Wednesday, May 31, 2017

(187) CATHOLIC FAMILYLAND: Play and Pray; Grow in Every Way as a Family……… A National Treasure in the Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio


Alumni Corps Volunteers play with a group of children of the Stapleton family on the St. Tarsicius Sports Field.  Clockwise from Eden (8) in red and back turned: Ezekiel (3), Josiah (6), a friend, Elyse Murphy, Naomi Sebastian, Aubree (11), and Riley (9).  Running is Rachel Henley. 
Dial 1-800-FOR-MARY and register for a six day family retreat/vacation full of fun and spiritual growth for the whole family.  That phone number alone says a lot about Catholic Familyland on this the 100th anniversary of the six appearances of Mary to the shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal a century ago.  

Jerry Coniker (born 1938), a very successful entrepreneur, founded Coniker Systems, which manufactured communications, time management, and sales control systems for Fortune 500 companies.  At the peak of his success he felt a call to something much bigger and more important.  In 1971 he sold his business and moved his family of eight children to Fatima, Portugal for a two year long retreat.  There Mary prepared Jerry and his wife Gwen for a special mission, the same as she and the Angel of Peace did with Lucy, Francisco, and Jacinta.

Upon their return Coniker became the executive director of the Militia Immaculata, which the Marian Franciscan saint, Maximilian Kolbe founded in Poland in 1917.  In 1975 Jerry and Gwen Coniker founded the Apostolate for Family Consecration (AFC) in Kenosha, Wisconsin, receiving official Church approval.

The Apostolate’s spirituality includes St. Pope John Paul II’s dual consecration: Totus Tuus………giving everything to Jesus through Mary in union with St. Joseph and Consecrate them in truth (John 17:17).  That is asking God to sanctify its members in His word. Click on
Restoring Our Abandoned Seminary Buildings.  The Apostolate started out, with some family retreats and producing television programs for Catholic cable television, particularly EWTN.  In 1990, the Conikers seized a great opportunity; the Apostolate borrowed $1 million to buy from the Diocese of Steubenville its abandoned St. John Vianney Seminary property of several rather large buildings, four chapels, a forest, and an abandoned youth camp, all spread over 950 acres.  The complex, 15 minutes from Steubenville, Ohio off of Route 22, had not been used since its closing in 1978.
       Msgr. William R. Myers (pastor emeritus of our family’s St. Louis Church Gallipolis), Fr. Walter E. Heinz (pastor emeritus of Sacred Heart Church Pomeroy, Msgr. Robert J. Kawa (pastor of St. Bernard Church Beverly studied there for 12 after the 8th Grade), Msgr. John Michael Campbell (pastor of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Assumption, another national treasure ( &, Msgr. Mark J. Froehlich, and many other older priests active and retired of our diocese studied at the former seminary.  Little did Bishop John Mussio, the founding bishop of the diocese, know how God would use the seminary complex he built.  Yes, “man proposes, but God disposes”.  Perhaps some day the Diocese of Steubenville will again have a seminary of its own instead of depending upon seminaries of other dioceses.

Gwen & Jerry Conniker, parents of 13 children the founders of the Apostolate of Family Consecration.   That entrepreneurial spirit, hard work, ingenuity, faith, trust in God, and devotion to Mary made the Apostolate so fruitful and attracted many dedicated volunteers to work with him.
          The Apostolate restored the buildings with a group of dedicated lay men and women, called the Catholic Corps influenced by the Militia Immaculata under lifelong promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  They brought in a variety of skills…….from handymen and technicians to secretaries and accountants.  What they didn’t know, they learned.  Some of the original Catholic Corps men and women have been with the Apostolate since its conception in 1975.  Others volunteered for work fests and still do, became affiliated with the Apostolate, or were hired as employees.  The Lord brought the men and women the Apostolate needed.
They made the gymnasium, overgrown with plants and moss, into air conditioned St. Joseph Auditorium with great acoustics and two giant TV screens, suitable for high quality professional video taping and conferences.  They converted one of the buildings of the Sacred Heart Complex into a television studio for producing video tapes for Catholic television, schools, families, and for individual use.
Totus Tuus Conferences. The first experience our family had with AFC’s Familyland was in the summer of 1997.  We responded to a flyer in the back of our little St. Louis Church in Gallipolis-Ohio, which described their weekend Totus Tuus Conference.  It featured nationally known speakers in St. Joseph Auditorium of the Queen of All Hearts Conference Complex.  Families had to stay in tents or area motels as we did (Jaga was pregnant with Joseph).  About a mile up the road or through the woods by foot is Familyland’s Holy Family Park……about eight cabins that the Knights of Columbus built for their youth camps, since then abandoned.  That same area had been adapted for campers and recreational vehicles with water and electricity hookups.
          The next year (1998) marked the beginning of the annual week long “Holy Family Fests”…….Faith, Family, and Fun.  For a video overview, click on The Apostolate started out with three sessions and most of the families stayed in tents or RVs.  The August nights in a tent were so cold that Jaga and I used our 11 month old son Joseph to sleep between us and keep us warm like a hot water bag.  The baby of the family is now 20 years old, over six feet tall and 190 pounds.The Apostolate started out with three sessions and most of the families stayed in tents or RVs.  The August nights in a tent were so cold that Jaga and I used our 11 month old son Joseph to sleep between us and keep us warm like a hot water bag.  The baby of the family is now 20 years old, over six feet tall and 190 pounds.   

         We practically raised our children in Familyland, going there year after year. In 2015 John-Paul (a math teacher) and Naomi (then a nursing student) spent their summer as members of the Alumni Corps, which prepares the facilities for each session and then work as counselors during each fest.  It was a great experience for them, especially the spiritual formation they obtained by living the life of the Catholic Corps.  There’s also the Service Corps which consists of high school students to help.  The young volunteers know Familyland since the times their parents brought them as little saints under construction……..and still are as young men and women.  In 2012 our entire family (less Stephanie) helped out as members of the Jubilee Corps for a week doing an assortment of odd jobs.

        Cabins. By 1999 the swimming pool in Holy Family Park was renovated and the Apostolate borrowed money to construct 75 cabins, equipped with electrical outlets in St. James Field above the Queen of All Hearts Conference Complex (including St. Joseph Auditorium).  The members of the AFC had the faith that if they build the cabins, families will come.  Every three or four cabins share a water spigot on the corner.  A couple of large vans have toilets, sinks, and showers.   Some ten years later the cabins were equipped with electrical heaters and air conditioning to “spoil” the families. 

Two brothers exploring the loft of their home for a week

Each cabin has a dining table, small refrigerator, and a small storage/dressing room.  The parents sleep in a large bed while four kids sleep on four bunk beds and up to five more can sleep in the loft (pictured above).  Some families include grandparents, a relative, or a friend of one of the children as guests for the week.  Most families prepare their own breakfasts and lunches, but eat a catered dinner in community in a picnic pavilion.  The Apostolate honored our family by putting a sign inside Cabin #31, asking the occupants to pray for us.  We thank them for their prayers. To get acquainted with my family, go to our last Family Newsletter at

Registration and community dinner on the first day of a Family Fest
          Holy Family Fest Activities. The families in vans and cars arrive on typically a hot Saturday afternoon in Holy Family Park to begin their six day family retreat with registration, name tags, and settling in.  After a community dinner there’s Mass outside behind the rustic chapel in Holy Family Park.  That sets the tone for the Apostolate’s mission:  to strengthen families and make them holy.

          At every Family Fest, the daily homilies cover the Four Points of St. John Paul II’s Marian Spirituality.  The Apostolate summarizes it as follows: 

1)   Sin the cause of all unhappiness.  Sin includes both evil committed and good omitted as for example, irresponsibility in fulfilling our daily duties.

2)   Grace won by Jesus is more powerful than sin, the world, one’s own flesh, or the devil.

3)   Holiness is essential for salvation, but our individual meager efforts and merits alone are not enough to generate the reparation for sin needed to convert our world. 

4)   Consecration to Jesus through Mary, in union with St. Joseph, is the answer.  “Our good works, passing through Mary’s hands, are progressively purified.  Consequently, their merit and their satisfactory and prayer value are also increased” (St. Louis de Montfort).  We refer to this as the “Marian Multiplier”.  Mary is the key to God’s mercy for bringing world peace as promised at Fatima.  She wants, in the words of St. Maximilian Kolbe, “souls who will consecrate themselves entirely to her, who will become in her hands effective instruments for the defeat of satan and the spreading of God’s Kingdom upon earth.”

At 9 am there’s Daily Mass in St. Joseph Auditorium at the Queen of All Hearts Family Fest & Conference Complex for every family in what quickly becomes a community for a week.  The Catholic Corps provides a choir with music accompaniment to lead the congregation in song whose lyrics appear on the two giant screens.  The hour and a half Mass is vibrant and solemn.  The participation is enthusiastic as the singing reverberates in the auditorium.  Sunday Mass begins with a procession that includes the Knights of Columbus in full regalia and every child who received his/her first communion that year in the same dress.  After Mass the book store is open with a great variety of reading materials, videos, religious articles, and other resources (also by phone and on line at  Outside there’s playground equipment.

                 A vibrant Divine Liturgy (Daily Mass) in St. Joseph Auditorium 

       After Mass in the morning the kids are divided into groups.  Toddlers stay in the nursery in Redeemer Hall with their Moms who watch the Mass and talks afterwards on TV.  The “Saints Under Construction” are kindergarteners and elementary school kids; middle schoolers belong to the “Totus Tuus” group; and the high schoolers belong to the “Destiny Generation”.  Each group has a Vacation Bible School of sorts each morning.  
Organizing the kids in front of  St. Joseph Auditorium after Daily Mass in the morning.
 Redeemer Hall is on the Right. 
The high schoolers and college students (young adults) get another more intense session in the late evening in their clubhouse called “Maria, Al, and Dom’s Inn” after three very young saints: St. Maria Goretti, St. Aloysius de Gonzaga, & St. Dominic Savio.  Those sessions are intense, including confession and adoration by the end of the week.  Each dad is asked to write a letter to his teen.  Some in the Destiny Generation even find the sessions a turning point in their lives.  The parents get a dose of Catholic adult education since the average person in the pew does not know his or her faith.

A session of the Destiny Generation at Maria, Al, & Dom’s Inn, the youth clubhouse
          The afternoons are set aside for play and prayer too at Holy Family Park.  There’s St. John Bosco Swimming Pool and the 300 foot water slide down a steep hill in the woods.  Furthermore, there’s horse or pony riding, volleyball, softball, basketball, tennis, hiking, etc.  The older guys and gals have a lot of fun in the basketball tournament.  At 3 pm all activity stops for a moment to recite the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  There’s Eucharistic Adoration at Queen of Angels Chapel throughout the afternoon as well as a number of priests outside, each sitting under a tree or umbrella to hear confessions.

Ezekiel Stapleton three years of age accompanied by a Service Corps Volunteer

Optional Adoration in the afternoon at Queen of Angels Chapel in Holy Family Park

The 300 Foot Waterslide as a Service Corps Volunteer looks on to assure safety
Everyone is encouraged to make their family retreat complete with sacramental confession.  Priests may hear confessions for a few days, rest, be reinvigorated, and have a wonderful experience to share with their parishes.  Call 1-800-FOR-MARY to be connected to the Apostolate’s full time chaplain.

Swimming in the hot sun of the afternoon.  Modesty is emphasized……only 2 piece bathing suits. 
      The evenings bring more fun.  One evening the Catholic Corps and staff put on a skit; another evening has rosary and marshmallows with a bonfire.  Other evenings have square dancing and other dances for the teens.
Every family is encouraged to creatively make a family banner and then present it to the Familyland community and explain its design.  The Apostolate supplies the materials.  Ours is hung up on a wall in the basement.  It features the Sacred Heart on a cross, emitting red and bluish-white rays.  Since we are a Polish-American family, we have written on the right, “Jezu ufam tobie” and its translation on the left, ”Jesus, I trust in you”.  Stephanie drew an image of Christ on the upper left and on the upper right St. Faustina, who at the time was recently canonized.  The Apostolate of Family Consecration was one of the first to promote Divine Mercy.  
Fr. Kevin Barrett, Apostolate Chaplain dialogues with the children regarding a decade meditation at  the Bonfire Rosary with marshmallows.

The Alumni Corps presents.

Banner Night…….Families present banners that reflect their particular family.

       Great Fellowship and Friendship.  Family members would get to know each other at dinner, in their groups, sports tournaments, get-togethers at a campfire among neighboring tents and RVs after the kids are put to bed.  I met a couple of guys in the bathroom while washing up in the morning.  

       Some 15 years ago Capt. Guy Gruters came to speak about how his faith got him through six years as a POW in North Vietnam.  I met him in the bathroom and we became friends.  Shortly after, I helped to arrange for him to be invited to speak at the University of Rio Grande and earlier this year as the main speaker for the Diocese of Steubenville Men’s Day of Renewal.  For one of his recent talks at Fr. Larry Richards’ 22/32 Men’s Conference, go to and an interview by Marcus Grodi of EWTN at

Often lifelong friendships are made among the parents as well as the kids who even go on little vacations to each other’s homes.  About 15 years ago at Familyland I heard someone speaking Polish at the Rosary Bonfire.  I immediately brought my wife, Jaga to meet them and we had an instant friendship that continues today.  Riczard and Cecylia Koczwara’s family (six children) live in Meza, Arizona where they operate a small motel, the Desert Rose. 

One of the first people we met at Familyland was the Belback family.  Even though Regis is from my hometown (Duquesne, PA) and parish (St. Joseph’s), I met him and his wife Mary Ann there for the first time in 1997.  However, we did know his parents, Madeline and Stanley, who are of the Great Generation that lived through the Great Depression and World War II.  They invited us to their home one time and Stanley showed us his war mementos.  One was a very special rosary.  Stanley was part of the third wave of the Normandy invasion on June 7, 1944…….the longest day.  Climbing the hills with the German pillboxes on top, men were being mowed down all around him.  Stanley was hit, but the bullet miraculously glazed off a rosary bead and saved his life.  Madeline’s prayers were effective; prayer works. 
We met other great friends for the first time, Dorota & Marek Stanczak from Detroit.  Stephanie made a lasting friendship into adulthood with Marie Nicole Nowak from Philadelphia and Naomi befriended Chloee Jones from Virginia.  There are so many other wonderful families we befriended there, but did not have the time to keep in touch until we would perhaps meet again the following year.

After the smaller children are put to bed, the teens could still forge friendships in their special evening program. 

My Familiy’s Memories of Familyland.  The family in the tent next door to us was unique.  The father took care of the six kids because his wife, an obstetrician, could make more money than he.  The doctor related that when a new patient calls for an appointment, her receptionist states up front: “We do not prescribe contraceptives”.  The Catholic obstetricians in her community gave her more flack on that than anyone else.  Lo and behold, she got more patients than ever by being faithful to Church teaching.

One day 10 year old John-Paul made a deal for credit at the concession stand, assuring Greg Becker that his father would pay.  As a joke, Greg and I plotted to make John-Paul think that he would have to wash dishes to pay for the food.

Stephanie received her First Holy Communion in the year 2000, but for some reason refused to wear her outfit in the opening procession at Sunday Mass.  It took Mary Ellen Redington to convince her.  Today Stephanie is a teacher and a daily communicant.

In 2005 Naomi, 11 years old, was afraid to go to confession because she forgot the opening prayer.  All are encouraged to make reconciliation a part of the family retreat.  Three of the girls she befriended encouraged and coached her.  “Naomi, it’s easy………just say ‘Bless me father for I have sinned’”.  It was so cute.
As a teen, John-Paul loved the basketball tournament and Stephanie played too.  Both were on their high school varsity teams. 

We, especially John-Paul, were thrilled to meet the great Irish singer, Dana, and see her sing at one of the Family Fests.  She was the star performer at World Youth Day 1993 in Denver, singing the theme song, “We Are One Body, the Body of Christ”.  Hear her sing it by clicking on   She also sings Totus Tuus (All Yours, Mary which is on the coat of arms of St. John Paul II).  Familyland takes both Mary and St. John Paul II as its patrons.   Click on


In the year 2000 my sister-in-law from Poland came to visit us and we took her with us for a week at Familyland.  She knows practically no English, but enjoyed the Mass, time to reflect in the chapels, the walks, swimming, and the atmosphere.

Then there are the mundane memories……moving in and making the cabin livable, choosing beds for the kids, keeping the cabin clean, washing dishes late at night at the corner water facet, and cleaning up before leaving.  We weren’t completely isolated from the outside world.  As Chair at the School of Business of the University of Rio Grande, I had to check with my secretary on how things were going every couple of days.

Our most recent memory was Naomi’s graduation from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Nursing.  We stayed at Familyland and commuted to the graduation festivities.  Joseph, Jaga, and myself had a wonderful time, taking a walk in the morning and spending time in the chapel of Redeemer Hall to make it a mini retreat.  When we got locked out, Winnie and Catherine of the Catholic Corps came to our rescue and inspired this article.

We invite readers of this article to submit their own memories of Familyland and we will put them together in the Appendix of this article.  Write to me at 

Families inspire and strengthen each other to have the courage to persevere in raising truly Catholic families with truly Catholic values instead of simply conforming to the prevalent culture and doing what everybody else does.  We must be willing to be counter cultural.   May Catholic Familyland be a force for the restoration of the Catholic culture we once had instead of allowing ourselves to be absorbed by the secular culture and its decadent values.  We must do as Mary asked us to do at Fatima.

         Large families don’t feel out of place in Familyland since they are common.  The families are among like-minded friends and learn from each other especially in regard to homeschooling and raising kids.  What is ridiculed and considered to be weird in our secular culture is normal at Familyland.   

      Chrissy Stapleton of St. Louis Church Gallipolis, Ohio reflects the thinking of many toward the end of their first Family Fest in 2015: “We are thoroughly enjoying ourselves.  We are already making plans for next year!  The kids have made so many friends!”  They come every year now.    

        Join in the fun and grow spiritually too.  For 2017 a family can choose among: June 17-23 | July 1-7 | July 15-21 | July 29-Aug. 4 | Aug. 12-18.  Register as soon or you may have to wait until next year for a cabin unless you stay in a motel, tent, or camper.  The first and last sessions sessions usually have space.  It’s rather expensive, but well worth it.  A vacation at Myrtle Beach or Atlantic City would be very expensive and more so.  To save money you can use a tent, camper, or RV and prepare your own meals.  There is some provision for needy families.  A lot more information on other activities during the year can be found at and  For some great videos and photos go to and type  “Catholic Familyland” in the Search Box. 

        A look at the license plates in the parking lot will show that many families travel from as far away as Florida, Missouri, Illinois, Massachusetts, and beyond.  Indeed Catholic Familyland is a treasure of the American Church and most Catholics in our diocese aren’t even aware of it, which is right under our noses…….15 minutes northwest of Steubenville, Ohio near Bloomingdale on Route 22.

Much More Than Summer Family Retreats

           There’s a lot more to the Apostolate of Family Consecration than the five Family Fests at Familyland during the summer. During the off season the AFC has weekend Mini Family Fests around the country.  There’s also the Duc in Altum Youth Retreat (separate for guys and gals), Cana for married couples, and Alone With God Retreats (one for men and another for women).  Workfests are open to able bodied men and women to maintain and improve Familyland as well as to prepare for the new summer season.  They combine prayer, fun, fellowship, and hard work.  For current dates and details go to

          For the climax of the centenary celebration of the Our Lady of Fatima apparitions on October 13, the Apostolate is sponsoring a pilgrimage to Portugal.  Go to the AFC website.

         Catholic Corps.  The Catholic Corps is the nucleus for the Apostolate of Family Consecration.  They remain as celibate lay men and women, not religious as such.  However, they live in community to grow in holiness under lifelong promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience. 

A Catholic Corps member dialogues with the kids at the Bonfire Rosary.

      Through a dynamic prayer life that includes daily Mass, Rosary, meditative spiritual reading, and Eucharistic devotion, the Catholic Corps is strengthened each day for the work of serving families and drawing them to evangelize other families.  In that way they aspire to ignite the laity through the work and mission of the Family Apostolate.

      Carolyn Stegmann reflects the thinking of all the members of the Catholic Corps: “I made a lifetime commitment to Christ as His bride, in the Catholic Corps.  I believe that Our Lady, St. Joseph, and my love for my country have helped me and the other Catholic Corps members to lay down our lives for families, that they may know and achieve God’s plan for their lives.”                                                                                                      
Red shirted Catholic Corps members at Rosary and Marshmallows at the bonfire.  From left to right are Greg Becker, Rory Freiermuth, Greg Caspers, Jack Heemskerk, and Zennel Sy.

          Disciple Membership includes single or married Catholic faithful who respond to God's universal call to holiness by living the spirituality of the AFC and by helping to carry out its ministry as part of the AFC spiritual family, while maintaining the commitments and duties of their state in life.  Like the Catholic Corps they aspire to grow in holiness and participate in works of evangelization. Disciple Members balance their spiritual, family, apostolic, and career responsibilities while seriously offering to God their time, talent, and treasure through the mission of the AFC.  Disciple Members live the AFC's spirituality of consecration through a commitment to daily prayer, regular formation, and apostolic service.  Involved married couples in the Apostolate are great witnesses.

Disciple Members – Skip and Fanny Lefebre.  Both work for the Apostolate all year round.

         Lay Evangelization Teams (LET) are comprised of families, parents, and singles who gather regularly for prayer, spiritual formation and fellowship, works of service and evangelization, and mutual support. These dynamic groups do not require any membership or formal commitment for people to participate.  LET prayer meetings/study groups may prayerfully read and discuss the Bible, spiritual classics (great books), etc.  The Apostolate supplies videos for additional insights.

          The AFC, particularly LET, promotes the “Family Hour” or “Be Not Afraid Family Hour”.  The large package of DVDs are designed for Catholic television, families, groups of friends or members of the parish who get together in a home for rosary, a homily, discussion, and fellowship.  The mystery meditations are portions of movies on the life of Christ and His mother.  The Apostolate adds a beautiful prayer at the end of each decade after the Fatima prayer:  “All for the sacred and Eucharistic hear of Jesus; all through the sorrowful and immaculate heart of Mary; all in union with St. Joseph.”

          The AFC publishes pamphlets and books such as a handbook of prayers and a two volume Family Catechism of the Catholic Church with explanations and activities for families, since the chief educators of the Faith are not PSR teachers or even priests, but parents.  It has the approval of the American bishops.  In addition the Apostolate produces videos and audios of speakers, catechetical resources, and other educational materials for parishes, schools, families, Catholic radio and television.  These can be obtained from the bookstore, by mail, by calling 1-800-FOR-MARY, or by going to


One of the books and DVD that the Apostolate of Family Consecration has published.  You can see the available books that can be purchased on line by going to    

Using the Internet.  In addition to the main website at and the store at, the Apostolate had internet television with programs on demand at any time.  The AFC had a special website for the complete Family Catechism in English and Spanish with many links for greater depth.  However, both were discontinued for now.  These websites have tremendous potential and hopefully will be revived when resources and market demand are sufficient to justify such innovative projects.  Their website at with its four step plan to family holiness still exists., a family guide with video links to supplement parish CCD/PSR programs, is being revamped.


The Apostolate had several international branches and even cable television.  The St. Joseph Asian Center in the Archdiocese of Manila (established 1994) in the Philippines did catechetical work and operated a Catholic television channel for several years before losing the satellite on which it had donated space.  A few Filipinos actually joined the Catholic Corps; they really impressed me and especially my wife Jaga, who stayed with them for a week in early 2009 after helping out as a nurse on a medical mission in Manila.
El Apostolado para la Consagración de la Familia en México (1999) did catechetical work for several years until native Mexicans were able to take it over.  The AFC also did work in Belgium (2000); Myanmar; Russia; Nigeria (2004); and Portugal. 

The ideal is for missionaries to train dedicated leaders to take over the work and the Apostolate did that to a large extent, especially in Mexico and the Philippines.  In that way the Apostolate’s international work was quite successful. 

The Familyland Television Network was perhaps the Apostolate’s most daring endeavor.  Its studios and large dish were located at Catholic Familyland in the Sacred Heart Complex.  For several years at the turn of the 21st Century it specialized in wholesome family programing and movies (some great reruns) appropriate for kids of all ages as well as adult programming such as the “Be Not Afraid Family Hour”, interviews, discussions, etc. along with children’s programs.  Jerry Coniker was the host for some of them; he has a great radio and television voice.
The Apostolate coexisted quite well with several Protestant groups in sharing the Sky Angel Satellite although it had to be very careful in not offending anyone in a delicate relationship.  Being conservative and traditional helped.  Evangelical families would watch their channels on Sky Angel, but some families would also watch the Familyland Channel……reruns of old Lone Range TV programs, Lassie movies, etc.  When some people would stumble upon Familyland religious programming while surfing, the Familyland Network would be a great ecumenical outreach.
It all ended when the Apostolate lost its free space on Sky Angel, which later came down from the sky.  Furthermore, both the Sky Angel group and the Apostolate had financial difficulties.  Sky Angel offered its subscribers a lifetime subscription for $500.  Our family accepted the offer, but lost the money after two years or so.  They would not even give us the Protestant programming after the Familyland Network went off the air.     

Retrenchment.  Eventually the high cost of operations and debt was unsustainable and the Apostolate had to retrench and cut back, specializing in what it does best…….family retreats, publications, and videos.  Such retrenchment is common among great entrepreneurs such as Jerry Coniker, who often overextend the enterprise and expand faster than resources allow.  The Apostolate now has a very good Board of Directors (see with professional managers.  This is stabilizing the Apostolate financially and putting more caution in making strategic decisions on future expansion. Alan Zimmerer - Director, President, & CEO is accountable to the Board

        Someday, God willing, the Apostolate will again be able to expand after a feasibility study, but at a slower pace in resuming its international outreach and perhaps even have a cable television channel again if the market is there to complement EWTN.  Mother Angelica, its foundress and a great entrepreneur, perceived the Familyland Channel as competition and would not accept its programs for a while.

   Jerry Coniker with his wife Gwen and son converse with St. Pope John-Paul II in the 1990s.

         The Founding Coniker FamilyIn 1999, the Conikers were named by Pope John Paul II as one of twenty couples who advised the Pontifical Council for the Family.  In 2004, the pope named Jerry Coniker a consultor for the Council.  In 2007, in a "Decree of Recognition and Approval" issued by Pope Benedict XVI through the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Apostolate was declared "a private international association of the faithful of pontifical right, with a juridical personality, according to canons 298-311 and 321-329 of the Code of Canon Law." Referring to one of the Apostolate's slogans in his statement at the occasion, Bishop Josef Clemens said: "‘Families evangelizing families’ is not only a beautiful Christian ideal, it is an urgent need in society today, so that the human and Christian values of the family might be promoted in their fullness."

In recognition for his achievements and initiatives, Jerrry Coniker was named a Knight of the Holy Sepulcher, a very prestigious international group.

Gwen Coniker died of cancer in 2002, a very holy death in the presence of her large family.  In June 2007 the Bishop of Steubenville let the cause for her canonization proceed with detailed investigation into her life.  Gwen showed heroic virtue by refusing to abort her eleventh child, Theresa, when her doctor said the pregnancy would burst her uterus and kill her. The baby was delivered safely, and she had two more children.  While our family was eating at one fest, Gwen came to our table and warmly took an interest in our family.

When Jerry Coniker was healthy, he was hands on at the Family Fest and very active.  After each Mass he would make announcements and then have a special program for parents while the kids were in their group activities.  At some activities he was Master of Ceremonies.  Mr. Coniker would mix with the people and get to know them.  I remember one night in 2005 when he talked with people visiting with each other in front of their tents and RVs after the children were in bed.        

Jerry Coniker, close to 79, is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, the same as St. Pope John Paul II did.  As the newly canonized St. Jacinta and St. Francisco did and Mary instructed at Fatima, Mr. Coniker is offering his suffering for sinners.  At the same time he still has a significant influence upon the direction of the Apostolate although unable to have a day to day role in operations.

                                         Gwen and Jerry Coniker with St. Mother Teresa 

Notable Collaborators. St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta joined the Advisory Council in 1976 (see  At her funeral the Conikers were invited by Fox News to offer commentaries.  Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family (1990–2008); and then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger endorsed the AFC.  Cardinal Mario Luigi Ciappi, O.P., who had served as the papal theologian for five popes, including John Paul II, became the Apostolate's theological director.

One of the Apostolate's long time collaborators is the Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, former President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (1984–2002) and then the prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship (2002–2008) before retiring.  He came to Familyland every year to rest and make many videos for the Apostolate with Jerry Coniker.  When there, he concelebrated Mass with the Apostolate’s priests and gave homilies. 

Francis Cardinal Arinze

Several years ago I had the privilege of meeting him after his talk.  Having much experience in trying to get along with Islam in Nigeria, he would not publicly say that Islam was a religion of violence, but privately affirmed the awful truth.  His explanations of the Catechism of the Catholic Church are both simple and insightful.  His videos are still available in the Familyland bookstore.  The Cardinal also participated in fundraisers.  He’ll be 85 years old this year on the Feast of All Saints. 
          The Apostolate For Family Consecration has had its ups and downs, but Mary and her Son have always been there with them in carrying the Apostolate through it and purifying its members in the process.  The AFC remains a national treasure in the small Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio.  Over the years, it has made a very significant mark upon thousands of families and their children from all over the country in their family retreat center,........over 1000 a year........and many more through its publications and videos.  May it slowly restore the Catholic culture that its participating families bring back from Familyland to their parish communities.