Ian recovery continues – Long term help evolves to meet unmet needs

Even before Hurricane Ian slammed into the coast of Southwest Florida on Sept. 28, 2022, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., was gearing up to respond. In the intervening 12 months, the organization, with its teams of staff and volunteers, have been taking action to help people in a variety of ways.

First, after the winds, storm surge, and floods subsided, Catholic Charities was on the scene providing emergency supplies to thousands. That assistance transitioned over time to meet more complex needs beyond the basics of food and water to offering financial and other support.

Now, one year later, there are still many who need help in their recovery process. Therefore, Catholic Charities has partnered with Lee County to be the lead agency on a dedicated recovery team. The Lee County Long Term Recovery Group (LTRG) is a team of staff who are focusing on collaborating with dozens of not-for-profit, government, and private sector stakeholders to provide a “safety net” for Hurricane Ian survivors.

As a facilitator, the LTRG will help maximize the effects of the many agencies working to help Ian survivors with a goal to restore them to their pre-storm status, within reason.

Catholic Charities CEO Eddie Gloria said the LTRG is working on a long-term plan that focuses on fixing homes and infrastructure, improving the economy, providing social services and financial relief, and preparing for future disasters.

This process is backed by Bishop Frank J. Dewane, who saw the wisdom of this focused effort, as Catholic Charities will support the LTRG by providing full-time staff, guiding its strategy, helping with activities, measuring progress, raising awareness, influencing policy, and finding funding for recovery efforts in Lee County during the next five years.

Catie Eck, formerly of Lee County Emergency Management, was selected as the LTRG Director, and has been working to hire staff to ensure that as individuals go through the process of recovery, the pieces are in place to help them.

“If your primary residence was in Lee County on Sept. 28, 2022, and you have sustained damage or have been impacted by loss of work then they will come to our attention,” Eck said. “There is a great and continuing need in Lee County. It may not be obvious, but it is there. This group is here to help fill in the gaps of people who have exhausted the assistance that was initially made available to them and can’t reasonably complete their recovery from Ian by themselves.”

Initially, there were more than 2,200 who were identified as still needing immediate assistance, but that number has been whittled down to 311, a number that will evolve over time. This group of people have been handed over to designated disaster case managers.

Eck explained that the LTRG has resources that will be used to help people, such as licensed general contractors, suppliers who can offer construction material, a warehouse of donated items (clothes, furniture and other items), groups of volunteers who can do labor, as well as organizations who can offer financial support when other resources don’t fill the gap.

“This way, when a case comes before the board, everybody comes together to get a person what they need,” Eck explained. “We are striving to make them whole, to pre-Ian levels, but when that isn’t possible, we will work to get them as close to that as we can.”

During LTRG process, a person with an unmet need would approach a partner agency (Catholic Charites, United Way, etc.), and they would then be referred to a case manager. The applicant will be helped through the paperwork which will document damage, what recovery actions have been done since the storm and what help has been received. This includes making sure the person did everything to help themselves and used any aid appropriately (insurance, FEMA, etc.), before finally establishing that there is a true need.

Once a need is identified, the case manager will then put together a proposal on how to fill the gap, which is then presented to the unmet needs group. At that point, resources (roof repair, drywall, labor) are assigned, when available. If there is still a monetary gap, the funding aspect will come into play. There, the partner organizations would then divide up the financial burden based on available funding so no one agency takes on an undue burden.

This case management process eliminates duplication of aid and allows participating agencies to help the maximum number of people with the resources that are available. Those resources can come in the form of donations, grants and government funding, but they are not unlimited and the LTRG is responsible to ensure the money is being used as intended.

While the initial case management number is at 311, Eck said that the recovery process will take a long time.

“People are still recovering from Hurricane Katrina (2005),” Eck said. “You must remember, Lee County lost a municipality (Fort Myers Beach); the barrier islands and large parts of Cape Coral were under water, and more than 60% of hotel rooms were initially gone. We are coming back strong, but we are nowhere near where we need to be. This is why the LTRG exists; to continue to be there to help people who are in need.”

Eck noted that there are many who still need to clean out their homes from flood damage, others who have tarps on their roofs, some are living in the shell of a home or are in temporary housing waiting to return home.

“These are the people we will help,” Eck said.

While the LRTG will help as many people in need as possible, there are limits. First, if the financial need is greater than the capability of the supporting organizations, a decision can be made to deny a claim in preference to apportioning that aid to more people. Eck said these instances will be rare, but as an agency dealing with funding from different sources, most donated, there is a responsibility to use the money appropriately.

For those who are unwilling to provide the required documentation of their recovery, including financial disclosures, or even apply for state federal aid, Eck said there is little that can be done because of the inability to ensure donor intent.

Others who may be eligible for help in the future are the many who are still fighting their insurance company for a final claim. If the status of such an applicant changes and resources are then exhausted and unmet needs are identified, the LTRG will step in to fill the gap.

As the LTRG becomes more operational, Eck said a hotline will be established, but for now, cases are being filtered through the various agencies that are part of the overall group, such as Catholic Charities, the United Way and more.

“This Long Term Recovery Group is unique in that Lee County had the foresight to fund the staffing,” Eck said. “Catholic Charities then stepped up to take the lead. Government usually doesn’t work in that manner, but the scope of the disaster and the number of people who are still in need made this the best way to bring many different organizations together help the most people possible.”

Supporting Life opportunities in October

In October, the Catholic Church in the United States celebrates Respect Life Month, and the first Sunday of October is designated as Respect Life Sunday.

Also taking place is the 40 Days for Life fall campaign begins Sept. 27, 2023, with prayer vigils each day through Nov. 5, all to call for an end to abortion in the U.S., including Fort Myers, Naples and Sarasota.

In a letter to the faithful regarding Respect Life Month, Bishop Frank J. Dewane stated: “As Catholics, we are called to teach, defend and protect those who are most vulnerable and promote a greater respect for life.”

“The Catholic Church remains at the forefront in speaking out on the issue of the sanctity of life, from conception to natural death, and at every point in between,” Bishop Dewane wrote. “The Church’s entire social doctrine is guided by the fundamental principle that every human life has innate dignity and incomparable value. Fulfilling Christ’s command to love one another takes shape in our practice of this radical solidarity; solidarity by making the well-being of others our own.”

Diocese of Venice Respect Life Director Jeanne Berdeaux explains there are many opportunities for people to make a real difference in supporting life, whether through actively praying on the sidewalk at a 40 Days for Life prayer vigil, learning how to be a sidewalk counselor, contributing to the Respect Life collection, or praying from home for an end to abortion.

“The Pro-Life movement is all about people coming together in every way they can to be a witness for the unborn. Being a voice for the voiceless,” Berdeaux said.

This year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities calls upon the faithful to focus on “Radical Solidarity,” seeking to inspire all Catholics to put their love for others into action by protecting, supporting, and accompanying mothers and their children.

To help live out this call to radical solidarity, Catholics are invited to join “Walking with Moms in Need.” Through this process, Catholic Parishes and communities walk in the shoes of local pregnant and parenting women to better understand, support, and respond to their needs. It is important for them to know they are not alone. For resources, please visit www.dioceseofvenice.org/respectlife.

40 Days for Life

That 40 Days for Life takes place in hundreds of locations with local prayer vigils taking place in Sarasota, Fort Myers and Naples from Sept. 27 to Nov. 5. Faithful stand in prayer, in the public right of way, outside of abortion facilities seeking an end to abortion in the U.S. and the world.

Since its inception in 2007, 40 Days for Life participants report having saved 23,525 lives from abortion during a campaign. That’s the type of impact that led an ACLU spokesperson to describe 40 Days for Life as the “greatest threat to choice.”

40 Days for Life has contributed to a groundswell of pro-life support worldwide. More than 140 abortion centers, along with numerous referral centers, where campaigns have been hosted, have closed their doors forever.

The prayer vigil in Fort Myers is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Mon. – Sat.), at 6418 Commerce Park Drive. The kickoff is at 6:30 p.m., Sept. 26. For more information, please contact Paula and Rick at 40DaysforLifeFM@gmail.com, or visit 40daysforlife.com/fortmyers.

In Sarasota, the vigil is daily, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., 736 Central Ave., with a kick-off event at 10:30 p.m., Sept. 27. For more details, please contact Rich at  40DFLSarasota@gmail.com, or visit 40daysforlife.com/sarasota

Returning for the first time since the pandemic, the Naples prayer vigil is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (Mon. – Sat.), at 1425 Creech Road. For more details, please contact Ricki & Katrina at 40DFLnaples@gmail.com, or visit 40daysforlife.com/naples. An opening prayer vigil took place Sept. 14, which coincided with the anniversary of the opening of the Planned Parenthood abortion center. Dozens came out to pray and be a witness for life.

Respect Life Collection

On the weekend of Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, Parishes across the Diocese of Venice will conduct a special collection to enhance this life-affirming work. The funds remain in the Diocese of Venice and facilitate a Culture of Life as a faith community in Southwest Florida and to support Respect Life Programs, among them, “Walking with Moms in Need.”

Respect Life Novena

If you would like to join others in prayer across the nation, there is a national Respect Life Month Novena from Oct. 13-21. Sign up at https://www.respectlife.org/ to receive an email with daily prayers for the protection of human life, from conception to natural death. The information offered will feature a different pro-life prayer intention accompanied by a short reflection and suggested actions to help build a culture of life.

Counselor training

Anyone who has prayed outside an abortion center or just has a heart to help women and babies is encouraged to attend a training program from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Oct. 28, at St. John XXIII Parish Center, 13060 Palomino Lane, Fort Myers. Lauren Muzyka, Founder, President and CEO of the national organization, Sidewalk Advocates for Life, is coming to Fort Myers to train individuals interested in helping women choose life for their preborn babies. The peaceful, prayerful, law-abiding method of compassionate outreach has already saved more than 20,000 babies from abortion. Training material and lunch will be provided. For details and to reserve your spot, contact Cyrille at 917-991-6147, cyrillevelasco@gmail.com or Jeanne Berdeaux, Berdeaux@dioceseofvenice.org or 941-374-1068.

Post-Abortion Help

Are you suffering after abortion? There is hope and healing waiting for you. Many women and men experience deep pain and grief after an abortion and don’t know where to turn. They don’t realize there is help available for them. Project Rachel is the outreach of the Catholic church to those who are suffering this loss. We offer help through the sacraments, retreats, and referrals for professional counseling. For confidential information, contact Sylvia Jimenez, Project Rachel Coordinator, 941-412-5860 (English and en español), project.rachel@dioceseofvenice.org, or visit https://hopeafterabortion.com. Help is also available at Support After Abortion at https://supportafterabortion.com/.

More ways to Support Life

Other opportunities to support Pro-Life activities within the Diocese in October.

Life Chain Oct. 1

You are invited to witness for life and respect life causes on Respect Life on Oct. 1, from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.  Gather at 2 p.m. on US 41 across from Shikany Funeral Home, 28300 S. Tamiami Trail, Bonita Springs, or Seagate/Pine Ridge Roads in Naples (near St. William Parish).  Pick up a sign or bring your own, then pick your spot between these locations to silently witness and pray for a greater respect for all human life. Questions? Contact Rich Evans at 239-776-9848.

5K Walk/Run for Life Oct. 7

The 9th annual 5K Walk/Run for Life will take place Oct. 7, at St. Agnes Parish, 7775 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples. Registration on the day of the event opens at 6 a.m. with the race beginning at 7:15 a.m. This event is meant to promote a respect for life message and raise funds for pro-life causes.  To register please visit the Run for Life link at www.stagnesnaples.org. For additional information please contact the Parish Office at 239-592-1949 or email Deacon Roberto at deaconroberto@stagnesnaples.net.

An Afternoon of Healing

An Afternoon of Healing is a powerful day of Prayerful Remembrance and Intercession. Created in the spirit of the New Evangelization and designed for all of our community seeking healing through acknowledgment of the far-reaching impact from participation in abortion. The afternoon will begin at noon, Oct. 7, at St. John the Evangelist Parish, 625 111th Avenue North, Naples, and concludes at 3 p.m. with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There will be a brief talk given by post-abortion speaker Mary Eisman exploring “The Far-Reaching Impact of Abortion on our Family, Friends, and Society.” Individual Testimonials, Reflections and Intercessory Prayer, a Holy Hour with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as well as recitation of the Holy Rosary will lead up the celebration of the Mass. On this day we offer the opportunity for everyone to come together for a period of contemplation, grace and prayerful intercession seeking forgiveness and healing for ourselves and for our nation. For further information please contact the Parish at 239-566-8740.

Dinner for Life

Are you looking for a fun and meaningful way to spend your evening? Do you want to support a great cause and enjoy a delicious meal? If so, you are invited to attend a Dinner for Life, a special event to celebrate and support the Culture of Life in our community. This event will be held beginning at 5 p.m., Oct. 7, at the Columbus Banquet Hall, located at 4880 Fruitville Road, Sarasota. Appetizers will be served followed by a delicious prime rib dinner at 6 p.m. You can also enjoy cocktails served at the cash bar. This event will feature guest speakers from Solve Maternity Homes and 40 Days for Life. You will also hear from Father Chris of Saint Martha Church, who will share his insights and experiences on the importance of defending the dignity and sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. The Dinner for Life is a fundraiser event to support these two non-profit organizations that provides Christ-centered care to pregnant mothers in our community and surrounding areas.  The tickets for the event are $40 per person or $320 per table of eight. You can purchase your tickets in advance at the Parish Office of St. Martha Parish, 200 N. Orange Avenue, Sarasota.

IVF Conference

An In Vitro Fertilization Conference featuring Father Tad Pacholczyk, PhD, from the National Catholic Bioethics Center, will be taking place from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Oct. 7, in the Prince Building Auditorium at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria. The event is free, but registration is required at www.floridacma.org. Presented by the Southwest Florida Guild of the Catholic Medical Association, this two-lecture event is titled “Longing for Life: Catholics, Infertility, and IVF.” and will explore both our natural yearning for offspring and the reasons why IVF is morally objectionable. Presentation titles are: “What is the Spiritual Significance of Infertility?” and “Why is In Vitro Fertilization Wrong?”  Potential alternative therapies to help resolve underlying causes of infertility, and related approaches that are ethically congruent with marital intimacy, will also be discussed.

Pastor installed in Palmetto Parish

An installation of a new Pastor is a punctuation in the life of a Parish.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane installed Father Teofilo Useche as Pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Palmetto, on Sept. 17, 2023, in the context of the Mass.

“You knew him as your Pastor in the past, and he has returned,” Bishop Dewane said. “This Parish is of two cultures, two languages (English and Spanish), two gifts that come together, respectfully, one for the other. It is a beautiful sight to see.”

Bishop Dewane told the faithful how important a Pastor is to the spiritual development of the Parish, particularly one that is as culturally rich as Holy Cross.

“Father is here to help you grow into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ,” Bishop continued. “It is my prayer that you continue your support of Father well into the future as your Parish continues to thrive.”

Father originally served at Holy Cross from 2003 to 2011, appointed first as Administrator, then as Pastor. He was appointed to St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs in 2011 before going on to St. Maximilan Kolbe Parish in Port Charlotte in 2013.

Enhancing the celebration, the installation of Father Useche was just a few days following the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (Sept. 14), the Parish Feast Day.

The history of Holy Cross dates to 1956, when the first Mass was celebrated at the Palmetto Women’s Club. A new church was built on U.S. 41, north of the town and was dedicated in 1958. Due to growth, the Mission was elevated to Paish-status in February 1960. The current church was dedicated in 1989. The Parish has more than 1,000 families and Mass is celebrated in English and Spanish each weekend.

As part of the installation process, the priest first recites a profession of faith for all to hear, including an additional part solely for him. The new Pastor then recites an Oath of Fidelity and promises to “adhere to the teachings, which either the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate when they exercise authentic magisterium.” The installation also includes prayers to provide the new Pastor the wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit to lead the Parish.

The ceremony concludes with the signing of documents by the Bishop, the new Pastor, and two official witnesses of the Parish Community, who serve as witnesses for all.

At the conclusion of Mass, Father Useche thanked the faithful of Holy Cross for being so supportive upon his return and considers them all part of his extended family. Among the well-wishers for the Mass were family and friends, as well as faithful from St. Maximilian Kobe Parish, where he had served as Pastor from 2013 to 2023.

A reception celebration was held in the Parish Hall. In addition, prior to Mass, and after Mass, dancers in traditional garb performed.

Top students recognized

Three Diocese of Venice Catholic high school seniors recently received national recognition for academic success and were named a 2024 National Merit Scholarship Program Semifinalist as announced on Sept. 12, 2023.

Those gaining semifinalist status are: Alexandra Mussey of Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, and from Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers, Patrick Dendis and Stephen Zell.

Alexandra, Patrick and Stephen’s achievement placed them among only 16,000 students nationwide to be recognized among the 1.3 million juniors who entered the competition by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The nationwide pool of semifinalists includes the highest-scoring entrants in each state and represents less than one percent of U.S. high school seniors.

Being named semifinalists puts these three scholars on a path to compete to become National Merit Scholarship Finalists and potential scholarship winners. The process includes submitting a detailed application with information about their academic record, participation in school and community activities, demonstrated leadership abilities, employment, as well as honors and awards received.

Finalists are announced in the spring and have an opportunity to continue in the competition for some 7,140 National Merit Scholarships worth nearly $28 million to be offered in early 2024. The program not only offers financial support for college but also serves as a mark of academic excellence and distinction.

Congratulations to Alexandra, Patrick and Stephen!

Ancient Order of Hibernians expands to region

The Ancient Order of Hibernians, a Catholic lay order, has now expanded to Southwest Florida with a new Division.

The Naomh Radraig (St. Patrick) Division 1 Lee County will serve the communities in Lee, Collier, and Charlotte counties. Catholic gentlemen who are Irish by both birth or descent are welcome and encouraged to join at www.aoh.com/join.

The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) is America’s oldest Irish Catholic Fraternal Organization founded concurrently in the coal-mining region of Pennsylvania and New York City in May 1836. The Order can trace its roots back to a series of similar societies that existed in Ireland for more than 300 years.

Hibernians have been at the forefront for issues concerning the Irish such as: immigration reform, veterans assistance, human rights issues, right-to-life, and support of clergy.

The Order sponsors many programs associated with promoting Irish Heritage and serving the local community, such as the Hibernian Hunger Project; Project St. Patrick to promote and support vocations; scholarships; and National History Day and Irish Heritage Month sponsorship.

The many Divisions and club facilities located throughout the U.S. have traditionally welcomed new members to the social atmosphere of the Irish American community. Here, the Irish culture – art, dance, music, and sports are fostered and preserved. The Order has provided a continuing bridge with Ireland for those who are generations removed from their ancestral homeland.

For additional information contact Steve Phillips at naohmpadraig@gmail.com or visit the website at www.aoh.com.

News Briefs for the week of September 22, 2023

Bishop celebrates Mass for students in Venice, Ave Maria and Sarasota

Bishop Frank J. Dewane recently celebrated Mass for students at three Diocesan Catholic schools, visiting Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School on Sept. 14, 2023, Dohue Academy of Ave Maria Catholic School in Ave Maria on Sept. 18, and Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, Sept. 19. Bishop Dewane continues to be impressed by the increased enrollment at each of the schools as the students’ filled churches, auditoriums, and gymnasiums. The Bishop is also continuing to invoke the Holy Spirit to descend upon the students as they go forth into the 2023-2024 Academic Year. When eighth graders are present, Bishop Dewane takes time to speak to this group, offering words of encouragement and taking questions. At Ave Maria Catholic School, the Bishop visited a few classrooms and spoke to students, while also inspecting the results of a recently completed expansion project.

Mass celebrated to honor first responders

Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers hosted a Blue Mass on Sept. 16, 2023, to honor all first responders for their sacrifice and service to the community. Among those honored were law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics, emergency managers, and more. The opening ceremony, prior to the Mass, included music from the Guns & Hoses Pipes & Drums of Southwest Florida, a Lee County Sheriff’s Office Color Guard, and the singing of the National Anthem. Also present was the Knights of Columbus Honor Guard and members of the Knights on Bikes. This Mass takes place annually and occurs as close to Sept. 11 as is practical, being an appropriate moment to honor first responders. At the conclusion of the Mass, medals and rosaries were blessed. For the firefighters and paramedics present, there were St. Florian medals and red rosaries, while St. Michael the Archangel medals and blue rosaries were given to law enforcement officers. A reception followed in the Parish Hall.

Prospective students visit high school

Eighth grade students at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers had fun during a visit to Bishop Verot Catholic High School on Sept. 14, 2023. Students who were interested in going to Bishop Verot next year had the opportunity to see what a day is like being a Viking. Students were able to sit in on a class, see campus by way of a scavenger hunt (led by some freshmen students from St. Francis), get a first-hand look at what being a student at Verot is really like. All of that was topped off with pizza for lunch.

Mooney athlete clocks fast time

Addison Dempsey, a senior at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, clocked the fastest time in the state of Florida for this cross-country season, so far, with her third-place finishing time of 17:38 at the Adidas XC Challenge on Sept. 16, 2023, in Cary, North Carolina. Considered one of the top distance runners in Florida, as a junior, Addison took the silver medal in the November 2022 Class 2A girls Florida High School Athletic Association Cross Country State Championship in Tallahassee.

Scientific method taught in Naples classroom

The students who attend Diocese of Venice Catholic schools are ensured of a well-rounded education where they have the opportunity to mix science experiments with lessons on the faith and the virtues. At St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples, eighth graders learned to use the scientific method to gain knowledge by designing fun experiments in class on Sept. 18, 2023. The students investigated how different brands of soap make bubbles with larger diameters. Catholic schools offer a comprehensive STREAM  (science, technology, religion, engineering, art and math) learning model which is combined with the Diocesan curriculum called, “The Gifts of Christ: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Affability, Fortitude, Humility, and Prudence,” creating students equipped to succeed in the world of today.

Service club makes impact on community

Members of the St. John Neumann Catholic High School Key Club took time out of their busy schedules on Sept. 16, 2023, to volunteer their time packing food for Meals of Hope in Naples. The 47 students packed 12,096 healthy meals that will make a real impact on the life of many people. Key Club moderator Susan Cavness organized the project, and the participation reflected the willingness of the students to improve the world.

“Wow!” School retreat unites Diocesan educators

Starting the new school year with a focus on the spirituality of the faculty and staff, as well as developing a strong Catholic school culture, served as the focus of a special “Back-to-School Retreat” on Sept. 11, 2023.

The goal of the day was to start the school year with a spiritual message by incorporating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Then the retreat pivoted to focus on creating a daily prayer life for the faculty and staff, before then looking at ways to build a stronger Catholic culture into each of the 15 Diocesan Catholic schools.

Jesuit Father John Belmonte, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education, said at its heart, the retreat was a professional learning day with the rare opportunity for all faculty and staff to be together.

“We wanted to create an environment where everyone had time to reflect on the faith that we teach and to be inspired by our Bishop while ultimately perfecting our teaching craft,” Father Belmonte said.

A spiritual message was delivered by Bishop Frank J. Dewane during Mass, when he thanked the educators for following their vocation to impart their knowledge and faith upon their students.

Bishop Dewane told the educators that by following the example of Christ, they are helping their students “to live a better life. You are helping them to hear who the Lord is calling them to be. You help them to become more than they think they can. You are their inspiration.”

While each Diocesan Catholic school has experienced tremendous growth in the past three years (up 30% with more than 6,200 enrolled), the quality of the education and the spiritual aspect has also grown stronger, the Bishop noted.

“It is that spiritual aspect that I am most concerned about,” Bishop Dewane continued. “No matter whether you teach theology, science – or whatever subject – you are their introduction to Christ. It all comes down to virtues and values as you are called to live your life responsibly because your students follow your example. It is through how you teach, how you act, and how you live your lives that they find Jesus Christ. Take that role seriously. I know that you do this, and I am grateful for your choosing to serve, enhancing the Catholic schools here in the Diocese of Venice.”

Father Belmonte spoke to the educators about how they need to focus on the Mission of the Catholic schools, introducing the students to the Lord.

“This is what we are about, every day in every classroom in the Diocese of Venice, we introduce the world to our Savior,” Father continued. “Aside from the administration of the Sacraments of the Church, this is the greatest thing, in my opinion, the Church does every day. If you go into any one of our Catholic schools, you will see the mission of the Church in living color. That is why we are here.”

Father also introduced the faculty and staff to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, something they are encouraged to incorporate into their daily lives. Father Belmonte provided a handout which included the daily reflections covering 25 weeks, encompassing the remainder of the school year. The goal was to enable the staff and faculty to promote their daily prayer life in an easy and straightforward way.

During the presentation, Father included responses from students at the different schools to a homework assignment he gave them: What advice do you have for your teacher as he or she goes on retreat? And the responses were entertaining and insightful. The message Father found most profound was the simplest: “Do good,” something he said all educators are called to do each day. “If they can do that, they will be able to impact students in a meaningful and overwhelmingly positive way.”

The day concluded with a presentation by Elisabeth Sullivan, Executive Director of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education. The institute inspires and equips Catholic educators to renew today’s Catholic schools by drawing on the Church’s tradition of education, which allows teachers and students the joyful pursuit of faith, wisdom, and virtue.

Sullivan shared the success of 225 different schools who have incorporated a Catholic classical liberal arts education when “Catholic identity” is not just added on, but is instead woven through the school culture, curriculum, content, and pedagogy.

Schools which have incorporated this approach are emerging as engines for evangelization in the Church, by integrating faith, culture, and life.

Beginning with the 2023-2024 Academic Year, Incarnation Catholic School in Sarasota began to implement this program. In a letter to parents, it was explained that this new classical approach will educate students in a way that combines Catholic faith with academic excellence and help students become more aware of the transcendent realities of Truth, Beauty and Goodness. This begins a new chapter to better prepare the students to pursue excellence while growing in faith, knowledge, and love. Donahue Academy of Ave Maria Catholic School in Ave Maria has used this classical approach since its founding.

The retreat also included a special recognition of Mike Gill, a teacher at Bishop Verot Catholic High School for the past 52 years. Bishop Dewane presented Gill with a special legacy award for his commitment to Catholic schools.

Also recognized were the teachers who are new to education and new to teaching in Catholic schools.

Diaconate candidates instituted as Lector

One by one, the 10 Permanent Diaconate candidates placed their hands on a Bible, promising to live out and share the powerful message of its ancient, holy words.

“Take this Book of Holy Scripture, be faithful in handing on the Word of God, so that it may grow strong in the hearts of His people,” Bishop Frank J. Dewane instructed during the Rite of Installation into the Ministry of Lector, Sept. 9, 2023, at a Vigil Mass at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota.

Installation to the Ministry of Lector is part of the candidate’s journey to ordained ministry in the Church, as the 10 are on track for ordination as Permanent Deacons in 2025.

According to the Church’s Law and practice, the instituted lector is charged with proclaiming the readings from the Sacred Scriptures (except for the Gospel), announcing the intentions in the Prayer of the Faithful (in the absence of a deacon), and reciting or singing the responsorial psalm if there is no cantor. As distinct from the typical Parish reader, these men will now exercise this ministry in a permanent way.

The following constitute the Permanent Diaconate Class of 2025:

  • Richard E. Dahn, St. Agnes Parish, Naples;
  • Richard A. Hellenbrand, St. Andrew Parish, Cape Coral;
  • Thomas A. Januszka, St. Francis Cabrini Parish, Parrish;
  • Stephen L. Jendrysik, Incarnation Parish, Sarasota,
  • James N. Jenkins, St. William Parish, Naples;
  • Ramon R. Kanacheril, St. Vincent DePaul Parish, Fort Myers;
  • Mark A. Osterhaus, St. Agnes Parish, Naples;
  • Orlando A. Rubiano, St. Vincent DePaul Parish, Fort Myers;
  • Jeffrey P. Tenbarge, St. Peter the Apostle Parish, Naples;
  • John-William M. Trainer III, St. Peter the Apostle Parish, Naples.

As part of the Rite, the deacon candidates were individually called forth to be presented to the Bishop. Following the homily, the Bishop continued the Rite by reciting a prayer of blessing on the men – granting that, as they meditate on the Word of God, they may grow in its wisdom and faithfully proclaim it to His people. Then each candidate came forward to be presented the Holy Scriptures by the Bishop.

“Be conscious of what it is you do,” Bishop Dewane said. “In proclaiming God’s word to others, it is key that you accept it yourselves, and do it in obedience to the Holy Spirit.”

The diaconate candidates were told by the Bishop that this new responsibility is more than just reading Sacred Scriptures; it is about their understanding the text, and also revealing the Word of God to those around them.

Deacon Bob Gaitens, the Director of Formation for the Permanent Diaconate, said the deacon candidates have worked hard to get to this point.

“This is an important milestone as the candidates are very busy with ongoing intellectual study through the formation program,” Deacon Gaitens said.

Deacon candidates admit that their journey can feel like a marathon at times, and it can be a challenge to fit the many requirements along with their ongoing daily life requirements of marriage, family, and work. Installation rites offer a much-needed boost as they continue on their path.

John-William Trainer III, of St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, was overjoyed to have reached this important moment in his formation journey. He credited the support of his wife, Angela, their three children, and Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary with his reaching this point. “I feel so blessed,” Trainer said.

Present for the installation were the wives of the candidates, who also take part in the formation process attending several of the formation weekends each year with their husbands. The wives are an integral part of the diaconate program as they support their husbands through prayer, sacrifice, and by assuming added duties of home and family.

Also present were children of the candidates, other supporters and friends as well as the recently selected Permanent Diaconate Class of 2028, who were taking part in their first formation weekend.

Upon completion of their formation program and Ordination to the Diaconate, Permanent Deacons may officiate at baptisms, weddings and funerals, read the Gospel and preach at Mass, and help with the canonical process for marriage and baptism. One of their greatest priorities, however, is service to the poor and marginalized.

Please keep the 10 Permanent Deacon candidates and their families in your prayers.

World Youth Day pilgrims share experiences

A group of Diocesan World Youth Day 2023 pilgrims from Epiphany Cathedral in Venice shared stories about their epic and faith-filled journey to their supporters during a gathering on Sept. 12, 2023.

Five teens, four priests and two adults, reflected upon their 11-day journey to Portugal, joining Pope Francis and 1.5 million others from around the world for a life-changing experience. They were among 52 pilgrims from the Diocese, including Bishop Frank J. Dewane, who travelled from July 29 to Aug. 8.

The evening was designed as a way for the pilgrims from the Cathedral to express their gratitude to the parishioners whose generosity allowed so many to go to World Youth Day. Stephanie Lovetere, Youth Director at Epiphany, organized the event.

As a slideshow of images and videos rotated on a screen, the pilgrims each reflected on highlights of the journey, including stops at Fatima, the site of a famous Marian apparition, as well as Santarem, the location of one of the earliest recognized Eucharistic Miracles, then in Lisbon for the main World Youth Day activities which included encounters with Pope Francis.

Christian DiGioia, a senior at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, said it was an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to go to World Youth Day.

“It didn’t hit me until we were in Fatima, as everything was happening so fast and we were all tired from flying and taking a bus, and then we were with a large group, praying the rosary, outside of the big Fatima Basilica and Shrine. What a faith-filled and joyful experience,” DiGioia said.

Others shared similar experiences with one teen saying how the frequent encounters with youth from different countries helped to reassure them about their faith, noting how language barriers meant nothing when words such as Jesus and Mary were sung or spoken, and the faith connection was made stronger.

One young man explained that a faith journey for teens today can be very lonely. However, being amongst 1.5 million other youth who are excited about their faith lit something within him – it is a gift he will carry with him for the rest of his life, he said.

The youth also enjoyed seeing Pope Francis, either during an opening ceremony or riding in the Popemobile, and hearing his inspirational words during the closing Mass.

Adult chaperone Krista Lopez, who journeyed to Portugal with her daughter, Tatiana, saw how the young people were “on fire for the Lord. None of them were faking it.”

Tatiana Lopez said the pilgrimage was “outstanding” and described how she and other Diocesan pilgrims had youth from around the world sign a Portuguese flag, with many adding inspirational messages.

“I also made a pledge to myself to pray for the supporters back here at Epiphany Cathedral who made this experience possible,” Tatiana said. “I am so blessed, as this is the closest time to my faith I have ever had, and it remains strong within me.”

Also sharing their experiences were Cathedral Parochial Vicars Fathers Alex Pince and Kris Piotrowski, as well as retired twins Fathers Richard and Robert Beligotti. The twin priests offered the closing praying for the gathering.

Several supporters told the pilgrims how impressed they were to hear about their experiences, and were enthralled how the young people conveyed not just the stories but the true emotional impact of the journey to Portugal.

Msgr. Patrick Dubois, Cathedral Rector, concluded the presentation by thanking the supporters for their willingness to understand the benefit of sending so many to World Youth Day from the Cathedral as possible.

To the pilgrims, he said, “Treasure your experience and share this with your friends. And take what you gained and continue growing in your faith.”

Gathering focuses on promoting youth outreach

Representatives from 33 Parishes and two Diocesan Catholic high schools took part in a gathering to help bolster youth outreach.

Marthamaria Morales, Diocese of Venice Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry organized the gathering Sept. 8 and 9, 2023, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice. The 60 participants were those who serve youth at the Parish level, and included women religious, youth ministers, directors of religious education, and committed volunteers from Parishes that don’t have staff but serve youth and young adults.

Morales said this meeting was an opportunity for those active in youth outreach across the Diocese to get to know each other, build community, share best practices, dream together, and accompany one another in this amazing journey serving young people.

“This is the first time this wider group has gathered in one place in several years,” Morales said. “It is important for them to get together because we have a few new youth ministers and some other ‘seasoned’ ministers serving in different Parishes. We want them to feel value and all the support not just to survive but to thrive.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane offered words of encouragement to the group and expressed his gratitude for the important role they play in the Church within the Diocese of Venice.

“These young people are the Church of today, and they need our attention,” Bishop Dewane said. “It takes a certain type of individual who can rise up to answer the call to serve our young people, forming them into the person they are becoming in response to a call from God.”

A youth minister’s responsibility is to be the leaven in the Parish, the Bishop added, nurturing those who are present and working to help those who are absent to want to return and grow closer to the Lord.

The experience of the youth ministers in the Diocese who were present for the meeting ranged from 42 years to less than a week.

To assist, Morales brought in representatives from Project YM, a national outreach which helps youth ministers navigate the complicated world with the goal that the participants leave the gathering with a practical action plan to help bolster their young ministries.

Michael Marchand, president and co-founder of Project YM, offered sobering statistics about the current generation and how 42% of high school students are persistently sad or hopeless and approximately 22% have seriously considered suicide.

Marchand, who has more than 20 years of experience serving Catholic youth, said “it is vitally important to reach out to the youth at every level because it is about saving lives, both spiritually and literally.”

Another concerning number is that 80 percent of high schoolers who are active in their faith leave the Church before they graduate from college. Of those youth who remain in the Church after college, they overwhelmingly stated that having upwards of five adult mentors (outside of family) connected to the faith made a difference in their staying active in the faith.

“This really stresses the importance of investing in serving young people as much as possible, because the reality is that no Parish will ever have a 5-1 adult to youth ratio,” Marchand said.

Participants left the gathering with advice and action plans that are intended to help outreach programs increase participation and retention of youth of all ages.

One youth minister who has less than a year’s experience said she greatly benefitted from the gathering, noting that she learned the importance of mentoring as well as gaining insights into what activities work the best.

Jim Brantner, of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Grove City, who has more than four decades of serving young people, said, ”Genuinely love what you do and the young people you are responsible for, and Jesus will guide you through the rest.”