Ongoing stories of recovery

Progress being made in removing debris on Fort Myers Beach

Debris removal at Ascension Parish and the San Damiano Monastery of Saint Clare on Fort Myers Beach is well underway. The property was inundated with more than 12 feet of storm surge from Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28, 2022.

Contractors are working hard to mitigate any further damage by removing the large debris from the interior of the church, rectory, Parish Hall, and monastery which were all wrecked. Plywood was placed over each broken window while destroyed equipment, furniture and pews were removed, clearing the way so mitigation from further damage could take place. This mitigation includes drying out each building.

The property has no power or running water, so contractors brought their own generators to run some equipment. Additionally, crews are actively removing the remains of nine houses which littered the property after being pushed by the surge. The clearing of this debris will allow better access to the property which has been limited.

In addition, Knights of Columbus disaster response members from several Diocesan Councils, including from Ave Maria where the Poor Clare nuns are temporarily residing, have been assisting in retrieving and salvaging religious and personal items from the debris of each of the buildings. Items that could be saved but cannot remain on the property during the rebuilding process were taken to secure locations to be cleaned and stored before they are returned to the Parish and monastery at a later date.

To learn more about the plight of the priests and Poor Clare Nuns who were in the monastery during the hurricane, please read the previously published articles at

https://dioceseofvenice.org/ascension-parish-and-monastery-clean-up-begins or https://dioceseofvenice.org/total-devastation-parish-church-and-monastery-on-fort-myers-beach-a-shambles

Therapy dogs visit Diocesan Catholic schools in Lee County

Furry friends are making special visits to the three Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools in Lee County following Hurricane Ian. The therapy dogs are visiting St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral, St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers, as well as Bishop Verot Catholic High School, also in Fort Myers.

The first visit was to Bishop Verot on Oct. 19, 2022, where the dogs were brought to the school courtyard where students were able to pet and hug the dogs to their hearts content. These dogs also visited the elementary schools and are returning several days a week to ensure each student has time with the dogs.

These therapy dogs are specially trained to be around large groups of people and are a good way for the students to have smiles and laughter even though dozens of students and staff lost homes or had significant damage during the hurricane. One teacher at Bishop Verot said everyone in the school suffered some sort of emotional trauma from the hurricane and having the therapy dogs visit was a time to allow everyone to forget, even for a moment, what they have been enduring during the past month.

Students help to package meals

Members of the St. John Neumann Catholic High School Key Club joined students from other Naples-area schools to package 50,000 meals with the group Meals of Hope on Oct. 22, 2022. Typically, these packaged meals would be sent off to needy countries around the world, but because of the impact of Hurricane Ian, the food will remain in Collier County to help victims of the hurricane. The Key Club at Neumann is a service club which participates in a variety of projects helping people in need throughout the community.

 

 

Newest disaster relief site now open

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. is now providing water, ready-to-eat meals, baby items, hygiene kits, tarps, and other essential supplies for distribution in the parking lot behind the Ministry Center of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, 21505 Augusta Ave., Port Charlotte. The disaster distribution point opened on Oct. 19, 2022, and is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday to Saturday, in the parking lot behind the Parish school, at Augusta Avenue and Gates Avenue. Catholic Charities is currently operating six disaster distribution sites, down from a peak of 10 in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ian. The locations change as the needs of the community and the response transitions to more of a recovery mode in different areas.

If you need help

Please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org. There you will find an updated list of disaster distribution points for supplies. This list is updated at the end of each day and will change often as the focus of the recovery shifts and the different needs are understood.

How to Help

If you would like to support the Diocesan response to Hurricane Ian, please visit www.dioceseofvenice.org/hurricaneian, or send a check to Diocese of Venice in Florida, ATTN: Hurricane Ian Relief, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285.

Volunteering

If you are interested in volunteering, please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org to find a list of disaster distribution points where volunteers are needed for loading vehicles, sorting supplies and additional assistance.

Additional help

The Diocese will hold a special second collection for Hurricane Ian relief on the weekend of Oct. 22-23 in all Parishes. Also, please contact your local Parish to learn about collection drives for hurricane supplies.

The Diocese of Venice extends its thanks to everyone for their continued prayers and outpouring of support as the recovery from Hurricane Ian continues.

Ascension Parish and monastery clean-up begins

With Hurricane Ian long gone, the cleanup is only just beginning on Fort Myers Beach at Ascension Parish and the Poor Clare Monastery of San Damiano.

Until Oct. 15, 2022, access to the property was by foot from Estero Boulevard, the main road which passes in front of the property. A parishioner who lives on Fort Myers Beach was able to clear a path onto the property, pushing debris and sand into piles, similar to how plows move snow.

This access will allow Diocesan contractors to come in and clear the larger debris, such as the wrecked contents of the Parish church, Parish Hall, rectory, and sheds, as well as the monastery offices, garages, and Chapel.

The debris removal includes nine homes, and their contents, that ended up on the property due to storm surge. Some of the debris lays scattered next to the church, in the driveway and in front of the monastery, as well as inside the 8-foot walls of the monastery compound.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane remarked on the plight of the priests and nuns on Fort Myers Beach who were stranded for three days before they were rescued.

“The Sisters and Father (William) Adams went through a harrowing time with Hurricane Ian and are now dealing with its aftermath, like so many in Southwest Florida and in the Diocese of Venice,” Bishop Dewane said.  “In the midst of total destruction, the Sisters are already worrying about how to get their next monthly shipment of hosts out! Their faith comes first, and they are thankful to God for their safety.”

Bishop Dewane went on to state that the safety and well-being of all in Southwest Florida is the first concern of the Diocese, and to address this issue Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. has established many Points of Distribution (PODS) throughout the region “to assist with basic human needs like food and water. The Diocese is working to assess the possibilities of repairing and rebuilding churches and schools, and we continue to ask for your prayers for all who have lost so much.”

Father Adams, Pastor of the Ascension Parish, first returned to the property on Oct. 10. Although he had been there for 72 hours following the destruction brought by Ian, the return was heartbreaking. He spoke about the property on Oct. 14.

“Everything is gone,” Father Adams said. “Seeing the destruction in person is nothing like seeing it on TV or in pictures. The Diocese had people out inspecting the damage… and my thought is that if they can get the Parish Hall fixed – that is the original church – we can have Mass for whoever is left on the island. That will be quicker to fix than the church because everything in the church needs to be repaired and replaced. We are starting from scratch.”

Father Adams said the monastery ground floor is gutted, and the Chapel is a mess. “But the building is three stories and sturdy. I know because when the surge breached the walls the building didn’t move and everything above the surge is fine. So as soon as we have power, we will be back.”

Abbess Sister Mary Frances and the three other nuns have also returned to the property several times as well to salvage a few personal items, do some minor cleaning and take inventory of what needs to be replaced.

“Everyone is being so helpful but there is only so much we can do right now,” Sister Mary Frances said on Oct. 15. “We’ll pick up the pieces.”

Ever with a positive outlook, Sister said, the nuns “want to go back. We have to go back and clean it up and go on… We will take it one day at a time. It’ll be okay.”

Members of the Knights of Columbus trekked to the property on Oct. 19 to retrieve missing monastery items from under some of the debris before the heavy equipment arrives. This included a large statue of Mary which stayed in place but was surrounded by several feet of metal, wood, glass, and other items from two homes.

Father Adams is currently staying at his sister’s home in Lee County, while Parochial Vicar Father Grzegorz Klich is staying at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Port Charlotte. The Poor Clare nuns are temporarily staying at a home in Ave Maria and are looking for a place to stay closer to their monastery to save time as they go back each day to clean up a little bit more.

With the prayers of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi, and to the Blessed Virgin Mary and Her Son, Jesus Christ, there is no doubt the Parish and monastery will return to their former glory as a beacon of faith for an island community that is working to rise from the ruins of destruction wrought by Hurricane Ian.

A Go Fund Me page has been set up on behalf of the Poor Clare Nuns on Fort Myers Beach.

To read the previous story about Ascension Parish and the Poor Clare Nuns, please visit www.dioceseofvenice.org/news.

More stories from Hurricane Ian

Making progress

Just a few days after the Myakka River receded from record flooding, work crews were at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice doing mitigation in each of the buildings. By Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, just days after the waters receded enough to allow access to the property, crews had emptied the contents of each of the Villas and were working on removing the flooring in the St. Joseph Chapel.

During the river flooding after Hurricane Ian, at least 18 inches or more of river water entered each building. Because the waters remained high for more than a week after the buildings were breeched, more damage occurred. In fact, the cleanup crews were forced to cut about four feet of dry wall in the Chapel as the water had made the bottom parts unsalvageable.

While OLPH is closed for repairs, some of the activities and retreats have been moved to new locations. For a complete list and more updates, please visit www.olph-retreat.org.

Cross straightened

The cross on the roof of St. Cecilia Parish church in Fort Myers was knocked askew and left dangling by the fierce winds of Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28, 2022. On Oct. 14, a large cherry-picker lifted workers up to straighten the cross and make it stand tall once again. The church property had other minor damage, but the restoration of the cross was a symbol of progress toward a full recovery not only for the Parish but for the entire Fort Myers community which suffered great losses during the hurricane.

 

Roof sealed

A long strip of the high-pitched roof of St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers was peeled off during Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28, 2022. This and other roof damage caused by the winds allowed water to enter into the church, causing extensive damage in the narthex, chapel and main sanctuary. Contractors for the Diocese were able to place sealing tarps over the holes in the roof by Oct. 10 which will be in place until repairs can take place preventing any further damage.

 

Pine Island Parish open for Mass

Daily Mass returned on Oct. 17, 2022, to Our Lady of Miraculous Medal Parish in Bokeelia, Pine Island, an area hard hit by Hurricane Ian. Mass is being celebrated although there is still no power, internet or phones at the church. Daily Mass is at 8:30 a.m., and the weekend schedule (4 p.m. Saturday, and 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. Sunday) remains the same. The buildings on the property suffered damage, with major water into the Parish Hall and some into the church. Many trees were knocked down and there was water intrusion in the church and Parish Hall, but otherwise the church had no damage from storm surge which impacted the southern section of the island. Parish staff is posting updates as needed, please visit http://www.miraculousmedalch.org/.

Knights feed 1,000

Members of the Knights of Columbus from multiple Councils converged on Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022, to host a cookout for the Fort Myers community which was hard hit by Hurricane Ian. Many parishioners lost homes while others lost work. The Knights grilled up more than 1,000 hamburgers and hot dogs so everyone had a hearty meal. Whatever food that was leftover was sent home with the parishioners.

The Knights were primarily from Collier County, including from Parishes such as Ave Maria, St. William, St. Agnes, St. John the Evangelist and St. Elizabeth Seton as well as others representing the Knights Florida State Council. Father Patrick O’Connor, Oblates of St. Frances de Sales, said the food was greatly appreciated by the many families at this Spanish-speaking Parish. Many were hit doubly hard by the storm with home damage and those in the service industry being thrown out of work for an unknown length of time.

Community rallies after Ian brings winds then flooding

DeSoto County took a double hit from Hurricane Ian. First, the hurricane brought battering winds that tore roofs off and caused a great deal of damage causing many to lose their homes and business. Then, two days later, the Peace River, normally a tranquil strip of water that meanders through the heart of the county, overspilled its banks and kept rising to an all-time record crest. The flood waters rose so fast that many fled with what was on their back.

St. Paul Parish in Arcadia was not immune to the wind damage, suffering losses of the offices, classrooms and hall and leaks in the church. “Blessed be God we are alive!” said Father Luis Pacheco, St. Paul Administrator. “Despite the devastation that we all have encountered with Hurricane Ian, some more than others, we have a lot to be grateful for. It could have been much worse.”

St. Paul has become the epicenter of the recovery effort for the region with Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., setting up a Disaster Response site to give out, food, water, tarps, blankets, and cleaning supplies. Many other organizations have rallied at the property to offer clothing, bedding, diapers, medical check-ups and free hot meals. Among the supporting organizations were several from Diocesan Parishes, such as the Emmaus group from St. Joseph the Worker Parish in LaBelle, or a team from Our Lady of Grace in Avon Park, seminarians from St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, and many more.

“We will continue to strive and come out stronger,” Father Pacheco said. “I hope this hurricane has centered us and given us a new perspective in life. It is all about our relationship with God and with one another.”

Ian Relief second collection Oct. 22-23, 2022

As a result of Hurricane Ian’s destructive path, lives have been tragically lost and many properties, homes, and businesses have been severely damaged or destroyed. The suffering and widespread damage in the storm’s wake are staggering. No part of the Diocese has been untouched by the storm’s destruction.

“Several Parishes have lost church buildings, and others have had facilities severely damaged by the storm,” Bishop Frank J. Dewane said in a letter to the faithful. “Many people throughout the region have endured significant damage and loss, still others have come together to provide help in the face of significant suffering. Many Parishes in the worst impacted areas have been the center of immediate response. Catholic Charities, as well as other agencies, have been working tirelessly to provide humanitarian assistance.”

To respond to these recent calamities, Parishes in the Diocese of Venice will take up a special collection the weekend of Oct. 22-23.

“This collection will help provide for the pastoral and reconstruction needs of the Church, as well as the efforts of Catholic Charities in providing both immediate and long-term assistance to those impacted,” Bishop Dewane wrote. “Thank you for your kindness and profound generosity towards all impacted by the hurricane. Your compassion towards those in need fulfills the Lord’s command to ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Hurricane Ian recovery

As the recovery from Hurricane Ian continues, Bishop Frank J. Dewane and the Diocese of Venice continue to facilitate helping those in need. Because of the scope of the devastation, with coastal communities destroyed, widespread wind damage and inland flooding, there is great need.

If you need help

Please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org. There you will find an updated list of disaster distribution points for supplies. This list is updated at the end of each day and will change often as the focus of the recovery shifts and the different needs are understood.

How to help

If you would like to support the Diocesan response to Hurricane Ian, please visit www.dioceseofvenice.org/hurricaneian, or send a check to Diocese of Venice in Florida, ATTN: Hurricane Ian Relief, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285.

Volunteering

If you are interested in volunteering, please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org to find a list of disaster distribution points where volunteers are needed for loading vehicles, sorting supplies and additional assistance.

Additional help

The Diocese will hold a special second collection for Hurricane Ian relief on the weekend of Oct. 22-23 in all Parishes. Also, please contact your local Parish to learn about collection drives for hurricane supplies.

The Diocese of Venice extends its thanks to everyone for their continued prayers and outpouring of support as the recovery from Hurricane Ian continues.

Bishop continues to lead response to Ian

Bishop Frank J. Dewane continues to lead the Diocese of Venice response to the devastating impacts of Hurricane Ian as he visits impacted Parishes and communities while also seeing first-hand what is being done to help people in need.

Bishop Dewane celebrated Mass on Oct. 8, 2022, at St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Cape Coral, a region hard hit by Ian’s harsh winds and storm surge. Many, 13 days after the storm, still had no power in their homes.

“It is an honor to be here to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Cape Coral,” Bishop Dewane said. “Many of you have suffered and are still suffering as you try to recover from Ian’s wrath. We are gathered here to pray for the healing of those in need and give thanks for what you still have.”

The damage to homes in the area was so extensive that St. Katharine Drexel is the home of one of 10 Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., disaster distribution sites set up to help the community with basic needs of food, water and other supplies necessary for recovery after the storm.

The Gospel reading (Luke 17:11-19) tells of the 10 lepers who were healed by Jesus, but only one returned to thank the Lord.

“Be the one,” Bishop Dewane said. “The one who gives thanks to the Lord for the graces and gifts that are bestowed upon you each day. Now is the time to give your thanks. We are each grateful to be here as we move forward to recover from this hurricane and live our lives… It is going to take time to make repairs to the roof, but we need to give ourselves to the Lord, blessed and thankful for all we have.”

Immediately following the passage of Ian, Bishop Dewane began to visit the sites of destruction caused by the hurricane. It was on Oct. 6, 2022, when he was able to visit the hard-hit communities in Desoto and Hardee counties. Access to these areas was extremely limited by river flooding and the areas were under ongoing states of emergency.

Both the Myakka and Peace rivers had record crests, pouring water into the low-lying communities of Arcadia, Zolfo Springs, Wauchula, Bowling Green, as well as in Venice, Sarasota and North Port which the Bishop visited previously.

During the Oct. 6 visit, Bishop Dewane saw the devastation first-hand, noting the destroyed homes, many of which, stood up to the ferocious winds of the hurricane only to be washed away days later by flood waters. Many lost the entire contents of their homes and were left living in their vehicles unsure what to do.

While visiting St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, the Bishop learned firsthand about the devastating flooding to the community, as well as about a fire which destroyed 108 apartments, leaving many in desperate situations. He toured the Parish food pantry which was well-stocked from supplies provided by a regional food bank as well as from Catholic Charities.

During his visit, Bishop Dewane spoke to families and offered several blessings for healing as they continued to suffer from the storm that had finally passed.

At St. Paul Parish in Arcadia, the Bishop met with Administrator Father Luis Pacheco. They inspected water leaks to the Parish church, as well as damage to the roofs of the old church and Parish Hall.

St. Paul is also one of the Catholic Charities disaster recovery distribution sites, which included food, water, blankets, tarps, cleaning supplies, sunscreen, batteries, diapers and more. The Bishop greeted and thanked the Catholic Charities staff and volunteers for their hard work.

Bishop Dewane returned to St. Paul on Oct. 10, when he met with 12 seminarians studying at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, who were doing a service trip to assist in the area on Columbus Day. Seminary Rector Msgr. Alfredo Hernandez and the seminarians were divided into three groups. The Bishop, Rector, and Father Pacheco helped create 550 bags of rice and beans after breaking open larger 50-pound bags. Another group helped clear debris from the property, while a third group went to a poor community to distribute food, water, clothes and toiletries.

“In spite of going in two loaded vans, they had to do four trips in total to cover the immediate need,” Father Pacheco said. “Blessed be God!! I think it was a great exercise in ministry, compassion and reality to our seminarians, future priests of our Holy Catholic Church.”

 

Catholic Charities continues rendering assistance

“It’s not so bad. We have each other.”

CCUSA CEO presents check to help efforts

During the first two weeks of the coordinated response to Hurricane Ian disaster relief, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., has helped more than 50,000 people with supplies of water, food, tarps, blankets and much more.

This outreach has been made possible by the direction of CEO Eddie Gloria, his team, volunteers and the guidance of Bishop Frank J. Dewane.

Disaster response sites have been set up in the hardest hit areas, particularly where local government help may have been lacking. At least 10 sites have been operating since the first days after Ian struck on Sept. 28, 2022.

As the true scope of the disaster revealed itself, and the needs of the community changed, Catholic Charities has been flexible in meeting the needs on the ground as the response is slowly transitioning from meeting urgent needs to disaster management – helping people with long-term needs.

Gloria credited Bishop Dewane and the overarching support of Catholic Charities USA, which has helped coordinate the disaster response with technical support and a high level of experience in these situations with staff who have dedicated their time to helping in many ways.

Catholic Charities USA President and CEO, Sister Donna Markham, OP, visited the Diocese of Venice on Oct. 12, 2022, to get an update on how the response is progressing.

Sister Donna met with Gloria and his team as well as with Bishop Dewane to discuss what is coming in the next week and months as the region recovers from Ian. She also offered words of encouragement to the Catholic Charities staff who were directly impacted by the hurricane.

In a ceremony at the Catholic Center in Venice, Sister Donna said disasters such as Ian strike different places at different times.

“Now it is your turn,” Sister said. “We are here with the enormous generosity of a lot of people, who have helped us by sending in donations (through the CCUSA website). We take every single dollar from our donors and ensure they will go directly to the people affected by a disaster. In this case, in what I hope will be more to come, is an initial check for humanitarian relief in the amount of $500,000.”

A roar of approval and applause accompanied this pronouncement as Gloria accepted the check.

Bishop Dewane expressed his gratitude for Sister Donna’s presence and for the check noting that it will go a long way to helping to meet the needs of the community.

At sites across the region, Catholic Charities has been receiving tractor trailers full of water, food, tarps, blankets and every type of item imaginable. When the items arrive, teams of people help unload and then distribute the items by loading vehicles for grateful families.

Arcadia was a site of total devastation. Many homes were damaged or destroyed by the fierce winds of Ian, but it was the flooding from the Peace River, which lazily flows through the western portion of the area that brought more destruction. The river rose to record levels and cut the city in half, that did most of the destruction.

“My house flooded,” said Sam Jenkins of Arcadia at the Catholic Charities disaster response site at St. Paul Parish on Oct. 8. “I had five minutes to leave and even then, I couldn’t get my car out fast enough, it stalled and is gone. Everything is gone.”

Jenkins arrived at the Parish by foot, having slept at a friend’s house the previous night and hoping to hear from a family member in Georgia to send him the money needed to get out of the area.

The town was cut off by the flood waters from the west, north and south, and more than a week after the storm, access was still limited.

This is why the front parking lot of the Parish church, which sits on State Road 70, the main east-west road through the rural city, was a hive of activity as churches of all denominations brought clothing and emergency supplies for people to choose from.

Desperate parents, unsure where they would sleep that night, or in the future, selected clothing as the children chose donated toys and games or tried on new or gently used shoes and sneakers. Others had everything they owned crammed into vehicles.

Isabella Perez carefully went through the clothes and other items, picking a few shirts and pants for her three children. Her home flooded and the family of five was staying at a home with two other families.

“It is hard,” Perez said. “The wind ripped our trailer apart, so we fled. When we tried to go back, it was completely underwater. I cried for 10 minutes while my children were given ice cream by some nice people at the edge of the river, about a half-mile from our home. Then we got back in the car and drove around. It is so wonderful that people have donated things for us to choose from. We are all okay and that is what matters. I know many who lost more, others who were hurt. It’s not so bad. We have each other.”

Also in the St. Paul parking lot was a team from the Anna Maria Oyster Bar, which brought 1,000 sandwiches and another group set up a barbecue smoker. Meanwhile, the Heart to Heart International Disaster Response truck was there to offer medical exams, free tetanus shots, as well as fillings prescriptions and providing mental wellness counseling.

On the back side of the Parish church is the Catholic Charities disaster distribution site, which includes water, food, sunscreen, batteries, blankets, tarps, cleaning supplies and more. Trucks from all over resupply the site each day as the demand continues.

“This is just the beginning here,” said Sister Martha Flores, M.H.M.L., the Parish Director of Religious Education who was overseeing the work and directing volunteers for different tasks. “So many people lost homes. If you didn’t lose your home and you worked in farming, you probably lost your job. There are a lot of people hurting here.”

Catholic Charities has Parish distribution points at St. Katharine Drexel in Cape Coral, Jesus the Worker in Fort Myers, San Pedro in North Port, St. Michael in Wauchula, and St. Leo Parish in Bonita Springs.

Gloria said having sites at these Parishes allows the community to come to a central point they trust, and the flexibility of Catholic Charities allows the organization to address needs on a moment’s notice. This means that as areas got drinkable water and power back, the needs changed from emergency rations and water to food that can be cooked, as well as cleaning supplies and diapers.

“If there is a need and we don’t have something there, we reach out to our disaster response partners to find a solution,” Gloria said.

As Gloria noted earlier, the sites will transition into disaster recovery centers where support staff will directly help families address pressing needs more efficiently.

If you are in need

Please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org. There you will find an updated list of distribution points for supplies. This list is updated at the end of each day and will change often as the focus of the recovery shifts and the different needs are understood.

Monetary donations

For those interested in making a donation to the Diocesan response to Hurricane Ian, please visit www.dioceseofvenice.org/hurricaneian, or send a check to Diocese of Venice in Florida, ATTN: Hurricane Ian Relief, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285.

Volunteering, donating supplies

For those interested in volunteering or if you wish to bring needed supplies (food, water, diapers, new clothing/footwear for children and adults), you can go to Catholic Charities distributions points (www.catholiccharitiesdov.org). If you are driving into the hardest hit areas, gasoline supplies remain limited. Also, contact your local Parish to learn if a specific donation drive is taking place.

 

The Diocese of Venice extends its thanks to everyone for their continued prayers and outpouring of support as the recovery from Hurricane Ian continues.

Diocese weathers aftermath of Ian – Assessments ongoing, repairs taking place

People of faith gathered together in prayer before, during and in the wake of Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28, 2022, which devastated a large swath of the Diocese of Venice, leaving a trail of misery and destruction from wind, storm surge and flooding.

What Ian did not do is to diminish the faith of people, even those who lost everything, as many lives were lost, and untold numbers of homes and businesses destroyed.

While the destruction from Hurricane Ian is overwhelming, the people of faith are rallying to come to the aid of their brothers and sisters in Christ in ways small and large from donating food and money to relief efforts, or offering a hug, a shoulder to cry on, a kind word, or a prayer.

In the wake of the storm’s passage, the response to Ian from Diocesan officials has been swift and unrelenting with teams assessing damage and organizing relief efforts spearheaded by Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. The result has been nothing short of amazing as damage is being mitigated or even repaired, while distribution points for disaster relief (water and food) have been set up in five counties.

Hurricane Ian made landfall on the coast of the Diocese in Lee County, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph. The hurricane brought massive storm surge to Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Pine Island as well as to Fort Myers, Bonita Springs and Naples. As the storm barreled through the Diocese, the winds continued to cause damage but unrelenting rains caused catastrophic freshwater flooding in North Port, Arcadia, Wauchula, and Venice.

Parishes in the far northern and eastern parts of the Diocese were overall spared the most serve parts of Ian’s wrath and were able to resume normal schedules quickly while other Parishes were opened to the faithful to pray on a limited basis when it was safe. Still others have not yet reopened.

At the forefront of this massive Diocesan effort has been Bishop Frank J. Dewane, who has been in contact with priests and religious since the storm to ensure each was first accounted for and then in a place of safety. Damage has been done to numerous Parish buildings, including churches and Catholic schools. In the wake of the storm, Bishop Dewane has been responding to calls for assistance to help mitigate damage and assisting those in greatest need. While going out to survey the damage in person, Bishop Dewane offered words of prayer and comfort to those who lost everything.

Bishop Dewane celebrated Mass Saturday, Oct. 1 in the Parish Hall at Incarnation Parish in Sarasota because of roof damage to the church. Then on Sunday, Oct. 2, the Bishop celebrated Mass at San Pedro Parish in Nort Port, a city which initially suffered catastrophic wind damage before unrelenting flooding followed, inundating large swaths of the city with 10 feet of water and forcing many families to flee their homes.

“The area suffered a great deal because of Ian, and a lot of people are much worse off than others, but still, we gather together in prayer to ask God’s blessing; that He place His healing hand upon all who suffer as a result of Hurricane Ian,” Bishop Dewane said during the opening of Mass at San Pedro.

San Pedro is also the location of one of several Catholic Charities Points of Distribution (POD). Starting on Saturday, Oct. 1, the Parish emptied its food pantry to help some 400 families. Then the Florida National Guard arrived with trucks full of food (meals ready to eat), water and perhaps most preciously, ice.

Father Tom Carzon, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, is Pastor at San Pedro and greeted people in vehicles as they made their way through a line around the parking lot before getting loaded with supplies. Father Carzon greeted everyone with a wave and a smile and offered his prayers and blessings as he heard story after story of destruction and misery.

“Each person experienced Ian in a different way and my compassion goes out to everyone as the suffering is fresh, and it is ongoing,” Father Carzon said. “The beautiful part of this is that we are seeing the good in many. On Saturday we had people arriving seeking help, so we opened our food pantry and emptied it out. Then others came and dropped off their hurricane supplies because they got through Ian okay. It is so heartening to see the good in people during times of despair.”

John Garvey, who lives a short distance from the Parish, lost his roof and vehicle to Ian, walked to the distribution point to find water and ice. “It was awful. We were doing okay through most of the storm, then – CRACK! – a section of the roof was gone. I hid my wife and children under the mattresses, and then we prayed as the rain kept coming. We thank God we are alive.”

Garvey and his family escaped the storm a bit dazed and with a few minor scrapes and bruises. While devastated by the destruction of his home, he was amazed when several good Samaritans came by and put a tarp on his roof and helped clean out the house of broken furniture. “We are blessed. We are alive. I can’t ask for more.”

While the storm struck the area on Sept. 28-29, the assessment of the damages to Diocesan buildings is ongoing as accessibility and the widespread nature of the destruction make a complete assessment difficult. To date, this work is not possible on Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, and Pine Island where access is restricted to rescue personnel after massive storm surge overwhelmed the islands.

Meanwhile, work crews are arriving daily at Parishes and Schools to help mitigate any further damage and make estimates on what work needs to be done to get churches and other facilities repaired as quickly as possible. Diocesan teams are already working to temporarily fix roofs by clearing debris and sealing them while also airing out interiors of structures that had water intrusion.

Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education, has also been visiting schools and accessing damage while inquiring about the teachers, faculty, and families.

“Our school buildings, for the most part, did not suffer major damage, but many of our families and many of our teachers have suffered extensive losses,” Father Belmonte said. “Our schools in areas that were undamaged have responded generously to the needs and challenges of other schools and school families and teachers.”

The most serious damage was at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice, with one section of roof torn off with ensuing water damage to first and second floor classrooms. Other damage at schools included leaky roofs and walls, damaged fencing and other impacts from winds and debris. While all 15 schools closed ahead of Ian, by Oct. 5, six had reopened with Father Belmonte expecting more to open soon.

In a message to the Diocese in the wake of Hurricane Ian, Bishop Dewane stated: “During these challenging times, let us continue to offer prayers for those affected by the hurricane, and for all who have come to their assistance. Let us pray for the souls of those who sadly have lost their lives and for the consolation of their families. Please know you remain in my prayers and may Our Lady of Mercy continue to intercede on our behalf. May God bless you all.”

Catholic Charities responds to Ian with compassion, water and food

In the days before Hurricane Ian struck Southwest Florida, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. was preparing for the worst, making plans to mobilize as soon as the storm clouds cleared.

Since that time, Catholic Charities has set up 8 Hurricane Ian disaster response Points of Distribution (POD), helping to bring water, food and aid to those who need it. Arcadia, Cape Coral, Wauchula, Naples, Bonita Springs and North Port each have one location, and there are three in Fort Myers. Additional unofficial distribution points have opened as the need has increased in parts of Lee and Charlotte counties.

At the Elizabeth K. Galeana Center on Michigan Avenue in Fort Myers there has been a steady stream of cars coming through the parking lot since the Sunday after the storm.

“There is such great need here,” explained Alex Olivares, District Director for Lee, Glades and Hendry counties. “The people who could least afford to lose power and subsequently lose work because of the storm, are really struggling. It is great that we can be here to help.”

Within the first day, the on-hand supplies of emergency food and water were exhausted and then the Harry Chapin Food Bank in Fort Myers made an emergency delivery. Subsequently, FEMA trucks began arriving in Fort Myers and at the other PODs.

“We were getting low on supplies but now we can help everyone,” Olivares said on Oct. 4, 2022. “Many people are hurting and there is no drinkable water anywhere.”

Nearly all of the Catholic Charities workers and volunteers helping to distribute emergency supplies in Fort Myers had some sort of damage from Ian. Few had power or drinkable water. One worker lost his home when storm surge came up the Caloosahatchee River into Fort Myers. Someone who has an Airbnb home in Ave Maria offered their place for the rest of October for free.

“They lost everything, so that is amazing,” Olivares said. “He has six people who needed a place to stay, now they are out of the area of destruction and have the time to put their lives back together.”

As each car arrived, shouts of “thank you” and “do you have ice” could be heard from the grateful people. “We helped a few hundred the first day and have doubled that since,” Olivares said. “We will keep going as long as there is a need.”

Jane Petry of Fort Myers arrived at the Galeana Center with her three children looking for water and food after a corner of their home was partially crushed by a tree. “The wind was terrible and then the neighbor’s tree fell and hit the house. We were all in another part of the house and are okay. We are still there because we don’t have the money to go anywhere, and we don’t want to go to a shelter and leave our home alone. This food and water will help us get through the next few days. Thank you all for being here.”

At the Centro Juan Diego Catholic Charities offices in Bonita Springs next to St. Leo the Great Parish, the scene was similar with a huge number of vehicles arriving early in the morning before the POD was operational and staffed.

Paulina Matias, who is part of the Catholic Charities Disaster Relief Services, said the need is great for the poorest in the community where damage was widespread. The impacts are being compounded by the loss of a businesses in the region, cutting off a livelihood for many.

Because of the losses and demand for help, Matias said there is a need for donations of food as well as gift cards to local stores.

“We are being proactive in helping people,” Matias said as adults and youth from St. Leo the Great helped sort and bag for later distribution. “We are already providing counseling and telling people how to apply for all available local, state and federal assistance. Every little bit helps. As time goes on, the magnitude of the loss will become clearer. The stories of the people coming in and sharing what they lost and horrors that they saw. We are here for their immediate needs and for the long-term.”

The scenes are being repeated at all of the distribution points. The need continues to grow as the length of time without power and nothing open for many miles put a stress on the poor. Even when power returned, drinking water is often unsafe. Access to gasoline and other necessities is making a very difficult situation harder for people.

At the POD at San Pedro Parish in North Port, the food pantry was emptied the first day before additional help arrived in the community inundated by 10-feet of river flooding. By Oct. 2, Florida National Guard members helped load vehicles, but they were replaced by volunteers after a few days.

Yuri Kaplan, of the Catholic Charities Disaster Response Logistics for the Diocese, scrambled from location to location using a forklift to unload pallets of supplies from trucks. “It is non-stop, but the work has to get done so people can get the help they need.”

River flooding of low-lying areas and standing water has made travel difficult, especially when Interstate 75 was closed in North Port for more than a day and the U.S. 41 bridges in Punta Gorda for several days.

Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice CEO Eddie Gloria, who has been on the go nearly non-stop since before and after the storm, is coordinating deliveries of supplies from FEMA and Catholic Charities USA, as well as other agencies. After a few early misunderstandings, the flow became steady and more coordinated.

“We had trucks scheduled to arrive that didn’t arrive, while others couldn’t find our sites because phones and mapping systems were unavailable,” Gloria explained how cellular service was spotty at best. “The first few days after a disaster are always the hardest. Catholic Charities was there on the ground and open after the storm and we will be there to serve the people within the Diocese of Venice.”

Because of the long-term need, Bishop Frank J. Dewane and Catholic Charities sent out a plea to the faithful and Parishes across the Diocese to connect with a distribution point to help augment the incoming supplies. While food and water are in urgent need now, there is a steady supply coming in. The need is transitioning to other necessities such as canned goods, rice, beans, cereal, pasta, oil and, diapers. household cleaning supplies.

There is also going to be a great financial need, with assistance to help people pay for rent or utility bills while out of work and much more, so gift cards are being accepted to help replace lost clothes and other items.

Those interested in supporting can do so online at www.catholiccharitiesdov.org, or send a check to Hurricane Ian Recovery to: Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., 5824 Be Ridge Road PMB 409, Sarasota, FL 34233-5065. Or call 941-488-5581.

Stories in wake of Ian

To put it simply, Hurricane Ian was a monster. The true scope is still unknown more than a week after landfall.

Following the passage of Hurricane Ian, people emerged from their homes to find the world turned upside-down. The spectrum of damage to the communities within the Diocese of Venice ranges from obliterated homes, floods and piles of yard debris and every impact in between.

Below are a few stories of the hurricane from around the Diocese:

Taking shelter

Father Patrick O’Connor, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales and Pastor of Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers, decided to ride out the storm inside the Parish church with Parochial Vicar Father Jose del Olmo. This was safe a bet because the new church was completed in 2011 to the highest standards. The area around the church is a very poor migrant community with many manufactured homes or houses built in the 1950s. Because many sought safety in the church when Hurricane Irma approached in 2017, Father O’Connor posted on all the doors of the church and Parish offices a list of nearby shelters. When the storm began most went to shelters, but when it got worse, the church was the safest place.

“It was crazy!” Father O’Connor explained. “Lots of families… We could not even open most of the doors because of the wind.” Everyone was safe as the church came through unscathed. However, the Parish Hall lost roof tiles, and San Jose Mission in South Fort Myers, which is administered by Jesus the Worker, was inundated with flood waters. In the days after the storm passed, volunteers cleaned out the Mission church and hall as best they could. Since then, the Parish has a been abuzz with activity of relief efforts to help the community with needed emergency supplies with the assistance of several organizations, including Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc.

Time for a barbecue

Nestled due east of Bradenton, St. Michael Parish in Wauchula sits in Hardee County, a rural community that prides itself on independence and resilience in times of adversity. Hurricane Ian has been the toughest challenge so far, but the spirit of the people remains strong as many families recover from the double hit of wind damage followed soon after by massive river flooding which caused hundreds to lose their homes to the Peace River. The Parish has a robust food pantry which is operated by a dedicated group of volunteers and the religious sisters who serve the community, Servant Sisters of the Virgin of Matara. With power out, it became clear that the food in the freezers would not last. So, a barbecue was planned for the night after the storm on Sept. 29. This was such a huge success; hot meals have been served each night since. Families emptied their own refrigerators and freezers before the food spoiled so the food was plentiful. Despite not having electricity, parish volunteers utilized a propane-powered stove and oven, outdoor grills and battery-powered lanterns to cook a hot meal each day following the hurricane. Outside large pots of pasta boiled while lasagna cooked in the kitchen of the Parish Hall. Since the storm, about 420 hot meals have been served each night. During the day, as more and more relief supplies arrive, distributions are taking place helping people get through each day.

Big truck, no forklifts, no problem

When three semitrailers full of supplies arrived at St. Katharine Drexel parish in Cape Coral on Tuesday, Sept. 4, and no forklifts were to be seen, a call went out for help. And help arrived in the form of dozens of volunteers, including many from the Parish Youth Outreach. These teens stepped up to help. The Cape Coral region experienced extreme damage and flooding and, even a week later, less than 20 percent of the city had power and few had drinkable water. The supplies being unloaded were desperately needed, even by some of the teens helping. Pastor Father Ricky Varner praised the youth for assisting in the difficult conditions.

Mary Statue spared

Some of the worst damage in the northern portions of the Diocese was to the roof of Incarnation Parish Church. Large chunks of copper roofing peeled off and were scattered everywhere. Some landed in the parking lot, others into carefully manicured gardens. One large piece that flew off the church building landed in a prayer garden where a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary stands and can be seen through a window as the faithful enter church. A post on social media from the Parish read: “Several large pieces fell here surrounding our Blessed Mother statue, but thankfully causing no harm!”

Still delivering meals

St. Vincent de Paul Society in Naples delivered Meals on Wheels amid Hurricane Ian’s destruction. Thanks to volunteers and staff, the Society was able to deliver shelf stable food to those who rely on Meals on Wheels for their daily meals. The Society posted to social media a day after Ian passed, “The destruction that was seen while delivering was truly heartbreaking.”

A new skylight

As the hurricane blew through Sarasota, the storm created a new skylight for Bishop Frank J. Dewane. Two large branches from an oak tree pierced the ceiling of his living room, causing damage and water to intrude. “I have two trees in my home, but I didn’t plant them,” Bishop Dewane said when explaining the damage to parishioners at Incarnation Parish in Sarasota on Oct. 1. The Bishop said he feels blessed to be alive after such a close encounter with an oak tree. “My issues are nothing compared to others who are going through a much greater loss. Roofs can be repaired. If not, I will decorate them for Christmas. The true focus now is on repairing the lives of those who are suffering in our Diocese.”

Check back in the next issue of The Florida Catholic for more stories of hope in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

Ian Response: Catholic Charities disaster response sites

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., the charitable arm of the Diocese of Venice, has opened Disaster Response Sites throughout Southwest Florida, to aid those suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. Also, some Catholic Parishes, with the help of their local community, are setting up their own emergency supply distribution centers.

“Catholic Charities and The Diocese of Venice are working together to ensure that we are doing all we can,” said the Bishop Frank J. Dewane. “There are many in need of help, and we are grateful for those who have volunteered their time, talents, or resources in the service of our brothers and sisters in need. Please join me in continuing to pray for the safety and recovery of those affected by the hurricane, and for all the first responders and helpers. May God bless you.”

Confirmed Disaster Response Sites to date are listed below. At all sites, unless otherwise noted, Catholic Charities will be providing food, water, and other essential supplies, and will be accepting donations of goods and supplies.

For more information, to donate, or volunteer, visit Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice online at www.catholiccharitiesdov.org. To donate to humanitarian efforts and necessary recovery efforts in the Diocese of Venice, such as the restoration and repair of churches and schools, please visit www.dioceseofvenice.org/hurricaneian.

CONFIRMED DISASTER RESPONSE SITES AS OF OCTOBER 5, 2022

COLLIER COUNTY

St. Elizabeth Seton Parish, 5225 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples, Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-1 p.m., and 3 p.m.-7 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

DESOTO COUNTY

St. Paul Parish (New Church), 1330 E Oak St., Arcadia, Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-1 p.m., and 3 p.m.-7 p.m., Saturdays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

HARDEE COUNTY

St. Michael Parish (Supporting the Servant Sisters of the Virgin of Matara), 408 Heard Bridge Road, Wauchula, Daily 10 a.m.-1 p.m., and 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Hot Meals from 6 p.m.-7 p.m. until Sunday, October 9. NOTE: For any other specific need, contact us at the Church at 863-773-4089, Ext. 1, Ext. 5

LEE COUNTY

Centro Juan Diego, 28360 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs, Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-1 p.m., and 3 p.m.-7 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Elizabeth Kay Galeana Center, 4235 Michigan Ave., Fort Myers, Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-1 p.m., and 3 p.m.-7 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Jesus the Worker Parish, 881 Nuna Ave., Fort Myers, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m.-1 p.m. (time subject to change)

St. Katharine Drexel Parish, 1922 SW 20th Ave/, Cape Coral, Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Note: St. Katharine Drexel Parish is offering drive-up distribution of food (MRE’s), water, sanitary baby wipes and Clorox disinfecting wipes.

SARASOTA COUNTY

San Pedro Parish, 4380 Tamiami Trail, North Port, Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-1 p.m., and 3 p.m.-7 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

DONATIONS ONLY SITE:

Sarasota Regional Office, 5055 North Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, 941-355-4680, Monday-Fridays 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Note: THIS IS A DONATIONS ONLY SITE. Catholic Charities will be accepting donations of food and water for Hurricane Ian victims.

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