News briefs for the week of May 18

Naples Deacon remembered

Deacon Donald Healy, who served at St. Ann Parish in Naples, died April 2, 2020. he was 83.

Deacon Donald Healy, the oldest Permanent Deacon to be ordained for the Diocese of Venice, who served at St. Ann Parish in Naples, died April 2, 2020. He was 83. Deacon Healy was born in Rome, N.Y. and was a highly recruited college athlete in three sports. He ultimate chose football and played as a two-way player (office tackle and defensive guard) for the University of Maryland before he was drafted in the third round (37th overall) by the Chicago Bears in 1958. He was then selected in the 1960 expansion draft by the Dallas Cowboys where he still holds the team record for recovered fumbles in one season (5), the longest standing record in team history. He played his professional final season with the Buffalo Bills before retiring in 1962 due to injuries. He lived for many years in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he and his wife Genevieve (Shea) Healy raised four children. He worked in agricultural chemical sales and then later in the automotive parts industry. The couple moved to Naples in 1995 and Deacon Healy eventually earned an advanced degree in theology, a requirement for his lifelong dream of becoming a Permanent Deacon. When he was 70, he was ordained a Deacon by Bishop John J. Nevins on Oct. 25, 2006 at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice and was assigned to St. Ann Parish. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, four children, and 11 grandchildren. A Memorial Mass will be held later at St. Ann Parish.

Scam Alert

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 or Bishop Frank J. Dewane 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.

Neumann golfer earns First Tee! scholarship

St. John Neumann Catholic High School graduating senior Sophie Shrader has been announced as a recipient of a $10,000 a year scholarship from The First Tee! Shrader has participated in The First Tee for eight years and represented the organization in many national opportunities. Shrader will continue her education in the fall at the University of West Florida.

Letters bring smiles to medical professionals

Second graders from St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota have been distance learning and one of the things they learned about through reading is about communication through letter writing. The students read a story called “Dear Juno” and their assignment was to write letters of appreciation and send goodie baskets to the medical professionals at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. The staff took time to take a picture and send thanks to the students.

Roof work taking place in Avon Park

A much-needed roof replacement project is taking place at Our Lady of Grace Parish in Avon Park. The church roof is being replaced and upgraded to ensure its safety and security for years to come.

Mooney teacher earns Doctorate

Sarah Hard Gates, a Theology instructor at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, and 1997 graduate of the school, successfully defended her dissertation and was awarded her PhD in Education from Abilene Christian University. She previously earned degrees from St. Leo University, the University of South Florida, and Barry University. Gates, a beloved teacher who is considered one of the “fun” teachers, has been teaching at Cardinal Mooney for 16 years.

Athletes distance training in Naples

The St. John Neumann Catholic High School Celtic Football Team isn’t letting this time for social distancing ruin their plans to start next season as strong as possible. The boys in Naples have been working hard each morning with their at-home workouts, while connecting with their teammates and coaches via ZOOM!

Rosary maker group keeps busy

The Our Lady of the Angels Parish Rosary Outreach group in Lakewood Ranch has continued to be busy! In the past few weeks more than 400 rosaries have been made. They are given to nursing homes, assisted living residences, hospitals, people in religious education classes, Confirmandi, First Communicants, and for others to hand out. Some 500 rosaries have gone to Africa for children’s rosary groups and 400 will be going to Cuba with The Society for the Propagation of The Faith (once travel resumes). The Rosary is our sword in these difficult times, and the goal of the Rosary Outreach is to spread the beauty of prayer through the rosary.

Students take virtual field trip to museum

The St. Francis Xavier Catholic School fifth grade in Fort Myers recently was provided a special treat, courtesy of The Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota. Students were taken on a virtual field trip led by museum staff where they were able to see the Ringling grounds, some special portraits and paintings and learn about the life of John Ringling.

Community service during quarantine

Leave it to a Diocesan Catholic school student to turn the challenge of a quarantine into a giving opportunity. Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School Freshman Morgan Franklin in Sarasota took it upon herself to still be committed to community service during our stay home policy and cut her hair for Locks of Love, for those suffering from hair loss. She shared before and after photos of herself online, as well of as the hair that will be donated.

Year of Saint Joseph

On the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, March 19, 2020, Bishop Frank J. Dewane consecrated the Diocese of Venice to the care and protection of Saint Joseph in the context of the Coronavirus. The Bishop announced a “Year of Saint Joseph” beginning March 19, 2020 through March 19, 2021. Saint Joseph, often referred to as the Protector, can be our protector during this time of the pandemic. To pray a Novena to Saint Joseph please visit the Year of Saint Joseph webpage at www.dioceseofvenice.org.

Online Preached Retreats

During the current health crisis, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice is offering online 3-day, 5-day, and 8-day retreats based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. In these online retreats, Father Mark Yavarone, OMV, or Father Lino Estradilla, OMV, trained spiritual directors, will meet with you for an hour each day via a link provided to you, to help you to pray and to recognize how God is speaking to you. A Bible and journal should be available for your use. Participants will be emailed any additional materials needed as the retreat unfolds. The cost is as follows: 3-day online retreat, $132.23; 5-day online retreat, $203.98; and 8-day online retreat, $306.48. All information will be confidential, and password protected. If you would like to participate in an online retreat, please email Denise Riley at riley@olph-retreat.org and a code will be provided for your online registration as well as an application. For planning purposes, please allow 7 days from your completed application until the beginning of your retreat.

Public celebration of Mass resumes May 18

The following is a letter from Bishop Dewane to the faithful, dated May 12, 2020: 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Bishop Frank J. Dewane raises the host during the Mass at St. Ann Parish in Naples in January, 2020. The public celebration of the Mass in the Diocese resumes May 18, 2020.

As we rejoice in our Easter Faith, my prayer is that the new life we have in Christ will bring you and your family hope and comfort. The Coronavirus has brought numerous challenges. Our common efforts to mitigate the disease have asked us to sacrifice and adjust to new realities for the good of all. United in Christ, we continue to face the present difficulties with courage and compassion. So many have persevered in faith and charity and our Parishes have remained beacons of God’s love and grace. For this, I am profoundly grateful to God and to the Priests and Faithful of the Diocese of Venice.

After much prayer and discernment, and having consulted with the priests on the Presbyteral Council, it has been determined that public celebration of the Mass in the Diocese of Venice can resume. Therefore, I am announcing that the celebration of Holy Mass with a congregation present, will begin on May 18, 2020 and moving forward.  All other non-liturgical activities at Parishes remain suspended until it is determined that these activities can safely resume; thank you for your understanding on this point.

Out of concern for the safety of all involved, our Pastors have been asked to follow established directives and guidelines. These limit the size of the congregation to 25% of occupancy, maintain social distancing guidance, and ask the Faithful’s cooperation to wear facemasks and bring with them hand sanitizer for their use. The Faithful are also asked to receive communion in the hand. These are extraordinary times and I ask for your patience and good will as Parishes reopen for public celebrations. Further, schedules may need to be adjusted and some Priests or liturgical ministers may not be able to participate publicly because of age or health conditions.

As Parish churches reopen for Mass, I remind those who are at greater risk or anxious about returning at this time, that the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains in effect until June 28, 2020. Parishes have been asked to continue livestreaming until the dispensation is lifted. The Faithful ought not to worry about remaining home if they are concerned for their wellbeing or that of other parishioners. Of course, those who are sick or have symptoms associated with COVID-19 are to stay home.

The Faithful of the Diocese of Venice have remained resolute in their faith during these unprecedented times, vibrantly expressing their Spiritual Communion with Christ and His Church. Still, I am aware that there is a hunger for the Eucharist. My prayerful hope is that, strengthened by the Bread come down from Heaven, you will emerge from these times with stronger faith. As we return to Holy Mass, let us with the psalmist, raise our voices in praise of God: I rejoiced when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+ Frank J. Dewane

Bishop of the Diocese of

Venice in Florida

 

Bishop visits food distribution site

On a beautiful early May Friday morning the line of vehicles entering the parking lot of the Bonita Springs offices of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. was growing before the first bags of food were distributed.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane, in what is becoming a regular routine, visited this Catholic Charities site on May 8, 2020, to show his support and learn from the staff what the last few weeks have been like and if they were getting enough support.

Food was bagged earlier in the week and everything was put on tables outside for easy distribution in what is a weekly ritual for the staff at this office on the property of St. Leo the Great Parish. Bishop Dewane assisted in the process, joining a well-organized ballet of people each tasked with loading vehicles with specific packages.

“It is rewarding to see all of the people Catholic Charities can help during this crisis,” Bishop Dewane said. “This is made possible thanks to the generosity those who support Catholic Charities in their efforts. Thank You! You are making a tremendous difference.”

Bishop Dewane first helped stack boxes of food provided by the Harry Chapin Food Bank while others brought out bagged food, grapefruits, apples and water. When the first vehicle came through the line, the bishop opted to load the half-cases of bottled water – minimum two per vehicle and more when the person was collecting food for multiple families. Bags were filled with maeseca (corn flour), rice, beans, oil and canned meats and vegetables.

Impressed by the organization and efficiency of the effort, Bishop Dewane complimented everyone for their hard work. He was told of the high demand and the uncertainty many have about future employment which result is difficult choices between buying food and paying other important bills while earning no income.

The Bonita Springs site is one of several emergency food distribution points throughout the Diocese of Venice that is being operated by Catholic Charities. In the six-week period between March 24 and April 30, 2020, Catholic Charities reported distributing 240,187 pounds of food such a canned good, rice and beans and maseca to 23,627 individuals and families. In addition, 1,185 hot meals have also been provided. In the same period, about 1,500 have called the Catholic Charities hotlines seeking a variety of additional help.

Those numbers represent a tremendous increase in outreach when compared to an average year when Catholic Charities serves some 90,000 families and individuals through 37 different programs.

“These are extraordinary times we are living in and the result is a tremendous surge in demand,” Philomena Pereira, CEO of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. “The need is not going away and growing in some areas. Please consider supporting Catholic Charities. No donation is too small as we strive to get through this crisis helping as many our brothers and sisters in Christ as we can.”

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 www.catholiccharitiesdov.org/donate or send a check to: Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice Inc., 5824 Bee Ridge Road, PMB 409, Sarasota, FL 34233-5065.

Parish food pantry support Hispanic community

It is a Corporal Work of Mercy to feed the hungry, in the name of His Church. That is exactly what is being done each week at Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers.

The Spanish-language Catholic community has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic having endured massive layoffs across many job sectors including food service, hotels, farming and landscaping. The small food pantry has been assisting about 100 households weekly for the past seven weeks, where households consist of five to nine individuals.

Father Patrick O’Connor, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales (OSFS), Pastor of Jesus the Worker and San Jose Mission said, “there is really a tremendous need for food right now. Many don’t qualify for unemployment or stimulus checks, but they still need to feed their families.”

“We, their Church, are here for them,” Father O’Connor said. “As long as our resources last, we committed ourselves to not closing the food pantry, and to stocking it and running it ourselves.  We had to reduce the days we give out food, but we have stayed open, and distribute more food to the needy than ever.”

On Tuesday mornings, the line for food begins to form long before the pantry opens. Each person with a heartbreaking story of unexpected hardship and worry about their small children. A few of those children were old enough to help carry the bags of food back to their vehicles while their mother or father carried their own heavy burdens with stoic resolve.

“We have no choice but to try to carry on,” a woman who would only identify herself as Fernanda explained. “I will make it last a long time. I don’t have any choice. God bless Father Patrick and the people here. We would be lost without the Church. This is where Jesus lives in our hearts and our community.”

Father O’Connor said the food in the pantry come from local donations, purchases from the Harry Chapin Food Pantry and from a fortuitous USDA grant that was approved only weeks before the pandemic crisis began.

“We had applied a long time ago for this program, and we were waiting for a response,” Father explained. “For me, receiving that approval and the first shipments of food – it was a miracle!  We were very fortunate! It feels like God was watching out for our poor community!”

It is an unthinkable thing for the hard-working faithful of Jesus the Worker to ask for food, Father O’Connor explained. “Sometimes it is embarrassing or humiliating for them to come looking for assistance.” In such cases, he invites families to return at a different time when no one will see them.

“If that helps them feel better to be helped away from the public eye, that is okay,” he continued. “But we try to emphasize that we are a Christian community, and there are times when we help others in the community, and other times like now, when we allow the community to help us. For me, we are able to hearken back to the roots of our Church and Faith, in this time of crisis, in how we understand we should care for one another.”

If you would like to help Jesus the Worker Parish food pantry, please send contributions to 881 Nuna Ave., Fort Myers, FL 33905, call 239-693-5333 or visit the Parish website at https://jesustheworker.org/ and click on the English button to translate the page. In addition, the Diocese of Venice is providing an online platform. Please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/ways-to-give/parish-donations-online/ and select Jesus the Worker Parish in the drop-down box (please disable you pop-up blockers).

Teachers shown love for their hard work

During weeks of unexpected and unplanned distance learning an even greater appreciation for teachers has developed as parents recognize the hard work and dedication required in forming young minds.

Vehicles drive through the parking lot of St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School adorned with signs and waving students and parents in honor of the teachers who are waving back.

With students now home out of heath and safety concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents learned quickly the hard work and dedication it takes to teach children: all day – every day.

This St. Joseph Catholic School teacher shows off a lawn sign and huge cards and basket of goodies presented to her as part of Teacher Appreciation Week in Bradenton on May 6, 2020.

To coincide with National Teacher Appreciation Day (May 5), many Diocesan Catholic schools encouraged their students to take the initiative to honor their teachers. Posters, drawings and videos were posted online while two schools hosted parades to honor their teachers.

On May 7 vehicles full of students wound their way through the parking lot of St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples where teachers were lined up to greet them. Horns blared as students and parents alike waved and shouted expressions of love, thanks and longing for a return to the classroom.

Vehicles drive through the parking lot of St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School adorned with signs and waving students and parents in honor of the teachers who are waving back.

Organized by the Seton Home and School Association, a variety of signs adorned the vehicles: “We love our teachers!” “I love Seton!” “We appreciate you!” “The best teachers are at Seton!” “Thank You!” “We are so blessed to have teachers like you!” “Thank you for your hard work and love!”

One sign summed up the feelings of many: “Thanks 6th grade teachers. It is not so much what is poured into a student, but what is planted by the TEACHER that really counts!”

A similar parade was held May 6 in downtown Venice to honor the teachers at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School. Signs on vehicles expressed the same sentiments as in Naples such as “We miss our Epiphany teachers and staff.”

The teachers honored during both parades rejoiced, some with tears of joy, in being able to see their students in person versus through an internet video-classroom.

St Joseph Catholic School administration showed their appreciation for their teachers by delivering gift baskets and lawn signs. Students in the school Builder’s Club prepared a special “Coffee Cart” bag, wanting to keep their annual tradition of bringing a coffee cart to each classroom during Teacher Appreciation Week.

Correspondingly, teachers across the Diocese miss their students as well and have been creating signs and video messages to share on school websites and social media accounts.

At St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral the teachers compiled a video to their students. Danielle Pendleton, a mathematics teacher, used a math formula with the final answer (I <3 u) which translates to “I love you.” Spanish Teacher Laura Baker showed off a colorful poster noting she is missing all of her “amigos” big and small, while Literature and Religion Teacher Julie Dudek shared a limerick and encouraged her students to share one in return.

These are just a few examples of how the teachers and their students are staying connected while missing each other because of continued distance learning.

News briefs for the week of May 11 2020

Seminarians graduate

Deacon Franckel Fils Aime graduated from St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach on May 7, 2020, while Seminarian Jacob Gywnn graduated May 5, 2020, from St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami. Deacon Fils Aime will soon be ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Venice while Gwynn will be given a pastoral assignment at a Parish within the Diocese for the summer. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both graduations were low-key events with minimal participation and no family present.

May Crownings

St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish hosted a May Crowning on May 10, 2020, Mother’s Day, on Longboat Key. Social distancing protocals were in place as some sitting in their vehicles, others of chairs.

In a time of social distancing the traditional May Crownings have taken on a different form this year. St. Joseph Catholic School students Wesley and Cecilia were able to honor Mary on May 2, 2020, for an unofficial May Crowning at the St. Bernard Catholic Church grotto in Holmes Beach. On May 10, 2020, Father Robert Dziedziak, Pastor of St. Mary, Star of the Sea Parish on Longboat Key, led a May Crowning prayer service in the Parish prayer garden with the faithful able to be present while still maintaining appropriate social distancing.

These two St. Joseph Catholic School students from Brandenton pray during a May Crowning at St. Bernard Parish in Holmes Beach in early May.

 

Retreat Center offering online Preached Retreats

During the current health crisis, many people who would like to make a retreat must remain at home for an extended period of time. As long as the crisis lasts, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice will offer online 3-day, 5-day, and 8-day retreats based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Like Father Lanteri, we can all use this time for our spiritual growth.

In these online retreats. Father Mark Yavarone, OMV, or Father Lino Estradilla, OMV, trained spiritual directors, will meet with you for an hour each day via a link provided to you, to help you to pray and to recognize how God is speaking.  You should already have a Bible and journal available for your use. Participants will be emailed any additional materials needed as the retreat unfolds.

The cost, which has been significantly discounter, will be as follows: 3-day online retreat, $132.23; 5-day online retreat, $203.98; and 8-day online retreat, $306.48.

All information will be confidential, and password protected. If you would like to make an online retreat, please email Denise Riley at riley@olph-retreat.org and a code will be provided for your online registration.  You will need to fill out an application for approval. Please allow 7 days to arrange from your completed application until the beginning of your retreat.

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 – www.dioceseofvenice.org.

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 https://www.stjoepantry.com/.

Venice Catholic School Community project

Jennifer Falestiny, Curriculum Coordinator at the Diocese of the Venice, created the Camillus Project, a STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and mathematics) oriented campaign to print and deliver face shields and ear savers to those serving on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis. Named after the patron saint of hospitals, nurses and the sick, the design files were shared to each school with 3D printer in hopes of being to deliver these shields to local medical professionals.

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 https://dioceseofvenice.org/ways-to-give/parish-donations-online/ 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 www.olph-retreat.org.

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.

 

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