Milestones of the
Los Angeles Religious Education Congress

(originally gathered from information from Ed Peffer, Tiding's employee 1952-91;
additional information from "The early days: A certain spirit,"
appearing in The Tidings, February 9, 2001 by staff writer Hermine Lees).

 The Beginnings T
 
  The origins of the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress spring from the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, popularly known as CCD, a ministry that actually began in Los Angeles in 1922 under Bishop John Cantwell to teach refugees of the Mexican Revolution. Bishop Cantwell had appointed Fr. Leroy Callahan, pastor of San Antonio de Padua in East Los Angeles, to work in this ministry. The first CCD program was established at Immaculate Conception Church on 9th Street in Los Angeles in 1922; followed by parish units established throughout the Archdiocese, with Fr. Robert E. Lucey as the first Director.

The CCD program that Fr. Lucey and Verona Spellmire created in Los Angeles became a prototype of other diocesan catechetical programs across the Southwest, throughout the United States as well as introduced in Latin America.


Msgr. John Cantwell (b.1874-d.1947)
 

 

By 1937 the CCD program was so successful that a full-time director was needed. As Archbishop in 1937, Cantwell appointed Msgr. John Clarke as archdiocesan CCD Director, who headed the program for the next 33 years. All the while classes grew from 30,000 to more than 200,000 in 1969.
 


Msgr. John K. Clarke
 

 1956 T
 
  In 1956 Msgr. Leland Boyer joined Msgr. John Clarke and 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.

In 1957, the event moved to Bishop Conaty Catholic Girls High School and saw attendance double in size. In subsequent years (1958-1966), attendance continued to increase at Loyola University; and culminated with over 4,000 attending the event at Immaculate Heart College.

 


Fr. Leland Boyer (1962)
 

 1964
 
 


See photos from the 1962 CCD Institute

In 1964, Msgr. Boyer became Assistant Director to a program that saw growing attendance each year. By 1966, it was apparent that local schools could no longer handle the crowds and a new site was needed.

 
 1967
 
 

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.”

It was on January 13-15, 1967 that the first Southern California Confraternity Congress was held at the LAX-area International Hotel (the property located at Sepulveda and Century boulevards) with a registration fee of $5. An estimated 3,000 teachers were expected, but more than 7,000 attended, causing major problems with services and programming. Then-Tidings writer Al Antczak (later to become Editor) recalled waiting 10 minutes to get on a crowded elevator.

See photos from the early days of the Southern California Confraternity Congress


International Hotel at LAX


 1970
 
  When Msgr. John Clarke retired and named Msgr. Leland Boyer as CCD Director, Msgr. Boyer was already on the Executive Committee of the National Conference of Diocesan CCD Directors. That year (1970), Msgr. Boyer took the chance on moving the event to a much larger facility in Anaheim (the cities of Orange County were still a part of the Los Angeles Archdiocese), in spite of some fears it would not draw a large enough attendance.

In 1970 the annual Confraternity of Catholic Doctrine Congress was moved to the Anaheim Convention Center. The happy result was over 10,000 in attendance and use of the surrounding hotels. (Msgr. Boyer's brother Verne was involved from the start and continued for a long time thereafter, arranging Mass times and setting up the Arena; his two teenaged nephews, Steve and Greg, helped with the equipment and room assignments.)

The Diocese of Orange was established March 24, 1976.
 

 


Arial view of Anaheim Convention Center


View of the Anaheim Arena - 1973


View of the Anaheim Arena - 1975

   
 
 1971
 
  The first Youth Rally was held in 1971 for students and set the pattern for what has become Youth Day, which now annually attracts over 15,000 on the Thursday opening of the Congress event.

At the 1972 Congress, Los Angeles Archbishop Cardinal  Timothy Manning presided at a jubilee Mass commemorating the 50th anniversary of the beginnings of a formal religious education program in the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles by Bishop John J. Cantwell.


Cardinal Manning at Youth Day (1979)

 
 1973
     
  In 1973, Msgr. John Barry began what became his 10-year term as the new Director. The CCD office was renamed the Office of Religious Education and the Congress event became the "Religious Education Congress." Workshops in Spanish were offered for the first time that year. Each year the number of workshops escalates as do the crowds swarming to hear the speakers and engage in the various outreaches.

In 1975, Msgr. Leland Boyer was assigned as Diocesan Coordinator for the Congress event.

 


Msgr. John Barry

     
 1977
 
 

Download the Program Book from Congress 1977
February 10-13, 1977
Theme: "Come Follow Me"

Cardinal Timothy Manning, Archbishop of Los Angeles
Bishop William Johnson, Bishop of Orange
Congress General Chairman: Msgr. John Barry
Associate Congress Chairmen: Fr. Lloyd Torgerson & Fr. David Sork
Congress Executive Secretary: Mrs. Joanne Guenther
 


See the 1977 Anaheim Convention Center map

     
 1983
 
 


Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson

Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson became Director of the Office of Religious Education in 1983. On his staff was Sr. Edith Prendergast, RSC, who served as Consultant for Youth Ministry and would become the first woman Associate Director for the office. In 1985, Msgr. Torgerson hired Adrian Whitaker as full-time coordinator of the event.
 
 1987
 
  In 1987, Sr. Edith Prendergast, RSC, was appointed by Cardinal Roger Mahony as Director of the Office of Religious Education and became the first non-ordained person to hold this position..

See a biography of Sr. Edith Prendergast


Sr. Edith Prendergast

 1998
 
  In 1998, the “ninth period” workshop was replaced by two Sunday morning keynote talks, and the Closing Liturgy was moved to begin at 3:30 p.m. The procedure is being tried "on an experimental basis," said Director Sr. Edith Prendergast.
 
 2003
 
 


Adrian Whitaker

RECongress 2003 brought together 21,261 registrants, 171 speakers, 362 volunteers, and 220 exhibitors, and 14,349 in attendance for Youth Day. With 18 years of service as Congress Coordinator, Adrian Whitaker retired after Congress 2003. (See the Thank You, Adrian farewell page.)
   

In June 2003, Mary Lou McGee is appointed as interim Congress Coordinator. Mary Lou had previously served as adult education consultant for the Office of Religious Education and coordinator for their Pathways program.


Mary Lou McGee

 


Msgr. Leland Boyer

Msgr. Leland J. Boyer, pastor emeritus and founder of the annual archdiocesan Religious Education Congress, died Jan. 14, 2003 at age 81. Ordained in 1949, he taught at St. Anthony High School in Long Beach; was named assistant director of the CCD office in 1964 and served there for nine years; chosen 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.
 
 2005
 
 


Vikki Shepp

Vikki Shepp, co-coordinator of Youth Day, is appointed as Congress Coordinator. RECongress 2005 totaled 36,331 registrants, 210 speakers, 379 volunteers, 214 exhibitors with 1,553 representatives, and 14,586 in attendance for Youth Day.
 
 2006
 
 


Paulette Smith


Jan Pedroza

Paulette Smith and Jan Pedroza are appointed as Co-coordinators of the Religious Education Congress. As Event Coordinator Paulette will handle facilities and contracted hotels; as Programming Coordinator Jan will continue to work with speakers and volunteers and coordinate Congress registration.

This year marks the 50th annual event sponsored by the Office of Religious Education (beginning with the first CCD “institute” in 1956). RECongress 2006 brought together 39,444 registrants, 200 speakers, 447 volunteers, 226 exhibitors with 1,676 representatives, and 15,324 in attendance for Youth Day.

 
 2007
 
 

Download the Registration Guidebook from Congress 2007
March 2-4, 2007
Theme: "Stand in the Light" / "Permanecer en la luz"

Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles
Bishop William Johnson, Bishop of Orange
Director: Sr. Edith Prendergast, RSC
Event Coordinators: Paulette Smith & Jan Pedroza
Youth Day Coordinator: Mike Norman
 

     
 2008

In 2008, RECongress hosted a dinner in honor of Sr. Edith Prendergast, RSC, and her 20 years of leading the Religious Education Congress. Among the 500 in attendance were (left to right) Congress Event Coordinators Paulette Smith (2007-present) and Congress Program Coordinator Jan Pedroza (2003-present), Director Sr. Edith, and former Congress Coordinators Vikki Shepp (2005-06), Mary Lou McGee (2004), and Adrian Whitaker (1985-2003).

 2013


Paulette Smith

On December 2, 2013, Paulette Smith, Congress Event Coordinator, was named an Associate Director for the Office of Religious Education (ORE), as announced by ORE Director, Sr. Edith Prendergast, RSC. Paulette has served the Office of Religious Education for many years. In 2006, she was appointed (along with Jan Pedroza) as Co-coordinator of the Religious Education Congress.
 2015


Sr. Edith Prendergast


Fr. Chris Bazyouros

Following nearly three decades of service, Sr. Edith Prendergast, FSC, retires as Director of the archdiocesan Office of Religious Education, effective June 30, 2015. She will be succeeded by Fr. Christopher Bazyouros. Fr. Bazyouros served at several different churches in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, most recently as Pastor of St. Albert the Great Church in Compton, Calif., before coming to the ORE to help in Adult Ministry.

See a Farewell Message from Sr. Edith

See The Tidings Interview with Fr. Chris

 2016
Cardinal Roger Mahony in chat room. Archbishop JosÚ Gomez in video chat.

20 Years of Congress Chats: RECongress 2016 fell on the 60th anniversary of the first CCD institute, and the 49th year of a "Religious Education Congress." The first (typing) chat room was held on Friday, February 23, 1996 on CompuServe with Cardinal Roger Mahony. Ten years later, on Friday, March 31, 2006, the Cardinal conducted his annual chat in a room hosted on ChurchWerks.com. The Cardinal participated in 22 Congress chats (both nationwide and with schools) over 14 years.

At Congress 2016, Archbishop JosÚ Gomez has continued the tradition of (now, video) chats with school students from the Archdiocese. This was his sixth Congress chat (and fourth video chat) conducted from Exhibit Hall A at the Religious Education Congress.

The nationwide chats have been hosted by AOL Live! (1997-2000), Beliefnet (2001), CatholicWeb.com (2002-2003), ChurchWerks.com (2004-2010). The school chats have been hosted by AOL (2001, 2006), Yahoo (2007), Chatzy (2008-2012), Skype (2013-2014) and Google+ (2015-2016).

See the transcripts from past Congress Chats

 

The Anaheim Convention Center undergoes construction at the area of Car Park 1 (off Katella Ave. and adjacent to the Arena). With prior major expansions in 1974, 1982, 1990, 1993, and 1999–2000, this expansion -- the seventh since opening in 1967 -- will provide 200,000 square feet of meeting space and will replace Car Park 1. Construction began in the summer of 2015 and is expected to end in late-summer 2017 with use of the new space for Congress 2018. See a video about the expansion here. You can find complete information about the project online at www.accexpansion.com .

 2017


Mary Lou McGee

We were notified of the death of Mary Lou McGee on Holy Thursday, April 13, 2017. Mary Lou worked for the Office of Religious Education from 1997-2004. She served the regional adult learning programs including Pathways, Senderos, Small Christian Faith Communities, and others, before becoming Congress Coordinator for RECongress 2004. She served as an elementary school principal. In 2008 she was commissioned a Pastoral Associate and ministered in that role at Our Lady of Malibu until she retired in 2013. Her funeral Mass held Friday, April 21 at  St. Jude the Apostle Church in Westlake Village.
Today


Today, the Religious Education Congress supports the diverse needs of parish leaders by offering workshops in evangelization, liturgy, theology, Scripture, spirituality, morality, parish leadership, detention ministry, peace and justice, as well as adult elementary and early childhood catechesis and youth ministry.

Our most recent event was held February 23, 2017 (Youth Day) & February 24-26, 2017 and had 37,247 in attendance, with 199 speakers presenting 308 workshops in three languages (English, Spanish, and Vietnamese), and with 20,189 registered for Congress. Youth Day attendance was 12,750. Our Exhibit Hall had 545 booths with 1,499 representatives from 257 different companies and organizations. (See the 2017 Statistics.)

Dates for our future events:
RECongress 2018 - March 15, 2018 (Youth Day) & March 16-18, 2018
RECongress 2019 - March 21, 2019 (Youth Day) & March 22-247, 2019
RECongress 2020 - February 20, 2020 (Youth Day) & February 21-23, 2020
RECongress 2021 - February 18, 2021 (Youth Day) & February 19-21, 2021


 


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