BOSTON (CNS) — A national and international crowd of Catholic educators converged on Boston April 11 to kick off the National Catholic Educational Association 2012 Convention and Expo.

According to organizers, more than 10,000 participants registered for the three-day event at the John B. Hynes Convention Center. The NCEA provided attendees more than 400 workshops on topics relevant to Catholic education, an exhibit hall showcasing 267 education-related venders, and a list of nationally recognized keynote speakers.

Oblate Father Ronald Rolheiser, president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, gave the opening keynote address titled “It’s a Big Enough Church.” He focused the talk on delivering a message of tolerance among the faithful, enemies and even political rivals.

He addressed the danger of becoming bitter and responding to attacks with attacks, anger with anger, and intolerance with intolerance.

“There is just no virtue in that, you are simply giving back the energy received and we are hard-wired for that. We are not hard-wired for forgiveness,” Father Rolheiser said.

He said the faithful need to be influenced by the writings of the Gospel, and particularly the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.

Father Rolheiser used the image of Jesus removing his outer garment as revealing his true self. “He took off his outer garment and he was able to then reach across in ways we cannot reach across when we have our ‘outer garments on.'”

After the keynote, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley celebrated the convention’s opening Mass in the nearly filled Veteran Memorial Auditorium, which seats 3,000.

Before beginning the Mass, the cardinal greeted the crowd with a message of support for the importance of the mission of Catholic education.

“We are so grateful to all of you for the goal that you have in Catholic education, one of the most important ministries of our Church,” the cardinal said.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta joined bishops and archbishops from all over New England, and the country on the altar with the cardinal.

In his homily, the cardinal again touched on the mission of Catholic schools in the Catholic Church.

“Academic excellence is important, but we must be convinced that we have something greater to give our students. We can help them to rise and walk in newness of life,” the cardinal said.

The Archdiocese of Boston brought together a combined chorus from high schools in Massachusetts to provide the music as the cardinal celebrated the Mass.

“They have been the all-stars of the convention so far,” said Mary Grassa O’Neill, secretary for Catholic education and superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Boston.

The convention marked the sixth time that Boston hosted the NCEA convention since 1909; the city last hosted it 2004. The Boston Archdiocese ranks ninth among U.S. dioceses in enrollment of Catholic school students, with 122 schools serving 41,964 students.

O’Neill noted that the entire region of New England hosted the convention, which she said the Archdiocese of Boston could not have accomplished alone.

“We are especially proud to partner with our fellow New England dioceses, bishops and education colleagues to showcase for the country the exceptional and inspiring story of Catholic education in the United States,” she said.

The Catholic dioceses of New England including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont are co-hosted the convention with the Boston Archdiocese.

Combined, those dioceses encompass more than 1,324 parishes serving more than 14 million people and they have 420 elementary and secondary schools enrolling 119,804 students.

The annual convocation of the National Association of Parish Coordinators and Directors of Religious Education and the Catholic Library Association held convocations and conventions concurrently with the NCEA convention.

Parish catechetical leaders and coordinators of religious education participated in liturgies, workshops, networking and prayer with Bishop Richard J. Malone of Portland, Maine, and Joe Paprocki, consultant for faith formation for Loyola Press in Chicago, who gave opening and keynote addresses.

“One of the things NCEA does best is to convene people, to gather them together from all aspects of Catholic education to share ideas and to learn from each other. Our annual convention does just that and we are looking forward to this year’s meeting,” NCEA President Karen Ristau said.

“You can tell our members like Boston conventions because we keep coming back. In addition to the wonderful programs NCEA plans, Boston offers so many opportunities for our participants to gather and socialize informally after convention hours,” she said.

Pineo is on the staff of The Pilot in Boston.