Students encouraged to grow closer to Christ during Lent

During their Lenten Journey the students who attend the Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Venice are being reminded to take seriously the call for prayer, fasting and almsgiving while not forgetting the ashes they received on Ash Wednesday.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated the first in a series of Masses for students in all Diocesan Catholic schools on March 2, 2023, for St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Academy in Sarasota. This was followed on March 3, with a Mass for students at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Port Charlotte. Additional Masses are scheduled throughout March.

Bishop Dewane said the ashes the students received on Ash Wednesday may have faded or been washed away but the mark is still there.

“It is a reminder of the journey we are all on during this Lenten Season, and how we are to live a righteous life – a good life – according to the way the Lord taught,” the Bishop said. “It is about how do you treat others, day in and day out. Do it with a goodness, righteousness and with mercy in your hearts. Know that the way you were signed with a cross in ashes must stay with you throughout this Lenten Season. This is a sign of goodness grown out the Lord’s sacrifice.”

In addition, Bishop Dewane reminded the students how the three pillars of Lent – prayer, fasting and almsgiving – are not exclusive for parents and other adults to act upon and consider. These pillars are a guidepost for everyone to follow in his or her own way, from the youngest child to the oldest grandparent.

“Prayer, for example, should not be confined to school. Find time at home, before meals, or at bedtime, or when you get up,” the Bishop continued. “In that way you are growing in your relationship with the Lord.”

While fasting for many might mean going without food, there are plenty of options for younger students to make a true sacrifice for God. Giving up a favorite television show, video game, a favorite candy, or even all candy, is taking a step in the right direction, but it must be a true sacrifice to achieve a greater closeness with Christ.

Almsgiving is traditionally associated with giving money, but Bishop Dewane explained that the students can use this discipline as an opportunity to do good things for others.

“Helping or doing for others – be it a brother or sister, a parent, or a friend – being a good person is about giving a part of oneself for the other, doing what is right in the eyes of Jesus.”

The Lenten Season, Bishop Dewane said, is about responding to the call of Christ with goodness, righteousness, and justice in our hearts.

Following the Masses, the Bishop spoke with the eighth graders during which he inquired how they were progressing in school and encouraged them to remain the leaders of their respective school and to seriously consider attending a Diocesan Catholic High School next year, with many saying they would.

The eighth graders were then allowed to question the Bishop on any topic. Some questions focused on the unique clothing he wears during Mass, while others centered on learning about his personal spiritual journey to the priesthood and ultimately a Bishop. Bishop Dewane explained how his first internal call to the priesthood started about when he was in eighth grade. From that point he put off that call to focus on school, university and then work in the business world. Finally, he decided he needed to follow the call of the Lord and has never looked back. “It felt right.”

Parish Community Center dedicated

The Blessed Mother Center at St. William Parish in Naples has been operating for nearly 10 months, but on March 5, 2023, the community came together for a dedication and open house.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane presided over the dedication and blessing of the new multi-purpose building, which is much more than a Parish Hall. The dedication included a blessing of the people and the building.

“This will be used as a catechetical center; the focus of your Parish activities, and a place where we may come to know one another and give witness to our faith,” Bishop Dewane said during the ceremony. “It will be a place where adults and young children learn the Catholic Faith and deepen their commitment to live as Christ has taught us. We pray that the word of God may always echo from these walls.”

The Bishop congratulated the gathered faithful for responding to the call of Jesus Christ with their support of the project and their presence as people of faith. He apologized for the delay in getting the building dedicated citing a combination of issues which pushed the date back many months.

Bishop Dewane also recognized the leadership of Father George Ratzmann, Pastor of St. William, who has led the Parish for 15 years, which has included building a new Parish church and now the Blessed Mother Center.

Father Ratzmann also thanked the people for their generosity, adding, “You made the church possible and this new building possible. You have made ministry viable in this area, not only for now, but for generations to come.”

The 30,000 square foot Blessed Mother Center consists of two floors. The first floor includes 13 offices, a large conference room, a large auditorium (capacity for 300 for lectures and 150 for receptions), a small auditorium (capacity for 100 or 75 for receptions), a library with a pre-function area and catering kitchen. The second floor includes five meeting rooms, four additional meeting rooms for children’s activities, a large family faith room and a teen room. The contractor was Thomas Abraham and Kane Wei of Abraham Construction Group, and the architect was Adrian Karapici, AIA, NCARB, of AM Design Group LLC.

Since its opening, Blessed Mother Center has been a hive of activity with many different Parish groups using the facilities. In addition, on the ground are two pieces of art: Mary Seat of Wisdom in the courtyard (by sculpturer Timothy Schmaltz), and Seated Nun (a statue by Philip Jackson).

Two events benefit Catholic Charities

The programs of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., in Lee County received tremendous support during two recent elegant evenings.

First up was the Venetian Ball on March 4, 2023, at St. Leo the Great Parish Hall in Bonita Springs. Proceeds from the evening benefit the programs of Lee, Glades, and Hendry counties, with particular focus on disaster recovery.

Just two days later, on March 6, The Beach Ball took place at The Gasparilla Inn Beach Club on Boca Grande. This event supports the Boca Grande Preschool, operated by Catholic Charities, sustained serious damage during Ian.

The Venetian Ball theme was “Resilience, Rebuilding, and Community” and served as an opportunity to come together as a community to support and partner with Catholic Charities to serve the many survivors of Hurricane Ian; to celebrate survival and helping of one’s neighbor. The event itself was directly impacted by Ian, as the original venue was damaged, forcing a date and location change. The Pastor and staff of St. Leo the Great stepped up to be the hosts for the event.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane praised the staff, volunteers, and benefactors of Catholic Charities for coming together in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

“Catholic Charities accomplished a tremendous amount and did a great deal of work,” Bishop Dewane said.

The 100 staff and hundreds of volunteers of Catholic Charities set up 10 distribution sites, with the help of the Parishes, where water, food and needed supplies were distributed to more than 110,000 people during the span of two months.

“That is an incredible achievement for a group of our size,” Eddie Gloria, Catholic Charities CEO said. “The work done each day is not always pretty or seen on the news, but the work makes a difference.”

Gloria explained how Catholic Charities is transitioning from emergency disaster relief to long-term disaster case management. Up to 40 case managers will work for years helping the many people in need. And the need is great, as within the 10-county Diocese of Venice territory more than 400,000 applications for FEMA assistance have been made.

“There is a lot of work ahead of us,” Gloria said.

The Frank K. Galeana Humanitarian Award was posthumously awarded to Louis J. Baumer II, the first development director of Catholic Charities, founder of the Boots & Bandanas event in Arcadia and the Samaritan Guild, who also served as executive director of the Catholic Charities Foundation and regular volunteer. Baumer passed away in November 2022. His widow was unable to attend the event, so the award was accepted by longtime friend Gerrie Weaver.

Meanwhile, The Beach Ball was an evening of dining and dancing under the stars. The Boca Grande Preschool is on the campus of Our Lady of Mercy Parish on Boca Grande. The roof of the school ripped apart, allowing rainwater to pour in and cause additional damage.

The preschool was founded in 1988 for island residents in need of childcare which grew into a formal preschool providing early education opportunities for children (12 months to pre-kindergarten) whose parents work or live on Gasparilla Island in the Boca Grande community. Father Jerome Carosella, Our Lady of Mercy Pastor, has been instrumental in the development and growth of the program through the years and offered his gratitude for the continuing and generous support of the people of Boca Grande. The guests of honor for The Beach Ball were Sarah and Will Farish.

If you would like to support Catholic Charites or learn about their outreach throughout the Diocese of Venice, please visit

Diocesan Eucharistic Congress March 25

The Diocese of Venice will host a historic Eucharistic Congress March 25, 2023, at the Caloosa Sound Convention Center and Luminary Hotel, 1375 Monroe St., Fort Myers, and time is running out to register.

Organizers with the Diocese Office of Evangelization said that the venue is nearing capacity, with few spots left, so if you are planning to attend, but haven’t registered yet, do so today! Registration can be found at

The Eucharistic Congress, with a theme “The Word Became Flesh,” will encompass several parts, including three unique sessions. The first is for Diocesan Catholic middle school students; the second part is a Youth Rally for high-school aged teens (both on March 24); and the showcase event is for men and women and features special breakout sessions in English and Spanish as well as for both genders.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane called for the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress as part of a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year revival of devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The U.S Bishops believe that God wants to see a movement of Catholics across the United States, healed, converted, formed, and unified by an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist—and sent out in mission “for the life of the world.”

The National Eucharistic Revival is to serve as a reminder that Catholics around the world are raised to be aware of the transforming power and mercy of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist – the Source and Summit of the Faith.

“The Diocesan Eucharistic Congress is an opportunity for the faithful of the Diocese to come together as one to jointly rekindle a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist,” Bishop Dewane said. “This is a time to grow deeply in your faith, along with others from the Diocese, accompanied by Jesus Christ.”

Elements of the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress include a procession with the Eucharist in a public setting, time for Eucharistic Adoration, availability of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, talks and catechesis on important matters of faith – especially the Holy Eucharist – and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with Bishop Dewane.

The schedule for the Congress and line-up of internationally acclaimed speakers, which includes – Father Donald Calloway, MIC; Teresa Tomeo; Hector Molina; Mallory Smith; Mary Ann Weisinger-Puig; Joel de Loera; and Martha Fernandez-Sardina, can be found at

Each speaker will allow the faithful the opportunity to become part of the greater National Eucharistic Revival and to leave with their hearts and minds aflame for the love of Jesus, His Catholic Church, and especially the Most Holy Eucharist.

As Pope Francis has stated many times during his Papacy, each time we are present before the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ it is “a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ.”

Don’t let this opportunity pass you by! Register today.

For more information about the schedule, and to register for the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress, please visit

Rite of Election – Largest ever Diocesan group set to enter Church at Easter Vigil

The largest ever group of women and men set to enter the Catholic Church within the Diocese of Venice at the Easter Vigil were recognized during the annual Rite of Election at Epiphany Cathedral on the first Sunday of Lent on Feb. 26, 2023. This annual tradition is a formal Rite during which catechumens are presented and their names are entered into the Book of Elect.

The 216 catechumens (individuals who are not yet baptized) were joined by an additional 351 candidates (already-baptized Christians preparing for confirmation and First Eucharist). The candidates participate in the formal ceremony and are recognized during the celebration for answering the “Call To Their Continuing Conversion.” The Cathedral was at near capacity as family members were also present to show their support.

The Rite of Election was presided over by Bishop Frank J. Dewane who said he was impressed by the large number of catechumens and candidates, noting that the 567 are the most ever set to enter the Church in the Diocese in a single year through the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults (OCIA) program.

Bishop Dewane complimented each for making the commitment to publicly announce the call of the Holy Spirit in a particular way by becoming active members of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Venice. “You are the brave and courageous; the Spirit of the Lord is working within you.”

The catechumens and candidates, who were recognized by Bishop Dewane, are on a continuing journey that will culminate when they come into full communion with the Catholic Church at the April 8 Easter Vigil Mass in their respective Parishes.

The group represent 47 Parishes in the Diocese of Venice and are accompanied by tens of thousands of others across the country that will also join the Catholic Church this year. Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers, St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, Ave Maria Parish in Ave Maria, and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee had the largest groups of catechumens and candidates.

Bishop Dewane acknowledged the sacrifice each catechumen and candidate has made in recognizing the voice of God in their lives, prompted by the Holy Spirit, to come forward on this journey of learning about the Catholic Faith.

“This happens in your heart,” the Bishop said. “Leave your heart always open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and the voice of God. Listen to what the Lord is asking of you.”

By recognizing the Lord’s presence in your heart, it must change you in fundamental ways, Bishop Dewane said. The presence of the Lord in your life must impact how you live, how you treat yourself, how you treat others, and how you are going to live the life to which the Lord has called you. During the coming weeks of Lent, the Bishop encouraged the catechumens and candidates to seek the Lord in Sacred Scriptures as they develop and grow in building their relationship with Jesus Christ.

“We must go out from these four walls (of the Cathedral) and be doers of our Faith out in society,” Bishop Dewane said. “We have respective roles – responding and answering – as we are called, made in the image and likeness of God, to give witness to Jesus Christ.”

The catechumens are part of the OCIA, which is for those who are unbaptized and unchurched, who come to inquire about becoming part of the Roman Catholic Faith in a process that takes about a year. Often catechumens are those who have begun to seek and understand God in their lives and have been led by the Holy Spirit to become Catholic. OCIA is a journey of discovery and faith. This is most commonly done in three distinct phases: discernment, acceptance into the catechumenate along with purification and enlightenment.

Each catechumen will go through a series of scrutinies during which they examine their readiness to accept Christ and the Catholic Faith in the form of the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation). This time culminates at the Easter Vigil when the catechumens are received through Baptism into the Catholic Church. The final period of the OCIA is the time of “Mystagogy” (post-baptismal catechesis). During the weeks following the Easter Vigil, the newly initiated live more profoundly their experience of Baptism and the Eucharist as they begin the journey of discipleship and their growing union with Christ.

For candidates, those who have been correctly baptized with a Trinitarian formula, the Catholic Church does not require re-Baptism. Candidates have already experienced a journey of faith and understand how Jesus leads us to the Father through the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, many have been attending Mass with their families for years but may have never received the Sacrament of Holy Communion or the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The candidates are invited to the Cathedral for the Rite of Election as a form of welcome, but because they are already in the Book of the Elect as baptized Christians, they do not bring their names forward. To symbolize that baptism, and as a sign of their continuing conversion, they come forward and make the sign of the cross with holy water.

Everyone is encouraged to pray for and welcome the catechumens and candidates at their own Parish as they continue their journey of discovery in their Faith.

Ash Wednesday: Lenten Journey begins

The opening of the Lenten Season began with the traditional Ash Wednesday Mass, starting a journey which ends prior to the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, April 6, 2023.

During this journey, one must take time to live the Lenten Season in a particular way, looking internally and answering the question: How can I be an ambassador for the message of Jesus Christ?

Bishop Frank J. Dewane addressed this issue at St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers where he celebrated Mass on Feb. 22. The Bishop spoke of putting a renewed focus on the pillars of the Lenten Season – prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

The Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday details how each of us “have to go about living our life – in the home, at work, and in society,” Bishop Dewane said. “There has to be a place for these three pillars. There is a tendency to think of them in an interior way, but we must let it well up from within. Christ is calling you and I as ambassadors, in a very visible pronounced way during the Lenten Season.”

As we prepare to celebrate the Paschal Mystery of our Faith, these three practices, approached seriously and in a spirit of penance, will ready us for the renewal of baptism at Easter.

  • Pray with Jesus in the desert to gain Faith. Realize you are not just watching Jesus; he gazes with love on you.
  • Fast with Jesus in the desert to learn hope. As we sit with Christ, receive the Spirit and hope that grows as our false material hopes wane.
  • Give alms to grow in love for the suffering of Jesus. We are to see Christ in others. What we do for them, we do for Jesus.

On Ash Wednesday, the imposition of ashes is a solemn ritual that signals the beginning of the holy season of Lent. The ceremony is distinctive; there is no liturgical action like it throughout the entire liturgical year. Ashes come from a previous Palm Sunday. The palms are burned, the ashes collected and then crushed into a fine, sooty powder and placed into bowls, where they are blessed by the priest during the Ash Wednesday Mass after the homily. Then, in a Communion-like procession, people are invited to come forward, and the ashes are applied to each person’s forehead in the shape of a cross as the minister says either, “Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15), the usual prayer, or “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19), the older, more traditional invocation.

Family Rosary Across America

Also taking place on Ash Wednesday, Bishop Dewane was a special guest of Relevant Radio—the largest Catholic radio network—which hosted a live national broadcast of the Family Rosary Across America in conjunction with Ave Maria University and Ave Maria Parish. The special broadcast, hosted by Father Francis J. Hoffman (best known as “Father Rocky”), executive director and CEO of Relevant Radio, was intended to help the faithful across the country kick-off their Lenten Journey in a positive way. During the broadcast from the Parish Church, Bishop Dewane led the praying of the rosary, joined by Father Rocky and students from Ave Maria University.

Opportunity for Confession in Diocese

The precept of confessing grave sins and receiving Holy Communion at least once during the Lenten Season indeed merits recalling for all the Faithful. To facilitate this requirement, all Parishes in the Diocese of Venice will be open with a confessor present so that the faithful will find ample opportunity to receive God’s Mercy in the Sacrament of Confession from 4-8 p.m., Friday, March 31, and 9 a.m.-noon, Saturday, April 1. Please check with your local Parish for additional reconciliation times.

Parishes frequently add additional times for the Sacrament during Lent, including during Parish Lenten Missions Retreats. In addition, Parishes often combine to have an evening prayer services in a region with additional priests present to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Please visit to find a Parish.




Standing as a witness for Life matters – 40 Days for Life opens in Fort Myers and Sarasota

A group of students from the Bishop Verot Catholic High School Respect Life Club were at the forefront of being public witnesses for life during the opening of the 40 Days for Life Spring Prayer Campaign on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023.

The students, joined by Bishop Frank J. Dewane and dozens of others, led everyone in praying the rosary in front of a Planned Parenthood abortion facility in Fort Myers. Simultaneously, a 40 Days for Life prayer campaign began in Sarasota.

40 Days for Life is an internationally coordinated 40-day campaign that aims to end abortion locally through prayer and fasting, community outreach, and a peaceful all-day vigil in front of abortion mills. The spring campaign encompasses Lent and continues through April 2 (Palm Sunday). Since its 2007 beginnings, 40 Days vigils have led to the saving of more than 22,000 babies as thousands of cities participate. The Diocese of Venice has been involved with 40 Days for Life since the beginning with vigils taking place in the fall – to coincide with October, Respect Life Month – and in the spring – during Lent.

Bishop Dewane celebrated the Ash Wednesday Mass at nearby St. John XXIII Parish and stressed the importance of protecting life while offering words of encouragement to those who stand as public witnesses for life.

“Continue to give of yourself, always lifting up with prayer those who are harmed by abortion,” Bishop Dewane said. “We ask the Lord to be with us, giving us the courage to speak up for life, and to speak up for each individual made in the image and likeness of God.”

Mary, a sidewalk counselor, said she is a counselor today by the blessings and grace of God. She shared her journey of sadness and joy. Now a mother and grandmother, Mary was 16 when she got pregnant. The father was not around, she was a naïve girl who was terrified of the consequences her pregnancy might mean to her family, so she believed she had no other option than to kill her unborn child by having an abortion.

“Abortion was presented as an easy solution to my ‘problem,’” Mary said. “It just opened up other problems of self-destruction… because the guilt took over me.”

It took many years, with the help of the support of several different post-abortion groups (Support After Abortion and Project Rachel are available in the Diocese of Venice), and the care of an understanding husband before she could confront her demons. “I know what I did was wrong, and I know that God forgives me. The hardest part was that I needed to forgive myself.”

Once that forgiveness took hold in her life, Mary became a Pro-Life advocate and is now a sidewalk counselor, offering pregnant mothers positive alternatives to abortion through resources such as pregnancy help centers and counseling. “I know being out here makes a difference. I’ve seen the young mothers choose life. You are changing minds. You are saving lives.”

Many of the Bishop Verot students took part in the National March for Life on Jan. 20, in Washington, D.C. There they joined hundreds of thousands as they became the new “Pro-Life Generation.”

Jeanne Berdeaux, Diocese of Venice Respect Life Director, said 40 Days for Life remains an important component in the multifaceted fight to end abortion. The reason is many people think the fight ended in June 2022 when Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

While a great victory, the ruling did not end abortion, but put the issue in the hands of individual states. For example, in Florida, where there is a Pro-Life governor and legislature, the current law allows abortion up to 15 weeks. Proposed legislation, a so-called heartbeat law, would change that to 6 weeks. Berdeaux said that is not enough as life begins at conception and any access to abortion is wrong.

Bishop Dewane said we need to pray that everyone develops a respect for the dignity of life and for all to stand as a witness for life, being a voice for the voiceless – the unborn.

The Fort Myers prayer vigil is from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily, on the public right-of-way in front of Planned Parenthood at 6418 Commerce Park Drive. In Sarasota, the vigil is 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily outside the regional headquarters of Planned Parenthood, 736 Central Ave.

Participants are welcome to spend as much time as they wish with many Parishes having designated dates and times. Some commit to taking part for a few minutes, an hour, or all day as they stand in the public right-of-way. Appropriate signs will be provided at both sites but are not needed to stand and pray. For those unable to be present in front of an abortion facility, they are encouraged to pray from home and fast for the end of abortion.

Lakewood Ranch Pastor installed

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

Bishop Frank J. Dewane installed Father Sebastian Szczawinski as Pastor of Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch on Feb. 19, 2023, in the context of the Mass.

“You have all come to know him as an Administrator,” Bishop Dewane said. “I ask that you support Father moving forward as God will give him the grace to take on the responsibility of leading this rapidly growing Parish.”

The Pastor is someone who serves the faithful while at the same time leading them into a closer relationship with Christ, the Bishop said. The leadership and guidance the Pastor provides will allow the faithful of Our Lady of the Angels to walk out of Mass each Sunday knowing they have heard from Jesus Christ in that Gospel message, and also how they are going to live that message in their own lives.”

Our Lady of the Angels Parish was first established in 1999 as a Mission Church of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish in Sarasota and was initially led by Third Order Regular Franciscan priests. The original church was dedicated in 2003, while the current Parish Church was dedicated by Bishop Dewane in 2018. The area surrounding the Parish is rapidly growing and the number of registered families is now more than 3,100, necessitating six Masses each weekend. Because of the growth, the original church was converted into a Parish Hall, and there is an ongoing campaign for a new Parish Activities Center for religious education and other activities.

As part of the installation process, Bishop Dewane first introduces the priest as Pastor to the parishioners. The priest later 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 of the parishioners.

At the conclusion of Mass, Father Szczawinski thanked the faithful of Our Lady of the Angels for being so supportive as he considers them all part of his extended family. A reception was held in the Parish Hall.

Hundreds of couples recognized for giving hope to society

During a time when society is trying to redefine what marriage is, hundreds of couples were honored during a Feb. 18, 2023, Diocese of Venice celebration of their lasting witness to Sacramental Marriage.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated a Mass at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice recognizing 360 couples, who were celebrating a combined 18,403 years of marriage, for their accomplishment which brings hope to their families, to the community, to society and to the Universal Church.

“Think of the accomplishment of who you are as a group; but also think of it as individuals and couples, as children of God, made in the image and likeness of God,” Bishop Dewane said. “You were the minister of the Sacrament – one to the other. You stood there together then and are here together today. The number of years you have lived by the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage is a real achievement. See yourselves as the goodness that you are.”

The Bishop described the couples as both radical and countercultural, but also a true inspiration for others to follow and emulate.

“You don’t see it, but your commitment to each other is seen by younger generations, perhaps by your grandchildren or great-granchildren,” Bishop Dewane said. “That is a lasting testimony to the vows you took, committing to each other before God those many years ago.”

The 360 couples present for the Mass represented 41 Parishes and included 58 couples which have been married for 50 years. One of those couples, John and Janet Johannsen, celebrated their 50th on the day of the Mass. Also celebrating their 45th anniversary during the Mass were Louis and Maria Gomes. Both of these couples are from San Pedro Parish in North Port.

The couple recognized as being present with the longest marriage was John and Rita Riebel, who celebrate 72 years of marriage on April 7. They moved to Florida 27 years ago and attend Epiphany Cathedral. They met in New Jersey on a blind date. As newlyweds, John served in the Army and later in construction, sometimes working three jobs to provide for their 5 children, a true testimony to their love and commitment to each other and as a family.

Other couples recognized during the Mass were Thomas and Dolores Martorana, 72 years, from Epiphany Cathedral; Carl and Natalie Pensak, 71 years, from Epiphany Cathedral; and Marvin and Carol Peschel, 70 years, from St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, Port Charlotte.

The Peschel’s met in high school when she was a junior and he a senior needing a tutor so he could graduate. “She was always smarter than me,” Marvin Peschel explained. “That is why it was always easy to just say “Yes dear” whenever we had a discussion.”

Of course, the couple credits their strong faith and belief in a commitment to loving each other through good times and bad. This is particularly true now that he is 90 and she is 89. “We have something special,” Carol Peschel said.

During the Mass, the married couples renewed their wedding vows. In addition, each couple was presented with commemorative certificates, signed by the Bishop, for their enduring commitment to marriage.

A reception followed the Mass with lunch and the opportunity to have complimentary pictures taken with the Bishop.

Masses are celebrated each year in the northern and southern sections of the Diocese of Venice to accommodate those wanting to attend. The first Mass was Feb. 11 at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs, bringing together 270 couples representing a combined 14,002 years of marriage.

Briefs for the Week of Feb. 24, 2023

Verot student recognized

Bishop Verot Catholic High School student Maren Pfleger has been named one of approximately 5,000 candidates in the 2023 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. Program candidates were selected from nearly 3.6 million students expected to graduate from U.S. high schools in the year 2023. Inclusion in the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program is one of the highest honors bestowed upon graduating high school seniors. Scholars are selected on the basis of outstanding test scores, superior academic and artistic achievements, leadership qualities, strong character, and involvement in community and school activities. A distinguished panel of educators will review these submissions and select approximately 600 semifinalists in early April.

Mooney grad receives kidney transplant

Candie Barrameda, Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School Class of 2016, received an early Valentine’s Day present with a gift of a new kidney. In mid-2022, Barrameda was diagnosed with stage five kidney failure, but had no other health issues, which made her eligible for a transplant. At the time, Mooney posted a plea for donors on social media.  Sarasota resident and Pine View High School graduate, Kathryn Kochevar, heard  about Barrameda’s plight and discovered she was a match and wanted to make a difference. The transplant took place at Tampa General Hospital in early February and was a complete success. Kochevar was released within a day, and Barrameda, who had been having four-hour dialysis treatments three days a week, went home less than a week later. Barrameda thanks her amazing team, Kochevar and her family, and everyone for their prayers.

Pregnancy help center reopens in Venice

Pregnancy Solutions, a help center for pregnancy women with three local locations (Port Charlotte, North Port and Venice), had a grand re-opening of its Venice offices on Jan. 31, 2023. The location utilized creative options to continue serving women in need during repairs needed after Hurricane Ian caused water and flood damage in September 2022. Pregnancy Solutions’ three locations served more than 1,300 in 2022 alone. A big thanks went out to the amazing staff and volunteers. Present for the reopening were Diocese of Venice Respect Life Director Jeanne Berdeaux and Father Shawn Monahan, OMV, assistant director of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice. The Venice location is open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. If you would like a tour, please call 941-408-7100 or to learn more, please visit

Bishop radio show focuses on Diocesan Eucharistic Congress

The Diocese of Venice Eucharistic Congress and Youth Rally on March 24 and 25, at the Caloosa Sound Convention Center and Luminary Hotel, 1375 Monroe St., Fort Myers, was the focus for Bishop Frank J. Dewane on his monthly radio program on Relevant Radio. “Witnessing Faith with Bishop Dewane” can be heard at 8:30 a.m. on the last Friday of each month (Feb. 24), on 106.7 FM and 1410 AM in Fort Myers and 93.3 FM and 1660 AM in Naples. The program is also available at The February guests included Teresa Tomeo, a featured speaker for the March 25 Eucharistic Congress, and Father Timothy Anastos, the keynote for the March 24 Youth Rally. To learn more about the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress and Youth Rally, please visit

Basketball team goes undefeated

The St. Ann Catholic School varsity girl’s basketball team in Naples just finished their season undefeated while also winning the Sunshine Athletic Conference. Way to go Lady Dolphins!

Seton students work on Lego STREAM project

Second grade students at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples worked diligently on Feb. 17, 2023, to complete their first activity in the Lego WeDo 2.0 series. The students created Milo the Science Rover! The students had to apply the Engineering Design Process to complete the project. This is just one of many opportunities for Diocese of Venice Catholic school students at all levels to learn key STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math) skills through a comprehensive Lego robotics program. These projects challenge students to think critically, work together, and overcome obstacles to achieve a goal. STREAM is a faith-infused program which not only teaches meaningful skills but upholds Catholic values by teaching the principles of strength, utility and beauty.