First phase of reopening Churches implemented

Churches throughout the Diocese of Venice have opened for private prayer in what is the first phase of a process toward reopening Churches for all liturgical celebrations and access to the Sacraments. This was done in response to the State of Florida announcement of the relaxation of stay-at-home order and the reopening of some businesses and lays the groundwork for the eventual opening of Churches for Mass.

“The Diocese is planning so that Parishes are able to move gradually and prudently towards resumption of public celebrations of Mass as soon as local conditions permit this to be done safely,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane in an April 28 letter to the priests of the Diocese explained the planning process for this first phase.

In the letter, the Bishop noted that each Parish would have its own procedures for opening based on a multiple of factors. The factors included, but were not limited to, the size/layout of the worship space, the ability to do regular cleaning, the availability of volunteers and ultimately to have the confidence that the health and safety of the Faithful and the Parish staff and volunteers are maintained at all times.

The Bishop added that he understood and appreciated the extra effort required by the priests and Parishes to facilitate the opening, but “because the Faithful are hungry for a return to the Church and for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, this desire is worthy of the extra effort.” It is expected this first phase will allow for a growing reassurance by the Faithful that it will be safe to return for Mass once it is possible to do so.

Throughout this process, Bishop Dewane has been consulting with priests from across the Diocese while following guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Florida Department of Health.

Naturally concerned about the health and well-being of all, Bishop Dewane said his focus is also on the spiritual health of the Faithful. “I am confident that these visits will yield abundant spiritual fruit in personal holiness and the communion of our Parishes. This will eventually lead to being able to offer the access to all of the life-giving Sacraments in the near future.”

At the Church of the Resurrection Parish in Fort Myers caution tape was laid over the various pews to mark off where to sit. This has been a common solution for several Parishes. For example, at Resurrection every third pew was partially open on each side to ensure a minimum 6-foot spacing for adequate social distancing. A volunteer was present in the narthex to offer hand sanitizer and to direct people to available places for prayer. Once a person departed, the volunteer would then wipe down the pew. All are always required to wear a mask.

Caroline Herbert said it was good to be able to prayer in the Church for the first time since early March. “I felt lost with my Church closed, but it is comforting to know it is now open for private prayer.”

Herbert said she was hopeful the Mass would be offered soon, but understood the complicated logistics involved in making that happen. “The way they have the Church blocked off now, there would only be room for 30 or so people. That really isn’t enough, but if it is what is needed to make it safe, then that is what it will be. I pray for a solution that is best for everyone.”

Visitors for private prayer at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice are greeted in the narthex and shown a seating chart for the Church. The faithful selects the spot from where they wish to pray and given a number that corresponds to that spot. A volunteer escort is provided as a guide. Upon leaving the Church, through a different door, the faithful are asked to drop their number off in a basket. The Parish cleaning staff later uses those numbers as guidance for deeper cleaning. This system works well as only between 20 and 50 people are coming for prayer throughout each day.

Bishop Dewane as well as priests across the Diocese are now in the process of determining the best way to open for Mass, noting that maximum 25 percent capacity and 6-foot distancing of unrelated individuals creates challenges for all Churches.

No matter when the public Mass resumes, the faithful should expect changes. Church capacities will be greatly reduced and seating restricted. Face masks will be required, no worship aides, holy water fonts will be empty, no choirs, no Precious Blood, and Communion should be taken in the hand.

The general dispensation for the obligation to attend Mass will continue even when the offering of public Mass resumes. Those who are vulnerable, elderly, caregivers to the vulnerable, or just not comfortable going to a public Mass, should continue to participate in live-streamed Masses being offered and make a “Spiritual Communion.”

“The Faithful will need to have patience and understanding during this process as well as to take personal responsibility in their actions when they return to ensure the health and safety of themselves and of their brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Clewiston Parish reaches into community

The Parish Hall at St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston is always a bustling place, filled with people celebrating events or taking religious education classes. In recent weeks, the building has been converted into a makeshift storage and packing area.

The Parish Hall is where donated food is stored and bagged in preparation for distribution into the community to the growing number of needy families who would normally be in the fields as migrant farm workers. The food is mostly courtesy of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc., as well as from St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs. Donations from the parishioners of St. Margaret are also a big help.

Father Jiobani Batista, Pastor of St. Margaret Parish and Santa Rosa de Lima Mission serving nearby Montura Ranch Estates, is overseeing the work. Father Batista has the help of two religious sisters and a few volunteers, all systematically sorting through what food they have and then deciding what goes in the bags for distribution.

On April 25, 2020, Sister Maria Mercedes Rodríguez-Gomes, Missionary Sister of Our Lady of the Light, and Roxana Paniagua loaded several vans and went into the neighborhoods to distribute bags of food. The families assisted in this manner do not have access to transportation and most have been out of work for several weeks.

The bags were filled with rice, beans and pasta, FEMA supplied Meals Ready to Eat, maseca (corn meal to make tortillas), and whatever canned food they might have. Cereal, dried milk and snacks are added for the children. When fresh vegetables and fruits are available, they are included in the distribution. The food is selected to offer families staples that can be stretched to feed families for an extended period of time.

At each stop, families receiving the food shared stories about how they had no warning before losing their work as pickers in nearby vegetable fields. Several families said they were running out of money and rent was due.

Most of the recipients wanted to give hugs to Paniagua and Sister Mercedes but, while wearing a mask and gloves, they explained that the smiling faces and words of gratitude offered were enough thanks.

One mother said she is heartbroken having to accept the offered food, something she has never done. She is worried about her young children who don’t understand what is happening and ask why they cannot have treats from the store.

Meanwhile, some refused the offered food. One mother said her husband was still working in the sugar fields so they had money and the food should go elsewhere. Sister Mercedes was grateful for their honesty but told each of these families to reach out if things changed as the field work was scheduled to end in the coming weeks.

Father Batista explained that most of the community consists of migrant farm workers who toil in vegetable and sugar fields. Nearly all the vegetable farms shut down operations by late April while the sugar field would be closed by mid-May as happens every year.

However, because of the pandemic, the migrant farm workers have nowhere to go. Most would travel north to work in fields in New England or the Midwest. Travel restrictions are preventing them from going. Another group of workers, who are in Clewiston on temporary work visas, normally would return to their home country after the growing season, but this year, there is no international travel allowed, leaving them with an uncertain future.

“All of these workers have to stay here, without jobs, paying rent and buying food, consuming what they earned this season,” Father Batista explained, noting that migrant farm workers do not qualify for any of the assistance being offered by the state or federal governments. “This is going to be very tough on the families. I’m not sure what is going to happen.”

Catholic Charities, which has a small office at St. Margaret Parish, has been offering a Thursday morning outdoor food distribution. Staff and volunteers load vehicles and in just a few weeks Father Batista said the number of people seeking help has quadrupled.

“I have never seen it this bad,” Father Batista said. “The number of people impacted is so high and growing. There is no relief in sight until these farm workers can find work somewhere else and that might not be until the next growing season here in Clewiston in the fall. If that happens, it would be devastating.”

If you would like to help St. Margaret Parish, the Diocese of Venice is providing an online platform. Please visit and select St. Margaret Parish in the drop-down box (please disable you pop-up blockers).

Modern take on Lourdes found in Venice

On the quiet banks of the Myakka River in Venice is a hidden gem of the Diocese of Venice, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center.

Surrounded by giant live oaks with a cool lake at its center, the Retreat Center, known by most as OLPH, offers a place full of God’s peace and beauty which encourages guests to develop a deeper relationship with the Lord, improve prayer life, and perhaps meet a new friend with whom to walk the spiritual journey of life.

In its illustrious 25-year history, tens of thousands have flocked there for retreats, conferences and prayer. The goal of OLPH is to give people the time and place to briefly “leave the world behind” and return to daily living refreshed and renewed.

To help enhance that experience, a Shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Help is currently being installed. Well along in the construction process, the Shrine sits next to the Bell Tower and is along a path which leads in one direction to nearby St. Joseph Chapel, another to the outdoor Stations of the Cross and is a short distance from the bridge which leads to the main conference areas.

OLPH Director, Father Mark Yavarone, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, said the concept of the Shrine Project “began with several donations made to memorialize Redemptorist Father Charlie Mallen, the founding director of the Retreat Center. The Diocese of Venice added to these donations so that the construction could be done in a beautiful and enduring way.”

Father Mallen founded OLPH in 1995 at the direction of then-Bishop John J. Nevins. With the assistance of Sister Carmella DeCosty, Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, Father Mallen developed an overgrown piece of land into a refuge.

Although there will be a plaque to memorialize Father Mallen, when completed, a large marble statue of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is going to be the centerpiece of the Shrine.  While the statue is being made, another statue of Our Lady is temporarily in place.

The backdrop of the statue consists of a single large piece of limestone and several Italian cypress trees which produce a vaulted cathedral effect, Father Yavarone explained.

“There is a small waterfall at Mary’s feet which is stunningly lit at night,” Father added. “What I like most about the shrine is that it makes Mary the center of the Retreat Center property in a very visible way.  Let’s hope that it will foster devotion to Mary and many fond memories and prayers for Father Charlie!”

While the shrine is not finished yet: the plans include an area for votive candles that will be enclosed to comply with fire regulations and sidewalks which will lead to the steps of the shrine.

The main feature of the Shrine, the monument is made of 15,000 pounds of Oolitic limestone quarried in Coral Bay Florida by Epic Stonework. The same material was used to créate a series of benches, each weighing 4,000lbs. The stairs and floor of the Shrine are made of keystone, and the ramp Access is made of travertine.

Features include a variety of landscaping such as assorted bromeliads, two Montgomery palms, 14 Italian cypress, five Adonidia palms, three European fan palms, and three Ligustrum trees.

Following the completion of the Shrine, a blessing and dedication will take place.

Fondly known as “The Miracle on the Myakka,” OLPH hosts more than 8,500 guests each year. The Retreat Center has villas for overnight visitors and the St. Joseph Chapel for Masses and Eucharistic Adoration. Activities at the Retreat Center include weekend retreats for families, catechists, pastoral ministers and various parish organizations, as well as day retreats, days of reflection, workshops, and seminars for many Diocesan organizations, schools, churches, and leadership teams.

The Oblate Fathers also offer a number of preached retreats that are in varying lengths from three days up to one month.

To learn more about Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center, please visit

New Superintendent to start in July

Bishop Frank J. Dewane announces the appointment of Jesuit Father John Belmonte, as Superintendent of Catholic Education for the Diocese of Venice in Florida, effective July 1, 2020.

“I am very pleased that Father Belmonte will be joining the Diocese of Venice in this important leadership role,” Bishop Dewane said. “His extensive experience, skills and passion for Catholic Education will support the Diocese in its mission to continue providing the highest educational standards, while maintaining focus on Catholic instruction and identity.”

As Superintendent, Father Belmonte will be responsible for the Department of Education in the Diocese of Venice in Florida which consists of 15 schools; 4,777 students; the Office of Religious Education which supports the 61 parishes and 13,573 children and adults; as well as The Institute for Catholic Studies and Formation.

Father Belmonte received his B.A. in History from Marquette University in 1985 and after graduation entered the Society of Jesus in St. Paul, Minnesota, and pronounced vows in 1987. Father continued studies in philosophy and humanities at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. In preparation for ordination to the priesthood, he completed theological studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy with a Baccalaureate in Sacred Theology in 1995.

Ordained to the priesthood on June 14, 1996 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1997, Father Belmonte completed a Licentiate of Sacred Theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Father Belmonte enrolled in 1999 to an Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Doctoral Program at Loyola University in Chicago, which he completed in 2006.

Father Belmonte held several positions at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, and St. Ignatius Preparatory High School in Chicago, Illinois, before joining the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois in 2010, where he served as School Superintendent.

The Diocese of Venice in Florida offers a superb education infused with Catholic values, teachings and traditions that are centered on Christ, rooted in the Gospel and alive with the Faith. This formation takes place in 10 elementary schools, four high schools, one special education grade school, and the Institute for Catholic Studies and Formation.

The Institute facilitates the need for both post-secondary professional development, as well as comprehensive, lifelong and systematic formation for adults. The Office of Religious Education, which supports the 61 parishes in the Diocese through catechetical leadership and guidance in the faith formation of Adults, Youth and Children, also falls under the supervision of the Superintendent of the Department of Education.

At this time, the Diocese wishes to gratefully acknowledge Ben Hopper, who serves as Interim Superintendent of Catholic Education while maintaining his role as Principal of Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota. Hopper has done an outstanding job of supporting Catholic Schools within the Diocese of Venice, providing leadership and guidance, as well as helping the schools successfully navigate the transition to virtual learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The Diocese is thankful for his valued contributions and looks forward to fully supporting him as he continues in his position at Cardinal Mooney.

Please join in welcoming Father Belmonte to the Diocese of Venice in Florida.


Mooney shines spotlight on pandemic frontline heroes

The students who attend Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota are formed with core Christian values. The students also learn that they are “called by name” by the Lord to be more – more a man or woman of God.

Responding to this call, some alumni of Cardinal Mooney choose to enter careers as first responders or in medicine. In a time when the world needs people to look up to, those working as doctors, nurses, paramedics, firefighters, law enforcement, as well as in various support services are stepping up to put themselves out there, to make everyone safe.

Many of these people on the front lines are graduates of Cardinal Mooney and the other Catholic high schools in the Diocese (Bishop Verot in Fort Myers and St. John Neumann in Naples).

This fact inspired Tara McClean, Cardinal Mooney Director of Development, to expand a segment of the Mooney social media presence ( called “Alumni Shoutout!!” to focus in April on alumni first responders.

Initially the shout-out posts were ‘spotlights’ showcasing one to two alumni a month; then the COVID-19 pandemic started and that changed everything.

Jennifer Rode Foscolos, Cardinal Mooney CAtholic High School class of 2007, is a Registered Nurse with Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

“One of my classmates is a current parent and a triage nurse here in Sarasota,” she said. “On March 30 I was texting with her and kept thinking that I wished there was a way to thank her, to let her know how worried yet proud I was of her. And then I thought what if we showcase only the medical alumni for April? What if that is the best and safest way to thank them for now?”

On March 31, 2020, McClean posted a thank you to the medical community and asked the alumni to leave them words of encouragement in the comments or for the alumni medical professionals to share photos of their “offices.”

“That is where this really took off! I almost instantly had the photos of the really intense, plexi-facemasks and ambulances. And from there it grew,” McClean said.

The first post recognized “rock star” Jennifer Rode Foscolos, Cougar class of 2007, a Registered Nurse with Sarasota Memorial Hospital. She works on a unit caring for non-COVID and COVID-positive patients. The post states: “Stay safe & well Jenn! Paws up!! Your Cougar pack salutes you!!”

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School class of 1997, Maggie Wessels Castro, BSN, RN, is a Clinical Manager for the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System,  and oversees the Respiratory Progressive Care Unit.

Another post noted the work of Cougar class of 1997, Maggie Wessels Castro, BSN, RN, who is a Clinical Manager for the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System and oversees the Respiratory Progressive Care Unit.

McClean posted: “As you can imagine respiratory care is front and center during the COVID-19 pandemic. Maggie has been working tirelessly to care for her patients and lead the specialized nursing team in charge of this unit, while also being a superhero wife, mom, daughter, and sister to her immediate and extended family… She is truly a superhero in scrubs and should be celebrated. Thank you, Maggie! Paws up!”

Kathleen Ross Hayden, Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School class of 1983 is currently serving with Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Assistance Response team in one of the hardest hit areas in Italy.

Other alumni recognized included doctors and nurses working in New York City hospitals, as well as many working locally. Others highlighted were firefighters, paramedics and members of law enforcement.

Dr. Cristopher Cowart, Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School alumni, anesthesiologist for Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

Through their own social media accounts, both Bishop Verot and St. John Neumann Catholic high schools recognized many of their own alumni working on the front lines of the pandemic.

Diocesan Interim Superintendent of Catholic Education and Cardinal Mooney Principal, Ben Hopper, joined in praising not just the Mooney alumni but all Catholic high school alumni by posting a video message of thanks on the Diocesan coronavirus response website and the DOV Catholic Schools Facebook page.

“To the men and women who are on the front lines of this pandemic, we thank you for your service and sacrifice” Hopper said. “The doctors, nurses, researchers, first responders, administrators, manufacturers and others in the field have put the health and wellbeing of others above their own. Our thoughts, hopes and prayers are with you during these trying times as you perform miracles much like what Jesus did to heal the injured and cure the sick.”

Hopper added thanks to the alumni who have worked tirelessly treating patients, researching vaccines and delivering life-saving equipment, “We thank you. We will never forget the good you bring during these grim days, and we hope you will remember that the Diocese of Venice is with you every step of the way.”

Healthy meal distribution in Collier County a success

Since mid-March Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. has helped distribute food to thousands of individuals and families across Collier County and many more across the Diocese.

Food pantries are seeing surging numbers of people who are impacted by job loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On April 27, 2020, Rebecca Maddox, owner of Three60 Market in Naples, teamed up with Catholic Charities in Collier County to provide healthy cooked meals to families at three locations, Naples, Bonita Springs and Immokalee. The packaged food included a roasted chicken with vegetables and a side of rolls. Maddox explained that while her business is impacted by the coronavirus restrictions, she wanted to give back to those in the community who are struggling to put a meal on the table.

Catholic Charities Board Directors members bag hot food on April 27 at the Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center in Naples courtesy of Rebecca Maddox, owner of Three60 Market.

Clarita Marquez learned about the food distribution at the Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center from her mother. She lost two jobs – both in local restaurants – and her mother lost her job as a housekeeper for a local hotel. There are six in the house together with very little money left for food after paying bills for a mortgage, car payments and utilities.

“Thank you all so much. This is so wonderful,” Marquez said. “We will make this food last a few days. It’s what needs to be done.”

Each location was provided 100 meals, which was above what food is already being distributed weekly at area food pantries. At the Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center in Naples the volunteers helping with the packaging and distribution included Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Board of Directors Members Rita Cavuoto and Dick Rogan.

The second stop during the day was to a migrant work camp in Bonita Springs, and then in the evening at Guadalupe Social Services in Immokalee. Catholic Charities DOV CEO Philomena Pereira, said the food was gone within 30 minutes at both of those locations.

“In fact, we ran out of food in Immokalee,” Pereira explained. “Luckily, we had pastries and bread to give out and boxes of snacks from Harry Chapin Food Bank in Fort Myers.”

While the healthy meals were a onetime opportunity for families to receive extra food, pantries have been set up in six location throughout the Diocese of Venice with hours each week to accommodate the growing number of people in need.

“We are still seeing the number go up very fast,” Pereira said.

The busiest food pantry location is in Fort Myers, at the Elizabeth K. Galeana Center, where each Friday people begin lining up for food more than an hour before the food pantry opens and then there is a steady stream of vehicles all day long.

Catholic Charities Response to Pandemic

If you need help

If you need assistance from Catholic Charities for food, financial assistance or tele-mental health counseling, please call the number for your area listed below 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday:

  • Sarasota/Manatee/DeSoto/Hardee/Highlands counties: 844-385-2407,
  • Charlotte/Lee/Hendry/Glades counties: 844-385-2423,
  • Collier County: 844-385-2404.

Food distribution

Catholic Charities food distribution will take place only at the following times and locations. Please call the regional number for more information.

  • Mondays, 9-11 a.m., Guadalupe Social Services, 211 S. 9th St., Immokalee,
  • Tuesdays, 9-11:30 a.m., Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center, 3174 Tamiami Trail E., Naples,
  • Thursdays, 9 a.m.-noon, St. Margaret Parish, 208 Dean Duff St., Clewiston,
  • Fridays, 9-11 a.m., St. Leo the Great Parish, 28360 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs,
  • Fridays, 9 a.m.-noon, Elizabeth K. Galeana Pantry, 4235 Michigan Avenue Link, Fort Myers,
  • Saturdays, 7–8:45 a.m., St. Michael Parish, 408 Heard Bridge Road, Wauchula.

How to Help

Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. is in urgent need of your financial support during its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To help, please visit or send a check to: Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice Inc., 5824 Bee Ridge Road, PMB 409, Sarasota, FL 34233-5065.

Reaching out to local heroes

Parishes and Catholic schools throughout the Diocese of Venice have been reaching out to recognize first responders, medical staff, sanitation workers and all who are tirelessly working on the front lines in the fights against the coronavirus outbreak.

Below are just a few of the recent examples of what is being done.

Our Loving Stitches

Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch is well known for giving back to the community. In the midst of stay-at-home orders, quarantines and the scarcity of masks, the Parish Our Loving Stitches outreach decided to do something about it. The group recently announced that they have made more than 700 masks which have been distributed to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg as well as to other hospitals, assisted living facilities, as well as to vulnerable parishioners and friends.






School initiative

St. Martha Catholic School teachers from kindergarten, first and third grades recently presented student-created cards, St. Martha Tervis Tumblers, donuts, and coffee for the nurses at Sarasota Memorial Hospital who are all working with COVID-19 patients. The nurses responded with a tearful thanks for the cards and extra prayers.

St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota has converted its first-class education to distance learning, but the teachers and students have not forgotten the need to give back to the community.

While teaching their students from afar, the teachers have encouraged their changes with making “Thank You!” cards for area nurses and doctors. Recently, teachers from kindergarten, first and third grades presented the student-created cards, St. Martha Tervis Tumblers, donuts, and coffee for the nurses at Sarasota Memorial Hospital who are all working with COVID-19 patients. The nurses responded with a tearful thanks for the cards and extra prayers.

This St. Martha Catholic School second grader shows off a gift package her created for the health care workers at a local nursing home in Sarasota.

In addition, a second grader created a gift basket for his mom to deliver to a local nursing home and a fourth grader created a care package for the sanitation workers.

Wall display

Max Weinberg, a parishioner St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers, of Empire Entertainment, recently created a video mapping wall display to honor healthcare workers at Gulf Coast Hospital in Fort Myers to help uplift spirits.

Max Weinberg, a parishioner St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers, of Empire Entertainment, recently created a video mapping wall display to honor healthcare workers at Gulf Coast Hospital in Fort Myers and to help uplift spirits.

Weinberg’s display and was projected onto the side of the hospital during shift change and included the insignia for the hospital as well as the patches and badges for area first responders and said “Heroes Work Here.” Weinberg also created a special video tribute for the hospital. Additional displays have also been made at other facilities.

These are just a few of the efforts being made to honor local heroes.

If you know of anyone or any Parish or school which is honoring local heroes, please email the information to Bob Reddy at

Religious Education continues meeting virtually

Every weekday (except Tuesdays) the Directors of Religious Education (DRE) across the Diocese of Venice gather virtually to stay connected amongst themselves while also receiving direction on how to continue their work of sharing the Good News of the Lord for students of all ages.

Since mid-March, Anne Chrzan, Diocesan Director of Religious Education, has been leading these virtual meetings on Zoom (online video conferencing), in the wake of the indefinite suspension of in-room Religious Education classes within the Diocese.

Each virtual meeting begins with prayer and includes check-ins, learning how everyone is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, both within their own family and among the parishioners and their students, Chrzan said. The group is learning about effective virtual teaching and sharing best practices.

Chrzan said everyone on the call shares ideas on topics such as creating fun virtual lesson plans, engaging parishioners and hosting virtual retreats.

The DREs from across the Diocese report that parents and children enjoy staying connected to Religious Education classes and are loving the break from “schoolwork” and taking the time to pause and pray during the day.

One initiative from Chrzan is the offering of weekly lessons online for each Sunday during the Easter Season. These lessons are accessible to parents and students who are enrolled in the Catholic schools and in the religious education programs.

Since all learning is now virtual, every Wednesday, Chrzan sends out instructions in English and in Spanish with a new Sunday lesson code to the DREs and Catholic school principals. The lessons are being created weekly by using an online platform named Nearpod. These lessons are coded so each week the family receives a new, age-appropriate lesson, geared for ages ranging from two-years-old to adult.

In the lessons, families can watch the live stream of their Parish Mass or Mass presided by Bishop Frank J. Dewane (9:15 a.m. 7-days-a-week) which is found on the Diocese of Venice website. Following the livestream of the Mass, the families are instructed to participate in an activity centered around the Gospel message. The lessons are in English and in Spanish. There are also Catholic videos embedded in the lesson for the family to watch throughout the week. This gives families the opportunity to live the Gospel throughout the week by choosing an activity each day.

For example, during the week of the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the families had an opportunity to watch a “virtual May Crowning” as well as creating a May Crowning for their home.

Feedback from the families has been very positive, Chrzan said. “Many families have sent the lesson to friends in other Dioceses who can benefit from the family-centered lessons.”

This initiative will continue through Pentecost (May 31, 2020). Additional initiatives are under development and will be made available to DREs at the appropriate time.

For further information about Diocese of Venice Religious Education initiatives, please contact Anne Chrzan at 941-484-9543 or

Service for Others

Courtesy of Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary

Before the global pandemic COVID-19 altered our world as we know it, the community at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary, like many communities, was working hard and was focused on serving others. Below is an interview by seminarian Dan McHale ’21, from the Diocese of Albany, with fellow third-theologian, Deacon Mark Harris of the Diocese of Venice, about Mark’s witness to life in January.

Diocesan Seminarian Deacon Mark Harris is seen with some of the items collected for a “baby shower” drive to benefit a nearby maternity home in Weston, Mass. in March.

Throwing a baby shower at a Roman Catholic seminary seems as incongruous as holding a high school prom at a retirement home.  But as his brother seminarians will attest, Deacon Mark Harris ’21, a third theologian from the Diocese of Venice, thinks outside the box. Thanks to chronic foot problems – which recently required surgery – Harris was unable to join many of his Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary classmates at the annual March for Life rally, held this past January 2020 in Washington, D.C. However, despite his physical limitations, Harris still wanted to do something to support the pro-life cause. “There’s always a need for stuff for women who’ve had babies, so I thought, ‘why don’t we throw a baby shower at the seminary that ties in with the March for Life?'”

Soon after receiving approval for this project, Deacon Harris began decorating the vestibule area outside the seminarians’ mailroom, creating a festive display complete with balloons, paper Valentine’s Day hearts, and colorful baby-themed decor. He then invited seminarians and staff of Pope St. John to leave shower gifts on one of two vestibule tables. The community was very supportive. “We got a lot of diapers,” Harris noted, “And we also received some clothing, as well as things ranging from bottles to diaper ointment.”

In addition to the donations of baby goods, Deacon Harris also collected money for the cause, some of which he used to go shopping for more necessities. “Target’s website was running an online promotion that gave a discount plus a $20 gift card for every $100 spent, so we maximized what we could,” he said.  After purchasing the items using his computer, the former schoolteacher would pick them up at the local Target in Framingham.

One evening, after returning from the store, he ran into Father Vin Daily, one of the resident spiritual directors at Pope St. John, who suggested the baby shower gifts be donated to the Pregnancy Care Center (PCC) of the Merrimack Valley, which operates out of the former rectory of St. Rita Parish in Lowell. The PCC “is a Christ-centered, pro-life ministry,” explains Alicia Hines, the Client Service Manager. The organization is geared especially towards supporting women with unexpected pregnancies, offering them “mentoring, education and material support like food, clothing and furniture until their child is one year old.”

St. Rita Parish – part of the River of Divine Mercy Collaborative – is shepherded by its pastor, Father Rich Clancy, who Father Daily knew back from his own seminary days and later lived with him in Dorchester. When Father Daily put in a call to his close friend to find out if the PCC could use the donations, Father Clancy responded that they “would be delighted” to accept them.

So on February 13, 2020, Father Daily, along with Deacon Harris, as well as fellow seminarians Bert Proulx (Class of 2022) from the Archdiocese of Boston, and Joe Danzi (Class of 2023) from the Diocese of Brooklyn, made the 24-mile trek from Weston to Lowell, delivering the baby shower contributions along with a $400 check to the PCC. “We are very grateful to Pope St. John Seminary for coordinating this drive to support new Moms and families in need,” said Hines.

Deacon Harris intends to organize another drive next year to support the PCC and hopes to make it an annual tradition on campus.  “It’s our responsibility to safeguard life,” he declared. Father Daily agrees. “We are called to serve the dignity of every human being and witness to that dignity for all.”  So, get your gifts ready next January—because you’re invited to a baby shower here at PSJS, a celebration of God’s sacred and wondrous gift of life!

Deacon Harris was ordained to the Transitional Diaconate on April 15, 2020, and has an additional year of theological studies and spiritual formation before petitioning for Ordination to the Priesthood in 2021.

News briefs for the week of May 4, 2020

Neumann delivers cheer to seniors

The leadership of St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples spent two days on “Operations: Celebrate Our Seniors” delivering cheer from the school van to the homes of graduating seniors. Each student received their cap and gown, yard sign, a t-shirt and personalized cookie. If the seniors can’t come to school, the goal was to bring the school to them. Each senior was asked to sign a graduation poster as they received words of encouragement from the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco who run the school.


Online Bible Study LIVE beginning May 12

A Bible Study will be offered online through the Diocese of Venice Facebook Live on Tuesdays May 12 through July 28 using the program “Genesis to Jesus” from the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. Each session will begin at 2:00 p.m. Join by going to and simply watch the live-stream video on the page. You will also be able to type in your questions and comments in real-time to participate from your own home (you do not need to have a Facebook account to watch the video but you do need to have an account to comment and ask questions)!  With so much great Catholic content out there now, here is something you can participate in yourself!

Scam Alert targeting parishioners

It has once again been brought to the attention of the Diocese of Venice that parishioners have received text/email messages from people pretending to be priests and requesting donations in the form of gift cards and/or wire transfers. The messages often greet the person by name and have the priests name in the closing signature of the message; this is a well-crafted and targeted attack on the Church across the country which has hit our Diocese again. These text/email messages are ‘spoofed’ fakes that should not be responded to or taken seriously by anyone. The best defense against this sort of scam is to raise awareness in the community and not respond or open any worrying attachments. It is Diocesan policy that no priest or staff within the Diocese request donations in the form of gift cards, PayPal, MoneyGram, etc

There is already an established process in place on how parishioners can make donations and participate in the life of the Parish. Whenever a parishioner is worried about any request for money from the parish or a priest, they should immediately call their parish and under no circumstances should they respond to these scam requests.

Year of St. Joseph resources online

On the Solemnity of St. Joseph, March 19, Bishop Frank J. Dewane consecrated the Diocese of Venice to the care and protection of Saint Joseph in the context of the Coronavirus and announced a “Year of St. Joseph” beginning March 19, 2020 through March 19, 2021.  St. Joseph is the Patron Saint of the Universal Church, fathers, workers and the sick and dying. A number of resources, including a Novena to St. Joseph, have been made available on the Diocesan website –

Bradenton Food Pantry

The St. Joseph Parish Food Pantry, 2704 33rd Ave. W., Bradenton, is open and distributing food from 9 a.m. to noon Monday-Friday, 5-7 p.m. Wednesdays, following all social distancing protocols. Cars will be directed through the parking lot and trunks will be loaded by volunteers in protective gloves and masks. Call 941-756-3732 if you have any questions. You do not need to be a regular client to receive food. To make a donation of money or food, please visit

Music lessons continue

St. Francis Xavier Catholic School first grade student learns to play an instrument with the virtual assistance of Music Teacher Jeffery Jodice using ‘Google Meet’ in Fort Myers.