Three years ago, when Peter and Michele Heim’s family drove from their Wernersville, Pa., home to Bloomingdale, Ohio, for a week’s vacation at Catholic Familyland, they didn’t know what to expect.
“By the second day, we realized what a blessing the place is for families,” recalls Michele. The family found a beautiful country setting with water slides, sports, horseback rides, hikes and games, as well as Mass, family Rosaries and more.
Adds Peter, “We never had a vacation experience that intertwined our faith as this one did.”
Driving home, they asked the children: “If you could take only one vacation to only one place, what would you choose: the beach or Catholic Familyland?”
The answer was unanimous: “Familyland!”
Knowing how much they love the beach, Mom and Dad were shocked — but thrilled. Explains Michele, “It spoke so loudly of the spirituality of the place, and embracing the family and kids.”
The Heims can’t wait to go back again for their third summer.
Numerous families have had similar experiences since Jerome and Gwen Coniker founded the Apostolate for Family Consecration in 1975, then in 1990 founded Catholic Familyland, which held the first annual Holy Family Fest the same year. Annual Totus Tuus Conferences began in 1992.
Families are immersed in the faith at Familyland. “At the Holy Family Fests, people are experiencing the culture of Catholic community for seven days,” explains Jerry Coniker, whose wife, Gwen, died eight years ago. In 2007, she was named a Servant of God. “All we’re doing is creating an environment for the sacraments to work.”
Faith on Vacation
During Family Fest weeks, families go to morning liturgies and ageoriented faith programs. Afternoons are filled with lots of fun activities.
Everyone pauses at 3pm for the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Confessions are heard daily, with hundreds of teens lining up. Evenings include the family Rosary and more activities.
“Through the grace of God,” finds Coniker, “what’s happening is kids are bonding and making lifetime friendships.”
“The teen program, bar none, is such a support for what families already are trying to do,” says Michele Heim. “They give them the tools, the friends and contacts, positive peer pressure to uplift and build up each other. It’s neat for them to meet other families on the same page, trying to raise kids in the Catholic faith, being in the world but not of the world.”
And when children see the family Rosary prayed, they realize “this is what normal is supposed to look like,” she says.
Son Andrew, 17, finds “such an amazing sense of peace that emanates from that place. You can … freely live out your faith with other people your age doing all the same stuff on a daily basis.”
Like Wednesday’s adoration night. “It’s a spiritually moving, powerful night,” says Andrew. “You can feel the Holy Spirit working.”
This summer he and his sister Marykate will be volunteer helpers in Familyland’s Service Corps.
The Apostolate for Family Consecration was decreed a private international association of the faithful in 2007 with Pope Benedict XVI’s approval.
John Paul II, who met the Conikers several times, wrote, “Because ‘family catechesis precedes, accompanies and enriches all other forms of catechesis’ (Catechesi Tradendae, 68), I encourage the Apostolate for Family Consecration in its efforts to promote an effective catechesis in homes and parishes.”
Endorsements have come from many well-known Catholics, including Mother Teresa and Archbishop Raymond Burke.
Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, says the apostolate and Familyland are blessings for families. “Families are encouraged in Holy Family Fests and Totus Tuus Conferences by the participation of many similar-minded families,” he told the Register. “They see that they are not alone. They see people who are rejoicing in our Catholic faith. They learn to stop being afraid or timid in their faith.”
Every summer he speaks at a Holy Family Fest or (in October) Totus Tuus Conference and records video and audio programs for the apostolate.
Media is a major part of the apostolate. “The main goal of the AFC/Familyland is to consecrate as many families as possible through the media,” says Coniker.
The apostolate has a multimedia library with 15,000 videos on the teachings of the Church — 2,000 programs with Cardinal Arinze alone. The website (Familyland.org) has free audio and video downloads, podcasts and the highly praised interactive Family Catechism, which has everything from simple answers to deeper-into-the-faith knowledge and links to papal documents and Scripture. It is also available in print editions.
“The Family Catechism is clear, orthodox, faithful to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, comprehensive of the major areas on our faith,” notes Cardinal Arinze.
For the Heims, who home school their six children, it’s a major resource. Attests dad Peter, “I’ve never seen a tool like it.”
At Catholic Familyland, families find more than a vacation: They’re appreciating the pearl of great price.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.
Go to NCRegister.com for more travel resources.
3375 County Rd. 36
Bloomingdale, OH 43910
Planning Your Visit
There are multiple Holy Family Fests this summer. See the website for more information.
A vacation or road trip this summer — or anytime — can easily become a pilgrimage.
Look for shrines that might have special events. The National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., for example, is holding a yearlong 50th anniversary celebration along with a 10th anniversary celebration of the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska.
Check websites like Catholic- Shrines.net and MassTimes.org.
Are you heading to St. Augustine, Fla.? There’s the Cathedral- Basilica of St. Augustine and the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche (the first Marian shrine in what became the United States). If you’ll be in Washington, D.C., stop at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Catholic church in America, and Franciscan Holy Land in America, which has replicas of Holy Land sites.
Take advantage of saints’ feast days or holy days falling within your travel itinerary. In upstate New York? Remember Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (July 14) at both Auriesville’s Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs (aka the National Shrine of North American Martyrs) and four miles away at Fonda’s National Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. You’ll find any number of churches and shrines of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (July 16) as well as St. Anne (July 26), such as in Fall River, Mass., where there’s also the beautiful Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption (Aug. 15).
Also look for Catholic connections to historic events at places like Gettysburg and the California missions.
These summer pilgrimages will become the highlight of your trip.
— Joseph Pronechen