When the Catholic Family Network began hosting its Catholic Family Expo 17 years ago, the Woodstock group had a small following of mostly home-school advocates looking to broaden their Catholic horizons.
Fast forward to 2007 and the organization is planning to host more than 2,000 Catholics at its four-day expo at the Baltimore Convention Center this summer featuring local speakers, Catholic scholars from throughout the U.S. and international celebrities.
The co-presidents of the non-profit organization have also helped launch similar conventions in this country and abroad, many of which are making their debut this year.
“The growth is very exciting, I have to admit,” said Miki Hill, who with her husband Tim established the Catholic Family Network at their Woodstock home in 1990. “I feel like we’re reaching more people and showing them there is a lot of room for expression in our faith.”
Since its inception, the St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, Woodstock, parishioners and parents of nine children held their expo in several Virginia venues and once in Timonium, but moved it to the Baltimore Convention Center last year to accommodate the growing numbers that flock to the event.
Originally it focused on Catholic home schooling, but it now includes a vast array of workshops on Catholic family issues, such as how youth associate their faith in today’s culture to balancing career, marriage and parenting while staying true to ones religious beliefs.
The Hills and their legions of volunteers have already helped two groups in Ireland establish Catholic Family Expos – which have continued since 2003 – and this year other workshops with the same name are debuting in Charlotte, N.C., Charleston, S.C., and West Palm Beach, Fla.
Volunteers from the group met with Bishop Karl Josef Romer, secretary to Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo of the Pontifical Council on the Family in Rome last year, a conference that produced plans to establish a European Catholic Family Expo. However, no set place or time has been finalized.
“I’m helping the organizers of the new expos get their first workshops up and running,” Ms. Hill said. “But, after that, it’s up to them to keep it going. However, I’m thrilled so many people are interested in getting one started in their region.”
Christine and Greg Williams of Charlotte are holding their first Catholic Family Expo April 13-15 at Belmont Abbey College – a Catholic college just outside of Charlotte – and said the Hills input has been vital in making the event a reality.
“We’ve been going to their conferences since 2000 and I thought it would be a good fit for Charlotte,” said Ms. Williams, a parishioner of St. James in Concord, N.C. “We’re trying to attract people from the five states around us and we’re predicting we’re going to have about 1,400 our first year.”
Dr. William K. Thierfelder – president of Belmont Abbey College and a member of the 1984 Irish Olympic Team in the High Jump event – is helping the Williams host the Charlotte conference, but was a speaker at the Baltimore expo in 2006 and is scheduled to be a featured speaker at the Hill’s June 28-July 1 symposium this year too.
“I’m glad to see this spawn off into other regions,” said the 48-year-old father of 10. “I’m especially glad to see such an interest in our part of the country. We’ve been known as the Bible Belt for so long, but we’ve seen our Catholic population grow by leaps and bounds and this is such an inspirational conference.”
The Hills 18-year-old daughter Mary said this years’ Baltimore event and the new expos springing up around the country and abroad provide great venues for younger Catholics to grasp an identity in their religion.
The nursing student and youth minister at St. Alphonsus Rodriguez will conduct a seminar this year at the Baltimore expo called “It’s Cool to be Catholic,” a discussion aimed at rousing young Catholics to become invested in their faith and the good works of their church.
She will be one of more than 50 speakers at the Baltimore expo, which has also attracted 100 vendors and exhibitors for the 2007 event.
Though the Hills found it necessary to hire a full-time employee to run the daily operations of their Catholic Family Network this past year, they want to keep their foundation volunteer driven and focused on Catholic issues faced by the people in the Mid-Atlantic region.
“With the conferences springing up in other parts of the country, we’ll be able to focus our operations on this region,” Ms. Hill said enthusiastically. “To me, that is one of the most positive aspects of all of this growth.”
For more information about The Catholic Family Expo 2007, visit the group’s website at www.catholicfamilyexpo.org.