Bereavement workshops held in Diocese

The holidays can be a stressful time for everyone but more so for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. The rush of memories can make it feel as if the loss is happening all over again.

To help the bereaved, in early December 2023, the Office of Marriage & Family Life offered a series of events themed “There is Hope!” First was a multi-day retreat titled, “A Walk with Jesus for Grieving Parents,” then a workshop, “There is Hope: Surviving the Holidays.” Lastly was a two-day training session titled, “There is Hope: Giving Hope to the Grieving.”

These gatherings were led by Deacon Henry deMena, of the Diocese of Charleston and formally of the Diocese of Venice, who has extensive training experience as a bereavement counselor.

“There has been a need for these type of bereavement workshops throughout the Diocese and this was an initial effort to judge the demand,” said Carrie Harkey, Coordinator of the Office of Marriage & Family Life.

Deacon deMena said his work is to try to help the bereaved make sense out of what doesn’t make sense: grief.

Grieving parents

The retreat for grieving parents took place Dec. 1-3 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice.

“The main theme was walking with Jesus during our suffering as did the disciples on the walk to Emmaus,” Deacon deMena said of the retreat, which included 20 adults who were remembering 11 adult children who had died. “There was a mixture of prayer services, including a beautiful Adoration/Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, education, sharing and social activities. During an opening ceremony, candles were lit for each of the deceased to represent the Light of Christ.”

The retreat focused upon ensuring each parent understood that they were not alone in their grief, they are always accompanied by Jesus. Facilitators were also present to encourage sharing. The retreat concluded with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.


One aspect of the grieving parents retreat is how to cope with loss during the holidays. Along this theme, Deacon deMena led two presentations on this topic for the public on Dec. 4 at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Grove City and then Dec. 5 at St. William Parish in Naples.

“As humans we might feel God has abandoned us when trying to deal with the loss of a loved one,” Deacon deMena said. “It’s OK, because God has broad shoulders. He can handle you being upset with Him. The more you can pray and talk to the Lord, the easier it will be to help Him find you. God wants to share His love and comfort with us.”

The holidays are difficult because anxiety and stress levels are running high for everyone. Anything that can be done to reduce the effort and stress of the season is recommended.

Deacon deMena offered a variety of suggestions on how to get through the holidays, such as early planning for any activities to help avoid surprises, making sure not to pretend that everything is the same or fine, or to not talk about the loved one, as this can be more painful for the bereaved.


The Bereavement Training workshop took place Dec. 6-7 at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Venice. There, Deacon deMena spoke to more than 20, representing multiple Parishes, to facilitate establishing strong Parish-based bereavement groups. He provided participants with the tools needed to establish a structured program that follows a 6-week schedule, allowing participants to fully benefit from the process.

Ginny Nolan, of St. Peter Parish in Naples, was among a group of three who took part in the training, eager to expand the bereavement outreach at the Parish. “The information we learned and the process and program we will follow will help many people,” Nolan said. “This is exactly what is needed.”

Throughout each of the workshops and retreats, Deacon deMena said prayer and faith are keys to living with grief, stressing that grieving never really ends but is something that is coped with in a non-destructive way.

With the positive response and a clear need shown by the amount of participation from the bereavement retreat, workshops, and training, Harkey said that additional sessions will be planned throughout the Diocese in the not-too-distant future.

For more information, please contact Carrie Harkey at

News Briefs for the week of November 24, 2023

Bishop to speak at Theology on Tap in December

Each month, on the third Thursday, young adults gather for faith, fellowship and fun at the Mandeville Beer Garden in Sarasota. Theology on Tap is presented by the Diocese Office of Evangelization, and the Dec. 21, 2023, guest speaker will be Bishop Frank J. Dewane. The Mandeville Beer Garden is located at 428 N. Lemon, Ave., and the gathering begins at 7 p.m. The Nov. 16, presentation was led by Father Anthony Armstrong, O. Carm., Pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Osprey. Father Armstrong spoke to the group of young adults about “Prayer and Practicing the Presence of God.”

Families clean up neighborhood road

Incarnation Catholic School families from Sarasota took to the streets as part of an Adopt-A-Road cleanup crew on Nov. 18, 2023. The team helped clear the streets of garbage between Tuttle Avenue and Bahia Vista Street, just north of the school. This was a great way to give back to the community and help keep Sarasota clean.

Junior Thespians compete regionally

Junior Thespians from St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton competed in nine performance events and one technical event at the District Jr. Thespians Competition at Blake High School in Tampa on Nov. 18, 2023. The St. Joseph students received seven “Superiors” and three “Excellents.” This is outstanding! What an amazing accomplishment. A special thanks goes to Paul Mahoney who coaches these young artists.

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is Holy Day of Obligation

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, observed Friday, Dec. 8, 2023, is the patronal feast day of the United States and is a Holy Day of Obligation. The Solemnity celebrates the Immaculate Conception of Mary in her mother, St. Anne. The Immaculate Conception does not refer to the original conception and birth of Christ, as is often thought, but rather to the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was conceived without inheriting original sin. Note that Holy Days of Obligation are feast days on which Catholics are required to attend Mass and to avoid (to the extent that they are able) servile work. The observance of Holy Days of Obligation is part of the Sunday Duty, the first of the Precepts of the Church. To accommodate this obligation, many Parishes throughout the Diocese will offer vigils or extra Masses on the Solemnity.

Bereavement Outreach and Training coming in December

The Diocese of Venice Office of Family Life is holding two bereavement events in early December. One is a bereavement outreach, and the second is a training session for individuals or Parishes wishing to form bereavement volunteers.

The outreach is from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Dec. 4 at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, 5265 Placida Road, Grove City; and again from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Dec. 5 at St. William Parish, 601 Seagate Drive, Naples. Entitled, “There is Hope”, these workshops focus on surviving the holidays after the loss of a loved one. There is no cost to attend, and registration is not required. Deacon Henry DeMena will facilitate the workshops.

The training is focused on forming and educating Parish bereavement volunteers and those who speak with the bereaved. This training takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Dec. 6 and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 7 at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, 1301 Center Road, Venice. The cost is $35.00 and includes lunch and materials. Registration is required at Bereavement Training ( For further information please contact Carrie Harkey at or call 941-484-9543.

News briefs for the week of Nov. 10, 2020

Virtual Diocesan Concert Series continues

The first Virtual Diocesan Concert was a success when it was streamed live from Incarnation Parish in Sarasota on Nov. 6, 2020. Incarnation Music Director Andi Zdrava directed the performance with Johanna Fincher and Abigale Zdrava providing the stunning vocals, while Dr. Nina Kim played the violin and Edevaldo Mulla the cello.

Music included a variety of selections such as “Panis Angelicus” and “I heard the voice of Jesus say,” as well as two versions of the “Ave Maria.” The series continues from a new location on Nov. 13, 2020 at noon and again on Nov. 20, 2020. Each segment will be live and last approximately 30 minutes. Anyone can view the live stream through the Diocese of Venice Facebook page at You do not need to register to view live events on Facebook.

Catholic Medical Association Guild leaders meet with Bishop

Leadership of the Southwest Florida Guild of the Catholic Medical Association met with Bishop Frank J. Dewane on Nov. 5, 2020 at the Catholic Center in Venice. The leadership provided Bishop Dewane with their annual report on their latest activities.

Bereavement seminar Nov. 16 in Naples

Deacon Henry deMena is hosting “There is Hope – Surviving the Holidays” Bereavement Seminar at 3 p.m., Nov. 16, 2020, at the St. Agnes Parish Center, 7775 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples. This is for those who have experienced a death in the family or the loss of close friend or are trying to help someone who has experienced a loss. Deacon deMena will share he bereavement counseling experience and helpful advice on surviving the holidays. He will also discuss issues which have arisen as a result of isolation due to COVID-19. The seminar is free and open to all. No registration is required. Masks must be worn. Seating will be socially distanced. For those not comfortable to attend, the seminar will be livestreamed from the St. Agnes Parish website and Facebook pages. For more information, please email Deacon deMena at

Youth make prayer bowls

Youth at St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers gathered Nov. 8, 2020 to make prayer bowls. The youth used arts and crafts to decorate their bowls with various religious symbols as part of an ongoing effort to learn about the significance of various Christian symbols such as the dove, the Alpha and Omega and much more.

Prison outreach does well during Pandemic

The Diocese of Venice is stepping up to provide a pre-recourded Catholic Mass at prisons throughout the State of Florida is helping incarcerated men and women gain spiritual strength during a time when they are isolated as never before.

This was the message given from Florida Department of Correction (FDOC) State Chaplain Johnny Frambo to Diocesan Prison Outreach Volunteers during a gathering on Oct. 30, 2020 at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Port Charlotte.

“Since the COVID began, you have done a great deal,” Frambo explained. “You didn’t get behind the fence; but you were behind the fence in so many other ways.”

Frambo explained how the Diocesan Prison Outreach, with the direct support of Bishop Frank J. Dewane, worked to provide a variety of resources to the FDOC to ensure that there was continued access to religious materials and programming that volunteers would normally provide.

The effort included the donation, from a member of the faith community, of televisions as well as the ability to create and upload programs to prison tablets through a program called JPAY. Each state inmate is provided with a tablet through JPAY which provides controlled access for content such as emails, video visitation and other services without wireless services.

This effort was facilitated by Diocesan Prison Outreach Co-Coordinators Bob Hiniker and Joe Mallof, with the assistance of Anne Chrzan, Diocese Director of Religious Education. Items for upload include the Mass and religious education programming and other materials which focused on the teachings of the four pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This meant that the effort was developed from scratch and uploads to the tablets through the FDOC. This religious education programming is part of a larger effort to increase access to Catholic content for prisoners in the state facilities during the Pandemic and beyond.

“Thank you for all you have done and continue to do to help those men and woman to hear your spiritual voice and guidance during this time of inner discovery and self-improvement before they go back into the world and restart their lives as transformed individuals,” Frambo concluded.

Before the COVID-19 global Pandemic effectively shut down access by volunteers to prisons and jails, some 150 volunteers, including 26 priests and 11 deacons, assisted with religious education and formation at 10 jails, six state prisons and four work camps. These volunteers normally provide a variety of religious programs, such as Bible study, religious education and assistance with formation before receiving the Sacraments including as Baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation, as well as the Mass. Bishop Dewane regularly visits prisons for Mass and confers the Sacraments when possible.

Hiniker shared an update on how each prison and jail policy has evolved in recent months with some allowing limited volunteer access while others remain off limits.

“We have adapted many of our programs in the best way possible, but we are limited based on the restrictions each facility has,” Hiniker added.

Bishop Dewane, who celebrated Mass for the volunteers, praised the group for choosing to answer a specific call from God to serve the incarcerated, those who are often marginalized or forgotten by society.

“They are as much a part of this Diocese as anyone else and must have access to pastoral care, which you provide through your selfless dedication as volunteers,” Bishop Dewane said. “You do not go there to solve what put them there. It is not important why they are there. It is important that they are placed before us and we have to be that instrument of the Lord – the evidence of God’s love to others.”

Hiniker and Mallof also presented information about two different outreach programs that are starting to be introduced in the state prisons including grief sharing and an effort to help the incarcerated transition to life after prison.

The Grief Share program is a 13-week process designed to help the incarcerated deal with different types of grief they may face, such as for whatever crime they may have committed, for the loss of freedom, for the loss of connection to family, the death of loved ones and much more.

The Bridges to Life is a re-entry program which promotes healing for the incarcerated and for victims, aiding and placing them in the positive mindset that they will be able to succeed and become productive citizens again. This mentoring effort also helps to prepare those about to be released for the realities of the modern world of technology and transitioning back into society and the workforce. A key component of this effort is the prepare former inmates how to answer questions about their incarceration on job applications and then to handle job interviews.

If you are interested in learning more about the Diocesan Prison Outreach, or perhaps becoming a volunteer, please contact Bob Hiniker at or Joe Mallof at

Bereavement: Surviving the Holidays

Bob Reddy – Florida Catholic


The holidays can be a stressful time for everyone but more so for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. The rush of memories can make it feel as if the loss is happening all over again.

To help the bereaved, the Office of Family Life offered three “There is Hope: Surviving the Holidays” workshops led by Deacon Henry deMena of St. Agnes Parish in Naples, who has extensive training experience as a bereavement counselor.

Deacon deMena tried to help the bereaved make sense out of what doesn’t make sense: grief. The workshops took place Nov. 13 at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs, and Nov. 15 at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice and Incarnation Parish in Sarasota.

Deacon deMena spoke about how the grieving process is an emotional roller coaster and spiritually one can find peace at times and then find anger. None of this is unusual. While prayers can bring comfort, they cannot magically take pain away.

“As humans we might feel God has abandoned us when trying to deal with the loss of a loved one,” Deacon deMena said. “It’s OK, because God has broad shoulders. He can handle you being upset with Him. The more you can pray and talk to the Lord, the easier it will be to help Him find you. God wants to share His love and comfort with us.”

The holidays are difficult because anxiety and stress levels are running high for everyone. Anything that can be done to reduce the effort and stress of the season is recommended.

The first Thanksgiving or the first Christmas after a loss is a stark reminder for the bereaved that the deceased is no longer there in a specific and powerful way. Fortunately, as time passes the recovery for the bereaved from the holiday is quicker.

“You need to expect and accept the pain of the day,” Deacon deMena said of holidays. “Feel what you need to feel, not with others want you to feel.”

Deacon deMena offered a variety of suggestions on how to get through the holidays by planning ahead for any activity to help avoid surprises. One thing not to do during the holidays is pretending everything is the same or fine, or to not talk about the loved one as if they never existed. This actually is more painful for the bereaved.

Other topics included common grieving feelings and misunderstandings; bereaving time frames; holiday bereavement for children/teens; coping techniques; and the power of prayer.

Workshop attendees shared their own stories of grief and the challenge of dealing with well-intentioned friends and family who are offering advice.

One gentleman from Bonita Springs explained how he is trying to cope with the recent loss of his wife of more than 50 years. “There is a hole in my life. Thanksgiving and Christmas just seem so overwhelming.”

Deacon deMena stressed the need for the bereaved to express their emotions and not hide them. He suggested several ways to incorporate the memory of the lost loved one in some way at a gathering can overcome some difficulties friends or family might have when bringing up the deceased.

“Doing the holidays different is okay,” the Deacon said. “Things are not the same. There is no reason to act as if they are.”

Deacon DeMena will be holding an Hour of Remembrance Prayer Vigil at 7 p.m. on Dec. 12 at St. Agnes Parish Chapel, 7775 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples. This is an hour before the Lord in prayer and music for all who are suffering or grieving in any way.

For more information about bereavement counseling, please contact Deacon deMena at

Training Session

For those who are interested in becoming a Parish bereavement volunteer, the Diocese Office of Family Life is hosting a training called “There is Hope: Bereavement Training.” This will focus on training parish bereavement volunteers and those who speak with the bereaved and is not a workshop to help someone who has recently lost a loved one.  Deacon deMena holds a Master’s Degree in Counseling with extensive training and experience in Bereavement. The training will be held Jan. 24-25, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., both days, at St. Ann Parish, 985 3rd St. S., Naples. The cost is $25 per person which includes lunch for both days and materials.  More information can be found at  The registration link is:  and please register by January 21.