Symposium unites Catholic educators

Catholic school teachers and administrators gathered for the third annual STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Education, Arts and Mathematics) Symposium hosted by the Diocese of Venice Department of Education.

The Symposium took place on March 15, 2024, at St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers, and included more than 450 teachers and administrators. The core Gift of Christ of the Symposium was “Truth,” and the theme tag line was “Teaching Truth to Our Youth.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane opened the day with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. During the Mass, Bishop Dewane praised the teachers and faculty for the love they have for their students and their profession. “The innovation that takes place knows no bounds. It is easy to perceive that. You are infused with the love for what you do, there is no hiding that.”

“In a world of technology, the light that shines out from Jesus Christ is the splendor of the truth,” the Bishop said. “Christ is that truth. It is that love of Christ, the desire for truth that is part of human nature itself. Let us take that desire for truth from Christ and educate – addressing human nature itself – teaching the youth in the schools of the Diocese of Venice that it is Jesus Christ that holds for them all truth.”

Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocese of Venice Superintendent of Catholic Education, said educators love to learn, and the Symposium was going to help them teach young people about the beautiful Catholic faith and Catholic school culture, and learn about God’s truth, beauty and goodness.

“It is Truth with a capital T, that we will be exploring,” Father Belmonte said. “Teaching Truth has never been more difficult to teach. We are going to take those concepts and adapt them into something new.”

Father Robert Spitzer SJ, Ph. D., president of The Magis Center of Reason and Faith, spoke on “Truth of Creation and Science,” and focused on sharing the close connection among science, reason, and faith. The theme for Liz Repking, founder of Cyber Safety Consulting, was “Technology and the Truth of Now,” sharing the reality that children of all ages are online and the many dangers that go with that reality. Joe Allen, author of Dark Aeon: transhumanism and the War Against Humanity, spoke on “Dark Aeon: A.I. Challenges Faced by Youth,” which included information about the growing use of AI (artificial intelligence) in many aspects of life today and the types of threats this poses to people of all ages.

One teacher from St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral said the Symposium was one of the best events she had even been to, specifically because it covered relevant topics that concern teachers today. Many other teachers agreed, as it focused on a topic, teaching “Truth,” to students who get “truths” from many, often unfiltered, sources outside of the home or the classroom.

Father Belmonte presented the Charitas Awards, the highest Diocesan Education award given to faculty and leadership, nominated by their peers, for their constant exhibition and embodiment of the Virtue of Charity. Recipients are teachers and administrators who produce excellence in all that they do, including: radiates with care and compassion towards students and colleagues, treats others as brothers and sisters in Christ, embodies the Catholic Faith inside and outside the classroom, leads by example, and spreads Truth, Beauty and Goodness to those around them.

Teachers who have demonstrated leadership in STREAM and robotics education at their school were presented the Blue Apple Award. The color blue in the Bible has been described by scholars as denoting the Holy Spirit and Truth or service to God, as well as the waters of the new creation in the Book of Genesis, and most importantly the color blue is associated with our Blessed Mother.

Each Catholic school principal was also presented with an award of a crystal blue lily, representing the Blessed Virgin Mary. In addition, Father Belmonte was honored with a bronze fruit tree as a “Thank You” for helping to grow and improve the Diocesan Catholic schools. Additionally, Years of Service Awards were presented in categories of 10-15 years, 15-19 years, 20-25 years, 25-29 years, and more than 30 years. Maria Barbato, Director of School Counseling at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers, was presented the Legacy Award for her 35 years of “Guiding God’s Children in the Diocese of Venice.” She is retiring at the end of the academic year.

The day concluded on a high note with an “after-school snack” which included an ice cream food truck, meaning everyone left the day with a big smile.