A History of the IACAC

On 17 December 1903, the first powered airplane was invented and flown as an instrument of trade and commerce, carrying mail first, then mail and passengers, flying less than 100 miles an hour (160 km/h). You may be interested in visiting a website which tells something of the story of the FIRST FLIGHT. By following the many links you will find the story of the Wright Brothers and other pioneers of aviation.

By 1943, the number of people travelling by air had grown beyond the industry’s wildest dreams. This phenomenon was actually changing the society and lifestyle of the world. Larger aircraft, speed and distance brought about huge airports located far from the metropolitan cities, dictating needs within the airport terminal buildings.

Travellers, while waiting for their flight or to change planes to continue their journey, as well as airport employees who have to work all hours and days, did not have a place or facility within the airport terminal that they might go to for prayer or meditation or counselling. The need for an airport ministry within the airport complex was first realised in 1944 by an Eastern Airlines employee, Edwin Standford Hogg, who inspired the foundation of the Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport Chaplaincy, as

  • a place that is always open, affirming the many faiths that mingle at a giant airport.
  • a place set apart for individual prayer and meditation.
  • a welcomed oasis of stillness and quiet in the rush and roar of an airport facility.
  • a chaplain available for those who face emotional crisis and need personal guidance and counselling.

The first known Airport Chapel was opened in 1951 at Boston’s Logan International Airport under the direction of Cardinal Cushing.

Other chapels opened soon after and in 1961, Father Xavier de Meeus of Brussels met with Father Steux in France at Orly Airport. Father de Meeus thought it would be a good idea to get other airport chaplains together and in 1967 ten Catholic priests met in Brussels. They decided to try and meet annually and have done so ever since except in the year of 1985, when for local domestic reasons, the conference in Rio de Janeiro had to be cancelled at short notice.

The meetings were intended to be informal with no designated leader although the leadership was always given to the founder, Fr Xavier de Meeus. The group had no official name although the members referred to it as The Airport Chaplains Association but it did have a badge. The French Government had given permission for Civil Aviation Chaplains to use and wear the same badge as that used by French Airforce Chaplains.

In 1969 during the gathering in New York the decision was made to invite Non Roman Catholic chaplains to become part of the group. By 1973, at the conference in Malta, it was decided to establish a Permanent Secretariat at Frankfurt under the guidance of Father Walter Mäader SAC. No other managerial structure was then envisaged, but in the following year, in Vancouver, it was decided to adopt a basic constitution and a formal name.

The Association’s First Name & First Constitution

Civil Aviation Chaplains International is an ecumenical group of ordained civil aviation chaplains (each of whom is recognised by a duly constituted religious body and by C.A.C.I.) whose work consists in the priestly, pastoral and prophetic ministering to and with the people who work at and use airports/aviation.

The intent is to be as inclusive as possible with respect to membership whilst protecting the soundness of the group and its work as God gives us wisdom, courage, and the love to do so.

The purposes of C.A.C.I. are:

To provide for and promote an essential fellowship under God for those engaged in ministry in the unique environment of civil aviation.

To provide a continuing exchange of experience and insights to enhance the fulfilment of our tasks.

To develop our understanding of how civil aviation functions; its effect upon people engaged in and using it; and its influence in shaping our world.

To engage in mutual theological and sociological study and reflection related to our task.

To affirm and communicate our experience of God’s one world which is given to us through the nature of civil aviation and our involvement in it.

To nurture ecumenical and spiritual relationships in the world which God has created and is creating.

The purposes of C.A.C.I. are to be fulfilled through meetings at intervals to be decided by CACI, by the maintenance of a secretariat and by the promulgation of information.

A planning committee consisting of the President, Vice President and Permanent Secretariat will be elected annually and will also act as a credentials committee.

The development of the ministry of CACI requires an inter-dependent relationship with the parent religious bodies of its several members. CACI actively seeks to establish and maintain such inter-dependent relationships in order to promote the necessary dialogue, mutual co-operation and use of resources that would help to fulfil the ministry we share in civil aviation.

At this conference in 1974 Fr Xavier de Meeus was elected “officially” as President and Fr Walter Mäader SAC continued as Secretary. The Revd Peter Holloway from Melbourne Australia was chosen as Vice President, being elected as President at the conference held in Minneapolis in 1980. He stood down as President on his retirement in 1984, the year in which a more formal constitution, upon which the present one is based, was approved and the name of the Association was changed to the INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CIVIL AVIATION CHAPLAINS. The constitution was drafted under the guidance of a well-qualified lawyer with wide experience in corporate affairs.   The decision to adopt a more formal type of constitution was central to the desire to have a body, which would be recognised as an authoritative body listed, by a recognised international registry. This object has never been achieved despite a number of attempts each of which has failed because of the conditions imposed by the laws of the several countries where that registration might have been achieved. Despite that failure the Association has continued to grow and increase its influence around the globe. As this is being written there are some 173 known airport chaplaincies in 43 countries and quite possibly there are others of which we have not yet heard about. New members are always welcome.

Apart from providing the services that our highly respected colleague, the Late Edwin “Happy” Hogg, envisaged, civil aviation chaplains today are called upon, ever increasingly, to support all those who use or work in this field. When there is an aircraft disaster – fortunately rare events – the chaplains have a vital role; when there is grief and sorrow in the environment the chaplain is there; when the industry is torn by industrial strife the chaplains are there to counsel all sides of the dispute; when domestic problems arise the chaplain has a willing ear to listen; no matter how traumatic life may be the airport chaplaincy can provide a level of expertise that understands the industry and is yet still independent of it.   The chaplains also join their people in rejoicing over great events, which create great joy and happiness for those concerned.   A survey conducted at London’s Heathrow Airport, many years ago, revealed that the vast majority of those questioned considered the most important role of the chaplain was “being on site and available if needed”.   It is indeed a wonderful thing to have a friend available in time of need.

An important part of the chaplains’ work is praying for all those working in the aviation environment and, in particular, for other chaplains who may be facing particular challenges at any given time. They also work to shared their knowledge and experience with each other and this is achieved mainly at the annual conferences where time is devoted each year for sharing what we term “The Chaplains’ Stories”. The Association has also produced a number of training documents to assist newly appointed chaplains.

The terms of office for the President, Vice President and Media Officer is for two years. The Secretary and Treasurer are elected for three years. Each year the “host chaplaincy” for the next annual conference nominates an ex officio Host Chaplain who then also holds office for two years. These officials comprise the Executive Board of the Association which meets three times each year, holding a meeting immediately before each conference and again soon after the close of that conference. The other meeting is held early in the year, at or near the venue for the next conference and lasts for three days.

On our website there is a file showing details of the Annual Conferences and listing all the Presidents of the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains which began as a group of Catholic priests but now embraces all faiths ministering at airports around the world.

Just as Orville & Wilbur Wright could never have imagined how their invention would develop to carry the many thousands of passengers, which it does these days, we suspect that Father Xavier de Meeus never in his wildest dreams thought that he was founding such a world-encompassing organisation.   How true it is to say that “mighty oaks from little acorns grow!”

Updated by Rev Peter and Mary Holloway in honour of Edwin Standford Hoggs who wrote the original history and was also one of the founders of the Chaplaincy at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport. Rewritten June 2010 and updated September again in 2016.