The Apostolate for Family Consecration (AFC) is an international lay movement which started with the simple "yes" of an ordinary married couple who wanted to protect their family from the ravages of the encroaching culture of death, and who wanted to help bring that protection to other families.
Jerry and Gwen Coniker were both born and raised in Chicago. They were high school sweethearts and were married on August 15, 1959. Beginning in the 1960s, the Conikers became increasingly concerned with the widespread erosion of Christian values. As parents, they saw the negative peer pressure that threatened to weaken the faith and morality of their children. Jerry began to pursue political solutions to address their growing concerns, but everything changed for them on April 28, 1971, when they gave their lives to Jesus through Mary by way of the 33-day de Montfort Consecration. A two-year stay for their family in Fatima, Portugal, served to solidify their strong convictions that only spiritual means could prevail in the spiritual war that was raging.
After much prayer and consultation, on the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Holy Year of 1975, Jerry and Gwen founded the Apostolate for Family Consecration and received official Church approval that same year.
The ensuing years brought many changes and additions, not the least of which was a final family size of thirteen children (twelve living)! In 1981, Blessed Mother Teresa visited the Apostolate Center in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which formally initiated the AFC's television ministry. That would eventually lead to numerous Apostolate programs being aired on Mother Angelica's EWTN Network in the 1980s and 1990s. During the Marian Year of 1987-1988, the AFC spearheaded a critical initiative to encourage the Ordinary bishops of the United States to consecrate their diocese to the Immaculate Conception—and over two-thirds of these bishops did so. We believe that this consecration brought about a spiritual protection for our country that still exists to this day.
In 1990, as a result of its growth, the Apostolate for Family Consecration moved its headquarters from Kenosha, Wisconsin, to a former seminary complex in Bloomingdale, Ohio, now known as Catholic Familyland. It became a place set apart for families, and remains the nerve center for the Apostolate's multimedia productions. Holy Family Fests, during which hundreds of families who are striving to live their Faith gather for week-long fests all summer, began in 1991 and are still growing.
In 1992, Fr. Kevin Barrett, the first Catholic Corps Member, was ordained to the priesthood by Pope St. John Paul II. The Catholic Corps is a membership branch of the Apostolate for Family Consecration which consists of consecrated celibate men and women who have received a call from God to serve Him with an undivided heart through private vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
On April 29, 1999, Pope John Paul II appointed Jerry and Gwen, as one of 20 couples from around the world, to be part of his staff on the Pontifical Council for the Family for five years. On August 6, 2004, Jerry was appointed to be one of six consulters to serve on the same council for another five years. The Year 2000 marked a very special blessing for the entire Coniker family when they were invited to Rome to be one of the presenting families for Pope John Paul II's Jubilee of Families celebration. Throughout the years, Jerry and Gwen were blessed to have had fourteen encounters with the Holy Father.
On November 2, 2001, Gwen was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and was told that she had less than a year to live. She peacefully accepted her sickness and physical sufferings. She had no regrets, she loved all her children, and she loved life. Gwen passed on to eternity in her home at Catholic Familyland on June 15, 2002, in the arms of her loving husband after the Anointing of the Sick by Fr. Bernard Geiger. The Diocese of Steubenville officially opened the Cause of Beatification of Gwen Coniker on September 9, 2007. She is now a Servant of God and her Cause is in process.
Due to the retirement of its Co-founder and President, Jerry Coniker, the AFC held an Extraordinary General Assembly from November 1-4, 2012, to elect its next president and to consider and vote on changes to its Statutes. Alan Zimmerer was duly elected as the second president of the AFC.
It was recently-canonized Pope St. John Paul II who said that "the future of the world and the Church passes through the family." And the AFC is all about the family. Its mission is to help Catholic families get to Heaven by becoming everything God calls them to be: generous, honest, faithful, joyful, loving families who will honor God and do their part to make society a better place for all people. Although this is no easy task(!), the Family Consecration spirituality that the AFC promotes is a tremendously helpful and protective safeguard for families. The statement of Frederick Douglass that "it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men" sums up why families hold the key.
Today, the Apostolate for Family Consecration continues to grow and touch lives throughout the world. As its second generation of leadership becomes established, creative new initiatives are being developed that make use of the amazing advanced technologies that are now available. The ultimate vision of the Apostolate for Family Consecration is a Civilization of Love, Life and Truth, a society where neighborhoods are God-centered, where parishes are vibrant, where Catholic Culture abounds, and within which are consecrated families who love the Holy Eucharist, Our Lady, and the papacy: this is the complete social reign of the Holy Family within society!
But it all began with a young married couple who consecrated their lives and their family to Jesus, through Mary, in union with Saint Joseph. Thank you, Jerry and Gwen Coniker, for exemplifying the vocation of marriage and for your courageous "yes" to God.
All for the Holy Family!