certain spirit had always been there; it was like a
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.
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
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.
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
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 archdiocese.
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 200,000.
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
approach in teaching CCD was one of learning to turn
from guilt to love, according to Msgr. Boyer. “The
catechists were taught
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
Change in the '70s
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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,
HISTORY OF CONGRESS
– Bishop John Cantwell begins CCD program.
– Msgr. John Clarke appointed archdiocesan CCD director.
– First Institute held at Mount Carmel High School.
– First Congress held at International Airport Hotel.
– Msgr. Leland Boyer named CCD director; first Religious
Education Congress convenes at Anaheim.
– Msgr. John Barry named CCD director, office is later
renamed Office of Religious Education.
– Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson named ORE director.
– Sister Edith Prendergast named ORE director.