Home schooling conference offers encouragement, guidance

CHARLESTON — The first conference in the Charleston area for home school families was held at Bishop England High School April 24.

The goal of the conference, which was sponsored by the Traditions of Roman Catholic Homes Charleston chapter, was to provide a “day of encouragement, support, and information for home schooling families and for all families seeking ways to enrich the practice of their Catholic faith and the home,” according to the mission statement.

The daylong event began with the recitation of the rosary and included talks and workshops by seven respected experts in the fields of Catholicism and education. Seventeen curriculum vendors from all over the United States were also present to sell and promote  their textbooks to the 50 parents in attendance.

The keynote speaker was Benedictine Father Edmund McCaffrey, Ph.D., former abbot ordinary of Belmont Abbey in North Carolina and recently retired  pastor of Holy Family Church in Hilton Head.

In McCaffrey’s inspiring talk titled “How to be a Good Catholic,” he encouraged families to “turn off the TV, be selective in the music you hear, and be careful of the Internet.”

He reminded families that as the “bedrock of society and the future of the Catholic Church,” their responsibility to provide their children with a good Catholic education is great.

“Don’t allow anything in the house that is contrary to the Catholic church’s teaching,” he said.

He offered four crucial weapons that families can use in instilling faith in their children — prayer, reconciliation, the Eucharist, and the rosary.

“The rosary is very important and could be the rope that pulls in the strays,” he said. “We should take our children to confession regularly and teach that penance, mortifying ourselves, is so important.”

Other speakers at the conference included Rita Munn, a mother of 10 who has been home schooling since 1996; Father Gregory Wilson, parochial vicar for the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist; and Richard Gildersleeve, Ph.D., who holds advanced degrees in zoology and animal science from Louisiana State University.

Msgr. Joseph Roth, pastor at the Cathedral, provided the introduction and blessing for the conference.

The conference speakers covered topics on the sacrament of marriage, the compatibility of faith and reason, “Home schooling to Preserve Childhood Innocence,” how to get started home schooling, as well as tips  for parents with special-needs children.

“We entrusted this conference to God and our Blessed Mother, and our prayers were graciously answered,” said Michelle Shahid, conference coordinator and mother of four who has been home schooling for three years. “We were blessed to have Msgr. Roth with us for the conference all day.”

Shahid said that her motivation to coordinate a conference in Charleston came after she and her husband attended a similar conference in the Upstate recently.

“I found that it was a great source of encouragement to me,” she said. “In fact, it was that conference that helped both my husband and me feel certain that home schooling was the right decision for our family. Because I knew how encouraging a conference such as this could be, I was excited to offer the experience to others.”

And many families did receive the encouragement that Shahid hoped they would.

“I hoped for an exchange of experience with other home school families — both spiritual and practical advice,” said Aleksander Fabijanic, who just completed his first year of home schooling his daughter. “That is exactly what I got. I was really encouraged by Father McCaffrey. The first year is always the hardest, and this conference has really been an encouragement and has renewed my enthusiasm to persist.”