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Obituary for Gwen Coniker co-founder of Apostolate for Family Consecration

 


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 Mother Teresa.

She is preceded in death by her father, George Billings, mother, Rose (Polito) Billings, sister, Geraldine (Billings) Sherwin, and her twelfth child, Angelica.

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, Michaela, Monica

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, Andrew

Theresa (Coniker), 26, and Kenneth Schmitz, parents of Isabella and Isaac

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 company.

       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 parish community.

       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.

*On 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 entertainment.

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 entertainment.

*On 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.