Brother Hilarion O'ConnerChurch Builder
Brother Hilarion O'Connor seldom gives interviews--"I never
toot my own horn," he says. Yet Brother Hilarion is known by
every contractor who worked on the new Cathedral of Our Lady of
the Angels. He hired them.
The Irish-born Franciscan brother became building supervisor for
the archdiocese in 1993, after a career of teaching and administration
in the archdiocese's school system.
"That was just before the Northridge earthquake," he says
ruefully. Several church steeples were endangering the publicit
was his job to get a crew in and bring them down, regardless of
public outcry. If he had not been out of town at a wedding one weekend
in 1996, St. Vibiana's likely would no longer be standing. The demolition
crew was in place, with the ball poised above the cupola, he recounts.
Neither the cardinal nor the vicar would give the sign to the machine
operator without Brother Hilarion's consent. By the time he got
their urgent calls, after the wedding, there was a restraining order
to save the old cathedral.
Brother Hilarion has plenty of humorous stories about the new Cathedral's
construction. One involves the cardinal, known to have had his hands
on all aspects of the project. As excavation was underway, Cardinal
Mahony stopped by and told the excavation contractorpart of
the world-class team that was brought in to oversee constructionthat
he had changed his mind about the location of the garage: it would
need to be moved a few feet over. "The contractor, new on the
job, nearly died! The entire plan would need to be revised!"
laughs O'Connor. The contractor still laughs about the cardinal's
joke that day.
Brother Hilarion is proud that he pulled together a team of hundreds
of people who worked together for the entire project, a cathedral
that was sorely needed: "We didn't have a heart, we didn't'
have a cathedral, really," he says. "If the cathedral
succeeds in becoming what the cardinal has set out for, the true
center, or heart, of the Archdiocese, for theological teaching and
the real role of the archbishop in the archdiocese, I think he'll
be happy that it has achieved its mission," says Brother Hilarion.
Does such a vast project go against the spirit of St. Francis? Hilarion's
answer is matter-of-fact: a large diocese requires a large cathedral.
Thinking about the Poverello, in his comparatively tiny diocese,
he adds with a smile, "I'm sure St. Francis would have been
quite happy with a much smaller one."
What's In a Name? St. Francis and Our Lady of
The name of the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels really
goes back to the little chapel of St. Mary of the Angels that was
the early center of the Franciscan movement. The title is part of
the full name of the city of Los Angeles, El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora
la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula"The city of Our
Lady of the Angels of the Little Portion." The name was first
given to its river in 1769 by Franciscan missionaries Junipero Serra
and Juan Crespi. Their expedition arrived on the Feast of Our Lady
of the Angels, August 2. Missionaries often named places for that
day's liturgical feast. The Archdiocese transferred this feast to
September 4, the anniversary of the colonists first arrived. Outside
L.A., the feast remains August 2.
The Portiuncula refers to the chapel where St. Francis founded
the Franciscan Order. Francis was fascinated with angels. When he
rebuilt the small chapel, on a little parcel of land (a "Portiuncula"),
he dedicated it to Our Lady, calling it St. Mary of the Angels of
the Little Portion. The tiny chapel outside Assisi is surrounded
by St. Mary's Basilica today. There will always be a special historical
connection between the Los Angeles's new Cathedral of Our Lady of
the Angels and the little chapel near Assisi, which was the spiritual
headquarters of the Franciscan missionaries who built the old Spanish
missions of California.
Links for More on the L.A. Cathedral
Official Cathedral Web Site
Here's an extensive and beautiful presentation of the Cathedral
of Our Lady of the Angels, including Flash tours, plenty of photos,
biographical information about the artists and interesting historical
latimes.com Flash tour of the Cathedral
Mouseover this cathedral illustration "Cathedral for the Ages"
for a good overview of the cathedral complex. The "cathedral
detail" link leads to extensive illustrations.
View Virtual Tour