Christmas celebrated across the Diocese

The celebration of Christmas is a time to recognize the truth about Christ: our Incarnate Savior, the Son of God, both human and divine.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane stressed the importance of this reality when speaking about the meaning and symbolism that we must recognize and accept that on Christmas Day, “the Savior, the Messiah, is sent to us. In so doing, you and I become children of God.”

The true gift of Christmas is not the presents found under a tree, but the light God sent forth into the world, Jesus Christ and the example He provides, Bishop Dewane added.

“That gift of light is with you and me,” Bishop Dewane continued. “No matter where we find ourselves, that light of Christ rests with all of us. It is we who have to accept that, and when we do, we become that Child of God.”

For Christmas, Bishop Dewane celebrated the Televised Mass for Homebound which was recorded at St. Patrick Parish in Sarasota. As the Bishop has in the past, he made a point to celebrate the Mass for the incarcerated in the region. This was accomplished Christmas Eve at the DeSoto Correctional Facility in Arcadia and the day after Christmas at the Hardee Correctional Institute in Bowling Green.

Christmas throughout the Diocese reflected the generosity of the faithful toward those in need. The Advent tradition of having a Jesse Tree, with ornaments listing the wish of a needy child, was a common sight in churches in December. The result was that tens of thousands of gifts were distributed throughout the region to local children.

Also, part of the Christmas Season were concerts with carolers to help everyone get into the spirit of the coming Holiday. Christmas Eve was the time for children’s Masses with the younger faithful participating in the retelling of the Nativity story.

In what has become an annual tradition, St. Agnes Parish in Naples hosted a Living Nativity, complete with a recreation of the town of Bethlehem and live animals.

A common pre-Christmas celebration at several Parishes in the Diocese is “Las Posadas,” a tradition from Mexico and Central and South America where the Nativity story is retold over the course of nine days. The highlight of the novena is one larger centerpiece gathering. One of the more elaborate celebrations occurs at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula. This year, the celebration was postponed due to weather until Jan. 4. In the retelling of the Nativity story, more than 100 youth participated.

Before the Christmas Break, Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools joined in the fun of the season by giving back to those in need while also holding their own celebrations.

Each school held their own toy drives to benefit needy children in the area with the generous response reaching beyond what was expected. Other fun activities included decorating cookies and trees, gift making and wrapping, as well as pageants and concerts, each to showcase the talents of the students.

The Bishop Verot Catholic High School National Honors Society in Fort Myers hosted young students from St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral and St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers to build gingerbread houses and decorate cookies.

Kindergartners at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton visited a nearby nursing home to sing carols to spread holiday cheer. Students at the school also received a visit from Mrs. Santa Claus who delivered books as part of a reading initiative from the Early Learning Coalition.

The Key Club of St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples hosted a “Holiday Gift Shop” for the Friends of Foster Children Forever. Families came to the campus to choose from thousands of new toys that went to some very deserving foster children in the area.

Neumann students also helped pack 150,000 meals to help feed the needy in the local community. Food and toys were also delivered to the Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center of Catholic Charities.

The events and activities listed represent a mere fraction of what took place in December at Parishes and schools across the Diocese of Venice.

Celebrating independence and unity

On the 216th Anniversary of the first Independent Republic in the Caribbean in Haiti, the Diocese of Venice, in conjunction with the Haitian Catholic Community, celebrated a Mass at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs on Jan. 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Holy Mother of God.

Nearly 1,000 people from throughout the Diocese of Venice attended the Mass which was celebrated by Most Rev. Max Leroy Mésidor, Archbishop of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, with Bishop Frank J. Dewane in attendance. There were several additional priests from the Diocese of Venice who concelebrated as well as priests from St. Leo the Great Parish

Archbishop Mésidor spoke about the celebration of the independence of Haiti and how it importantly falls upon a major celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the World Day of Peace. This is particularly poignant in Port-Au-Prince where in recent months there has been unrest due to fuel and food shortages and corruption in the government.

The Archbishop encouraged those gathered to remember the sacrifice of Haitians and to use the example of Mary, for she said ‘Yes’ to God with courage and grace. He added that they should feel confident in relying on Mary, the Holy Mother of God, to give them the strength to be sons and daughters of Jesus Christ.

Archbishop Mésidor added that they should be proud of their roots in Haiti and that they will always be Haitian. With this in mind, the Archbishop encouraged everyone to keep a connection to their homeland as well as with their faith which will serve them well in whatever obstacles they may face in the future, noting.

In a gesture of gratitude toward Bishop Dewane, Archbishop Mésidor noted that the Haitian Catholic Community within the Diocese of Venice is in good and capable hands and thanked Bishop Dewane for his support.

Bishop Dewane thanked Archbishop Mésidor for being a guest of the Diocese and sharing his time, wisdom and faith with the Haitian Catholic Community in their native language. He also said it was an honor and privilege to participate in such an important cultural and religious celebration for the growing Haitian Catholic Community in the Diocese.

Bishop Dewane also thanked and recognized the Haitian priests serving in the Diocese for their continued dedication and passion for caring for the faithful, in particular those in the Haitian community. “The work you do does not go unnoticed,” the Bishop added.

There are currently Masses celebrated in Creole at the following parishes: St. Charles Borromeo in Port Charlotte; St. Francis Xavier in Fort Myers; St. Michael in Wauchula; Sacred Heart in Bradenton; Our Lady of Guadalupe in Immokalee; and St. Peter the Apostle in Naples. The New Year’s Day celebration is one of the few times the entire community can gather in one place. With this in mind, following the conclusion of the Mass all joined in singing the National Anthem of Haiti.

For the Haitian community, Jan. 1 is both a spiritual day, and an emotional day commemorating such an important day in their homeland. It was in 1803 that the Haitians defeated the largest and most powerful army at the time, the army of Napoleon, in Cap-Haitien. Haiti became the second country in the Americas to declare its Independence.

When the French were in control, they enacted a law that said the French were the only ones who could eat soup because they were in the upper class. When Haiti proclaimed its independence, all Haitians started to eat soup so as to demonstrate that everyone was equal. Thus, began the custom of cooking and eating soup on New Year’s Day in celebration of freedom. In honor of this unique tradition, soup was offered at the meal that followed the Mass in Bonita Springs.

Mass to honor Widows and Widowers Jan. 26 in Naples

Throughout Scriptures we are reminded to care for widows and widowers who are protected by God. For this reason, the Bishop Frank J. Dewane is celebrating the annual Mass for all widows and widowers at 3 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 26 at St. John the Evangelist Parish, 625 111th North Avenue, Naples. A dinner will follow in the Parish Hall.

In 2019 hundreds of widows and widowers were recognized during the first Mass at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. The response was overwhelmingly positive and was described by several as beautiful and touching.

Bishop Dewane said this Mass is an important opportunity to recognize those who have suffered the loss of a spouse. The Bishop called the widows and widowers an inspiration and gift to the community as they stand strong in their faith, even with the loss that may continue to strike them hard.

The concept for the Mass grew out of the annual Mass honoring couples celebrating significant wedding anniversaries. Those Masses, which will be held Feb. 1 at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice and February 29 at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs, are extraordinarily popular. At the conclusion of one such Mass, a volunteer noted that she would have attended the anniversary Mass but for the fact that her spouse had recently passed away. This planted the seed for what has now become the annual Widows and Widowers Mass. (Registration for the Anniversary Masses is through your Parish.)

“Widows and widowers are not forgotten but are in fact recognized and in particular revered by the Church,” Bishop Dewane said. “The Holy Father has called upon widows and widowers to use their experiences to help the young and poor; showing them the tenderness of God and His closeness in love.”

The celebration will include a display of photos available for viewing during the reception. Should an attendee wish to share a photo for the display, they can either bring the image to the event, email it to, or mail it to Diocese of Venice, Attn: Family Life Office, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, Florida  34285.

To register, or for further information about the Widows and Widowers Mass with Bishop Dewane, please visit, or call 941-484-9543.

Former surgeon cuts to the heart of the matter

Who’s Making it Happen

Susan Laielli – Florida Catholic

For much of his career as a general surgeon in Chicago, Ill. and a small Kansas town, Dr. Fernando Ugarte admits he didn’t make too much time for Church outside of Sunday Mass. That changed dramatically since his retirement three years ago with a move to Southwest Florida, and an influx of time and talent.

It seems Ugarte now makes himself available for Parishes in the Sarasota area which may need something.  Whether as a Eucharistic Minister with Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch, or through the lens of his camera as a photographer for special projects with St. Jude Parish in Sarasota or the photography club with Our Lady of Carmel Parish in Osprey, Ugarte is ready to help.

“Photography makes me realize the beauty of the world and the loveliness of the things that are around us,” said Ugarte, a Peruvian born Catholic. “I discovered through the lens of my camera I can see things that other people don’t notice.”

Parishioners of St. Jude Parish may have spotted Ugarte’s work through the refurbishment of the Parish’s outdoor Stations of the Cross, which appeared rundown next to the new walkway surrounding a serene lake filled with beautiful birds.

“This is one of those little miracles for me, that I still find shocking,” Ugarte explained.

When he was seven-years-old and attended Jesus Hostia Parish in Lima, Peru, Ugarte grew up admiring the Stations of the Cross in his hometown Church. Now, 70 years later, he would photograph each Station, with a plan of creating permanent metal images for the Parish, which are better designed for outdoor wear and tear.

Mistakenly, the manufacturer sent the wrong size pictures, which were too small. How disappointing, he thought, to know the beautiful Stations of the Cross might go to waste. That was until he happened to be at St. Jude Parish and noticed that their Stations of the Cross needed an upgrade.

“I went right home with the measurements, and what do you know, the pictures of the Lima Stations that I received in the wrong size, fit perfectly in the little frames at St. Jude,” he laughs. “What are the chances of that!”

Parishioners can see the colorful metal Stations of the Cross currently on display at St. Jude Parish, but mostly Ugarte can be seen during Sunday Mass at Our Lady of the Angels Parish, where he only trained to be a Eucharistic Minister three years ago.

“Oh, I was extremely nervous, I was shaking like a leaf the first time I gave Communion to people, thinking that I was going to do a bad job,” Ugarte recalls.

This, from a man who spent his entire 52-year career as a successful surgeon operating on people.

“Well, I soon discovered how important it was to be a Eucharistic Minister,” Ugarte admits. “It’s important not to rush, and I learned how we should look at people in their eyes while giving Communion. You can see how they feel, and you can see the soul of a person by looking into their eyes.”

Ugarte says it’s important for him to connect with God and the person, as a Eucharistic Minister.

“I have the feeling that I am doing something wonderful,” he says, tearing up.

Opportunities coming to stand up for Life

We are all called by Christ to be witnesses of our Faith and to stand up against evil.

The Diocese of Venice Respect Life Office is co-sponsoring several events to mark the 47th tragic anniversary of the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision which opened the door for abortion in the United States.

Today, after more than 60 million abortions, there is less regard for all human life as society discards those deemed inconvenient because of age, infirmity or any other reason, the Florida Bishops noted in a statement released in early January. In fact, some states sought to strengthen laws that permit abortions even to the moment of birth.

Locally, there are several opportunities to act.

For example, St. Francis of Assisi Parish, 5265 Placida Road, Grove City, is hosting a Parish Prayer Walk for Life at 11 a.m., Jan. 18. The walk is in solidarity with the National March for Life in Washington, D.C., and for participants to be a witness to a Culture of Life and defend the right to life of all unborn children. Everyone is welcome. For more details, and for pledge sheets, please call 941-697-4899.

You can also join Bishop Frank J. Dewane for a Mass and the annual Prayer Walk for Life on Jan. 21 in Sarasota. The Mass is at 8:30 a.m., St. Martha Parish, 200 N. Orange St. Participants will then take a shuttle or walk to the Planned Parenthood on Central Avenue for a Prayer Vigil.

This year, Bishop Dewane is joining a group of approximately 475 from the Diocese of Venice on Jan. 24 to stand up for life. The young men and women, representing each Diocesan High School as well as 10 different parishes, will be joining hundreds of thousands in the National March for Life in Washington, D.C.

In addition, the U. S. Catholic Bishops invite everyone to join thousands of Catholics nationwide for 9 Days of Prayer for Life, a novena from Jan. 21-29 for the protection of human life. Each day’s intention is accompanied by a short reflection and suggested actions to help build a Culture of Life. You can receive daily pro-life prayers via e-mail or on your phone via text. For further information, visit

The 40 Days for Life spring campaign is held this year from Feb. 26 to April 5. The campaign includes 40 days of prayer and fasting for an end to abortion where all are welcome to stand and peacefully pray. These vigils will take place in the public right-of-way outside Planned Parenthood abortion facilities in Naples, Fort Myers and Sarasota. For more information, go to and click on the location nearest you.

The Diocese offers multiple pro-life efforts throughout the year. This includes regular prayer vigils are held in front of abortion facilities throughout the Diocese.

For information on all Diocesan activities promoting a Culture of Life, please contact Jeanne Berdeaux at or 941-374-1068

The Spirit is Alive at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School

By Maria Niebuhr

Nestled in the heart of Naples, within a modest neighborhood just off Golden Gate Parkway, lies St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School. Founded in 1981, the school bears the name of the first American-born saint and is in keeping with her spiritual gifts of courage, determination, faith and love.

Through hard work, dedication, and the support of parishioners and community partners, the school was handcrafted by the very families that wanted their children to have a quality, Catholic education. Since those humble beginnings, St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School carries on their legacy through rich traditions rooted in family values and faith in action. The tradition continues with the large number of alumni who have children enrolled in our school.

What sets St. Elizabeth Seton apart and makes us unique is our sense of closeness as a family community. Seton students know they are a part of the school family which is an extension of their own. You need only walk through the doors of the school to feel a difference, to experience the wholesome, loving personality of the school. In short, a presence of the spirit exists throughout its halls, courtyards and classrooms.

The spirit of St. Elizabeth Seton is alive and well. The school and Church’s dedication to children, education and the poor shone as a beacon of hope in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in 2017. Our campus suffered major damage, forcing us to close our doors for 18 days.

Thankful for technology and the digital age in which we live, our teachers taught remotely as best they could. However, all of us yearned to return to our beloved classrooms. Our prayers were answered when a family in the contracting business stepped up to expedite repairs and renovations. Donations poured in from across the country, making a reopening possible. When another school was hit by a hurricane, our community quickly came to their aid, just as they helped us in our time of need.

Our entire staff and faculty exemplify Faith in action. Maria Crowley, who has taught at St. Elizabeth Seton for 30 years, is just one of the many role models who lives our Faith! Teaching is more than a profession to Mrs. Crowley; it is her vocation, one inspired by her love of God’s unique creation, His children. She explains that on each child’s face, she sees the child Jesus. This feeling permeates throughout our faculty and staff, inspiring us to create a mutual sense of caring, closeness, and respect with our students and their families.

The school’s spirit is alive and continues to grow. We are small enough that teachers know all the students and their families though large enough to offer a full range of academic rigor and extra-curricular experiences. We offer a music program complete with beginner and concert bands, as well as a full range of competitive athletic offerings from volleyball to cross country. Our 1:1 iPad program in grades 5-8, and class iPads in grades K-4, allow us to create an engaging, technology-driven curriculum, while our diverse selection of after school activities such as Art Club, STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math) club, master gardening classes and theatrical performances embody the “whole child” concept.

I welcome you to visit St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School. We will gladly open our doors so you and your family may see firsthand the unique, uplifting spirit that inspires us to follow in the footsteps of our foundress. I will be happy to give you a tour of our special school, where academic excellence, faith, values and community come to life each day!

Please visit our website or call 239-455-2262. You are also welcome to attend our Open House from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Jan. 26 and experience the difference!

Priest from Venice dies

Msgr. Anthony A. La Femina, a retired priest and iconographer who previously served as Administrator of St. Isabel Parish on Sanibel, died Dec. 30, 2019. He was 86.

Msgr. La Femina was born Nov. 19, 1933, in New Haven, Conn., and was one of three children of Anthony and Natalie (D’Amato) La Femina.

In his academic formation, Msgr. La Femina attended Providence College, Dominican Fathers, Seminaire de Philosophie and Grand Seminaire in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, University of St. Paul in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and Angelicum in Rome, Italy. He was ordained May 27, 1961 at the Cathedral of St. Jerome in Montreal, Canada. For the Diocese of Saint-Jérôme, in the Province of Quebec, Canada, Monsignor served in parishes in Rosemère, Deux-Montagnes, before serving on the Diocesan Tribunal, then as the Vice-Chancellor and later as Chancellor of the Diocese.

Msgr. La Femina was appointed as an official at the Congregation for Divine Worship of the Holy See in 1969 and served there for many years. He was incardinated in the Diocese of Venice, from the Diocese of Saint-Jérôme, in December 1986. He also served as an official of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Within the Diocese of Venice, Msgr. La Femina assisted at several parishes and including in 1998 as Administrator of St. Isabel Parish in Sanibel. Prior to his retirement in 2008, Msgr. La Femina also served in the Diocese of Charleston as Director of the Office of Volunteers. Most recently, he was Chaplain to the Knights of Columbus Bishop Charles B. McLaughlin Assembly 1818 in Venice.

In addition to serving as a priest, Monsignor was a well-known iconographer. Images he created were most notably used worldwide during the 2000 Jubilee. He was also a scholarly author.

He is survived by numerous relatives. A funeral will take place at 10 a.m., Jan. 18, at Epiphany Cathedral, 310 Sarasota St., Venice. A viewing will take place starting at 8:30 a.m.

Cardinal Mooney gives back

St. Mother Teresa once said, “It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.” Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota loves taking part in giving back to the community from serving meals to the homeless to food and toy drives.

To kick off the giving season, Mooney students and staff participated in a Thanksgiving   food drive that provided over 65 families with a full Thanksgiving meal as well as served over 200 homeless lunch in the downtown Sarasota area on Nov. 27.

The Cardinal Mooney chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society collected new toys to support Andrew’s Toybox and delivered them Dec. 19, just in time for Christmas, to the pediatric wards of Sarasota and Manatee Memorial Hospitals.

The 60 residents of Sunshine Meadows Nursing Home in Sarasota received items on their Christmas list Dec. 13, as part of an effort by the Cardinal Mooney staff as well as by different members of clubs on campus.

Also taking part of the giving season was the Cardinal Mooney Cougar Band which performed at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and University Town Center mall to help bring cheer to those travelling and shopping during the holidays.

Service in the community

Every student at Cardinal Mooney participates in giving back through community service and is required to complete 100 hours of service during their four years at the college preparatory school.

Most students have well over the 100 hours including senior Aaron Dhanhai who has 612 hours, with 550 of those hours as a volunteer at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Junior Mallory Allbritton has more than 440 hours with Sarasota Disaster Relief Services, 4H and Future Farmers of America (FFA).  Allyson Galvin, a sophomore, has 330 hours working on various service projects with Our Lady of Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch. Cooper Flerlage, a freshman, already has over 330 community service hours, mostly with the Sarasota County Summer Camp Program.

The family environment of Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School fosters spiritual growth and prepares all students to become servant leaders in the world by performing over 30,000 community service hours a year.

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School, a Christ-centered, college preparatory institution is celebrating its 60th Anniversary. The school prepares students to serve and lead by nurturing spiritual growth, cultivating the talent of all students, and challenging them to pursue academic excellence.

As a nationally accredited school, Mooney is now offering the new rigorous AP Capstone diploma; as well as a full honors curriculum; Advanced Placement courses; dual enrollment; and learning strategies programs. Student-athletes participating in over 30 athletic teams have won district, sectional, and regional titles with three state titles this year. With a 100 percent acceptance rate to college, Cardinal Mooney graduates earned more than $9 million in scholarships in 2019.

Filipino Catholics unite in prayer for Christmas

Filipino Catholics arounds the Diocese of Venice and around the world have a custom in preparation for Christmas of participating in a novena of Masses at Dawn, known as Simbang Gabi.

Celebrated at several parishes in the Diocese, for the first time the tradition was celebrated at the Vatican by Pope Francis. The Holy Father opened the celebration at St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 15, Gaudete Sunday.

“Through this celebration we want to prepare ourselves for Christmas according to the spirit of the Word of God that we have listened to, remaining constant until the Lord’s definitive coming,” Pope Francis explained.

The Simbang Gabi tradition in the Philippines dates back to the 17th century and was introduced to the Philippines by Spanish friars to allow the farmers to hear Mass before going to the fields early in the morning. Filipinos hang a star outside their homes, and attend early morning Masses on each of the nine days before Christmas.

This tradition is also known by its popular Spanish name as the Misa de Gallo, or “Mass of the Rooster,” commonly indicating the pre-dawn Christmas Eve Mass. The novena serves as spiritual preparation for Christmas, in commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. The celebration is also seen as a way of requesting blessings from the Lord, as most people believe that if one completes the whole series of nine dawn Masses, wishes will be granted.

Pope Francis noted that as Filipinos have migrated throughout the world, their traditions and devotions have followed. In the Diocese of Venice, the full novena has been celebrated at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Port Charlotte for many years. Where the Filipino Catholic community is smaller, Incarnation Parish in Sarasota and St. Andrew Parish in Cape Coral, abbreviated novenas were observed.

Although this tradition is not exclusive to Filipinos, its observance is strong and distinctive in the Philippine Catholic culture.

The Holy See allows the Simbang Gabi Masses to differ from the traditional Advent Season readings and requirements. This exception allows the readings to be directly associated with the Christmas Season and the Church is also decorated while the priests wear white vestments. The exception to this guidance is if the Mass is celebrated as part of Gaudete Sunday, which maintains its precedence.

As at the Vatican, the Simbang Gabi Mass at St. Andrew Parish was on Gaudete Sunday. Following the Mass there was a reception in the Parish Hall where there was a potluck dinner was served with a variety of traditional delicacies including rice cakes, seafood and noodle dishes, as well as pastries and other sweets. The choir sang Christmas songs in English and Tagalog, the language known by most Filipinos,

Tradition dictates that time changes during this celebration of the Holy Mass for the novena. It is no longer the same moment of Advent that is celebrated during the day, everything becomes Simbang Gabi, but when the sun rises it returns to the Advent Season. It is because we are living that magical moment that is before the sun rises.

This is an important and growing Catholic tradition as the faithful prepare their hearts waiting for that dawn when the sun rises. The sun rise is associated with Jesus Christ, bringing with it a new hope, new life.

It is believed that participating in the novena of Masses brings many blessings, mostly for the family. Some also believe that if you attended the Simbang Gabi you would find your future spouse, which naturally increased the popularity of the tradition.

News briefs from around the Diocese

Cathedral celebrates Feast Day

On Jan. 5, the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, the Feast Day of Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, Bishop Frank J. Dewane presided over a tri-lingual Mass (English, Spanish and Polish). This annual tradition includes the different language communities that are based at the Cathedral. At the beginning of the Mass, Bishop Dewane blessed the Cathedral where it is inscribed 20+C+M+B+20 (the year and the initials of the three magi) above the main interior entrance to the Church.

Senior apartments available in Arcadia

Brand new apartments are move-in ready at St. John Paul II Villas of Catholic Charities in Arcadia. The senior community (55 years and older) has a community center and numerous activities throughout the year. Rents start at $459 for a one bedroom and $626 for a two bedroom. Income restrictions apply. All units include washer/dryer, microwave, dishwasher, garbage disposal, and some units have a walk-in shower. If you are interested, please contact the leasing office at 863-884-2123 (TTY711).