Rite of Election – Record 662 set to enter Church in Diocese at Easter Vigil

A large number 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, Feb. 18, 2024. This annual tradition is a formal Rite during which catechumens are presented and their names are entered into the Book of the Elect.

The 316 catechumens (individuals who are not yet baptized) were joined by an additional 346 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 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 the large number of catechumens and candidates was impressive, noting that the 662 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, topping the 2023 total of 567.

“The Diocese is blessed and graced by the presence of the catechumens and candidates,” Bishop Dewane said. “That 662 is a massive number for a Diocese our size.”

The group was complimented by Bishop Dewane for making a 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. “All of you should see the strength and demonstration of the Holy Spirit in bringing you together for the Rite of Election.”

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 March 30 Easter Vigil Mass in their respective Parishes.

“As you prepare, come to realize the Lord calls you to continue your journey,” Bishop Dewane said. “That doesn’t end at the Easter Vigil. That is a continuation of the journey that the Holy Spirit has prompted from each one of you and continues to prompt you in your daily lives. If you listen and pay attention, you will come to evidence the Holy Spirit in your life to become more that man or woman of God the Lord calls us all to be.”

Bishop Dewane encouraged each catechumen and candidate telling them that they are each given a task by the Lord to continue to be the leaven to their family and those around them.

“Each one of you has received a call to holiness,” the Bishop said “What are you doing to be ever more holy? Your response is found in the Word of God. You must be aware and know that Word of God; that it is the voice of the Lord in your heart and soul. Let these words grow and resonate in your heart!”

Many who participated in the Rite of Election expressed their joy in joining with others on this important step in their faith journey. One candidate from Holy Cross Parish in Palmetto said, “What a beautiful celebration! I will remember the Rite … the rest of my life. With a deep sense of awe and gratitude I thank Almighty God for blessing me so!”

The group of catechumens and candidates come from 47 Parishes/Missions 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. The largest groups of catechumens and candidates came from the following Parishes: Jesus the Worker in Fort Myers, Our Lady Queen of Heaven in LaBelle, St. Peter the Apostle in Naples, Holy Cross in Bradenton, Ave Maria in Ave Maria, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Immokalee. St. Leo the Great in Bonita Springs, and St. Katherine Drexel in Cape Coral.

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.

“Serving All” – Sarasota Ball marks 40th anniversary of Catholic Charities

Serving neighbors with help and hope, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., in Sarasota and Manatee counties strives each day to go out and assist those in need, whether it is an easy problem to fix, or something more complicated.

To ensure that the less fortunate of the community continue to receive the needed assistance, hundreds of like-minded individuals gathered together for the 2024 Catholic Charities Ball, Feb. 17, 2024, at Michael’s on East in Sarasota.

“Thank you for your generosity in making a valuable and essential contribution to what Catholic Charities can do throughout the year as its programs help many people, our neighbors in need, each day,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane, who was the guest of honor for the evening. “I am grateful for your support, and the goodness you represent by your presence.”

Catholic Charities continues to serve the less fortunate in our community, serving as an emergency support for individuals and families, offering them the help they need to make themselves whole again, Bishop Dewane said.

“The staff of Catholic Charities does remarkable work, and I thank them for their hard work,” Bishop Dewane said. “The people with Catholic Charities witness every day the worst of situations and the best of people as they step forward to help our brothers and sisters in need. They are seen as the presence of Christ in the world, just as they see the presence of Christ in those they help.”

Catholic Charities provides a wide range of services, including emergency assistance, food and housing assistance, counseling and mental health services, and programs for seniors and children.

This help includes shelter for single mothers and their children in need at Our Mother’s House in Venice, and the continuing Hurricane Ian recovery throughout the Diocese. Catholic Charities continues to offer direct financial help and assistance, as well as mental health counseling to those still reeling from the impacts of the 2022 hurricane.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of Catholic Charities, which coincided with the founding of the Diocese in 1984. This added a special significance to the evening, said Bridget Spiess, who served as Chair of the Catholic Charities Ball.

Bridget Spiess, Chair of Catholic Charities Ball, welcomed everyone and said she was pleased with the continued support people have for Catholic Charities and the positive impact its many programs have upon the community. Other event committee members included Sandy Anderson, Virginia Auster, Dawn Burgess, Beth Cannata, Mary Beth Cotran, Sabrina Gison, Christina Hall, Judy Kozlowski, Leah Mihm, William Rex, Marilee Roberts, Alan Rose, Ana Weatherly, and Siobhan Young.

Throughout 2023, Catholic Charities assisted more than 335,000 people in need, providing a wide range of services throughout the 10-county Diocese of Venice.

The opportunity to support Catholic Charities does not end with the Sarasota Ball. If you would like to support Catholic Charities directly, please visit https://catholiccharitiesdov.org/donate.

Additional upcoming events will benefit regional or specific programs of Catholic Charities. These events will include a cocktail hour, live and silent auctions, fine dining, dancing, and live entertainment. The list of events is as follows:

  • Our Mother’s House Wine Tasting, Auction and Dinner Dance, 5:30 p.m., Feb. 29, Venice Community Center, 326 Nokomis Ave. S., Venice. The event will benefit the mothers and children at Our Mother’s House, a 2-year transitional living program located in the heart of Venice, dedicated to empowering single mothers and their young children. Tickets are $90. Register online at http://bidpal.net/2024omh. For more information, 941-485-6264 or email omh@catholiccharitiesdov.org.
  • Venetian Charity Ball, 6 p.m., March 9, at St. Leo the Great Parish Hall, 28290 Beaumont Rd., Bonita Springs. The theme is “Restoring Our Community.” This event supports the programs in Lee, Hendry, and Glades counties, the communities hardest hit by Hurricane Ian in 2022. Tickets are $250. Register online at http://bidpal.net/vb2024. For more information, call 239-334-4007 ext. 2100 or email VenetianBall@catholiccharitiesdov.org.
  • Emerald Ball, 5:30 p.m., March 14, at Ritz-Carlton Tiburon Golf Resort, 2600 Tiburon Dr., Naples. This event celebrates 40 years of Catholic Charities in Collier County. Tickets are $400. Register online at http://bidpal.net/eb2024. For more information, call 239-455-2655 or email emeraldball@catholiccharitiesdov.org.

For additional information about the good works of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org.

News Briefs for the week of February 23, 2024

Three Diocesan Catholic students named Merit Scholar Finalists

Three Diocese of Venice Catholic high school seniors have been named Finalists in the National Merit Scholarship Program! This is a great achievement for the students and for Catholic education in the Diocese of Venice. The finalists are Alexandra Mussey of Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota and Patrick Dendis and Stephen Zell of Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers. This honor places the three among the top one percent of U.S. high school seniors. Finalists have an opportunity to continue in the competition for some 7,500 National Merit Scholarships worth more than $30 million. The process to become a Finalist included submitting a detailed application with information about academic record, participation in school and community activities, demonstrated leadership abilities, employment, as well as honors and awards received.

Visit of St. Jude Relic to Naples Feb. 27

The faithful are invited to participate in Tour of the Relics of St. Jude the Apostle on its U.S. visit, featuring the arm of the Saint. The tour will stop in the Diocese of Venice on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish, 5260 28th Ave. SW, Naples. Veneration begins at 2 p.m. and concludes at 10 p.m. There will be a Mass in honor of St. Jude at 7 p.m. For additional information, contact the Parish at 239-455-3900.

Scholarship Application Deadline Feb. 29

There are currently five different scholarships available from the Catholic Community Foundation of Southwest Florida. Applications close on Feb. 29, 2024. The majority of the scholarships are for residents of Sarasota County. These scholarships are for graduating seniors (class of 2023 or 2024), or for non-traditional students who have been out of school for 3+ years and wish to pursue a higher education. To find out which Catholic Community Foundation scholarship you qualify for, please visit www.ccfdioceseofvenice.org/scholarships.

Sarasota Prayer Walk for Life March 5 in Sarasota

Join Bishop Frank J. Dewane for a Mass and prayer walk for life. The Mass is at 8:30 a.m., Tuesday, March 5, 2024, at St. Martha Church, 200 North Orange Ave., Sarasota.  A free shuttle bus will be provided after Mass to the nearby prayer walk until noon so that participants can circle the block around Planned Parenthood in prayer as many times as desired before returning to the church parking lot. Light refreshments will be available near the Community Pregnancy Clinic on 7th Street. For questions or to volunteer, contact Jeanne at 941-374-1068 or berdeaux@dioceseofvenice.org.

Diocese of Venice Eucharistic Conference March 16

All are invited to attend the Diocese of Venice Eucharistic Conference on Saturday, March 16, 2024, at Bishop Verot Catholic High School, 5598 Sunrise Drive, Fort Myers. This effort, in support of the Church’s National Eucharistic Revival to place an emphasis on the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist, will be an all-day event of faith and fellowship, featuring inspirational Catholic speakers, including nationally acclaimed Catholic speaker and author Steven Ray, Crystalina Evert, Kathia Aranga, Father Elvis Gonzalez, and Tim Glemkowski. English and Spanish sessions will be offered. All are welcome. The day will include Mass, as well as adoration, and confessions. For more information, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/eucharistic-conference-2024/. Register by March 12

Construction begins on school project

Construction on the new administration building at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples has begun. Work started in early February on the much-needed building which will serve as a safe, secure, single point of entry with reception area, offices for school staff, a clinic and conference room. Most importantly, the new building will free up valuable classroom space for the students! This project is part of a larger ongoing expansion effort which has been made possible by many generous donors.

Healing After Abortion Retreat March 2

If you had an abortion, no matter how long ago, are having trouble forgiving yourself or need help dealing with the memories, consider attending a one-day women’s retreat on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Call or text Sylvia at 941-412-5860 or email her at project.rachel@dioceseofvenice.org. Do it today; you will be glad you did!

Pray to Defeat Florida’s Abortion Amendment

The political committee behind a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize abortion up until birth in Florida has surpassed the petition signature requirement for placement on the November 2024 ballot. For ballot placement to be confirmed, the amendment language must be reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court to ensure it is clear and limited to a single subject. In her brief to the Court, the attorney general urged the justices to reject the proposal, identifying several terms in the amendment language that are not clearly defined and could mislead voters. The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops (FCCB) also filed a legal brief in opposition to the amendment. The FCCB’s brief argued that the proposed ballot title is misleading. The title states that the amendment “limits” government interference with abortion when the text of the amendment itself actually prohibits all regulation before viability. The ballot language also fails to advise voters that the amendment would largely prohibit the state’s oversight of abortion clinics and provide fair notice of its impact on existing legal protections for women and children. The decision from the Florida Supreme Court is expected April 1, 2024.

Answering the Call – Ordination brings blessings upon new priest

In a public response to a “call to holiness” Alan Baldarelli Jr., 41, was Ordained to the Priesthood by Bishop Frank J. Dewane during a Mass on Feb. 10, 2024, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

The poignant and emotional rite places Father Baldarelli in a new role as he is raised to the Order of the Presbyterate where he will now celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, confer the Sacraments and teach the Gospel.

Bishop Dewane congratulated the ordinand for answering the call to holiness and advancing in formation through prayer, discernment, guidance and direction which helped him grow closer to the Lord. Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the ordinand is called to reflect and magnify Christ and bring others closer to Christ. The priesthood was established as coworkers with the Order of Bishops, with whom they are joined in a priestly office, and with whom they are called to the service of the people of God.

“The call for you today is to configure yourself to Christ,” the Bishop said. “It is really for everyone, but for those in the priesthood, there is a particular call to follow in the footsteps and likeness of Jesus Christ as we strive in our humanness to serve the Lord and to be that representative of Christ here on earth.”

Joined to the priesthood, Bishop Dewane said Father Baldarelli is consecrated as a true priest in the New Testament, to preach the Gospel, to shepherd God’s people, and to celebrate Divine Worship – the Holy Sacrifice at the Table of the Lord. By being raised to the Order of the Priesthood, the new priest will exercise the sacred office of teaching – to impart the Word of God upon the world. A priest is called upon to live that life as an example of holiness for others to follow as they invite the faithful to enter into the mystery of the Lord’s death, and to journey with them, pointing always in the direction of the resurrection. This holiness is not developed overnight but is a continual part of the priestly journey.

“It is the joy of that Word that gives inspiration to the people of God, to hear it, to be encouraged to live it, to let it resonate,” the Bishop said. “The life of a priest is to exemplify that Word of the Lord – as we go out – to live, to teach. Keep the example of the one who came to serve and not be served.”

“In the ministering of the Sacraments, be always kind and gentle, aware of following in the footsteps of our Savior Jesus Christ. This is a role that has been given in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, in the saving of those with whom we have contact. May you be blessed with the ability to call others closer to the Lord.”

When the Rite of ordination began, Baldarelli was called forth to the presence of the Bishop by Diocese Director of Vocations Father Shawn Roser, and upon hearing his name called out, he answered “Present.” After the homily, Baldarelli knelt before the Bishop to promise respect and obedience to him and his successors. Then he lay prostrate before the altar for the Litany of Supplication/Litany of Saints. The whole assembly joined in the prayer which invoked God’s grace and the intercession of the saints in heaven.

After this solemn act of prayer, the Sacrament of Ordination was conferred when Baldarelli knelt before Bishop Dewane, who in silent prayer, imposed his hands on the head the ordinand. In the sharing of the priesthood, each priest present laid their hands on the head of the newly ordained Father Baldarelli, one at a time.

The ordinand then knelt once again before the Bishop, who then recited the consecratory Prayer of Ordination; the prayer, together with the Bishop’s imposition of hands, is the essential Rite of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

After the prayer, the newly ordained was vested in the stole and chasuble, vestments which are worn when celebrating the Eucharist and symbolize the responsibility and authority in service to Christ. Father Baldarelli was vested by Father Dennis Gonzales, who was is a Pastor at St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in Delray Beach, and served as a spiritual advisor when Father Baldarelli assisted at the Parish while in seminary.

The palms of the new priest were then anointed with the Sacred Chrism by Bishop Dewane, the sign of the special anointing of the Holy Spirit who will make the priest’s ministry fruitful. Next, the Bishop presented Father Baldarelli with the chalice and paten which all priests are called to present to God in the Eucharistic sacrifice saying: “Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.”

The Rite of Ordination ended with the Bishop giving a fraternal kiss of peace to the newly ordained priest, welcoming him into the Diocesan Presbyterate or priesthood. The priests present then followed the Bishop’s example. The newly ordained Father Baldarelli then joined Bishop Dewane at the altar to the applause and joy of all present.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist followed. Father Baldarelli joined all the priests for the first time in concelebrating the Eucharist with Bishop Dewane, reciting together the words of consecration. For the first time, he offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, acting in persona Christi. From this sacrifice his whole priestly ministry will draw its strength.

Present for the ordination were his parents and four siblings, as well as other relatives and friends. In addition, present were more than 40 priests, men and women religious, Permanent Deacons, Knights and Dames of the Order of Malta, Knights and Dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, the Knights of Columbus, as well as hundreds of the faithful.

Originally from Hermitage, Pennsylvania, Father Baldarelli grew up in a loving, faith-filled family. He went on to earn a degree in international business from John Carroll University before working in sales and marketing in various corporate jobs. Not satisfied with the path his life was on, a stray comment from a family friend that he should consider becoming a priest began his path to the priesthood and while working at a university job, he began taking courses on Sacred Scripture.

An annual visitor to Southwest Florida with his family from a young age, Father Baldarelli sought to become a seminarian for the Diocese of Venice.  His formation took place at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and then at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. He was ordained as a Transitional Deacon in 2022.

With an easy smile in all humility, on Feb. 11 Father Baldarelli was very emotional while celebrating his first Mass at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Port Charlotte. St. Charles Borromeo is where Father had been on pastoral assignment as a Transitional Deacon in the time leading up to his priestly ordination. Father thanked the faithful for their prayers and encouragement while he served the community.

“It is so profound to be able to do this for Christ and for all of you,” Father Baldarelli said of celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. “This was an imperfectly perfect celebration. We all make mistakes; we trip, we fall, we get back up, but God brushes us off and we are able to go out and be reinvigorated, proclaiming that Jesus is Lord and Savior.”

As a seminarian, Father Baldarelli served pastoral assignments at Holy Cross in Palmetto, St. Paul in Arcadia, St. William in Naples, Our Lady Queen of Heaven in Labelle, Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, as well as at St. Charles Borromeo.

The Ordination to the Priesthood is considered one of the most critical events in the life of the Diocese as it ensures the continuation of the Church and the availability of the Sacraments to the faithful.

A reception followed in the Cathedral Parish Hall where Father Baldarelli formally greeted the public and imparted his priestly blessing upon them, smiling all the while.

Galas support Catholic schools

The 50th anniversary of Catholic Schools Week was a great time to have a celebration. Three Catholic schools within the Diocese of Venice finished the week by hosting elegant galas to support Catholic education on Feb. 3, 2024. An additional school hosted a Gala on Feb. 10.

St. Catherine Catholic School in Sebring held its inaugural gala, themed “A Night in Siena,” at the Grogan Center of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Avon Park. More than 220 took part in the event. Funds raised were designated to go toward adding classroom space in the school at the main campus to accommodate recent growth. During the gala, the school Cantor Club performed and artwork from students was on display.

Founded in 2008, St. Catherine’s is the only Catholic school in the Eastern portion of the Diocese. St. Catherine launched with students in pre-kindergarten-3 through second grade scattered throughout a few buildings near the Parish church. Current enrollment is 213 students, up 115 students in the past few years. Diocese of Venice Superintendent of Catholic Education Jesuit Father John Belmonte attended the Gala and said he was impressed by how much the communities in Highlands and Hardee counties support Catholic education in general and St. Catherine Catholic School specifically.

St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral hosted “A Night of Enchantment” Gala at the Sidney and Berne Davis Art Center in Fort Myers. The evening used this new venue because the gala had outgrown its previous locations as the school has continued its own rapid growth, with more than 635 students at present, nearly double the number from a few years ago. The crowd was entertained by members of the Gulfshore Ballet.

St. Andrew Principal David Nelson said the proceeds from the evening will fund campus security, including the cost of having a Lee County Sheriff’s Schools Resource Officer present for the 2024-2025 Academic Year.

The third Gala on Feb. 3 took place in support of the St. Ann School Foundation at the Naples Jet Center. Bishop Frank J. Dewane was the guest of honor, and the theme for the evening was “Swingin’ Into the Sixties.” The St. Ann School Foundation supports the work of St. Ann Catholic School, which has also undergone tremendous growth to more than 475 students, up nearly 200 students in the past few years. The Gala proceeds will go toward student scholarships and enrichment programs for the students.

Marking its 70th anniversary, the St. Joseph Catholic School “Heritage of Faithfulness” Gala took place on Feb. 10 at the IMG Academy Golf Club, in Bradenton. As with the other Catholic schools, St. Joseph has seen growth of 29% in the past four years, from 224 students to 319. Money raised during the celebration will go toward supporting and expanding the many opportunities offered to the students. Festivities for the evening included live music, silent auction, photobooth, as well as an awards presentation. Dr. William and Karen Soscia were recognized as honorary chairs; James and Marla Doss were presented the Soaring Eagle Award; Angelina “Angel” Colonneso, Esq received the Outstanding Alumni Award, and the Class of 2002 were recognized as the Top Alumni class with donations and attendees. A video presentation about the history of the school was offered, with congratulatory remarks from Bishop Dewane.

As was seen at each of the galas, the enthusiasm for Diocesan Catholic schools knows no boundaries, with many stepping up to help support the tremendous growth seen by Diocesan schools in recent years.



News Briefs for the week of February 16, 2024

Large group goes to Catholic Days

More than 50 people from the Diocese of Venice, including Bishop Frank J. Dewane and two dozen Catholic school students, took part in Catholic Days at the Capitol in Tallahassee from Feb. 7 to Feb. 8, 2024. This is an annual opportunity for the faithful to voice opinions directly to lawmakers from Southwest Florida on key pieces of legislation which are under consideration during this session. Primary focus was on ensuring the continued limitation on access to abortion. The students from Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota and Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers also met with lawmakers and received a tour of the State Capitol.

40 Days for Life opens in Fort Myers, Sarasota and Naples

Show your support for life by simply praying for an end to abortion on the public sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood throughout the Lenten Season until March 24, 2024. For details and flier go to www.40daysforlife.com (add /sarasota or /fortmyers or /naples for a direct link to the location near you). Questions? Contact Jeanne at 941-374-1068 or Berdeaux@dioceseofvenice.org.

Two Diocesan teams participate in Model UN conference

Teams from St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples and Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Sarasota were delegates to the 23rd Boston University Model United Nations Conference (BosMUN) Feb. 2 to Feb. 4, 2024. The Model UN is a three-day simulation of the United Nations hosted by Boston University for high school students. Jake Marks and Alessio Cirino, of Neumann, took home the prestigious title of Outstanding Delegates, showcasing their exceptional diplomatic skills and commitment to global problem-solving. Fellow delegates Hunter Lund and Kale Van Wart received Verbal Commendations. Congratulations to all the delegates who listened, engaged, and contributed to this wonderful conference of intelligent minds who hope to help guide the world to a better tomorrow.

Bishop welcomes priests, deacons to his home

Ahead of the Lenten Season, Bishop Frank J. Dewane hosted the priests of the Diocese of Venice to his home for a dinner and reception on Feb. 9, 2024. The next evening the Permanent Deacons of the Diocese visited with Bishop for their own dinner and reception. The evenings were intended to create an opportunity for the clergy to gather together in an relaxing atmosphere ahead of busy Lenten Season.

Vocation talk inspires

Sharing her vocations journey, Sister Juliana Alfonso, Salesian Sister of St. John Bosco, and teacher at St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples, inspired eighth grade girls during a vocation talk at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers. Sister Juliana spoke about her vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, and encouraged the young girls to think about their own relationship with Christ. Sister offered tips about growing closer to the Lord through prayer, reading the Sacred Scriptures, participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and most importantly by being at Mass each Sunday. The girls found Sister Julian engaging and loved having her visit.

Knights on Bikes promotes its Diaper Ride

The Knights on Bikes, a motorcycle club of the Knights of Columbus, took part in the first-ever Diaper Ride to Thrive Pregnancy Clinic in Cape Coral on Feb. 10, 2024. In addition to bringing diapers, they also donated $500. Thrive is a maternity home (formerly known as Lifeline), that brings Christ to women who have chosen life, The Knights on Bikes mission is to promote and adhere to the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, and evangelize through fellowship, charity, and service. For more information about the Knights on Bikes please contact Pete Battle at 239-601-6061 or email konbflvenice@gmail.com.

Scholarship application deadline approaching

The Catholic Community Foundation of Southwest Florida has opened the 2024-25 online scholarship applications. There are currently five different scholarships available from the Foundation. Applications close on Feb. 29, 2024. The majority of the scholarships are for residents of Sarasota County. These scholarships are for graduating seniors (class of 2023 or 2024), or for non-traditional students who have been out of school for 3+ years and wish to pursue a higher education. To find out which Catholic Community Foundation scholarship you qualify for, please visit www.ccfdioceseofvenice.org/scholarships.

Our Mother’s House Wine Tasting Feb. 29

All are invited to attend the Our Mother’s House Wine Tasting, 5:30 p.m., February 29, 2024, at the Venice Community Center, Venice, 326 Nokomis Ave. S. The event will benefit the mothers and children at Our Mother’s House of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. This is a 2-year transitional living program, dedicated to empowering single mothers and their young children. Tickets are $90. Register online at http://bidpal.net/2024omh. For more information, 941-485-6264 or email omh@catholiccharitiesdov.org.

Sacrament of Marriage – A unique gift from God

God provides unique graces and gifts for married couples to spend their lives together, serving as examples of hope for following generations.

In celebration of that commitment, each year Bishop Frank J. Dewane invites couples married 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50+ years to a Mass in their honor as witnesses to a beautiful vocation. This first such Mass in 2024 was Feb. 3, at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs. Present were 240 couples representing a combined 12,480 years of marriage.

“You have to feel a great accomplishment,” Bishop Dewane said. “Whether you are celebrating 25 years, 50 years or even 70 years of marriage, the grace you have lived out all those years continues to flow and be a sign of hope for many young people. It is the public intention of union and sacrifice given over, one to the other, where love is expressed, over and over again. That is the true reality of marriage.”

Bishop Dewane said in today’s culture there is a different mindset about the Sacrament of Marriage, but the example of the couples present, representing commitments lasting decades, are viewed by young people with awe.

“The grace that you have allowed to enter into you marriage reverberates God’s love within your relationship and is witnessed by others,” the Bishop said. “You give a silent homily by the life you live, day in and day out. It is a true vocation that is born through each of you, giving the gift of one’s self. It has endured and is admired.”

The 240 couples represented 25 Parishes and included 32 couples that have been married 50 years. The longest marriage by couples present was 70 years.

Steven and Violet (Vi) Hvasta, of St. William Parish in Naples, will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary on June 12. Thomas and Jane Brooks, of St. Leo the Great Parish, will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary on Dec. 4.

The Hvastas started out as great friends in high school. Steven dated Vi’s best friends, and she would date Steven’s friends, until the love bug hit! It seems they were made for each other. They spent their lives in Connecticut as small business owners, raising four daughters and are blessed with 11 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. They bought a home in Naples 13 years ago and now split their time between Naples and Connecticut.

Thomas and Jane Brooks met while attending Indiana University in Bloomington. They fell in love immediately and are still very much in love to this day. They married while Thomas was on leave from the U.S. Army, causing Jane to quit college and follow her new husband on deployment in Germany. After leaving the Army, the couple settled back in Indiana where he was a lawyer for 62 years as they raised a family that now includes seven children, seven grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren. They have been coming to Florida since the mid-1980s.

Thomas Brooks said the couple’s advice to their children was that “once they became married, it is very important to stay with God. Also, they should always love one another, and never go to bed at night without saying ‘I love you.’”

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

Following the Mass, lunch was served and there was the opportunity to have complimentary pictures taken with the Bishop. At the luncheon, several couples remarked about how wonderful it is to have their lasting marriage recognized.

Masses are celebrated each year in the northern and southern sections of the Diocese of Venice so as to accommodate the large numbers of couples wishing to attend. The second Mass is 11 a.m., Feb. 24, at Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Ave., Venice (registration is through the Parishes and walk-ins are welcome).

News Briefs for February 9, 2024


After broad consultation, Bishop Frank J. Dewane announces the following:

Father Joseph Binu, appointed as Parochial Vicar of St. Agnes Parish, Naples, effective January 19, 2024, and thus, is relieved of his duties as Parochial Vicar of Sacred Heart Parish, Bradenton.

Father Benjamin Casimir, appointed as Administrator of Jesus the Worker Parish, Fort Myers, effective February 5, 2024, and thus, is relieved of his duties as Parochial Vicar of St. Peter the Apostle Parish, Naples.

Order of Malta retreat

The Knights and Dames of Malta recently gathered in Naples for a retreat: a time of prayer, reflection and renewal. Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated the opening Mass for the retreat at St. William Parish on Feb. 2, 2024, The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. During the Mass, the Bishop said that the message the Knights and Dames carry is one of preparing the way for the Lord. The Order of Malta is a lay religious order of the Catholic Church that seeks to glorify God by promoting the sanctification of each member through witness to the Catholic Faith and service to the sick and the poor. The retreat master was Msgr. Robert Dempsey of Chicago. The retreat is held ahead of Lent to help the Knights and Dames prepare spiritually for this important Liturgical Season.

Eucharistic Conference held at Ave Maria University

The Aquinas Center for Theological renewal and the Thomistic Institute hosted the “Thomas Aquinas and the Eucharist: Pathways to Revival” Conference from Feb. 1 to Feb. 3, 2024, at Ave Maria University. Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated Mass for the Conference on Feb. 2, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, in the Ave Maria Parish Church. Bishop Dewane praised the Conference organizers and the attendees for taking time to focus on the Holy Eucharist during the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year revival of devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The conference drew upon Saint Thomas for theological, spiritual, pastoral, and evangelistic pathways in the Eucharistic Revival. Concelebrating the Mass with Bishop Dewane was Archbishop Allen Vigneron, of Detroit, who was the conference keynote speaker.

40 Days for Life opens in Fort Myers, Sarasota and Naples

Show your support for life by simply praying for an end to abortion on the public sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood between Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14, and March 24, 2024. For details and flier go to www.40daysforlife.com (add /sarasota or /fortmyers or /naples for a direct link to the location near you). Questions? Contact Jeanne at 941-374-1068 or Berdeaux@dioceseofvenice.org.

Theology on Tap Sarasota Feb. 15

Theology on Tap for young adults takes place on the third Thursday of each month at 7:00 p.m. at the Mandeville Beer Garden in Sarasota, 428 N. Lemon Ave, Sarasota. Join the gathering for food and refreshments, presentations, and discussions about the Catholic Faith. The next scheduled date is Feb. 15, 2024, and will feature Father Daniel Scanlan, Parochial Vicar at St. Thomas More Parish, Sarasota. The topic will be Lent. For any questions, please email Jim Gontis at gontis@dioceseofvenice.org.

Walk for the Poor Feb. 17 in Cape Coral

The St. Andrew Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) is hosting its 3rd Annual “Walk for the Poor” on Saturday, Feb 17, 2024, in the campus of St. Andrew Parish and Catholic School, 2628 Del Prado Blvd., Cape Coral. The event will begin at 10 a.m., and end at 1 p.m. The walk supports the outreach of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which answered 1,176 calls for assistance in 2023. Assistance includes food, transportation, clothing, household items, job resources, as well as financial support for prescriptions, housing and utilities. Anyone interested in walking or making a donation can visit https://go.rallyup.com/capesvdp, or contact Marlene Douglas at 239-772-3543.

Health Care Ethics Conference Feb. 17 in Bonita Springs

Medical professionals, students, and interested laypeople are invited to the first annual Converging Roads health care ethics conference on Feb. 17, 2024, at St. Leo the Great Parish, 28290 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs. This one-day conference will offer continuing education credits for health care professionals with presentations centered on the theme of Catholic Medicine in a Secular Society. For information, contact Carrie Harkey at harkey@dioceseofvenice.org, and to register, go to convergingroads.com/venice.

2024 Catholic Charities Ball Feb. 17 in Sarasota

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., invites all to the 2024 Catholic Charities Ball, 6 p.m., Feb. 17, 2024, at Michael’s On East Ballroom, 1212 S. East Ave., Sarasota. The theme is “Serving All,” and supports the programs of Catholic Charities in Sarasota and Manatee counties. This year also marks the launch of the new Long-term Recovery Program, which is actively helping families still recovering from Hurricane Ian and other natural disasters. Tickets are $400 a person. The evening will include a cocktail hour, live and silent auctions, fine dining, dancing, and live entertainment. Register at http://bidpal.net/ccb2024. For more information, 941-376-7845 or email ccball@catholiccharitiesdov.org.



Lent – a time of spiritual renewal

The Lenten Season is an important time to take the opportunity to refocus one’s thinking on how to grow closer to God and farther away from evil.

Lent is one of the most important liturgical seasons of the Church’s calendar and begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. The faithful are prepared this season for Holy Week, those sacred days in the Church calendar when we celebrate the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“The faithful are all called to know better their faith, to live it more deeply, and share their love of the Lord with others,” Bishop Frank J. Dewane said. “This ties in directly with our Lenten call to turn our lives over to Christ and to be more the man or woman of God calls us to be.”

Many opportunities are offered by the Lenten Season to take advantage of that concept of knowing, living, and sharing the faith, Bishop Dewane said. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads, “The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all in several forms; fasting and abstinence, prayer and charity, and almsgiving and self-denial, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others” (CCC 1434).

These three pillars of the Lenten observance, fasting, prayer, almsgiving, express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others. The Lord calls each person to total commitment. By practicing these observances together, they become more than the sum of their parts. They become part of a faith that flourishes and a heart that is increasingly dedicated to the Lord.

Fasting and abstinence

Fasting and abstinence is not about food, or lack of it, but instead about sacrifice for the benefit of our spiritual lives. Sacrifice and self-denial should not be viewed as something to lament, but instead should be viewed as an opportunity to remove anything that distracts us from Jesus Christ.

For early Christians, fasting was an important and meaningful Lenten practice in commemoration of Christ’s Passion and Death. The current Lenten discipline, set forth by the Roman Catholic Church, consists of both fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday (Feb. 14) and Good Friday (March 29), as well as abstaining from meat each Friday of Lent. Fasting and abstinence are about spiritual conversion and renewal, not solely about meat and no food.

“I encourage each of you to reexamine fasting and abstinence this Lenten Season and possibly rediscover them as virtues in the living of your life,” Bishop Dewane said. “When fasting, or abstaining from meat, this Lenten Season try not to just ‘follow the motions,’ so to speak, make an extra effort to improve upon the spiritual areas of one’s life.”


The second Lenten pillar is prayer, which the Catechism tells us is coupled with charity. All Catholics are called to a meaningful prayer life. A prayer life includes both personal, which comes from the heart, and traditional prayer, with both dimensions the faithful grow closer to both Christ Himself — as well as to His Church.

“During Lent our prayer life should not only grow, but it should focus upon the areas of life in which we might have fallen short of God’s expectation—in other words, where we have sinned,” Bishop Dewane said.

Prayer is an indispensable component of the Catholic Faith. By growing and maturing in faith, prayer becomes an act of worship. As life progresses and one receives more of the Sacraments, and more often, prayer is recognized as a critical act of public worship in the Church, especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Vatican II called the Mass “The Source and the Summit.”

The five basic forms of prayer are blessing, petition, intercession, thanksgiving, and praise. When someone prays in any one of these forms, they are expressing a different emotion, need, concern or appreciation. No two prayers from the heart are the same, just as no two conversations are the same.

“In prayer, we grow in the love of God and greater appreciation of who God is and what God does,” Bishop Dewane said. “In a world so full of uncertainty and loneliness, great comfort should be taken in knowing that by praying, God will offer His blessings and grace. By praying, the blessing upon us is returned. This is the beautiful exchange that needs to be part of one’s daily life.”


The third pillar of Lent is almsgiving is coupled in the Catechism with self-denial. While often mentioned as the last of the three traditional pillars of the Lenten observance, is certainly not the least of the three and is often completely misunderstood. The Church’s expression of almsgiving is an act of self-denial, or an expression of charity and assistance extended to the needy.

By almsgiving during Lent, one not only expresses care for those in need, but also expresses a sign of gratitude for all God has provided in one’s own life. These acts of charity are connected to the responsibilities of living the faith that begins with baptism and is reignited in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

“All bear responsibility in helping our brothers and sisters in Christ, but it takes prayer and reflection to understand how God is calling each of us to give of oneself,” Bishop Dewane said. The Catechism states, “almsgiving, together with prayer and fasting, are traditionally recommended to foster the state of interior penance.”

“In a sense, almsgiving is a type of prayer,” Bishop Dewane said. “Because almsgiving requires sacrifice. It is also a sort of fasting from the material world, in that what could have been purchased.”

In addition, Bishop Dewane said the precept of confessing grave sins and receiving Holy Communion at least once during the Lenten Season merits a reminder.

To facilitate this requirement, every Parish in the Diocese of Venice will be open with a confessor present 4 to 8 p.m., Friday, March 22, and 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, March 23. Check with your local Parish for additional confession times or the availability of a Penance Service. These opportunities are made available so that the faithful may find ample opportunity to receive God’s Mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Priestly Ordination February 10

The Diocese of Venice relies on dedicated men who have committed their lives to serving God. One such man will be ordained to the priesthood on Feb. 10, 2024, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

Transitional Deacon Alan J. Baldarelli Jr. has completed his priestly formation and has been called to ordination by Bishop Frank J. Dewane, who will be the ordaining prelate. The ordination will be at 11 a.m., at the Cathedral, 350 Tampa Ave. W., Venice.

In addition to Bishop Dewane, the Mass will include a number of priests, deacons, religious, family and friends from across the Diocese.

“This is one of the most beautiful and rarely seen Sacraments in the Church,” Bishop Dewane explained. “It is a public response to the Call to Holiness, which comes with great responsibility and accountability. The Diocese of Venice is blessed that, year after year, men are hearing the call of the Lord, and responding.”

All are welcome and encouraged to attend the Ordination, said Bishop Dewane. “It is important the faithful support each Ordination as the Priest is a future link to the continuation of the Sacraments. This is a life-changing, lifelong, commitment, and Priests, especially new Priests, need the support and encouragement of the faithful.”

During Ordination to the Priesthood, Deacon Baldarelli will freely present himself to serve God, the Church and the Bishop of the Diocese of Venice and his successors. He will also make a renewed commitment to celibacy and promise obedience.

Deacon Baldarelli, 41, is originally from Hermitage, Pennsylvania, and is the oldest of four children. His parent, Alan Joseph Baldarelli Sr. and Holly Louise Baldarelli, will be celebrating their 43rd wedding anniversary on Feb. 14, Ash Wednesday, which falls on Valentine’s Day this year, just a few days after the ordination of their son. Deacon Baldarelli’s siblings are Jenna Lynn Peltz, Matthew J. Baldarelli, and Rita Marie Hartenstein.

Upon graduating high school, Deacon Baldarelli earned an international business degree from John Carroll University and worked in sales and marketing in various corporate jobs. Not satisfied with the path his life was on, a stray comment from a family friend that he should consider becoming a priest began his path to the priesthood and while working at a university job, he began taking courses on Sacred Scripture.

An annual visitor to Southwest Florida with his family from a young age, Deacon Baldarelli sought to become a seminarian for the Diocese of Venice.  His formation took place at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and then at St. Vincent de Paul regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. He was ordained as a Transitional Deacon in 2022.

As a seminarian, Deacon Baldarelli served pastoral assignments at Holy Cross in Palmetto, St. Paul in Arcadia, St. William in Naples, Our Lady Queen of Heaven in Labelle, and Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. Most recently, he has been serving at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Port Charlotte.

When asked about his upcoming ordination, Deacon Baldarelli said, “There is a healthy mix of excitement, nervousness, and contentment in knowing that the call received from the Lord is being answered.”

While Deacon Baldarelli will be ordained on Feb. 10, there are men in the Diocese of Venice who are at various stages in their priestly formation, either in college or at a seminary where they continue their studies toward the ordained priesthood. The Diocese of Venice asks that the faithful remember Deacon Baldarelli, and all those discerning priesthood, in their prayers.

Parishioners are encouraged to help support Diocesan seminarians in their studies and choice of vocation. To contribute to the education of seminarians, send a check to the Diocese of Venice, Office of Vocations, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285 or visit the website at www.dioceseofvenice.org/ways-to-give.

For those considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, please contact the Diocesan Director of Vocations, Father Sean Roser, at roser@dioceseofvenice.org.