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 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 K. Clarke
1956 T In addition to the CCD religious education classes there were teacher training programs throughout the year and one Sunday a year, a three-hour religious education meeting at Immaculate Heart College -- this became the genesis of the Religious Education Congress.
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.
Msgr. Boyer's approach was a turn from "guilt" to love -- the sacraments, commandments, to be "fishers", to "respond out of love rather than fear." Topics were scaled to grade levels and child psychology, some for adult instruction. Four of the main texts were written by Msgr. Boyer, published by Sadlier.
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)
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, currently the Hyatt Regency) 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 newspaper writer Al Antczak (later to become Editor) recalled waiting 10 minutes to get on a crowded elevator.
International Hotel at LAX
1969 The Los Angeles airport-area hotel drew more than the 7,000 people in attendance. The fog came. Escalators broke. It was more crowded than ever. It was decided to move to a larger hotel. The 1969 Confraternity Congress was the last event held at the International Hotel. The next year it would move to Anaheim, with the Disneyland Hotel as the "Headquarters Hotel" for the event.
See the 1969 Registration Book.
The new 319-room 'Marina Tower' (originally to be named 'Ceritos Tower') officially opened on January 15, 1969.
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. Msgr. Boyer took the chance on moving the event to a much larger facility -- 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. (At that time, the cities of Orange County were still a part of the Los Angeles Archdiocese.) 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
Anaheim Convention Center History: In 1964, the Anaheim City Council approved plans for construction of an “Arenatorium” and exhibit complex, which included a 7,500-seat Arena, a 100,000-square-foot exhibit hall (Hall A) and 35,000 square feet of meeting space. Groundbreaking of this new city asset took place on May 7, 1965. The $14.7 million complex officially opened its doors on July 12, 1967.
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.
View the 1971 Flyer
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 1977 Congress Program Book
Date: February 10-13, 1977
Theme: "Come Follow Me"
Archbishop of Los Angeles: Cardinal Timothy Manning
Bishop of Orange: Bishop William Johnson
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
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.
Sr. Edith Prendergast
1998 With the same daily schedule of three workshops per day, in 1998 the “ninth period” workshop on Sunday was removed and replaced by two Sunday morning keynote talks. The Closing Liturgy was also scheduled to begin earlier at 3:30 p.m. Additionally, the Closing Liturgy was also scheduled to begin earlier, at 3:30 p.m. Though the procedure was being tried on an “experimental basis,” stated then-Director Sr. Edith Prendergast, RSC, it has continued as the standard RECongress schedule.
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; he was named CCD Director in 1970 and moved the Congress event that year to its current home – a much larger facility at the Anaheim Convention Center (then, still part of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles). He was 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.
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.
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 Congress 2007 Registration Guidebook
Date: March 2-4, 2007
Theme: "Stand in the Light" / "Permanecer en la luz"
Archbishop of Los Angeles: Cardinal Roger Mahony
Bishop of Orange: Bishop William Johnson
Director: Sr. Edith Prendergast, RSC
Event Coordinators: Paulette Smith & Jan Pedroza
Youth Day Coordinator: Mike Norman
In 2008, RECongress hosted a dinner in honor of Sr. Edith Prendergast, RSC, and her 21 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).
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.
Sr. Edith Prendergast
Fr. Chris Bazyouros
Following nearly three decades of service, Sr. Edith Prendergast, RSC, 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.
The Anaheim Convention Center begins construction of "ACC North" at the area of Car Park 1 (on Katella Ave. and adjacent to the Arena). With prior major expansions in 1974, 1982, 1990, 1993, 1998-2000, 2013, this expansion -- the seventh since opening in 1967 -- will provide an additional 200,000 square feet of meeting space and will replace Car Park 1. Construction began in the summer of 2015 and is expected to open in time for Congress 2019.
2016 Cardinal Roger Mahony in chat room. Archbishop José 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 José 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).
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 was held Friday, April 21 at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Westlake Village.
The new "ACC North" view from the Arena Fountain courtyard. The ribbon-cutting ceremony held on September 26.
In attendance (left to right): Joanna Aguilar, Natalie Aviles, Chris Krause, Victoria Radleigh Smith, Jan Pedroza, Fr. Chris Bazyouros and Paulette Smith.
The latest expansion at the Anaheim Convention Center, called ACC North, had its ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 26, 2017. RECongress 2018 was among the first events to use the new facility. The mixed-use building is in the area of former Car Park 1, off of Katella Ave. and east of the Arena. Beginning with Youth Day, we utilized both floors -- Level 100 rooms located on the lower level and Level 200 rooms are found on the upper level.
Sr. Rosalia Meza
Sr. Rosalia Meza, VDMF, is named Senior Director for the Office of Religious Education on July 1, 2019. The member of the Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity succeeded Fr. Chris Bazyouros, who was appointed Parish Administrator of St. John Chrysostom Church in Inglewood. In addition to her duties for the Archdiocese, Sr. Meza also serves as the regional provincial of her order.
See the Angelus interview with Sr. Rosalia
Mary Janus succumbed to a battle with cancer on July 5, 2020. She was integral to the music everyone has experienced at RECongress over the past 20-plus years, whether liturgical or entertainment. She began singing at St. Catherine’s of Sienna in Reseda, and it was there that the music group Harmonia came to life. Mary would travel with Harmonia to other parishes and eventually was invited to participate in the Archdiocesan Regional Congresses and later being asked to participate in Los Angeles Archdiocese RECongress. She also served at Our Lady of Peace in Van Nuys and served in various rolls for 20 years at Our Lady of Lourdes in Northridge.
2021 RECongress 2021 was our first virtual event, with over 10,000 people attending. The online event was held Thursday, February 18 through Sunday, February 21, 2021 (with content remaining online through March 21). The registration fee of $35 included 7 Keynote presenters; 62 speakers offering 52 workshops; entertainment; Sacred Space, an intercultural prayer experience, in addition to the Youth Track on Friday and Saturday from 2-5 pm.
Rev. Ron Griffen
RECongress Speaker/Performer -- Rev. Dr. Ron Griffen died on March 8, 2021 after a battle with leukemia. Born in 1947 in Tacoma, Washington, his family moved to Long Beach when he was a child. During college, he was approached by campus priests to write music for folk masses. Although a Methodist, this led to an early career writing and singing in the Catholic Church. Ron recorded four albums of Christian music and wrote three RECongress theme songs -- "Doing The Truth In Love" (1978), "Come, Follow Me" (1977) and "He Calls Us Each By Name" (1979). With 27 years in Christian music ministry, he joined Claremont Seminary and became an Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. His served congregations in Pomona, Laguna Hills, San Luis Obispo, Laguna Country, and El Centro. He retired from El Centro Methodist Church in June 2020 after 11 years of service as its Senior Pastor.
RECongress Volunteer -- Frank Ponnet passed away on July 7, 2021 at the age of 67. The Ponnet family was part of St. Luke Church in Temple City. Frank attended Our Lady Queen of Angels Minor Seminary and St. John Seminary (class of 1975). In 1977 Frank began his career as an educator. He taught at Our Lady of Loretto, Mayfield Senior School, and a few long-time substitutions at local Catholic high schools. During the summer of 1979, at a workshop for youth ministers called Damascas, Frank met Dawn Kopitcke and were married in August 1980. Since 1990, both Frank and Dawn worked at Holy Family in South Pasadena, where Frank served in roles as youth minister, RCIA director, adult faith formation, and director of worship, among others. He and Dawn were also long associated with Youth Day and the Religious Education Congress. Frank is brother to RECongress speaker Fr. Chris Ponnet.
John August Swanson
RECongress Exhibitor -- World-renown local artist John August Swanson died Sept. 23, 2021 at age 83. He had been in hospice care at St. John of God Care Center in Los Angeles with final stage heart failure. His paintings, which touched on topics ranging from social justice and biblical recreations to circus themes, have been shown in the Vatican, the Smithsonian, the Tate as well as the Victoria and Albert museums in London, the Museum of Modern Art and at Emory College, where most of his paintings serigraphs and giclee are on display. Swanson in 2005 was one of 33 inaugural recipients — including Pope John Paul II, Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter — of the Mother Teresa Award for achievement in beautifying the world.
2022 RECongress 2022 will be our first hybrid event -- held both in-person in Anaheim and online. The events will occur simultaneously and will begin with Youth Day on March 17 and continue with the Adult Days from Friday, February 18 through Sunday, February 20. The registration fee is $35 for the virtual event (includes both Youth Day and the Adult Days content) and $75 for the in-person event.
Virtual Youth Day: Events include Youth-led engagements, the Opening and Closing Events, 4 On-Demand Workshops, the Youth
Day Keynote, Music and a Liturgy.
Virtual Adult Days: Events includes the Opening Event, 31 On-Demand Workshops in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, Keynotes, a Virtual Exhibit Hall, Entertainment, Liturgies, Sacred Space, along with interactive “Click.Connect.Converse” events.
The content from virtual Youth Day and the virtual Adult Days is available March 17 through May 17.
There is a new change to the in-person schedule for RECongress 2022: Workshop sessions are now one hour each (instead of the previous 90-minute sessions).
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.
Dates for our future events:
RECongress 2023 - February 23, 2023 (Youth Day) & February 24-26, 2023
RECongress 2024 - February 15, 2024 (Youth Day) & February 16-18, 2024
RECongress 2025 - March 20, 2025 (Youth Day) & March 21-23, 2025
RECongress 2026 - February 19, 2026 (Youth Day) & February 20-22, 2026
ABOUT THE RECONGRESS:
• REVIEWS Index -- See what's been written about Congress!
• Milestones of the Religious Education Congress • CCD / RECongress history in pictures • Congress Themes (1956-present) • RECongress 1970 (photos) • The CCD: History in the Making (1972) • "A look back at 30 years of Congress" (2000) • "The past history of the Religious Ed Congress" (2001) • "The early days: 'A certain spirit' " (2001) • " 'Congress’ at 45" (2012) • "Still growing, a half century later" (2016)