50th Catholic Schools Week– Jan. 28 – Feb. 3 – Diocesan Catholic schools continue to thrive

Each day is a celebration of educating the mind, body and spirit at Catholic Schools throughout the Diocese of Venice.

A more public celebration will occur the week of Jan. 28 to Feb. 3, 2024, when Diocesan schools will participate in a series of exciting activities as part of the 50th annual National Catholic Schools Week.

Sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), the week provides an annual opportunity to share the good news about Catholic Schools. The theme, “Catholic Schools: United in Faith and Community.” focuses on the important spiritual, academic, and societal contributions provided by a Catholic education firmly rooted in the Truth of the Gospel.

Within the 15 Diocese of Venice Catholic schools, these are exciting times. Just in the past year, a rapid increase in enrollment has continued; an already cutting-edge curriculum has expanded; and many schools are working on projects to expand and upgrade their campus facilities.

Schools typically observe the annual celebration week with Masses, open houses and other activities for students, families, parishioners, and community members. On the weekend starting Catholic Schools Week, look for students to speak at Parish Masses to explain the benefits of supporting their education.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said Diocesan Catholic Schools not only educate the mind but also the soul, teaching the students to have a concern for their brothers and sisters, whether they live in the same country, down the street, or are in their classroom, through prayer, and the teaching of values, morals, and virtues.

“Through this broader approach, the student begins to learn, to reach out, beyond themselves, seeing for themselves that we are all made in the image and likeness of God,” Bishop Dewane said.

Catholic Schools Week 2024 promises to be bigger and better than ever, starting with the large numbers of students attending Diocesan Catholic schools, which is topping 6,200. This a 30 percent growth rate in the high schools in four years and 40 percent increase in the grade schools. As enrollment for the 2024-2025 Academic Year ramps up, space is limited.

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School is in the process of building a science center/gymnasium which is expected to add six classrooms and open by the start of the 2024-2025 Academic Year. Several schools also received temporary portable classrooms to accommodate added enrollment. These are temporary solutions as long-term capital campaigns are being planned for projects to upgrade existing facilities, and add classrooms to accommodate current and projected growth.

“This is a good problem to have,” said Jesuit Father John Belmonte, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education. “We have been blessed in that people are choosing Diocesan Catholic schools. Parents are finding a rigorous academic program, but more importantly, the curriculum is about training the will of each student and teaching them to make the right decisions so that they can do the good that is needed by not only their families and themselves but by society.”

Each school offers a comprehensive STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, art, and math) learning model which is combined with the Diocesan curriculum called, “The Gifts of Christ: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Affability, Fortitude, Humility, and Prudence,” creating students of good moral character equipped to succeed in the world of today. This program has a strong robotics component as well.

“We prepare our students for today and for the future,” Bishop Dewane said. “We give the students what they need for success in this challenging world. Through this initiative, we are helping students to discover who they are as men and women of faith, as they learn these virtues that Christ calls us to, time after time in the Gospel.”

For example, there is an annual Diocesan robotics competition, dubbed the Lion Cup. This event brings together teams for each of the schools. The 2023 edition was a highlight for both students and teachers. Nearly 40 teams, and more than 220 students gathered for the middle and high school robotics tournament. The competition was fierce, and the intensity built as the day progressed and the participants became laser-focused on being the best in completing complicated tasks with their machines. Robotics teams are already gearing up for the 2024 Lion Cup which will be in April. In the meantime, the different robotics teams compete in public regional competitions.

On the spiritual side of the education, Father Belmonte has developed an annual devotional project, which is themed to focus students on a particular prayer or aspect of the faith, all in a continued effort to help them grow closer to Jesus Christ. The 2023-2024 project is themed, “Cause of Our Joy: Marian Devotional Project.” The focus of the project is teaching the students about Our Lady, and the importance of praying the Most Holy Rosary. This project builds upon the theme from the previous year, “The Most Holy Eucharist: The Riches of His Glorious Inheritance,” which was done in support of the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival. The Revival is a U.S. Bishops outreach to help increase devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist through prayer and Eucharistic Adoration.

On Dec. 8, 2023, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School football team from Sarasota, earned the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 1S state championship. This was 51 years to the day (Dec. 8, 1972) of the last state title by a Mooney football team. A victory rally was held on Dec. 19 at Mooney.

In addition, the Donahue Academy of Ave Maria Catholic School in Ave Maria won the 6-man football championship. Also, the Mooney girls’ basketball team, and the St. John Neumann Catholic High School baseball team in Naples, both reached the state Final Four in their respective divisions. Consistently, individual and team Diocesan athletes excel in swimming, cross country, track and field and more. Many go on to earn athletic scholarships and continue playing sports at the collegiate level.

While sports achievements are impressive, many Diocesan students earn honors for their academic and artistic gifts as well.

One Bishop Verot Catholic High School student in Fort Myers recently earned a perfect score on the ACT college placement exam. Students in all grades score at the advanced level on national tests while being grounded in the knowledge of the Catholic Faith. Impressively, the 2023 graduating high schoolers garnered more than $43.2 million in scholarship offers. Those numbers include students earning nationally competitive academic honors, such as the National Merit Scholarship. An astounding 99 percent of the graduates are heading off to higher education at some of the top colleges and universities in the land.

For the artists, students across the Diocese earn honors in both local, regional, and national competitions. In fact, for the past six years, at least one Diocesan student has been recognized for their artwork in the annual Missionary Childhood Association Christmas Art Contest. In the past year, several students have been recognized by county governments for their artistic talents, with artwork appearing in numerous environmentally-themed calendars.

The 15 Diocesan Catholic schools are an investment in the future as they serve as the heart of the Diocese, building the Catholic leadership of tomorrow. Schools are in Bradenton, Sarasota, Venice, Port Charlotte, Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples, Ave Maria and Sebring.

Scholarships are available to help ease some of the financial burden, and families should not assume that they wouldn’t qualify. In addition to school, Parish and Diocesan support, state scholarships such as Step Up For Students are also available.

Catholic Schools Week 2024 will showcase many of these aspects of Catholic education within the Diocese of Venice. Please check with the nearest Diocesan Catholic school for a list of public activities by visiting https://dioceseofvenice.org/catholicschools.