Local Doctors Sound the Alarm! The Dangers of Amendment 4

By Karen Barry Schwarz – Special to the Florida Catholic

Amendment 4, a pro-abortion amendment that will appear on the ballot in the fall, has alarmed pro-life Floridians, particularly in regard to its extreme and misleading nature. Now, local doctors are sounding the alarm about the inherent dangers it presents.

The amendment, which needs a 60 percent super majority to pass, is vaguely worded and was even required to be reviewed by the state Supreme Court regarding its misleading language before it was allowed to appear on the ballot. The Supreme Court ultimately decided that the language was coherent enough to appear on the ballot, and will appear as below:

Amendment to Limit Government Interference with Abortion

No law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider. This amendment does not change the Legislature’s constitutional authority to require notification to a parent or guardian before a minor has an abortion.

The Court’s decision to allow the amendment to appear on the ballot in the fall was not unanimous, however, passing by a narrow 4-3 vote. Of note, the three dissenting votes on the Court?  All three female justices (Justice Renatha Francis, Justice Jamie Grosshans, Justice Meredith L. Sasso). Justice Sasso concluded in her dissenting opinion “In sum, the Sponsor is required to tell the truth about the purpose and scope of the proposed amendment and not mislead voters; it has done neither.”

“I am not surprised that all the dissenting Justices were women,” said Karen Liebert, MD, who is an OB/GYN and a Medical Director at Community Pregnancy Clinic (CPCI) in Sarasota. “Amendment 4 is misleading, and if passed, will create so many health risks for women.”


“Abortion is a complicated procedure, and it is not without risk,” Dr. Liebert said. “This amendment removes the doctor from critical decisions, requiring only a ‘healthcare provider’ which is very broad, and vague. Abortions will be much more dangerous if this amendment passes than they were during the 50 years of the Roe v. Wade era.”

“It is disappointing that this amendment seeks to lower the bar, allowing non-physicians to make decisions that can jeopardize a woman’s life,” adds Ana Garcia Iguaran, MD, an OB/GYN, General Practitioner and NFP doctor with Mater Dei Clinic in Ave Maria. “‘Healthcare providers’ are now basically ‘armed’ with the ability to make decisions that can not only end the life of a baby, but that of the mother.  At the very least, a doctor trained and knowledgeable about the possible complications of an abortion, and there are many, should be involved.”


“A post-Amendment 4 world would be woefully very different, i.e. much worse, than the Roe v. Wade era,” adds Diane Gowski, MD, President, Florida Catholic Medical Association. “Roe v. Wade ruled that abortion could be prohibited only at the point of fetal viability (back then this was around 28 weeks gestational age). Due to technological advancements in medicine, babies born as young as 21 weeks have now survived with supportive care and treatment.  The misleading language of Amendment 4 indicates that it too would allow abortion ‘before viability’ (like Roe v. Wade), however it then adds an extremely broad exception, “…or when …”, such that ultimately it allows abortion up until birth, for any reason as decided upon by any non-physician healthcare provider. Thus, Amendment 4 greatly expands access to abortion . . . there would be no limits on abortion.”

“We know that babies can feel pain as early as 15 weeks, and there is solid proof that they can feel pain as early as 12 weeks,” said Dr. Liebert. “This amendment allows abortion all the way through the third term. People dismiss that, saying that not many third term abortions are performed, but that’s still thousands of babies, and also abortion becomes much riskier for the mother at that point. Even under the Roe ruling, viability was defined. This is much worse.”

Stephen Hannan, MD, Fort Myers, is President of the Southwest Florida Guild of the Catholic Medical Association and adds that “the language of Amendment 4 is very misleading. Although the amendment seems to limit abortions to a pre-viability age of the baby, it provides no precise definition of the gestational age. And those that might make this determination, need only be a ‘health-care provider,’ not a physician. The definition of health-care provider is not defined, and therefore is not limited to physicians . . . I believe the vague language used in the ballot summary was intentional. It is meant to deceive the voters, even Catholic voters. It will provide a glidepath to abuse.”


“The language in the amendment is purposedly misleading as to suggest that it will provide healthcare for pregnant women – anyone can get behind that,” said Dr. Garcia Iguaran. “Of course, pregnant women need healthcare! But that is not what this amendment means or would provide.  It would provide unlimited, unrestricted access to abortion, even for young girls, without their parents’ consent. Abortion is not improving anyone’s life, certainly not the baby’s, and not the mother’s.”

Amendment 4 calls for parental “notification” not the currently required “consent.”

“Simply notifying a parent does not mean consent is required, just that someone was notified,” Dr. Hannan said. “And the ballot summary provides no stringent criteria for notification as proof of identification as a parent.”

“This would make abortion the only medical procedure on a minor that does not require a parent’s consent in the state of Florida,” added Dr. Liebert. “And there are other dangers for girls. Traffickers and abusers will be able to much more easily coerce girls into abortions, since the parental consent requirement is removed with the passage of this amendment. This is a real issue. Even worse, with no doctor involved, it’s easier for an abuser to get someone, any loosely defined ‘healthcare provider,’ to say an abortion is needed.”

“This is insane,” said Dr. Garcia Iguaran. “Parental consent is required even for something as low risk as a vaccination!”


Under Amendment 4, since “viability” is undefined, abortion would be unrestricted, allowed up until birth. If passed, Amendment 4 would make Florida one of the most permissive pro-abortion states in the nation, turning Florida from a “family friendly” state into an “abortion tourism” state as other states restrict access to abortion.

Amendment 4 “vastly expands the right to abortion beyond anything Florida has ever done in the history of the State,” explains one of the dissenting Supreme Court opinions to allowing the amendment to appear on the ballot.

“I believe that most people are against unlimited abortion in Florida,” said Dr. Garcia Iguaran. “Even those who are in favor of abortion in certain cases, would be against this amendment if they realized that it allowed abortion without any restrictions whatsoever, allowing abortion up until birth.”


The dissenting Florida Supreme Court opinion further states that the Amendment 4 ballot summary “doesn’t explain that the proposed amendment effectively eliminates the Legislature’s ability to pass laws in the future regulating abortion in any meaningful, substantive way.”

For Catholics, the evils of abortion are clear, stated in the Catechism. Current Florida law, which allows abortion under certain conditions and several exceptions, takes into consideration the life of a child in utero, as Justice Francis pointed out in her dissenting Supreme Court opinion, stating that “our Florida Constitution recognizes that ‘life’ is a ‘basic right’ for all natural persons. One must recognize the unborn’s competing right to life and the State’s moral duty to protect that life.” Amendment 4 will eliminate such consideration, or any “moral duty” of the State.

“I think this is less about the immorality of abortion but more about the extremes of this pro-abortion amendment that will be cemented into the Florida Constitution,” said Dr. Hannan. “The vast majority of those sympathetic to the idea of a woman’s right to an abortion, would still cringe at the idea of ending the life of a baby deep into the third trimester. And most would cringe at the idea that a medical procedure could be done on a minor without formal parental consent. These inevitable extremes are why Floridians should vote no on Amendment 4.”


A doctors’ advocacy group, Florida Physicians Against Amendment 4, is calling for all Floridians to vote no on Amendment 4, stating that it “removes common sense maternal health and safety regulations,” among other concerns. The group, supported by the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, has initiated a Declaration in Opposition to Amendment 4, calling it “overreaching, too permissive, and irresponsible,” and “bad for women, bad for Florida.” They are encouraging all physicians to sign the Declaration, which can be accessed online here: FPAA4: Florida Physicians Against Amendment 4

“The current Florida law has shown us that women who may be abortion-minded are coming in earlier to confirm their pregnancies with our free ultrasounds. We have an opportunity at that point to offer support, and options to them. Sometimes, they choose life,” said Dr. Liebert.  “But if Amendment 4 passes, we’ll have no opportunity to save them.”

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Seminarians gain knowledge during summer assignments

Summer break for college students is usually filled with fun, travel and perhaps work. For the Diocese of Venice seminarians who have completed another year of studies on their spiritual journey to becoming priests, they are now working on various summer assignments which will help them broaden their pastoral experiences.

“The summer assignments are an important part of seminarian formation, where the men have the opportunity to experience the realities of Parish life and ministry,” explained Diocese Vocations Director Father Alex Pince.

Each assignment is intended to provide the seminarians with an opportunity to learn about the daily operation of a Parish, with a focus on pastoral care. At different phases in their priestly formation, the assignments are carefully chosen to maximize the positive benefits for each seminarian.

“They are given the opportunity to gain valuable experience while getting to know and serve with the priests, lay ministers and faithful who make up a Parish community,” Father Pince added. “Each summer the assignments change, giving the seminarians a deeper understanding of their vocational call to become Diocesan priests.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said the summer is crucial in keeping the seminarians engaged as part of their commitment to a prayerful life and spiritual development. The work has the added benefit of keeping them connected to the Diocese in which they may someday serve as priests.

“In seminary formation there is a stress on the growth in human, academic, spiritual and pastoral formation,” Bishop Dewane said. “Summer assignments offer practical insights on pastoral ministry and provide the seminarian an opportunity to grow and have real-life encounters.”

Through encountering others in various pastoral ministries such as visiting the sick, leading the faithful in prayer, and helping the poor, each seminarian comes to a deeper understanding of their own personal call to serve the people of God, Bishop Dewane said.

The summer began with the Ordination to the Priesthood of Father Greg Dougherty on June 8, with many of the seminarians present to help serve the Mass. This allowed the seminarians to see one of their fellow seminarians reach a goal they are working to attain in the future.

The Parish assignments place the seminarians with Pastors who will also serve as a mentor to them. The assignments differ each summer to provide the greatest opportunity for new learning experiences.

While most will be serving at Parishes throughout the summer, one seminarian has been assigned as a Totus Tuus missionary. This Diocesan program is a weekly spiritual camp offered for children at Parishes throughout the summer to enable them to grow closer to the Lord. In addition, two men are currently Transitional Deacons, meaning they will serve more prominently at the Parish including during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, preaching, as well as celebrating baptism and weddings.

The seminarians and their summer assignment locations are as follows:

  • Transitional Deacon Jacob Gwynn, St. John XXIII Parish, Fort Myers;
  • Transitional Deacon Patrick Long, St. Thomas More Parish, Sarasota;
  • Joseph Doherty, St. Francis Xavier Parish, Fort Myers;
  • Bai Nguyen, St. Joseph Parish, Bradenton;
  • Andrew Cordero, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Venice;
  • Alain Valdvia, St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Port Charlotte;
  • Lam Vo, San Antonio Parish, Port Charlotte;
  • Jesse Gomez; Totus Tuus summer program.

Diocese of Venice Seminarians are supported through the Diocese Catholic Faith Appeal, the Knights of Columbus and the generosity of the faithful.

Parishioners from around the Diocese are encouraged to help support the seminarians in their studies and choice of vocations. To support a seminarian, send a check to the Diocese of Venice, Office of Vocations, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285.

For more information about the seminarians or Vocations, contact Father Alex Pince at pince@dioceseofvenice.org or 941-484-9543, or visit www.venicevocations.com.


Prayer for Vocations

God our Father, we thank you for calling men and women to serve in your Son’s Kingdom as priests, deacons, religious, and consecrated persons. Send your Holy Spirit to help us respond generously and courageously to your call. May our community of faith support vocations of sacrificial love in our youth. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.



Spanish-language Faith Formation program success continues

During the past seven years the Hispanic Ministries outreach of the Diocese of Venice has strived to meet the needs of those desiring to be better formed in their Faith through a focused formation program, with hundreds participating each year.

Father Claudio Stewart, Diocesan Hispanic Ministries Director, said this formation program has been recognized as one of the largest Diocesan-level outreach efforts in the nation which directly includes the Hispanic Catholic community.

“Through the last seven years, we have observed the community’s desire to learn, their eagerness to integrate more within our Catholic Faith and their motivation to become more involved as a community,” Father Stewart explained. “They do find the time to participate and make the effort to learn by using the Pastoral Hispana App to access the classes and relevant supporting documents. Their commitment and dedication serve as guidance to continue offering our formation classes year after year.”

The 2023-2024 Formation Program of the Hispanic Apostolate focused on the National Eucharistic Revival, therefore, the theme of the classes was based on the celebration of the Holy Mass. For this purpose, the program utilized a resource from the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions titled “The Mystery of Faith: A Study of the Structural Elements of the Order of Mass.”

The benefit of having the formation program in Spanish allows the students the opportunity to better absorb the complexities of the Faith without the extra work of translating the information. This also helps streamline the instruction and allows for a more open discussion. At the conclusion of each program year, those who earned certificates are encouraged to use their new-found knowledge to evangelize in their families and the Parish community.

The Faith Formation classes are divided into five geographic regions of the Diocese to allow easier access to the course. Students are offered the option to participate in-person or online. Instructors included priests, women religious and Deacons. Each level becomes increasingly more sophisticated, challenging the participants to take a fresh look at the Catholic Church.

For the 2023-2024 session, a total of 564 Hispanic adults registered for the latest session of the program and participated in a least some of the session, with 223 earning a Diocesan Certification, meaning they completed all seven sessions and passed a final exam. Diocesan certificates were presented in June at regional locations.

One participant from Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers said the formation program has helped her grow in love of the Universal Church and increased her passion for sharing her faith with others.

With the support of Bishop Frank J. Dewane, the Spanish Faith Formation Program sessions were developed immediately following the local consultation process of the V Encuentro in 2016 and 2017.

The V Encuentro was a multi-year outreach initiated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, with a goal of discerning ways for the Church in the U.S. to better respond to the needs of the growing Hispanic population. The process involved consultations at the Parish, Diocesan, regional and national levels. A final report was submitted to the Vatican in September 2019 with recommendations for inclusive action at all levels of the Church in the U.S. These actions are now being implemented.

The idea behind the initial three-step Spanish Faith Formation Program within the Diocese was to quickly help bridge the gap in formation for Hispanics in the Diocese for whom English is not their first language. This gap had created isolation among some, and the new program became empowering to Hispanic Catholics who often felt they were outsiders in the Catholic Church within the U.S., primarily due to the language difference.

For the coming formation series, Father Stewart said the program will respond to the call of Pope Francis who invites us to dedicate a year to prayer in preparation for the Jubilee of 2025. Consequently, the classes will cover the fourth part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church “The Life of Prayer.”

Other actions taken since the local V Encuentro sessions have encouraged a broader outreach and inclusion in existing Parish and Diocesan events. This means having sessions in Spanish at conferences, bilingual programs, and other steps that express the unity of the Catholic Church in the U.S.

To learn more about other Diocese of Venice initiatives through the Hispanic Ministries Office, please email pastoralhispana@dioceseofvenice.org, or visit www.dioceseofvenice.org/offices/offices-departments/hispanic-apostolate.

News Briefs for the week of July 12, 2024


After consultation, Bishop Frank J. Dewane announces the following appointments:

Father Raùl Zamora, as Parochial Vicar of St. Leo the Great Parish, Bonita Springs, effective June 18, 2024.

Father Augustine Ignasimuthu, as Parochial Vicar of Ss. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish, Bradenton, effective June 26, 2024.

Father Joseph Duffy, F.S.S.P., as Parochial Vicar of Corpus Christi Chapel, Naples, effective July 1, 2024.


Diocesan Haitian Catholic community celebrates 35 years in Fort Myers

To mark the 35th anniversary of the Haitian Catholic Community in Fort Myers, the Mass was celebrated, and a grand commemoration followed on June 30, 2024, at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Fort Myers. Bishop Frank J. Dewane was joined by the Haitian priests of the Diocese, with Most. Rev. Jacques Fabre-Jeune, Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, serving as the main homilist. Father Jean-Marie Fritz Ligonde, Diocesan Director of Haitian Ministry, said the Haintian Catholic community is growing in the area and celebrations such as the one on June 30 are important. In addition to St. Francis Xavier, the Mass is celebrated in Haitian-Creole weekly at five additional Diocesan Parishes, including: St. Charles Borromeo in Port Charlotte; St. Michael in Wauchula; Sacred Heart in Bradenton; Our Lady of Guadalupe in Immokalee; and St. Peter the Apostle in Naples. An annual Diocesan-wide celebration takes place on New Year’s Day, marking the independence of Haiti and the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.

Local doctors meet with Bishop

The leadership of the Southwest Florida Guild of the Catholic Medical Association met with Bishop Frank J. Dewane at the Diocesan Catholic Center in Venice on July 10, 2024. The group provided Bishop Dewane with their annual report on their latest activities, including plans for continuing Catholic medical educational seminars within the Diocese.

Fourth of July parade displays patriotism in Ave Maria

The 8th Annual “God Bless America” Independence Day Bike and Golf Cart Parade presented by Ave Maria Parish took place on the Fourth of July, 2024. The celebration followed Mass and began in the piazza in front of the church and included patriotic songs, a reflection from Retired U.S. Navy Captain Glenn Cooper, prayers and then a parade that included about 500 people. There were motorcycles, bikes, trikes, golf carts, strollers, as well as fire trucks from the Collier County Fire Department. The event was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Ave Maria Assembly 3862. During the event, the Knights handed out pamphlets which included the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. The goal of the annual event was to pass along patriotism to the next generation.

Summertime and the Giving is Easy Appeal

Every day, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., serves in the 10 counties that constitute the Diocese of Venice the most vulnerable population by feeding, housing, empowering, and helping all in need. This summer, you can be the one that makes a difference. Your acts of kindness have the power to transform lives and leave a positive impact in our community. The Catholic Charities Summertime and the Giving is Easy Appeal is asking for your support. The giving is easy! Your gift will make a positive impact on our less fortunate brothers and sisters! To donate to Summertime and the Giving is Easy Campaign, please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org or mail a check to Catholic Charities, “Summertime and the Giving is Easy,” 1000 Pinebrook Road, Sarasota, FL 34285.

Totus Tuus summer program still going strong

The final two weeks of the Diocese of Venice Totus Tuus summer program are here. The week-long program is visiting different Parishes each week and offering day camp for students entering grades 1 – 6, as well as evening camp for middle school and high school students entering grades 7 – 12. The camp is inspiring young people to long for holiness, develop a deep desire for conversion and personally renew their faith with a stronger prayer life. Two missionary teams are going to different Parishes each week. In the first four weeks, the program has taken place at eight Parishes, with the most recent at Our Lady Queen of Heaven in LaBelle. For the week of July 14-19, the program will be at Our Lady of Light, Fort Myers during daytime and St. John XXIII in the evening; with a separate program running the same week at St. Cecilia, Fort Myers. The final week of the program runs from July 21-25 at Our Lady of the Angels in Lakewood Ranch, and St. Peter the Apostle in Naples.

Theology on Tap on July 18 in Sarasota

The next Theology on Tap, an outreach to young adults, is 7 p.m., July 18, 2024, in a new location, Big Top Brewing Brewery & Restaurant, 3045 Fruitville Commons Boulevard, Sarasota. Theology on Tap meets on the third Thursday of each month. The featured speaker for July 18 is Father Alex Pince, Diocesan Vocations Director, and the topic will be “The Interconnectedness Between Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Precious Blood of Jesus.” Theology on Tap is presented by the Diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. For more information, contact Andres Prias at prias@dioceseofvenice.org or 941-484-9543.

New bus purchased for Bradenton school

A new school bus, for use at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton, arrived July 7, 2024, just in time for the new school year. The bus was purchased thanks to the generous support of the Diocese of Venice, the James M. Doss Foundation, the Knights of Columbus, the Stephen and Jennifer Ierulli Family, and donors who supported the Community Foundation of Sarasota and The Patterson Foundation 2024 Giving Challenge. The 2025 Bluebird 71-passenger school bus will meet the many transportation needs of St. Joseph Catholic School. Bus driver, Stephanie Cannon-Waiters, was present for the delivery to review the safety features of the bus.

“Summertime and the Giving is Easy” – Catholic Charities campaign seeks to help those in need

Every day, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., serves the most vulnerable population by feeding, housing, empowering, and encouraging all in need. This summer, you can help.

Catholic Charities offers donors the opportunity to give directly to the causes they care about through the annual “Summertime and the Giving is Easy” campaign.

The Campaign gets back to the basics by reminding the generous faithful about key areas where Catholic Charities assists people throughout the 10-county Diocese of Venice region. Many people live without adequate food, shelter, education and support. Catholic Charities offers people in need in Southwest Florida the help that brings about real change in their lives.

Each year Catholic Charities serves more than 100,000 individuals and families through more than 30 programs. This is regardless of race, nationality or creed. The lingering effects of Hurricane Ian (2022) and rising costs of necessary items continue to put a strain on the resources of people throughout the region. Each day, Catholic Charities works hard to make a difference. A total of 93 cents of each dollar donated to Catholic Charities goes directly to programs and services which ranks the charity among the top in the country.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said the support of Catholic Charities by the faithful of Southwest Florida is inspiring and critical to ensure “our brothers and sisters in Christ continue to receive the help and support they need. Catholic Charities does a wonderful job in providing programs that not only help in a crisis but assist in improving daily the lives of those they reach. Your support is appreciated, and critical!”

Christopher Root, Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, says all donations, either great or small, will enable Catholic Charities to continue to help those most vulnerable in Southwest Florida.

“We often take for granted the necessities that are basic rights,” Root said. “The annual Catholic Charities ‘Summertime and the Giving is Easy’ campaign reminds us that many people in our communities of Southwest Florida do not have the essentials required to live a healthy life. Please consider a donation for those who lack food, shelter, education and support. You can make a real difference!”

Whether your passionate is about education, food security for children and families, preventing homelessness, helping the vulnerable, please consider providing your support to the “Summertime and the Giving is Easy” campaign knowing your money will reach those in need.

Support a Child’s Success – Support Education

The children of our community will grow into strong leaders by following our guidance. Catholic Charities helps the community’s most vulnerable youth thrive. A donation of $6,500 provides a notebook computer for 20 children; $1,000 gives a backpack full of school supplies for 10 children; $250 provides a new twin mattress, frame, and bedding for a child; $125 supplies diapers, wipes, and hygiene supplies for a mother and child for one month

Give Peace of Mind – A gift that follows generations

Catholic Charities strives to create a better tomorrow – a tomorrow where children and adults can experience hope, recovery, and wellness. Mental health counseling offers the tools necessary to overcome challenges. Different levels of support can make a real difference, such as $6,408 provides life-skills classes for 22 moms for one year; $2,200 allows a child mental health counseling for an entire school year; $1,170 provides a homeless mom with 10 sessions of weekly counseling; $500 helps a survivor of human trafficking with two months of mental health counseling.

No one goes hungry – Feed many

In Florida, 1 in 8 people struggle with hunger, and 1 in 5 of note are children. Your support of the “Summertime” campaign will help combat food insecurity by providing food to children, families, and seniors. For example, a donation of $2,500 provides hot meals for a week at the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen in Immokalee where more than 245 needy individuals and families are provided essential nutrition. Another $1,600 purchases a pallet of black beans, enough to give 500 families a 5-pound bag of beans; $722 provides 250 children with weekend meals when school meals are not available; and $50 feeds a family of four from a food pantry for a week at locations in Immokalee, Arcadia, Clewiston, Naples, and Fort Myers.

Be the Change – Support Self-Sufficiency

Homelessness is an extremely complex issue that impacts both those experiencing homelessness and the entire community. Providing stable, permanent housing is essential in helping families achieve better lives. Support of $10,000 helps maintain five transitional houses for homeless families on their journey to self-sufficiency; $3,900 will house a disadvantaged family with children for two months; $1,197 houses two human trafficking survivors for one month; $75 provides a laundry basket filled with cleaning products to a family transitioning to a new home.

The “Summertime and the Giving is Easy” campaign is a chance to brighten the future for your neighbors who come to Catholic Charities for help. Your gift will make a positive impact on our less fortunate brothers and sisters in Christ.


To donate to Summertime and the Giving is Easy Campaign, please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org or mail a check to Catholic Charities, “Summertime and the Giving is Easy,” 1000 Pinebrook Road, Sarasota, FL 34285.


Thank you for your support!

Longtime Diocesan priest retires

For the past four decades Father Mark Heuberger has served the faithful of Southwest Florida in several different capacities, celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, administering the sacraments and proclaiming the Word of God to the faithful. Most importantly he has strived to live out his call to holiness as a priest through prayer and being an example for others to follow.

After 43 years as a priest, Father Heuberger is retiring effective June 30, 2024, shortly after reaching his 70th birthday. In that time, Father served at 11 Parishes ranging from Fort Myers and Cape Coral to St. Petersburg, on the faculty at three Catholic high schools, two terms on the faculty of the regional seminary, and appointments on numerous seminary and Diocesan advisory boards.

A dual birthday and retirement celebration took place on June 23 at Saints Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish in Bradenton, where he has served as Pastor for the past 14 years. The celebration began appropriately with Mass and was followed by a reception all with intention of thanking Father Mark for his many years of service to the people of God and to wish him well going forward.

Father Heuberger said that prior to the celebration he was trying to think of the number weddings, baptism and funerals he presided over for just the people who were coming to honor him and couldn’t do it. When reflecting on the full 42 years of his priesthood, the numbers become huge and only reflect a small part of his priestly service.

“I am so grateful to have been able to be a small part of so many lives,” Father Heuberger said. “I am so blessed. Thank you.”

During the reception, Bishop Frank J. Dewane, many Diocesan priests and religious, as well as friends from nearly each of his many assignments, recognized Father Mark for his lifelong achievements as a priest. This included a special proclamation in Father’s honor presented to him by Bradenton Mayor Gene Brown, a longtime parishioner.

“We remember him was he was a Transitional Deacon and began serving at Bishop Verot (Catholic High School in Fort Myers),” said current Verot teacher Mark Latell. “He was such an inspiration then, just as he is today.”

Father Heuberger was born in Shelby, Ohio, but grew up in Bradenton, going to St. Joseph Catholic School from 1960-1968 and then to Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, graduating in 1972. He went directly into seminary, discerning the priesthood at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and then at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1980 for the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

The first six years of his priesthood included working on the faculty at three different Catholic high schools, including Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers (1980-1982), and Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota (1984-1986) within the Diocese of Venice. While at these schools, Father Heuberger was assigned as Parochial Vicar at St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers; Epiphany Parish in Venice; St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Sarasota; and finally at St. Martha Parish in Sarasota, as well as at two Parish in St. Petersburg. He then became the first Diocese of Venice Youth Director (1985-1989)

A founding member of the Presbyterate of the Diocese of Venice in Florida, it was in 1988 when Father Mark became founding Pastor of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Port Charlotte where he served from 1988 to 1994. During this time, Father also earned an additional advanced degree in 1993 from St. Joseph College in West Hartford, Connecticut. He was then assigned a term to serve on the faculty of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary as Dean of Pastoral Formation from 1994-1999. Father then had a brief assignment as Pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Sarasota (1999-2000), before returning the faculty at the regional seminary from 2000-2003.

Having completed his time in academia, Father Heuberger was appointed as Pastor of St. Andrew Parish in Cape Coral, serving from 2003 to 2010, before finally being appointed to Saints Peter and Paul the Apostle, returning to his roots in Bradenton.

“The timing for retirement is right as I am healthy and will be able to enjoy myself,” Father said.

Solemnity honors founders of the Church – Saints Peter and Paul have impact across Church, in Diocese

The Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul the Apostles on June 29, 2024, the founders of the See of Rome. The Diocese of Venice is blessed to have a troika of Parishes which honor these important saints.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane, in a message to the faithful on the occasion of the Solemnity, said they are honored in Rome through their preaching, ministry and martyrdom there. “Saint Peter is the rock upon which Jesus built His Church; Saint Paul was the preacher of truth to the whole world!”

A bold follower of the Lord, “St. Peter was the first to recognize that Jesus was ‘the Messiah, the Son of the living God,’ and eagerly pledged his fidelity until death. St. Peter led the Apostles as the first Pope and ensured that the disciples kept the true faith,” Bishop Dewane wrote.

St. Peter spent his last years in Rome, leading the Church through times of persecution and eventually was martyred there in the year 64. He was crucified upside-down at his own request, because he claimed he was not worthy to die as his Lord. He was buried on Vatican hill, and St. Peter’s Basilica is built over his tomb.

“St. Paul’s letters are included in the writings of the New Testament, and through them we learn much about his life and the faith of the early Church” Bishop Dewane stated. He spent his life preaching the Gospel tirelessly to the Gentiles of the Mediterranean world. Eventually imprisoned and taken to Rome, where he was beheaded in the year 67, Saint Paul is buried there in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.

Within the Diocese of Venice, there is a special devotion to the early saints, with three Parishes which bear their names.

The faithful at St. Paul Parish in Arcadia have been active since the 1880s, with the first Mass recorded in the area in 1882. St. Paul Mission was established in 1910. It became a formal Parish in 1958 for the then-Diocese of St. Augustine. The Parish serves a rural farming community and has a large active program for children and youth. Bishop Dewane dedicated a new Parish church in March 2021. The Parish has more than 2,000 families with Mass celebrated in English and Spanish.

Serving the southern end of the Diocese, St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples was erected in Naples on June 11, 1974, and currently has more than 4,500 families with seven weekend Masses in three languages. In 2019, the Parish Spirit Center, which includes the Parish Hall and offices, was dedicated by Bishop Dewane.

The newest of the three Parishes, Saints Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish in Bradenton, was erected in November 1986 and was one of the first Parishes in the newly created Diocese of Venice in Florida. The Parish now has more than 2,500 families, with a sprawling campus that includes three main buildings which host more than 100 Parish outreach programs. A church roof replacement was recently completed.

Father Mark Heuberger, Pastor for the past 14 years, said the dynamic Parish was blessed to be named after the two early saints. A mural, which is above the altar, depicts the saints and their related symbols, St. Peter with a net and upside-down cross. St. Paul with a sword, a staunch defender of the early Church who died by the sword. There is also an image of Christ and a boat.

As we celebrate the Solemnity, Bishop Dewane concluded his message, saying: “Why not ask Saints Peter and Paul today for their intercession, that we may enjoy a lively faith, a firm hope, and a burning love for the Lord, as they both did.”

Parish Mission and day camp brings delight

St. Michael Parish in Wauchula has been busy! For three weeks in June, the Parish held day camps for children

Between June 3 and June 21, 2024, dozens of children arrived each week at the Parish to take part in a weekday camp which included Mass, prayer, and lots of fun indoor and outdoor activities. Each day began with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and was followed by prayer and then breakfast before everyone transitioned to the nearby St. Michael Parish Outreach Center.

One young boy, Juan, said on June 21, the final day of the third week, that he had lots of fun during the camp. “We prayed to Jesus, and we got to draw and sing and do lots of stuff. It was great!”

Separate camps were for girls, boys and high schoolers, and they were led by the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, women religious who serve at the Parish.

Mother Maria Therese Nikopoia Klobe, Director of Religious Education at St. Michael Parish, said the goal of each week was to build a spiritual fortitude within the boys and girls, to help them to become more spiritually fulfilled.

“We want them to become more active in their faith life. Therefore, we worked on teaching them ways to receive the Word of God and to communicate with the Lord in their everyday lives,” Sister Nikopoia said. “We want them to think about how they plan to move forward with God at their side, and to really think about how often it is that they pray. They learned that they can never pray too much.”

On the Friday of each week, a Sacred Heart Procession around the Parish property was held with an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the faithful sang and prayed the Holy Rosary. The procession concluded in front of a display near the front of the Church, where the religious sisters led the separate groups of boys and girls in the singing of the Litany of Saints.

News Briefs for the week of June 28, 2024

John XXIII Movement retreat reinforces faith

Members of the John XXIII Movement took part in a follow-up retreat on June 21, 2024, at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Port Charlotte. More than 60 took part in the retreat which served to reinforce lessons previously learned when they joined the Movement. The group is made up of faithful who had been absent from the Church and marginalized from society before being welcomed back by friends and family and have completed the initial welcoming retreat. The John XXIII Movement is a private international association of laity, born to be a movement of evangelization/conversion and to work, helping the faithful return to full and active participation in the Catholic Church.

Incoming Verot student gets head start on high school

Diving into summer learning, incoming freshmen at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers are taking part in the LEAP (Learning Enrichment Academic Program) course.  This unique summer initiative is designed to boost skills in reading, writing, studying, and math, setting our students up for success from day one. The first session took place the week of June 17, 2024, and another session will take place in July.

Parish completes bible study series

St. William Parish in Naples has completed a four-part bible study series with a focus on Ephesians. The study was led by Scripture scholars Jeff Cavins and Thomas Smith, focusing on the “adventure of discovering our Spiritual Inheritance in Jesus Christ.” This is the latest in a series of programs offered at the Parish to encourage the faithful to grow in their faith. For more information about other upcoming programs, please visit www.saintwilliam.org/adult-faith.

Totus Tuus program reaches half-way point

The Diocese of Venice Totus Tuus summer program has reached its halfway point, inspiring young people to long for holiness, develop a deep desire for conversion and personally renew their faith with a stronger prayer life. The week-long program is visiting different Parishes each week and offering day camp for students entering grades 1 – 6, as well as evening camp for middle school and high school students entering grades 7 – 12. Two missionary teams are going to different Parishes each week. In the first four weeks, the program has taken place at seven Parishes, with the most recent at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, and St. Katharine Drexel in Cape Coral the week of June 24. Five more Parishes will host the program through the end of July including the following: Our Lady Queen of Heaven, LaBelle (July 7-12); Our Lady of Light, Fort Myers, and St. Cecilia, Fort Myers (July 14-19); Our Lady of the Angels, Lakewood Ranch, and St. Peter the Apostle, Naples (July 21-26). To register, please contact the hosting Parish directly. Parish contact information can be found at https://dioceseofvenice.org/find-a-parish/.

Theology on Tap returns at new location

After a one-month hiatus, Theology on Tap has returned with a new location (Big Top Brewing Brewery & Restaurant, 3045 Fruitville Commons Boulevard, Sarasota). About 60 people gathered for the June 20, 2024. The featured speaker was Mother Maria Therese Nikopoia Klobe, Servant of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, and Director of Religious Education at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, who spoke about making wise choice in all aspects of life. Theology on Tap meets at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month. The featured speaker for July 18 is Father Alex Pince, Diocesan Vocations Director, and the topic will be “The Interconnectedness Between Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Precious Blood of Jesus.” Theology on Tap is presented by the Diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. For more information, contact Andres Prias at prias@dioceseofvenice.org or 941-484-9543.

Fourth of July Parade in Ave Maria

The 8th Annual “God Bless America” Independence Day Bike and Golf Cart Parade presented by Ave Maria Parish, 5088 Annunciation Circle, Ave Maria, will take place at 10:00 a.m., Thursday, July 4. The celebration will begin in the Piazza in front of the church and will include patriotic songs, a reflection from a veteran, prayers and then the parade that will include bikes, trikes, golf carts, strollers and more. The event is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus of Ave Maria Parish. For further information call 239-348-4725.

Sidewalk counselors in Fort Myers and Naples needed

There is an urgent need for sidewalk counselors and prayer partners to provide coverage to stand as peaceful witnesses for life at the Planned Parenthood abortion facilities at 6418 Commerce Park Drive, Fort Myers, and 1425 Creech Road, Naples. No training is necessary to be a prayer partner – just bring a hat and a rosary. For those interested in counseling, training and necessary resource materials will be provided. In addition, during this process an experienced counselor will be present. Prayer partners and counselors are a vital component in the Pro-Life movement, as they ensure a constant presence in front of abortion facilities, showing that women and their unborn children in crisis are not abandoned in their time of need. To learn more details, please call Mary Claire Dant at 239-200-8117.