The 2nd annual Catholic Family Conference, presented by the Regina Caeli and Carmel Communications, will be held Saturday, May 1, 2021 at the Westin Irvine Convention Center in Irving, Texas. There are options to attend in-person and virtually. Featured speakers include Cardinal George Pell, Bishop Joseph Strickland, Noelle Mering, Dr. Ralph Martin, Steve Ray, and Trent Horn. Sponsors include The Catholic University of America, Christendom College, Ave Maria Radio, and Collegium sanctorum angelorum. The purpose of the Conference, state the organizers, is “to inspire, strengthen and enlighten families with the truths of the Faith.” (Visit the website for additional information and to register.)
In-person participants may also attend Mass and participate in an auction and formal dinner gala. “In the year of St. Joseph,” says Kari Beckman, executive director of Regina Caeli Academy, “we turn to him as the patron of humanity and celebrate with some of the greatest minds of the Catholic Church at the Catholic Family Conference.”
Lisa Wheeler of Carmel Communications, a co-founder of the conference who works extensively with Ignatius Press, recently spoke with CWR about the conference.
CWR: Why did you decide to launch the Catholic Family Conference?
Lisa Wheeler: This is our 2nd Catholic Family Conference, our first was held a year ago at the onset of the pandemic. Kari Beckman and I are friends, and we realized when the pandemic hit that there was going to be a need for alternative options for people to gather for enrichment. Regina Caeli is located in 16 cities in the U.S. and U.K., and they had previously been planning multiple in-person gala events in the areas where they have centers. But as things were closing down and “shelter in place” orders were issued, they realized these in-person events would not be happening. I have a background in public relations and marketing, and I work with people who put on conferences, and I could see in 2020 that the major in-person Catholic conferences were shutting down. I suggested instead that we do a virtual event for families, and that is how the first Catholic Family Conference began.
Last year’s event was a virtual event. Some of our featured speakers were Bishop Strickland, who is returning this year, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, Catholic writer and speaker Danielle Bean, biblical scholar Scott Hahn and many more. As it was all online, we were able to have more speakers over two days. We attracted 40,000 people, from individuals to families of 12 or more.
CWR: This year you will have an in-person option.
Wheeler: Yes. As things started to open, we thought it was an opportunity to resume face-to-face opportunities. The state of Texas is open, although we’ve found that hotels and those in the hospitality industry are still following strict guidelines when it comes to groups. The center we’re currently using will only allow groups of 250 to 300 people. So, while we wanted to do an in-person only event, the hotel restrictions made us decide to go hybrid; people can attend either virtually or in person. We’ve had several thousand sign up, but most are using the virtual option.
CWR: How did you select your speakers?
Wheeler: Cardinal George Pell is an Ignatius Press author, who recently released volume 1 of his Prison Journal, with volume 2 due out at the time of the conference. We thought the Cardinal would be a great addition to the conference this year, since what he discusses relates well to family life: struggle, offering up one’s sufferings and forgiveness.
Bishop Strickland has been a big supporter of Regina Caeli and he heads a diocese in Texas, so we wanted to invite him back. Some of our other speakers had books out on topics we thought important. Dr. Ralph Martin recently released A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward, and Noelle Mering, Awake, Not Woke: A Christian Response to the Cult of Progressive Ideology. Trent Horn and Steve Ray are both popular Catholic speakers and present of topics our families find of interest.
All of our speakers will be on-site at the conference center in Texas to present their topics, with the possible exception of Cardinal Pell, who is trying to get a visa to travel from Italy to Texas. If he is unable to do so, he will present virtually from Italy. For those attending, we will have a dinner and a chance to meet the speakers.
And, for those who are wondering, we have no requirements that attendees wear masks or socially distance, although the center might have requirements which are beyond our control.
CWR: What is the secret to having a successful virtual conference?
Wheeler: The virtual format we used last year worked very well. People could tune in to a variety of speakers or select from one of two who might be speaking simultaneously. I think if everything went back to normal tomorrow, it would still be a good idea to have a virtual component. It is here to stay because of the convenience. People have gotten to like to participate in virtual events from their homes, including conferences, webinars, and meetings.
In the past, it has been hard for families to pack up the kids and take them to a conference, especially if there is no child care available. Last year, families wrote to thank me for giving them the opportunity to watch the speakers from their own homes. In 2022, I think our plan will be to again have an in-person event with a robust virtual component.
CWR: Who can attend?
Wheeler: Catholic families interested in further enrichment of their faith who want to hear that the struggles that they are experiencing are shared by other families should attend. They’ll have the opportunity to see that both prelates and lay leadership are responding to those concerns, offering wisdom and suggestions on how to live in a culture that is rapidly changing.
The in-person option is primarily for those who live in the Dallas area, although we do have families flying in from outside of the state of Texas.
CWR: What have the challenges been in organizing this conference?
Wheeler: Because of what is going on in the larger culture in regards to the pandemic, the goal posts are regularly moving as to what we’ve been required to do to have an in-person event. We had initially hoped to offer a large, in-person event, but rules of the hotel, which are outside of our control, have forced us to modify our plans.
Wheeler: Regina Caeli is a homeschool hybrid program with centers around the U.S. and in the U.K. It caters to Catholic families, offering a curriculum in which students attend class two days a week and do homeschool the other three days. The beauty of this model is that it allows parents to remain the primary educators of their children while providing an environment in which young people can learn from tutors and spend time around other children their age.
Carmel is a full-service, Catholic communications agency specializing in public relations, marketing and promotions. I am its president and founder, and we are headquartered in Roswell, Georgia. Most of our clients promote Catholic culture in some way, whether they be filmmakers, authors, event organizers or those involved in technology. Many of the authors of Ignatius Press, for example, are our clients.
CWR: Any final thoughts?
Wheeler: I am confident that conference attendees will find it an informative and inspiring experience whether they attend in person or virtually. We have some outstanding speakers, with many important thoughts to share about our culture and how we may live out our faith as Catholics today.
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