Catholic Schools Week 2023 – Shining a light on Catholic Education

Each day is a celebration of educating the mind, body and spirit at Catholic Schools throughout the Diocese of Venice.

A more public celebration will occur the week of Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023, when Diocesan schools will participate in a series of exciting activities as part of the 49th annual National Catholic Schools Week.

Sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), the week provides an annual opportunity to share the good news about Catholic Schools. The theme, “Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service.” focuses on the important spiritual, academic, and societal contributions provided by a Catholic education firmly rooted in the Truth of the Gospel.

Schools typically observe the annual celebration week with Masses, open houses and other activities for students, families, parishioners and community members. On the weekend starting Catholic Schools Week, look for students to speak at Masses to explain the benefits of supporting their education.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said Diocesan Catholic Schools not only educate the mind but also the soul, teaching the students to have a concern for their brothers and sisters, whether they live in the same country, down the street, or in their classroom through prayer, and the teaching of values, morals and virtues.

“Through this broader approach, the student begins to learn, to reach out, and to touch the other, seeing for themselves that we are all made in the image and likeness of God,” Bishop Dewane said.

Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education said this reality is what distinguishes Catholic schools in the Diocese from all others.

“The basics of any education in a Catholic school has to do with learning and training people to think critically, to understand what is the truth. By truth, we mean capital T – as in Jesus,” Father Belmonte explained. “It’s also about training their wills and teaching them to make good decisions so that they can do the good that is needed by not only their families and themselves but by society.”

Diocesan Schools have a unique kindergarten through 12 STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and mathematics) curriculum using robotics as a catalyst for success.

“We prepare our students for today and the future,” Bishop Dewane said. “We give the students what they need for success in this challenging world, and our STREAM and robotics programs is enhance what we were already doing. Therefore, when it was decided to expand this initiative, it was clearly worth doing throughout all grade levels.”

Father Belmonte said the Diocese of Venice is the only Diocese in the country to take this expansive approach to STREAM, which is all connected to the faith. Diocesan Catholic school students learn virtues such as truth, beauty, and goodness, which are transcendental. The additional “Gifts of Christ,” are prudence affability, humility, and fortitude. Added to the robotics program this year, are courage, diligence, solidarity and charity.

“To offer innovation from the earliest ages puts us ahead of other schools,” Father Belmonte said. “Yes, it’s the study of STREAM, but it’s much more than that. This is about the education of the soul.”

Bishop Dewane said the Diocesan robotic STREAM initiative is being done in a context of why Catholic schools exist. “We are helping students to discover who they are as men and women of faith, as we let our students learn these virtues that Christ calls us to, time after time in the Gospel.”

Catholic Schools Week 2023 comes at a time when 10 of the 15 Diocesan schools are continuing their recovery from damage incurred during Hurricane Ian. Most significantly, the storm disrupted the lives of school families, faculty and staff.

“Everybody in the schools and communities of faith throughout the Diocese came together,” Bishop Dewane said. “People helped each other and helped their schools to work in a safe way to create new learning spaces so the students could be back at school quickly and feel comfortable again. My thanks and patience to everyone, and compliments for the adaptive nature taken to make everything happen so fast.”

Father Belmonte said Hurricane Ian brought school communities together and when possible, teams from schools went into their neighborhoods to help individuals and families pick up the pieces of their destroyed homes. In addition, there was an outpouring of support from across the region, state and country, funneled through the Diocese, which was directed at helping families and schools recover.

“The response was remarkable,” Father Belmonte added. “It was also healthy to get students back into the classrooms as quickly as possible, while the parents appreciated how well we responded.”

The 15 Diocesan Catholic Schools, serving 5,837 students, is an investment in the future and they serve as the heart of the Diocese, building the Catholic leadership of tomorrow. Schools are in Bradenton, Sarasota, Venice, Port Charlotte, Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples, Ave Maria and Sebring.

Scholarships are available to help ease some of the financial burden, and families should not assume that they wouldn’t qualify. In addition to school, Parish and Diocesan support, state scholarships such as Step Up For Students and McKay are also available.

Consistent academic excellence prevails at Diocesan Catholic schools, with the three high schools graduating every student and 99 percent going on to higher education, many with academic scholarships in hand. Students in all of the schools score at the advanced level on national tests while being grounded in the knowledge of the Catholic Faith.

To learn more about Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/catholicschools.

The January 2023 Relevant Radio podcast of “Witnessing Faith with Bishop Dewane” discusses Catholic Schools. To listen to this month’s show, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/our-bishop/.

Catholic Schools Week 2022: Recognizing contribution of Catholic Education

Faith, service and fun were cornerstones of Catholic Schools Week 2022 celebrations throughout the Diocese of Venice the week of Jan. 30 to Feb. 5. These activities highlight the everyday beneficial impact of Catholic Education, through devout faith, academic excellence and selfless service, on the local, regional, state, national and global levels.

One of the main highlights at many of the schools is Grandparents Day, a time to recognize and honor these key members of the faith community who pass down traditions, values, and the faith to the following generations.

Grandparents Day at St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Academy in Sarasota was celebrated Feb. 4. The focus was Mass, celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane in the Zazarino Center. The student body of both schools were present as were more than 100 visiting grandparents who were able to sit with their grandchildren.

“Our Diocesan Schools are vibrant Catholic communities which work to support children in a very supreme way, recognizing and promoting their greatest potential,” Bishop Dewane said. “God has given individual gifts to the students and our faculty and staff offer the opportunity for each individual to grow and develop into the man or woman of God they are called to be. Grandparents play a vital role in that.”

A grandparent has no retirement age, the Bishop continued, in the influence they have in shaping the lives of their grandchildren and to young people everywhere.

“In a world where the young are threatened in many ways, grandparents serve a role in the transmission of values and faith,” Bishop Dewane said. “The young respond to you by your presence while helping them strive to answer the call of God in their life.”

The St. Martha and St. Mary celebration also included a presentation of a sneak-peek scene from the coming spring play, “Aladdin.” Then the students escorted their grandparents on a tour of the school and visit to their classrooms to meet their teachers and friends.

At Donahue Catholic Academy of Ave Maria Parish, the week ended on Feb. 5, with a traditional outdoor Eucharistic Procession which included the praying of the rosary and stations for Adoration.

Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education, was present for the Donahue Academy procession, as well as several other events at different Catholic schools throughout the week.

For example, during a Feb. 3 celebration at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples, Father Belmonte learned how the school is using a Devotional Project to promote a celebration of the saints. To mark the occasion, dozens of students and teachers dressed as their favorite saints and shared stories about the life of the saint they represented.

Earlier in the week, St. Elizabeth Seton hosted a visit of representatives from the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. This included a fly-in visit by one of the helicopters, as well as a visit by tactical response vehicles and even one of the patrol boats.

Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice celebrated our nation Feb. 2, with a Living Rosary. The students prayed for all 50 states, government leaders and representatives, and all citizens of the United States.

Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers celebrated Catholic Schools Week with an all-school Mass at neighboring St. Cecilia Parish, an Academic Quiz Bowl (won by the teachers), and the presenting of academic awards.

During a ceremony on Feb. 3, three senior student athletes of Bishop Verot announced their intention to compete at the collegiate level, including the following: Morgan Crawford, volleyball at Transylvania University; Dylan Peck, baseball at Florida State College at Jacksonville; and Madison Thomas, cross country and track at Florida Southern College.

The same day, two Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School students in Sarasota also announced where they will play in college: TJ Barton, football at Stetson University; and Wyatt Plattner, golf at the University of Cincinnati.

These are just a fraction of the activities which took place throughout Catholic Schools Week 2022 in the Diocese of Venice.

To learn more about Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/offices/offices-departments/catholicschools/.

Catholic Schools Week gets off to fun start

Every Catholic Schools Week is an opportunity to recognize the value and contributions of Catholic education to the Church and the world.

During the week of Jan. 30 to Feb. 5, 2022, Diocesan Catholic schools celebrated their schools, their Parishes, the nation, vocations, their families and their teachers in a variety of ways.

At St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton, it was decided to bring in a former student to speak to the students, Miss Florida 2021 Leah Roddenberry.

The youngest of five children to receive a Catholic school education from kindergarten through high school (St. Joseph and Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota), Roddenberry credits that experience with her ability to overcome many obstacles in her life while achieving success.

During a visit to her former school, Roddenberry met with two groups of students while getting a tour of the school grounds. She reflected not only that everything looked very familiar, but also that the visit brought back many wonderful memories.

Upon arrival at the school, Roddenberry was greeted by some of the staff, including Principal Deborah Suddarth who presented Miss Florida 2021 with images found in old yearbooks. Roddenberry was delighted to receive them and said she would cherish the gift forever.

Then it was on to meet the third-grade class of Juli Ferguson. There Roddenberry shared her story explaining how she loved going to St. Joseph and later Cardinal Mooney as both schools helped shape her into the confident young woman she is today. She noted that she started participating in pageants through the years and eventually became Miss Florida 2021 last June.

“What I really love about being able to visit Catholic schools, in particular, is talking about the faith, and how that’s really remained a constant value throughout my life,” she said. “I know that I wouldn’t be here as Miss Florida, and I wouldn’t be doing the job that I’m doing, without my faith and having that instilled in me at a young age. So, I know that sometimes being in school here you can question why you have to go to church – it’s different as some kids don’t have that in school – but it is something that you are going to appreciate down the road and I hope you can see the value in it today.”

Roddenberry later had lunch with members of the St. Joseph Catholic School National Junior Honor Society, along with Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education. The 22-year-old was Miss Tampa 2020, and an author of a children’s book and founder of “Be a LeadHER: Igniting the Spark Within.” She graduated from Cardinal Mooney in 2017. She represented Florida in the Miss America pageant in December 2021 where she finished in the top 10, her final pageant experience. The Miss Florida pageant is a scholarship program which Roddenberry said will help her finish her education nearly debt-free. She hopes to enter law school after her commitments as Miss Florida 2021 conclude.

During the weekend leading up to Catholic Schools Week, many Parishes throughout the Diocese hosted guest student speakers who were able to share how their school fosters a growth in faith, values, virtues, self-confidence, and much more.

St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Academy in Sarasota kicked off their celebration of Catholic Schools Week Jan. 31 in celebration of our nation with a morning prayer service. They had guest speaker, John Carkeet, Marketing Coordinator with the Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools and Public Affairs Noncommissioned Officer with the 75th Innovation Command, U.S. Army Reserve. In uniform, Carkeet shared his vision on faith and service. The prayer service also included the installation of a new Peace Pole on the playground which was filled with messages of peace from each class. New Buddy Benches will be placed near the Peace Pole in the coming days.

St. Ann Catholic School in Naples had a Community Service Day on Jan. 31, where students collected trash outside City Hall and spent some time with Mayor Teresa Heitmann, helped to clean Cambier Park, Naples beaches, as well as the School and Parish properties.

At nearby St. John Neumann Catholic High School, a group of students, and religious sisters, helped to load vehicles with food at the St. Elizabeth Seton Parish distribution on Feb. 1.

Things have been busy at St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral where students opened the week participating in a Math Olympics. Students participated in the “bobsled” and dividing and comparing decimals to determine fastest times. Just so everyone understands that Catholic Schools Week isn’t all serious – the second day was crazy hat day.

Meanwhile, at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton, after their exciting guest visitor on Monday, the next day a group of students delivered potted plants to the homes of families that border the school. Some students made the delivery while others created colorful, “Thank You!!!” signs.

Check out more about Catholic Schools Week in the Diocese of Venice by visiting www.facebook.com/DOVCatholicSchool and return to read the Feb. 11 e-edition of The Florida Catholic.

Catholic Schools Week showcases faith-based education

Behind all of the fun and games which take place during the celebration of Catholic Schools Week each year is faith, which shines forth in everything that is done at all 15 of the Diocesan Catholic schools.

Catholic Schools Week 2021 ran from Jan. 31- Feb. 6 with each day focused on different themes, including celebrating the students, faculty and staff, families, Parish, vocations, community and nation.

Using those broad topics as a springboard for different activities, the more than 4,600 students took part in fields days, STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math) activities, academic competitions, collections for the needy, chances for prayer and reflection as well as the celebration of Mass.

Father John Belmonte, SJ, Superintendent of Catholic Education for the Diocese of Venice, celebrated Mass at several Diocesan schools throughout the week. Father delivered the message of how Catholic schools are places of big dreams, bigger than academic or athletic success, but in fact they are where students will grow and deepen in their Faith.

“You are Catholic School students, born to follow your dreams, born to stand out, not stand back,” Father Belmonte told students at St. John Neumann Catholic High School on Feb. 2, 2021. Father stressed that Catholic school students must be known for their Faith. This obligation manifests itself in the way each student prays and believes; in how they make the world a better place; the service they render to the poor and needy; their intellect; and in the peace and love that they desire.

“Everyone should have evidence of the dreams that you have,” Father continued. “We long for Jesus Our Savior. We will meet Our Lord in this church right here at this altar. Let us receive Him into our hearts and souls, realizing this dream every time we celebrate the Most Holy Eucharist.”

In addition to participating in Mass during the week, schools also prayed the rosary. At St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton students wrote prayers for safety during the Pandemic, as well as prayers for their families, teachers, friends and country. The prayers were linked together to form a chain that circled the campus as a reminder that God is with them each day. At the Donahue Academy of Ave Maria, the entire student body participated in an outdoor Eucharistic Procession.

Each school had a day focused on celebrating vocations with most inviting a priest or religious to speak to students. This was done either in person or through a video chat. This time of sharing allowed the students to learn that these men and women have similar interests, but also how they chose to serve God by answering a call to a life in the priesthood or religious life. Some schools wrote letters to the priests and area religious, thanking them for the support of the faith-life at the school.

Throughout the week many schools also helped to give back to the community by collecting food, blankets or toiletries which were then presented to area charitable organizations.

This is only a small sample of what took place during Catholic Schools Week 2021 with the Diocese. Check with each school’s social media accounts to see descriptions and images from throughout the week.

To learn more about Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools, please visit www.dioceseofvenice.org/catholicschools.

Catholic Schools Week: Embracing Inevitable Change with Universal Truth

 

“The mission of schools is to develop a sense of truth, of what is good and beautiful.” ~ Pope Francis

Ben Hopper

I am humbled and honored to welcome the new decade as the interim Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Venice in Florida. Like our 324 teachers and 4,638 students returning to their classrooms eager to continue their journey of faith, knowledge and fellowship, so too am I ready to join them on their path to academic success, professional enrichment and spiritual fulfillment.

Like every new year, 2020 offers each of us a fresh start. It’s a perfect time to reject bad habits, announce admirable goals and initiate innovative ideas. Although many people and organizations shun the inherent challenges of change, Catholic schools welcome them with open hearts and minds.

The 15 schools at the Diocese of Venice constantly seek ways to enhance their curriculum, improve their facilities and serve their communities in ways that develop the whole child—mind, body and spirit. This holistic approach to education requires collaboration far beyond our campuses. Cardinal Mooney High School in Sarasota, for example, recently raised $2 million in donations to renovate a classroom building and its media center and to upgrade its sports fields. The Mayor of Venice visited Epiphany Cathedral School to personally thank its students for collecting thousands of items to help the victims of Hurricane Dorian. St. John Neumann High School in Naples boasts nearly a dozen seniors who each received more than $100,000 in college scholarship offers, while St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton attracted hundreds of people to participate in its first ever 5K race that raised funds and awareness for the school while demonstrating the benefits of physical fitness.

These success stories stem from our schools’ ability and willingness to change. Gone are the days where dry textbooks, dusty chalkboards and rigid lectures dominated the classroom. In their place are tablets, smartboards and interactive lesson plans developed through cutting edge technology and dynamic teaching methods. These advancements provide a more seamless infusion of art, science, language and mathematics with our Catholic teachings.

The National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) offers a forum for America’s Catholic Schools to showcase their contribution to society: Catholic Schools Week. Beginning Sunday, Jan. 26, the Diocese of Venice will join more than 6,000 Catholic Schools across America in this annual, seven-day celebration of our Faith-based education. Our schools and parishes have been busy planning fun and dynamic events to commemorate the week with open houses, special masses and community engagements. Although themes and presentations vary, the focus of Catholic School Week never wavers: to promote the value of Catholic education for our youth, our communities and our nation.

Statistics support our bold claim. According to the NCEA, 99 percent of Catholic School students graduate from high school, and nearly 87 percent attend a four-year university. Approximately 40 percent of Catholic Schools are found in urban and rural communities, with the remainder residing in suburban and inner-city areas. Catholic Schools save the country more than $21 billion in public school funding, while Catholic school students and faculty enjoy a 12:1 student to staff ratio.

But numbers only tell part of the story. Although we champion change, we also proudly uphold the principles of Christ’s teachings laid out more than two millennia ago. As stated in Proverbs (22:6), “Start children off on the way they should go and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

Our schools are dedicated to show every student the way. A way that leads them to the truth. A truth so good, so beautiful, so irrefutable, that it has inspired thousands of families to entrust the Diocese of Venice to provide their children a Catholic education. Visit the www.dioceseofvenice.org to learn more about Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools.

Ben Hopper can be reached at bhopper@dioceseofvenice.org.

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