Obituary for Gwen Coniker co-founder of Apostolate for Family
Gwen C. Coniker
September 27, 1939 - June 15, 2002
All for the
Sacred and Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, all through the sorrowful
and Immaculate Heart of Mary, all in union with St. Joseph.
Gwen C. (Billings) Coniker, wife, mother and co-founder of Apostolate
for Family Consecration, Familyland Television Network, and Catholic
Familyland, age 62, died of liver disease and cancer on June 15, 2002 at
5:30 a.m. She passed away peacefully in her home at Catholic Familyland
in Bloomingdale, Ohio. She was a good friend of Pope John Paul II and
She is preceded in death by her father, George Billings, mother, Rose (Polito)
Billings, sister, Geraldine (Billings) Sherwin, and her twelfth child,
She is survived by her husband, Jerome F. Coniker, twelve children and
52 grandchildren. Her children are:
Maureen (Coniker), 41, and Matthew Skurski, parents of Cheryl, Joshua,
Jacob, Christina, Justin, Cynthia, Margaret (with the Lord) Catherine,
Cecilia, Joseph, Mark (with the Lord)
Kathy (Coniker), 40, and Michael DelConte, parents of Michael, Vincent,
Jessica, Jacklynne, Samantha
Laurie (Coniker), 38, and Kevin Rafferty, parents of Sarah, Ryan,
Magdalen (with the Lord) Patrick, Maggie
Peggy (Coniker), 37, and Peter Kalinka, parents of Nicholas, Angelo
(with the Lord), Nicole, Kristen, Gracie, Kaitlyn, and one with the Lord
Sharon (Coniker), 36, and Joseph Clark, parents of Joseph, Elizabeth,
Christopher, Jeremiah, Kara
Michael, 34, and Marie Coniker, parents of Austin, Kyle, Anne Marie and
Gracie Marie (twins, with the Lord) and Luke
Robert, 31, and Nisan Coniker, parents of Anthony, Adrianna, John,
Joseph and Aleli Coniker, 30, parents of Marianna, Brenden, Brian,
Daniella, and one on the way
James Coniker, 28
Maria (Coniker), 27 and Kevin Steffen, parents of Katterina, Gabriella,
Theresa (Coniker), 26, and Kenneth Schmitz, parents of Isabella and
Mary (Coniker), 24 and Nathaniel Krupp
She is also survived by her sister, Georgia (Billings) Tourville, 71
Jerry and Gwen were married on the
Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1959 at St. Matthias Parish in
Chicago, Illinois. At the end of the wedding Mass, they consecrated
their marriage to Jesus through Mary at Our Lady’s side altar.
In December of 1959, the Conikers
became deeply involved in the right-to-life and family values movement.
In 1961, they started their own business systems and manufacturing
On April 28, Feast of St. Louis de
Montfort, in 1971, the direction of their lives was drastically changed.
On this day, they made their consecration to Jesus through Mary
according to the formula of St. Louis de Montfort. This is the same
formula (Totus Tuus) that changed the life of Karol Woyjtla, now Pope
John Paul II, to whom the Conikers have devoted their life by carrying
out his teachings to the four corners of the world.
This consecration gave the Conikers
a formula to end abortion and reinforce family values.
On May 13, 1971, the Feast of Our
Lady of Fatima, the Conikers sold their home. Soon after, they also sold
their business, which paved the way for their move on September 8, (Our
Lady’s Birthday), 1971, to Fatima, Portugal.
In June of 1973, the Conikers
returned to the United States after what was a two-year retreat and
preparation time for their work in the Church. Jerry and Gwen had seven
children when they went to Fatima and eight children when they returned
to the United States in 1973. Upon their return, they began to work for
Fr. Bernard Geiger, OFM.Conv., who at the time was superior of the
Marytown Franciscan Community in Kenosha, Wisconsin and National
Director of St. Maximilian Kolbe’s Knights of the Immaculata. St Kolbe’s
works significantly parallel St. Louis de Montfort’s teachings on
total consecration to Jesus through Mary.
Gwen, with her husband Jerry,
co-founded the Apostolate for Family Consecration in the Holy Year of
1975 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Apostolate’s interrelated family
ministries include its Familyland Television Network, Catholic
Familyland Centers in USA, Mexico and the Philippines, and continental
training centers in Nigeria and Belgium and an international network of
Lay Ecclesial Teams, and “Consecration in Truth” catechetics that
have been endorsed by the Holy Father and Cardinal Ratzinger. All of
their ministries are designed to form and unite families within the
On May 1, 1976, Mother Teresa
joined the Apostolate for Family Consecration’s Advisory Council and
was a good friend of both Gwen and Jerry throughout the years. She was
also a member of their teaching faculty. She visited the Apostolate’s
center in 1981 and baptized their first television studio. Since then,
The Apostolate has produced more than 15,000 programs with over 500 of
some of the greatest teachers in the Church today.
This picture of Mother Teresa
holding Gwen’s face captures the kindred spirit that they shared.
April 29, 1999, Pope John Paul II appointed Jerry and Gwen Coniker to be one
of twenty couples throughout the world that are members of his Pontifical
Council for the Family, advising the Pope, through Cardinal Lopez Trujillo of
the Vatican, on family matters in the world, so critical today.
On December 24, 1999, at the
start of the Great Jubilee Year 2000), Jerry and Gwen launched the 24-hour
Familyland Television Network (FL-TV) in the USA and Philippines, which offers
a unique blend of family programming, spiritual shows and edited
On December 24, 1999 (the start
of the Great Jubilee Year 2000) Jerry and Gwen launched the 24-hour Familyland
Television Network (FL-TV) in the USA and Philippines, which offers a unique
blend of variety family programming, spiritual shows, and edited
October 14, 2000, having been asked by Pope
John Paul II (through the President of the Pontifical Council for the Family,
Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo) to represent the theme—Children,
the Springtime of Hope for Family and Society—for the great Jubilee of
Families at St. Peter’s Square, the Coniker family stood before hundreds of
thousands of families and millions of television viewers throughout the world,
where they personally greeted the Holy Father and presented to him the
international work and mission of the Apostolate
for Family Consecration.
Gwen and Jerry Coniker gave the following speech standing just a few
yards from the Holy Father on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica.
“Dear Holy Father, my wife, Gwen, and I have had the joy of
watching our family grow through the past years, first with our 13 children,
then our 11 faithful spouses and now our 48 grandchildren, who through the
grace of God are all in the Faith. We have been married 41 years and our love
for each other grows every day. We thank God for all His blessings on our
family and the Family Apostolate.
“In the 1960’s, we
started to feel a decline in Christian values in our society. Seeing this
negative influence affecting our own children moved us to grow closer to God
and to trust more in His wisdom.
“Perhaps because we have
dedicated our lives to our family and the pro-life movement, we were inspired
to found the APOSTOLATE FOR FAMILY CONSECRATION, an international association
focused on your spirituality that promotes parish Lay Ecclesial Teams that
evangelize and catechize neighborhoods through the creative use of the media
in homes, schools, churches and television and a camp called Catholic
Familyland. This camp is 900 acres set apart for families to grow in their
faith and deepen their spiritual lives as you, Holy Father, have taught us to
consecrate our families to Jesus, through Mary, in union with St. Joseph, and
enter ever more deeply into the profound mystery of the human person.
“Holy Father, we present to you our spiritual
bouquet of 5 million Masses and 6 million Rosaries from our members in the
Philippines, Mexico and the United States. All of our work as a family
apostolate we offer to the world with enthusiasm and humility. We ask, Your
Holiness, for your Apostolic Blessing upon all those who are working with us.
And now our children want to greet Your Holiness in Polish — Niech będzie
pochwalony Jezus Chrystus! (“Praised be Jesus Christ!”) Amen.”
Providentially, there were ten new grandchildren born in 1999 and
January of the year 2000, so by October, they were just old enough to take to
Rome for the Great Jubilee of Families. None of the Conikers had any
idea at the time that they would be invited to represent this timely theme for
the Church and for society.
In fact, if those grandchildren had been just a year older, they
would have been in the “terrible twos” stage and would not have been able
to stay quiet during such a long ceremony, which lasted all day.
*Out of the eleven papal audiences that the Conikers have
had, Gwen was present at nine of them. Pope John Paul II was able to read her
soul as he looked deeply into her eyes. Most people are speechless when they
encounter Pope John Paul II, but Gwen would joyfully express her love for him
and always assured him of the Apostolate for Family Consecration’s loyal
support, focused on his Eucharistic, Marian and family-centered spirituality
and priorities of catechesis and Catholic culture.
On October 7, 2001, Jerry and Gwen as a couple received the Pro
Ecclesia et Pontifice Award from the Pope through Most Reverend Gilbert I.
Sheldon, Bishop of Steubenville. This papal award was instituted by Pope Leo
XIII on July 7, 1888 and is bestowed upon persons who have given outstanding
service to the Church. The medal consists of a gold Greek cross. In the center
of the square like the cross are the images of the Apostles Peter and Paul. On
the cross bar of the Greek cross is the name of the award perpendicular to
each of the apostles’ effigies. At the base of the Cross is the name of the
reigning Pope in Latin, above the papal arms. The insignia is suspended from a
ribbon of papal colors, yellow and white.
Providentially, on December 15, 2001, Gwen was made Lady Guenevere of
the Pontifical Order of St. Michael of the Wing of Portugal (since the Crown
Prince of Portugal, the Duke of Braganza, made Jerry Coniker a knight). This
is one of the oldest knight orders of the Church that has pontifical status
and its main purpose to protect the Church. It was not a coincidence that
Jerry and Gwen were given this privilege.
Gwen will be laid to rest in the crypt of the St. John Vianney Oratory
Chapel behind the altar of our Blessed Mother that contains a relic of St.
Louis de Montfort and a copy of the original handwritten manuscript of his
famous work, “True Devotion to Mary” which has meant so much to the lives
of Jerry and Gwen and particularly to Pope John Paul II.
The St. John Vianney Oratory is part of the 950-acre Catholic
Familyland (canonically called the John Paul II Holy Family Center) in
Bloomingdale, Ohio, just 15 minutes from the Franciscan University (with which
the Apostolate for Family Consecration is associated). Familyland is only a
50-minute drive from the Pittsburgh, airport off U.S. 22 and State Route 152.
Simply follow the signs to Richmond (not Bloomingdale) about a quarter of a
mile, to County Road 36 (Seminary Road) and follow the double yellow-lined
blacktop road for four miles until you see an A-frame oratory chapel on your
left. A tombstone will be placed on the outer left-hand side of the
oratory/chapel, directly opposite of Gwen’s crypt inside.
The wake will be held on June 20 and 21, 2002 at the St. John Vianney
Oratory Chapel from the hours of 1:30 – 9 p.m. Wake visitation will be held
on Saturday, June 22nd starting at 9am at the St. Joseph
Auditorium, followed by the Funeral Mass at 12:00 p.m. A special video program
on Gwen’s life will start at 10:30 a.m. in the Auditorium, which is just 500
feet further up the same road as the St. John Vianney Oratory Chapel.
The Funeral Mass will be broadcast live at 12:00 noon Eastern time on
Familyland Television Network, channel 9717 on the Sky Angel Satellite system
carried on the Dish satellite.
Address for memorial cards or flowers is: Apostolate for Family
Consecration, Catholic Familyland, 3375 County Rd. 36, Bloomingdale, OH 43910.
Phone (740) 765-5500. For updated information on the wake and funeral, please
dial 740-765-5500, extension 4040. For driving directions, dial extension
9320. Also visit Familyland’s website at www.familyland.org/gwen.