|Appearing in The Tidings
Newspaper - Friday,
February 9, 2001
Days: 'A Certain Spirit' "
By Hermine Lees
“A certain spirit had always been there; it was like a family gathering.”
That is how Msgr. Leland Boyer summarizes his recollections of the 18 years
he spent working in the special apostolate of religious instruction,
education and formation in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. And he should
know, for he was there at the beginning of what is now the annual Religious
Education Congress, the largest event of its kind in the United States,
attended by more than 35,000 adults and youth every year.
Originally, though, it was an “institute” – an immensely and even
surprisingly popular event for catechists, held at high schools and then at
an airport hotel before it simply became too big and had move to Anaheim.
And at the helm was Msgr. Boyer,. whose belief in the need for such an event
was justified by the thousands who attended every year.
Now pastor emeritus of St. Bede the Venerable Church in La Canada
Flintridge, the 79‑year‑old priest recently recalled the origin of
“Congress” in an interview at the parish residence. And even though his
sight is dim and the printed word is difficult to read, Msgr. Boyer retains
sharp images of his 52 years of ministry in the archdiocese.
Decades in the making
Ordained in 1949, Father Boyer taught at St. Anthony High School in Long
Beach and served in parish residence at several parishes. Then in 1956, he
joined Msgr. John K. Clarke in what was then called the Confraternity of
Christian Doctrine – the CCD.
The CCD history actually began in the early 1920s, under the guidance of
Bishop John Cantwell who realized the urgent need to offer religious
instruction for the vast number of refugees from the Mexican Revolution in
1922. Under his pastoral care, many new parishes were established during the
1920s, and the new method of instruction used in other parts of the country
to bring the faith to children and adults became a vital part of religious
life in the growing city (and diocese) of Los Angeles.
Bishop Cantwell appointed Father Leroy Callahan, pastor of San Antonio de
Padua Church in East Los Angeles, to implement this parish program that not
only offered spiritual comfort to the immigrant, but also laid the
foundation for the present religious education program throughout the
By 1937 the program had succeeded so well that a full-time director was
needed. Archbishop Cantwell (Los Angeles had become an archdiocese in 1936)
named Msgr. Clarke director and for the next 33 years he supervised the
confraternity and witnessed the increase in classes from 36,000 to more than
Msgr. Boyer was named as the supervisor of teachers in 1956 and that same
year helped in organizing the first CCD “institute” held at Mount Carmel
High School on Hoover Street in Los Angeles. Some 500 teachers and
catechists attended the two‑day conference, listened to speakers and gained
experience from other teachers.
From guilt to love
The approach in teaching CCD was one of learning to turn from guilt to love,
according to Msgr. Boyer. “The catechists were taught
the sacraments, the commandments, how to be “fishers” and mainly learned
how to respond out of love rather than fear,” he recalled.
Topics were scaled according to grade level and based on child psychology
with appropriate texts. Several classes were offered for adult instruction
also. (Four of the main texts were written by Msgr. Boyer and published by
The next year attendance doubled at the institute held at Bishop Conaty
Catholic Girls High School; continued to increase at Loyola University; and
culminated with over 4,000 attending the event at Immaculate Heart College.
Dynamic speakers like Tim Brunet motivated catechists by their talks, Msgr.
Boyer noted, and many volunteers contributed to the growth of the program.
In 1964 Msgr. Boyer was promoted to assistant director of the CCD office
under Msgr. Clarke. By 1967, it was apparent that local schools could no
longer handle the crowds and a new site was needed.
“I decided to try the International Airport Hotel,” Msgr. Boyer recalled,
“although there was some opposition to the plan. Some thought the hotel
would convey a ‘convivial’ atmosphere, but I prevailed.”
With the cooperation of the dioceses of Monterey‑Fresno and San Diego, the
agenda for the first three‑day “Congress” was set. The purpose, as stated by
officials, was “to provide an atmosphere of Christian unity … for the
benefit of each and the common good of all mankind.”
Great plans and great expectations, yet even those were exceeded. Some 3,000
were expected but more than 7,000 descended upon the hotel, jamming
elevators, hallways, coffee shops and restrooms – even the fog rolled in to
further complicate travel.
“I can recall waiting at least 10 minutes just to get on a crowded
elevator,” says AI Antczak, former Tidings editor, “and it was a challenge
to parcel out assignments to cover all the speakers.” But The Tidings
covered that first event and has continued the process to today.
Change in the '70s
The mounting solution to find an adequate site was a challenge that kept
gaining momentum for Msgr. Boyer and the CCD office, so much so that another
plan became necessary by 1970, a year in which Msgr. Clarke retired as
Confraternity director to pursue other duties. Msgr. Boyer was appointed to
succeed him, having just been elected to the executive committee of the
National Conference of Diocesan CCD Directors. He was also named pastor of
Divine Savior Church in Los Angeles.
To find adequate space for the increased attendance at the annual religious
gathering, Msgr. Boyer asked the Anaheim Convention Center for an available
date. Again there was hesitation. The center never had hosted a religious
event and officials feared the attendance would not be sufficient to make
the venture a commercial success for the city.
“But they were surprised and impressed,” Msgr. Boyer said, “when we had more
than 10,000 attend and took up rooms in all the surrounding hotels. My two
nephews, Steve and Greg, were teenagers and helped with the equipment and
assignment of rooms. My family was involved from the start and my brother
Verne continued for a long time, arranging Mass times and setting up the
arena. So it was both my family and the extended family feeling that made
the Congress special.”
The following year the first Youth Rally was held to give special sessions
for students and became the model for the present Youth Day that now
attracts some 10,000 on the opening day of Congress.
In 1972, Archbishop Timothy Manning celebrated a jubilee Mass to mark the
50th anniversary of the beginning of a formal religious education program in
the archdiocese. The first workshops in Spanish were presented in 1973 and
that year Msgr. John Barry was named the new director. During his 10-year
term the CCD office was renamed the Office of Religious Education.
Msgr. Boyer was named as a consultor to Cardinal Manning in 1973, and in
1975 was appointed pastor at St. Bede the Venerable, serving in that role
for 18 years and directing six pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Two years ago,
in the year of his golden jubilee of ordination, he was present at the
annual Chrism Mass as Cardinal Roger Mahony began an annual tradition of
acknowledging golden jubilarian priests at the Mass.
And last year, on the 30th anniversary of the first Congress in Anaheim,
Msgr. Boyer was urged to attend. When he was introduced near the end of the
closing liturgy, he was greeted with tremendous applause by the nearly
10,000 people who filled the Convention Center arena.
“It was quite a moving experience,” he said. And a moving tribute to the man
who – like the CCD and Religious Education directors before him and after –
has lived the theme for this year's Congress: “Clothed in Love, Summoned
THE HISTORY OF
1922 – Bishop John Cantwell begins CCD program.
1937 – Msgr. John Clarke appointed archdiocesan CCD director.
1956 – First Institute held at Mount Carmel High School.
1967 – First Congress held at International Airport Hotel.
1970 – Msgr. Leland Boyer named CCD director; first Religious
Education Congress convenes at Anaheim.
1973 – Msgr. John Barry named CCD director, office is later
renamed Office of Religious Education.
1983 – Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson named ORE director.
1987 – Sister Edith Prendergast named ORE director.
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