Though Jerry and Gwen were not married at birth, those who know them couldn't necessarily attest to that since they have been so intertwined since the Solemnity of the Assumption in 1959 when they were married. As much in love as they were then, we doubt they had any notion how that love would blossom and be blessed for just a few weeks ago they celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary, forty years of inseparability devoted to each other through their mutual submission of their wills to God's Holy Will. Because of that obedience and humility, the Conikers have been pioneers in promoting family and marriage values worldwide.
Jerry was born in Chicago in 1938 and graduated from De Paul University in the windy city before going on to work at a Chicago law firm. Gwen Billings grew up not far away and met Jerry during their high school days. When Jerry turned 21 he married his high-school sweetheart from St. Gregory's and two years later founded Coniker Systems, a systems and manufacturing company. His business career included invention of several successful systems and programs that have been adapted by leading Fortune 500 companies in the US and Canada.
It was a comfortable life, but maybe too comfortable for something was missing. Both Gwen and Jerry realized that Christian values were eroding all around them. Both had been brought up on the family rosary and Father Patrick Peyton's prophetic words "The family that prays together, stays together" came ringing back to them. Realizing this the Conikers invested eleven years in an effort to wake people to this incredible, insidious movement that was threatening family life. Long before it was termed the "culture of death," Jerry and Gwen recognized the signs that began with legalization of birth control pills, then the Roe vs. Wade decision that opened pandora's box in respect to the evil sin of abortion, and then sex education in schools; all were threats to the moral fiber of the country. They also could see how so many of their neighbors and even fellow parishioners were becoming more and more isolated from God and each other. They vowed to do something about it if they could and, growing closer to God and each other, they prayed for wisdom to keep their own family together through the turmoil that followed in the sixties and seventies both in the world and in the Church after Vatican II.
As a sign of their total commitment, they consecrated their lives to Jesus and His Blessed Mother Mary through the 33-day Consecration of Saint Louis de Montfort on the latter's feast day - April 28, 1971. Five months later, on the Blessed Virgin Mary's birthday - September 8, 1971 the Conikers took a total leap of faith. Jerry sold his business and the entire family - seven children at the time - moved to Fatima, Portugal. It is no coincidence that Jerry was 33 years-old at the time. Both Gwen and Jerry had given up everything to follow Christ just as He asks in Sacred Scripture, If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me (Luke 9: 23). As it turned out, their stay in Portugal turned out to be a two-year "novitiate" preparing them for what God was calling them to do.
Returning to America in 1973, Jerry became Executive Director of St. Kolbe's Knights of the Immaculata under Father Bernard Geiger, OFM Conv. It was the beginning of a bond in which Fr. Geiger would serve as the Coniker's spiritual director from that time on up through today. In the Jubilee Year of 1975 on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus - June 18, 1975 - Jerry and Gwen founded the Apostolate for Family Consecration. It was officially approved by the Church on October 3, 1975, the month of the Holy Rosary. On the Feast of the Annunciation in 1986 - March 25 - the Conikers adopted the Eucharistic, Marian, and family-centered spirituality of Pope John Paul II as the spirituality of the Apostolate for Family Consecration. It was a natural because Jerry and Gwen rationalized that rather than spending years developing and prospecting for a spirituality that uniquely characterized their family movement, the best avenue was to mine the rich vein of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla's (the Polish prelate before becoming John Paul II) vision for the Church, for family life, and his emphasis on consecration and the dignity of the human person in upholding the Sanctity of Life.
Over a quarter of a century the Apostolate for Family Consecration has become a motivating force in putting into practice all the Holy Father is instilling in his global flock. And global is the mark of the Apostolate as an international association seeking to simultaneously sanctify family and parish life in the spirit of John Paul II. Its mission is to nourish families thorough the Catholic Faith in the Eucharistic and Marian spirit of the Holy Father. The Family Apostolate continues to provide on-going tri-media evangelization through Lay Ecclesial Teams open to individuals of diverse Church-approved spiritualities and associations.
Though the Apostolate's Canonical Global Center is located in the Archdiocese of New York under Cardinal John O'Connor, its largest center, which incorporates 950 acres, is located at the John Paul II Holy Family Center, also known as "Catholic Familyland" in Bloomingdale, Ohio just west of Steubenville. It includes over 170,000 square feet of buildings which house a conference center, retreat center, print shop, television and duplicating studios, graphic arts department and office buildings and has become a spiritual Disneyland for devoted Catholic families where families come to pray and play during the Family Fests and "Get-Away" Marriage Weekend Retreats offered throughout the year by the Apostolate.
Their biggest gathering are held annually during the Totus Tuus Family Conferences when distinguished speakers of the Church are invited to address those gathered for these "Consecrate Them in Truth" Family Conferences. People come from all parts of the world since the AFC also has members in Canada, the Philippines, Africa, Pakistan, Russia, Central and South America. The Apostolate also has a center in Ireland and soon Mexico and Brazil will come into the fold. Cardinal Jamie Sin of the Philippines and Cardinal Francis Arinze are past keynote speakers that speak glowingly of the fruits of the Conikers' efforts.
And for Jerry and Gwen it seems the work is only beginning for they will venture into their most ambitious endeavor to date on the Solemnity of All Saints when they launch the Familyland Network to be broadcast off the DBS Sky Angel satellite providing programing with a fresh, spiritual way of thinking for the entire family with bible studies, worship, music as well as classic movies, talk shows, TV series, children's shows, holiday specials and even sports. Mother Angelica began on a small satellite with EWTN in 1981 and look at the coverage she has now. Jerry and Gwen have appeared on EWTN often. For more on the Familyland Network, all other information on the Apostolate for Family Consecration and Catholic Familyland and the programs offered, we recommend www.familyland.org.
From tiny acorns great oaks grow and Jerry and Gwen have planted countless good seeds over the years. Speaking of tall oaks, the tree-dotted landscape at Familyland invites all to commune with God in nature and imbibe the solid teaching imparted here through the excellent programs offered by the Conikers. The programs are geared chiefly for married couples and families in an effort to fulfill God's Will for happy families and Christian marriages.
Producer Norman Lear played on the name "All in the Family" with his irreverent and negative sit-com of the same name at the same time the Conikers were forming their own family back in the sixties and seventies. Today "All in the Family" is not a play on words or a hollow meaning but rather what Gwen and Jerry have committed to all families through their motto for the Apostolate "All for the Sacred and Eucharistic Heart of Jesus; all through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary; all in union with St. Joseph." Through the total commitment of Jerry and Gwen Coniker, they have endeavored to meld all in their family of participants and members with the ideals of the greatest family that ever lived - the Holy Family of Nazareth. Next to the ideal role models of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Conikers are doing a fine job of emulating and promoting the Holy Family and, we would suspect, God couldn't be more pleased.
One famous conversion came after the British iconoclast journalist Malcolm Muggeridge interviewed Mother. His BBC documentary on her "Something Beautiful for God" introduced once and forever this living saint to every continent and from that time on neither the world nor Muggeridge were ever the same again. Muggeridge and his wife converted to Catholicism in 1982 at the age of 79. Eight year later he would realize all that Mother had told him about the rewards of salvation when he died on November 14, 1990.
Sunday we observe the two year anniversary of Mother's death and, true to our prediction at the time of her death, the Vatican has waived the five-year moratorium for considering her canonization. This formal process of inquiry mandatory for canonization has already been launched by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and the local stage of the interviewing process has begun in Calcutta by Archbishop Henry D'Souza. We repeat here what we wrote two years ago on Mother Teresa. "What more can be written about this living saint than already has been written? Mother doesnít want us to write about her or elevate her on a pedestal; she wants us to live what she advocated, not because it came from her, but because it originates from Jesus Whom she saw in every soul she touched; just as another great woman - His Blessed Mother Mary - has been beseeching all of us to do through her messages at Medjugorje and elsewhere. Yet, weíre not satisfied with the little things. We donít have the patience to go one step at a time, to live the messages daily, to fit each act of charity, each sacrifice, each prayer into the seemingly laborious daily task of striving to live Godís Will. As Mother proved, it is only through the little things that we are able to see the entire panorama of His Plan for us. Mother saw it and for her labors she is being touted as a saint even before the taps die. The Church, as she should, is very cautious but we strongly believe popular sentiment will sway the powers that be. One of the procedures for canonization is to provide a 'devil's advocate' - one who will look for all faults and problems to filter out those not worthy of such an honor. As this editor is typing Mother's funeral is just coming to a conclusion. As the commentators ramble on it strikes us that the process of devil's advocate is already being put into action via the secular media who are taking every pot-shot they can at Mother and her Order. But at every turn, they meet a humble, non-chalant, charitable response that leaves them speechless and even more frustrated they can't find any 'dirt' on Mother or the 4,500 sisters who comprise her wondrous Missionaries of Charity and the 500 priests and brothers of her order for men. Pumping Sister Nirmala, Mother's successor as Superior General, they find the same determination in this Hindu-born nun with a high degree of humility and total confidence. The media hound the sisters with questions of 'how will the Order survive without Mother?' and Sister Nirmala politely, but assuredly states: 'God will provide.' Oh, it's beautiful the way the secular media are stumbling and bumbling all over themselves. At this rate Mother should be a saint before the millennium. We do know there is a groundswell of support not just from the people, but also the bishops and cardinals. In fact, many clerics have already gone on record as saying they would like the Holy Father to expedite the process. They point to the fact that in the early Church canonization was effected by vox populi - the voice of the people. If ever the voice of the people has been heard regarding a holy woman in the Church, it is now and it is Mother Teresa. Yes, it is an unusual request but we live in unusual times and she was an unusual woman - especially in relationship to today's lifestyles and values. In the long storied history of the saints, we doubt many dedicated themselves and their work so wholeheartedly as did Mother. Her accomplishments rival the famous founder of the Franciscans Saint Francis of Assisi for sheer numbers and total commitment. Like her namesake, Saint Therese of Lisieux, it was the little things - the "little way" - of Mother Teresa that transformed her simple, loving acts of love and compassion into the greatest of accomplishments."
Like her patron saint, she always did the ordinary things in extraordinary ways. It was also two years ago on Mission Sunday that John Paul II officially proclaimed the Little Flower a Doctor of the Church, the third female saint to be given such an honor. Like St. Therese, Mother was not an intellectual, but her wisdom in the little things she did and said spoke volumes. We may have to wait another century for Mother Teresa to be declared a Doctor of the Church, but we're delighted that the process for canonization has begun for this modern-day saint who gained global renown for being simple and loving, for living and doing Godís Will. That is what sanctity is all about. While we realize it will take some time for the various stages of beatification and canonization, it's a fait accomplis that it will get done and that in the early years of the new millennium we will officially be able to call her Saint Teresa of Calcutta. For now, she is still Mother Teresa but we cannot let her memory fade. Today, more than ever, we need to live what she preached by example. If we do, then little by little, weíll begin to see the big picture and be able to better comprehend why, to God, little things mean a lot!
Speaking of little things, we're taking the little and making it bigger. We're referring to the wider pages on the front page of the daily issues of the DAILY CATHOLIC. Because more and more are acquiring larger monitors, we've decided to expand the width. This is an experimental project. If there are any problems with the expansion, please let us know. Those who do not have the faster modems either DSL or cable or higher powered computers, we recommend you go to text only. It will load much faster. If you still have a 26 modem or lower, even a 56K is slow now days, you might want to consider the text only versions. If not, it will load slow but why not take that time to say some Hail Mary's while you're waiting for the "Document Done" signal. At times with all the images on the enhanced graphics full color editions you may get in a whole decade. But then, can you think of anything better to do while on the web? We've also moved the News & Views to the top left so our readers can more easily access the latest events concerning the Church. We also want to reinsure those who have e-mailed us that we're doing all we can to catch up on the backlog of correspondence. Little things that readers want is important to them and we recognize this, from permissions to problems, from finding a baptism certificate to a parish or priest. We strive to accommodate all requests, no matter how little. It's the little things that add up to big results and speaking of big, as of Friday, September 3 - Feast of Saint Gregory the Great and my bride's birthday, we have officially surpassed five million visits from readers since going on-line on All Saints Day in November 1997!
Many have asked when the feature series THE HISTORY OF THE HOLY MASS AND HOLY MOTHER CHURCH, WHERE IS HOLY MOTHER CHURCH HEADING AS WE NEAR THE MILLENNIUM?, and THE 2000 YEAR VOYAGE ON THE BARQUE OF PETER will resume. The latter begins today and will run every Wednesday. The reason we reintroduce it today is because today is the feast of that great pontiff Pope Saint Gregory the Great and we pick up today with the Gregorian influence on the liturgy in the sixteenth installment. As for the other two on-going series, they are temporarily suspended because of overload on the editor's part. We'll have more on this in a week or so. You will be happy to know that Pat Ludwa returns with two columns each week beginning Monday and the daily biographies of the TOP 100 CATHOLICS OF THE CENTURY Countdown will continue into December. Both features have proved immensely popular. We will continue to fine-tune each issue, phasing out those things that do not generate interest and intensify efforts on those features that do. That is why we are dropping FOOD FOR THOUGHT APPETEASERS and adding APPRECIATING THE PRECIOUS GIFT OF OUR FAITH. In fact the latter is so important to all Catholics that we have decided to run it in each issue. We've already had numerous e-mails of excitement in anticipation of this new series. As always the DAILY CATHOLIC will continue to strive for excellence in content and accuracy, with evangelization a large part of this apostolate. After all, when it comes to providing a viable, traditional Catholic vehicle for our readers, we know, only too well from Mother Teresa's example, that little things mean a lot!
It is easy to know Godís Will in some ways. For example, Godís Will is clear to us in the Ten Commandments. For Religious, Godís Will is clear in the Communityís Rule. But sometimes it is not easy to know Godís Will when one has to make a decision between two things that are good.
As a young Sister, I asked a very wise and elderly Jesuit: "How do I know Godís Will when it does not involve sin and does involve choosing between two things that are OK in themselves? For example, if I have a choice of two retreats ... how can I discern which one God wants me to make?"
His answer was very Ignatian and has often been of help to me throughout my Religious life. He said: "Weigh the pros and cons."
In other words, God gave each of us an intellect and most likely God is not going to speak aloud from the Heavens to tell us everything to do. So having given us an intellect, which God wants us to use, God expects us to DISCERN ... to think of all the reasons FOR a particular choice and all the reasons AGAINST a particular choice. Then WEIGH them with good judgment and prudence.
I have met people on occasion who ask God for signs for everything in their lives. Something like: ďDear God, if I should go to the grocery store today, please let there be a deer in my back yard.Ē
Ouch!!!! My, my! I think if one needs to make a decision about whether they are to go to the grocery store or not, they should simply go to their kitchen and check out their supplies. Then make an intelligent list.
When I hear something like that, I want to cringe. I guess itís because I was taught as a young Sister that we should be very careful about asking God for signs, for such could take the form of ďtemptingĒ God. Though there may be occasions for asking God for signs, they should be reserved to very, VERY serious matters and hopefully with proper spiritual guidance.
So, it is simple, my friends. We have to work at discerning the Will of God many times by using the intellect and wisdom we have. It may take time. It might even require that we sit down with pencil and paper to actually write out the pros and cons of a particular action. Perhaps consultation with wiser persons than ourselves can and should play a part.
Of course, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. We should pray constantly throughout our day, but then use the natural and supernatural gifts God has given you to discern.
God bless you! See you next week!