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Homeschooling to save souls

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For nearly a decade, the annual Immaculate Heart of Mary Home School Conference has made Fredericksburg a hub for homeschool families near and far. This year more than 1,000 people flocked to the Fredericksburg Expo center to take part in the two-day event June 21-22, featuring dynamic and informative speakers along with dozens of homeschooling vendors.

The organization was founded in Virginia in 2001 with the mission to spread the love of Christ by promoting homeschooling materials that are faithful expressions of the Catholic Church. Their first conference was hosted in Herndon June 7 and 8, 2002, the feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Since then, the national conference moved to Fredericksburg and they also started hosting regional conferences in areas such as Chicago, Texas and Northern California.

Communications Director Krista Thomas sees the conference as a helpful tool to homeschool parents, which shows them that homeschooling is not a one-size-fits-all educational model.

“There are so many choices, the unfortunate part is that it can be so overwhelming,” said Thomas. “It is a sensory event, you can touch, hear and talk to people. As a homeschool mom myself, the key to success is structure, disciple and choosing a curriculum that speaks of your Catholic faith but also one that can provide the accountability that homeschoolers need. We are all motivated by the same thing. We want to raise our children in the faith and educate them from a Catholic perspective because it is the truth that we are teaching them.”

First-time homeschooling mom Rachel McComisky drove to the conference from Virginia Beach with her mother to try and choose between two curriculum programs for her son, Noah, who is entering kindergarten.

“I’m torn between Our Lady of Victory and Mother of Divine Grace. So that was one of the reasons I came,” said McComisky, who attended public school along with her husband. “We are trying to raise good traditional Catholic children and I don’t think it can be fostered in the school system. Without faith there is nothing.”

She won’t be alone in her children’s education. Her mother recently retired from 12 years of teaching sixth-graders science in the public school system and is looking forward to helping teach her grandchildren.

“There are good things about public schools but it's a crumbling school system,” said Rebecca Ruwe. “They are not saving souls.”

The conference was a family friendly event with many homeschool parents attending with their children. There was something for everyone among the 60 vendors that participated. Everything from used and new books to online grading software and Catholic games and toys for young children. Saturday also featured a college fair for older children.

Caleb and Mary O’Kray, parishioners of Holy Trinity Church in Gainesville, brought some of their seven children to the conference. For their family, homeschooling is less a school and more of a lifestyle.

“We have come to the conference for the past 9 years,” said Caleb. “My wife and I were homeschooled through Seton. It’s been great because we lived overseas for a while. One of the obvious benefits of homeschooling was being able to bring our school with us. The biggest thing is being able to incorporate the faith into our daily life. It promotes family unity.”

In addition to the vendors and networking opportunities the conference provided, participants also were able to hear from more than a dozen dynamic and informative speakers. Dr. Ray Guarendi gave talks on discipline, satisfying reason and logic with faith, and tips to parents trying to raise children while also battling the modern culture. Father J. D. Jaffe, pastor of Christ the Redeemer Church in Sterling, gave a talk on the freedom found in confession, and Father Andrew Fisher, pastor of St. Ambrose Church in Annandale, gave a talk on Virginia's Jesuit martyrs.

There were lots of laughs to be had during Amy Kalscheur’s amusing and empowering talk titled “Confessions of a Homeschool Mom.” She recounted the ups and downs of trying to homeschool her eight children and of the things she learned along the way.

“If you ever need to find the homeschoolers in your community, go to a park at 1 p.m. a week after school starts,” said Kalscheur. She encouraged the crowd not to feel guilty if they can’t get to daily Mass or pay attention to anti-homeschooling legislation that can arise, and to remember that they are doing this for God and are his employees.

“It is an extraordinary responsibility to homeschool,” said Thomas, “We are here to save souls.”

Kassock is a freelancer from Stafford.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019