann, who also serves as our diocese’s legal counsel, says the Diocese of San Bernardino’s Cathedral, while “charming in its own way,” was “tattered.”
“San Bernardino struggles with image, struggles with reputation. Struggles economically…, “ says Lemann. “For [Holy Rosary] to be a Cathedral, for it to be welcoming and to represent the best that we are, it needed an update.”
Fr. Duong says the pandemic was the right time to make those changes since the church was empty. However, the nationwide shutdown created problems with the supply chain of building materials.
“The construction was a little slower than anticipated,” says Fr. Duong. “Sometimes the materials did not arrive on time. We would order it, but it would be delayed by a month or so.”
Nevertheless, renovations were completed by the time parishioners returned and now there are more plans in the works. Fr. Doung says he’s focused on how to best serve as the Cathedral’s pastor and what innovations can help him do just that.
“Technology changes all the time, and it changes very fast. When we built the infrastructure, we already built for future upgrades,” says Fr. Duong. “...I’m trying to carry out the mission of the Diocese. It’s the pride we have here at the Cathedral.”
Next on the shopping list is a levitating motorized screen that can drop down in front of the altar, with minimal cords or other distractions. Also on the horizon, a digital system that will allow the Cathedral to go paperless.
“People will be able to use a parish app that they can click on to get the parish bulletin, the readings of the day, the homily,” explains Lemann. “We’re very excited about that. We’ll be a great example for all parishes.”
Fr. Duong is also creating a new meeting space for small groups like the Legion of Mary or the Boy Scouts. The facility is being built inside a nearby home that the church owns. With all these improvements, parishioners say they see a true leader in Fr. Duong.
“Fr. Duong has been a blessing for this parish because of all the stuff he’s done,” says George Turner, Eucharistic Minister. “...Everything he’s done helps us.”
“You feel the unity and cohesiveness of the parishioners and our priest,” says Mobleza. “It’s very motivating.”
Fr. Duong says the new sense of joy is palpable.
“The parishioners seem more alive,” says Fr. Duong. “That spirit is contagious and affects me as well. It uplifts me as we celebrate the Eucharist.”
Natalie Romano is a freelance writer and a parishioner of The Holy Name of Jesus in Redlands.