Longtime Pastor of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs dies

Father Joseph F. Connolly, Third Order Regular Franciscan (TOR), Pastor of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish in Sarasota, died Jan. 16, 2021, at the age of 79.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said the death of Father Connolly was a loss for the Diocese and in particular Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish, where he served as Pastor for 24 years.

“Father Connolly was a priest who had a passion for his ministry,” Bishop Dewane said. “Please pray for the repose of the soul of Father Connolly, for the people of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs who found inspiration by his good work, and for his family for whom this loss is particularly personal.”

Born on Aug. 9, 1941, in Springfield, Mass., Father Joe, as most called him, entered the Third Order Regular community in September 1959. He professed first vows on July 1, 1962. Educated at St. Francis College (now university) and St. Francis Seminary in Loretto, Pa., Father Connolly was ordained May 18, 1968 in Loretto.

After ordination he was assigned to a teaching position in Fairless Hills, Pa., where he eventually became principal. While teacher and principal he served on weekends in parishes in the Diocese of Trenton, N.J., including in Willingboro, and for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at a parish in Fairless Hills. From there, Father Connolly served at a parish in Cinnaminson, N.J.

It was in 1994 when Father Connolly was assigned to the Diocese of Venice where he was Parochial Vicar at St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton from 1994-1996. Father was then appointed as Pastor of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish in Sarasota in late 1996 where he served until his death.

While at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, Father Connolly was instrumental in forming the Mission of what became Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch and was on the Fundraising Board for Bethesda House of Catholic Charities in Sarasota. A special Padre Pio Shrine was dedicated on parish property February 23, 2006, at the direction of Father Connolly and funded by the Saint Padre Pio Society. This Shrine has since become nationally recognized.

For the Diocese of Venice, Father served on the Presbyteral Council, the College of Consultors, and was the longtime Spiritual Advisor of the Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women.

Known for making fettucine alfredo for guests, something he said was the only dish his fellow seminarians liked while he was in formation. In a 2004 interview with the Florida Catholic, Father Connolly was asked what person, other than Christ, he admires most. His reply was, “St. Francis of Assisi, although I don’t measure up to him, either.”

He was honored as a Golden Jubilarian at the 2018 Chrism Mass and on that occasion, Father noted with time he had gained a renewed perspective on his sacramental ministry. Reflecting on his own years as priest, Father said that “after 50 years of faithful service we jubilarians come to realize just how much God loves us; how Jesus works through us; and how the Holy Spirit still inspires us.”

In his final months of ministry, Father Connolly had a serious illness and was unable to celebrate Mass publicly out of health concerns and he regularly posted video messages to the faithful about his progress in recovery and how his prayers were always focused on the faithful and their spiritual wellbeing.

The Funeral arrangements for Father Connolly T.O. R., are as follows:

Viewing – 4-7 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish, 833 Magellan Drive, Sarasota;

Mass of Christian Burial – 11 a.m., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, at the Parish.

2021 to be busy across Diocese

Opportunities abound for the faithful of the Diocese of Venice to grow closer to the Lord as the new year begins while continuing to deal with the impacts of the global COVID-19 Pandemic. A variety of larger Diocesan events are scheduled or in the planning stages while at the same time numerous Parishes are in the process of either completing or starting major construction work. Therefore, 2021 is sure to be an exciting year for Catholics across Southwest Florida.

In the coming months there will be the Ordination to the Priesthood of two men, a new initiative to curb the impacts of pornography on society, small and large conferences, Masses for couples celebrating significant wedding anniversaries, opportunities to promote the sanctity of life, celebrations of all sorts, as well as the continuation of the “Year of St. Joseph.”

With the blessing of Bishop Frank J. Dewane, such activities will take place throughout the Diocese as part of the continuing effort to emerge with a new purpose in the wake of the darkest days of the Pandemic. All of this will be done while following the guidelines of social distancing, face coverings and extensive sanitizing (cleaning) which continues to take place. These measures remain, not only to ensure the safety of the public attending Mass or other events, but for priests, staff and volunteers who serve throughout the Diocese.

Two of the most important occasions to grow in the Faith are the annual Women’s and Men’s Conferences at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers. Each year captivating speakers help bring focus to the faith-life of participants. The Conferences are from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and include Mass with Bishop Dewane, Adoration, the chance for Confession, listening to presenters and enjoying lunch. The Men’s Conference is Feb. 20, 2021, while the Women’s Conference is March 13, 2021. For more information please contact the Office of Evangelization at evangelization@dioceseofvenice.org or 941-484-9543..

For all couples celebrating a significant wedding anniversary in 2021, Bishop Dewane will be the celebrant of Masses in your honor. This year, to allow for appropriate social distancing, each location will have two Masses, 10 a.m. and noon on Feb. 6, 2021, at Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Ave. W., Venice, and 10 a.m. and noon on March 6, 2021, at St. Leo the Great Parish, 28290 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs. All registration is being handled through local Parishes with seating commitments confirmed at least one week before the Mass you wish to attend.

The Office of Respect Life will be busy throughout 2021 with a variety of in-person and virtual activities all to raise awareness about important issues regarding the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. First up is the 23rd annual Sarasota Prayer Walk for Life on Jan. 22, 2021 outside of the Planned Parenthood in downtown Sarasota. Bishop Dewane will celebrate Mass at 8:30 a.m. at St. Martha Parish, and immediately following, participants will gather for the prayer walk. Space is limited for Mass, so registration is required at www.dioceseofvenice.org/2021prayerwalk. The Mass will be livestreamed through the Diocesan Facebook page and will be shared with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s 9 Days for Life campaign.

Two weeks later, Feb. 2-3, 2021, the faithful will be able to participate in the Virtual Catholic Days at the Capitol courtesy of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops at flaccb.org/cdac. Finally, there will be an opportunity to participate in the national 40 Days for Life Spring Campaign during Lent in Fort Myers and Sarasota then for the Fall Campaign (October) at multiple locations in the Diocese.

New this year, the Diocese will be participating in Safe Haven Sunday, March 7, 2021, to raise awareness about the harmfulness of pornography in the family and society. Pornography creates unsafe environments for children and confuses others about attitudes towards sex and marriage. It is a moral issue, therefore this day of awareness will explain the impacts pornography can have on marriages, families, and culture, while providing helpful resources for all. Detailed information will be shared with the faithful about how to combat this scourge in the week leading up to Safe Haven Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Diocese continues to be dedicated to celebrating the “Year of St. Joseph,” which began on March 19, 2020, the Feast of St. Joseph. The prayers of the Diocese, as directed by Bishop Dewane, are focused on the Saint who is the foster-father of Jesus and the Protector of the Universal Church. In light of Pope Francis recently dedicating a “Year of St. Joseph,” the Diocesan celebration will continue through December 8, 2021. A “Year of St. Joseph,” webpage (https://dioceseofvenice.org/a-year-of-st-joseph/) was added to the Diocesan website for prayers, devotions and general information. Meanwhile, the Diocesan Department of Catholic Education started a St. Joseph Devotional Project to promote a dedication to the Saint while at the same time developing a devotional life of both children and adults into 2021.

In the coming months, Bishop Dewane will preside over a variety of celebrations which occur each year, including the Rite of Election in February when Bishop Dewane welcomes those in RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) who will be fully entering the Church at the Easter Vigil, a Mass for Victims of Abuse, and later in the year a Veterans Day Mass, the 25th anniversary celebration of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center, a Red Mass for legal professionals and more. It is also expected that two men will be Ordained to the Priesthood by the Bishop in early summer.

Throughout 2021 there will be a variety of Parish-based celebrations to include the 50th Anniversary of the founding of San Marco Parish on March Island; the opening of a new church for St. Paul Parish in Arcadia; the completion of roof repairs for Ss. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish in Bradenton; groundbreakings for Parish Centers at St. William Parish in Naples and Our Lady of Mercy in Boca Grande; the renovation of property that previously functioned churches into Parish Centers at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee and Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch; and the completion of extensive audio-visual upgrades to Epiphany Cathedral in Venice and Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers. These are just samples of the ongoing projects and work underway to support Parishes as they take action now for the benefit of future generations.

As 2021 moves forward, check the Diocesan website (www.dioceseofvenice.org) frequently for information about these and other upcoming events. As always, check the weekly Florida Catholic e-Edition to read stories and view images from these and other happenings across the Diocese. If you would like to read the story about life in the Diocese during 2020, please visit www. https://dioceseofvenice.org/looking-back-on-turbulent-2020/.


New group of Permanent Diaconate Aspirants studying hard

There are currently 13 men who are off and running in their studies as part of the Permanent Diaconate Formation Class of 2025.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane selected the aspirants after each was nominated and vetted through an extensive screening process. A key characteristic of those selected is that each has a strong family foundation and most importantly they have a deep understanding of the Faith.

The 13 aspirants come from a variety of personal and professional backgrounds, representing all areas of the Diocese of Venice forming the largest aspirant class in Diocesan history, explained Diocesan Permanent Diaconate Director of Formation Deacon Bob Gaitens.

Bishop Dewane said of the men chosen: “Each has answered his own call to serve Holy Mother Church in a particular way, as a Permanent Deacon. The Class of 2025 is on a journey of Faith that will bring them and their family closer to the Lord.”

The aspirants began their five-year formation process in September 2020, with classes taking place at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota. They have already completed their first semester of classes (Old Testament Part 1 and Theology of Orders).  Now they will start on Part II of the Old Testament and History of the Diaconate.

“The beauty of the Class of 2025 is that in their first semester they have coalesced into a very tight group and the relationships have already grown to where they are meeting outside of class to deepen their love of Christ and their Catholic Faith,” Deacon Gaitens explained. “They meet virtually on Zoom between formation weekends as well as attending Diocese sponsored events as a group.”

There are currently more than 65 active Permanent Deacons serving in Parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice, including seven who were ordained by Bishop Dewane in August 2021. The mission of the Permanent Deacons of the Diocese is to serve. They serve as ministers of the Word, where they proclaim the Gospel, preaching and teaching in the name of the Church; helping the needy; serving the needs of others; as ministers of the Sacrament of Baptism, leading the faithful in prayer; witnessing marriages; conducting wake and funeral services;.

Reflecting the comments from many of his fellow members of the Class of 2025, Steve Jendrysik, of Incarnation Parish in Sarasota, said he was honored and humbled to be selected. “It has already been a wonderful and enriching experience. I look forward to the opportunity to serve the Church in a greater capacity.”

The following constitute the Permanent Diaconate Class of 2025:

  • Richard E. Dahn, St. Agnes Parish, Naples;
  • Craig J. Dutka, Holy Cross Parish, Palmetto;
  • Richard A. Hellenbrand, St. Andrew Parish, Cape Coral;
  • Thomas A. Januszka, St. Francis Cabrini Parish, Parrish;
  • Stephen L.Jendrysik, Incarnation Parish, Sarasota,
  • James N. Jenkins, St. William Parish, Naples;
  • Odonel Joseph, St. Peter the Apostle Parish, Naples;
  • Ramon R. Kanacheril, St. Vincent DePaul Parish, Fort Myers;
  • Mark A. Osterhaus, St. Agnes Parish, Naples;
  • Fernando L. Rivera-Lugo, St. Jude Parish, Sarasota;
  • Orlando A. Rubiano, St. Vincent DePaul Parish, Fort Myers;
  • Jeffrey P. Tenbarge, St. Peter the Apostle Parish, Naples;
  • John-William M. Trainer III, St. Peter the Apostle Parish, Naples.

Long-time Pastor in Avon Park dies

Father Gerald P. Grogan, Pastor for 27 years at Our Lady of Grace Parish in Avon Park, died Jan.10, 2021. He was 82.

Father Grogan was born March 8, 1938 in County Cork, Ireland, the third of seven children. He graduated from St. John’s College Seminary in Waterford, Ireland, and then St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach before being Ordained to the Priesthood on Sept. 11, 1960 in Birr, County Offaly, Ireland, for the Diocese of Miami. Father served in parishes in Coral Gables, Fort Lauderdale, North Miami, Miami Beach, Homestead, Port St. Lucie and Cocoa Beach, as well as at schools in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. He also later received an advanced degree from Barry University in Miami.

Before the Diocese of Venice was established in 1984, Father Grogan was named Pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Avon Park on March 16, 1979 and remained there, overseeing expansions of the Church and additional construction, before retiring on March 8, 2007.

For the Diocese of Venice, Father Grogan was a member of the Presbyteral Council and Priest Personnel Board and coordinator of the pre-Cana program in the Eastern Deanery. After his retirement, Father continued to assist at Our Lady of Grace, as well as at St. James Parish in Lake Placid and St. Catherine Parish in Sebring.

A Funeral Mass for Father will be 11 a.m., Jan. 18, 2021, Our Lady of Grace Parish, 595 E. Main St., Avon Park.

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Father Gerald P. Grogan and for the consolation of his family. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God Rest in Eternal Peace.

News briefs for the week of Jan. 15, 2020

Fort Myers school installs new floors

Thanks to the contributions of generous donors, St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers recently started implementing Phase 2 of its “Health and Safety Initiatives.” During the Christmas break carpet was replaced in seven Middle School classrooms, with laminate wood floors. In addition, the school added flexible classroom furniture which support collaborative learning within recommended social distancing parameters.

All-school Mass held for high schoolers in Fort Myers

The entire student body of Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers gathered for Mass in the Viking Stadium on Jan. 6, 2021, the Feast of the Epiphany. The outdoor Mass, with students sitting in the stands or on the football field, was the first time all students were able to gather together for Mass since the start of the Academic Year. Previous Masses had been divided by classes or grades, due to the need for social distancing. During the Mass, students took time to remember Joe Ilnitzki, an English teacher, who joined the faculty in the fall and died during the Christmas break.

Knights collect shoes and socks for homeless vets

The Knights of Columbus Council 11425 of St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers had a successful Shows and Socks for Homeless Veterans drive. This was the fourth such annual collection, which brought in more than 200 pairs of shoes and 500 pairs of socks and will be distributed to area agencies which support homeless veterans. Socks are one of most requested items for the homeless.

Students plant and maintain garden

Returning from Christmas vacation, second graders from Ms. Binky Ravazzoli’s class at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota worked hard on Jan. 6, 2021, assisting in the cleaning of the school Garden Beds and in planting new lettuce, beans, corn, carrots and rosemary. The fresh herbs and vegetables from the garden are eaten by the students throughout the year. The garden is also used as a hands-on learning tool to teach environmental awareness while having the responsibility of maintaining and later benefitting from their hard work.

Catholic Charities Ball Feb. 13

Please join us Feb. 13, 2021, for an elegant evening at one of Sarasota’s beautiful Jewels on the Bay, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Bring your valentine to an elegant evening featuring exquisite cuisine and wine pairing by Michael’s on East. The beautiful and unique setting of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens reminds us that, despite this pandemic, we are surrounded by God’s majesty and Mother Nature’s glory. The event begins at 6 p.m. with cocktails. Tickets are $350 with a limit of 150 guests. For more information call 941-909-7817 or email hilles.hughes@catholiccharitiesdov.org.

Faith & Wine Lee County Virtual Event Jan. 21

Faith & Wine of Lee County will hold its next Virtual Zoom Event at 7 p.m., Jan. 21, 2021. The guest speaker is Kitty Cleveland on the topic “Beloved: Finding My Identity in Christ.” Registration is now open for this free event at faithandwineleecounty.com.


As Bishop Frank J. Dewane continues to listen to public health data and hear from Priests and Parishioners about the experiences at Diocesan Parishes, the dispensation given to attend Sunday Mass has been extended indefinitely. At the same time, Bishop Dewane invites the Catholic Faithful who are able, to return to their Parish for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Please check the Diocese of Venice website for any updates.


The Diocese of Venice will continue livestreaming the Mass through the Diocese website (www.dioceseofvenice.org) and Facebook pages from the Catholic Center in Venice at 9:15 a.m. daily as the dispensation to attend Mass remains.

Act of Spiritual Communion

It has long been a Catholic understanding that when circumstances prevent one from receiving Holy Communion, it is possible to make an Act of Spiritual Communion which is a source of grace. Spiritual Communion means uniting one’s self in prayer with Christ’s sacrifice and worshiping Him in His Body and Blood.

The most common reason for making an Act of Spiritual Communion is when a person cannot attend Mass, as is the case during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Acts of Spiritual Communion increase our desire to receive sacramental Communion and help us avoid the sins that would make us unable to receive Holy Communion worthily.

For all who will not be able to receive the Holy Eucharist in person, consider this special prayer, an Act of Spiritual Communion:

My Jesus,
I believe that You
are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things,

and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace You as if You were already there

and unite myself wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You.

Online Resources

A special coronavirus webpage is located on the Diocese of Venice website at www.dioceseofvenice.org. Resources include links to the Mass, the prayer for an Act of the Spiritual Communion, videos of the Stations of the Cross, Divine Mercy Chaplet and Pray the Rosary. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website, www.usccb.org, also posts the daily Mass readings.

Parish donations

During this challenging time in the life and mission of the Diocese of Venice, our Parishes face increased risk of financial shortfalls due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and its effects on everyday life. Parishes depend on weekly financial gifts to continue their ministries, especially in this critical time of crisis. The Diocese of Venice is providing an online platform and encourages the Faithful to support their Parish. Please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/ways-to-give/parish-donations-online/ to donate to your Parish. The Faithful may also contribute through usual channels (e.g., envelopes, and through the Parish online giving option). Together we will navigate through this crisis, provide assistance to those in need, and secure the road ahead for the Parishes within the Diocese of Venice.

Looking back on turbulent 2020

Blessings and joy, which come with each New Year, offer the opportunity to reflect upon what has passed in the previous year with a new perspective.

While 2020 was filled with challenges, suffering and sadness from the impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic, it was also a time of amazing kindness, compassion and an opportunity for spiritual renewal as the faithful found new ways to grow closer to the Lord.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane guided the Diocese of Venice initially through the normal busy times of seasonal activities in the first two months of 2020 before quickly adapting to and addressing the changing realities of the Pandemic and its impact on the faithful for the balance of the year.

Parishes ceased operations temporarily and all reopened two months later under stringent health and safety guidelines. Livestreaming Masses, including with Bishop Dewane, became the norm and many are still available to this day.

The inability to gather physically Church impacted many, in particular the elderly, and efforts were made to reach out (via the mail, email, phone or socially distanced visits) to keep people connected. After Parishes were closed for public Mass on March 20, 2020, there were offerings of outdoor Sacrament of Reconciliation and Holy Communion, and, following the lead of Bishop Dewane, many offered a livestreamed Mass. The dispensation for the obligation to attend Sunday Mass for those who were ill, or fearful of illness, was extended into 2021.

While many events were cancelled during 2020, key Holy Week Masses were celebrated by Bishop Dewane and livestreamed from Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. Bishop Dewane expressed sadness of having these celebrations without the Faithful. In addition, many Diocesan offices, within their area of specialization, reached out with online programming and content which included prayers, devotions, links to information about saints and much more.

The nationwide shutdown threw many out of work creating a crisis, which Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. had never seen before, and responded with its full capacity. In addition to opening six emergency food pantries, Catholic Charities established hotlines to expedite the process of getting help (food, emergency funds or tele-mental health) for the community. From late March through December, Catholic Charities distributed more than 2 million pounds of food and helped more than 170,000 individuals. The generosity of the faithful shined forth during the crisis as requests for donations were answered.

When the restrictions caused by the Pandemic struck, the Diocese of Venice Prison Outreach quickly facilitated virtual access to Mass, which continued throughout the year. In addition, digital religious education programming and other materials on the teachings of the Catholic Church, were made available to prisoners statewide.

Following the lead of the State of Florida, Parishes reopened for public Mass on May 18, 2020. This was accomplished by implementing a variety of guidelines (social distancing, face coverings and extensive sanitizing) not only to ensure the safety of the public attending Mass, but for those priests, staff and volunteers who serve at the Parishes. All of those guidelines remain in effect.

Celebrations, which would have brought large crowds, together were held with all dignity and tradition respected while distancing precautions were taken. Included among these events were the Ordination to the Priesthood of Father Franckel Fils-Aime on June 27, 2020; the Ordination to the Permanent Diaconate for the Diocese of Venice of seven men on Aug. 15, 2020; and the Ordination to the Transitional Diaconate of Diocesan Seminarian Alexander Pince on Aug. 29, 2020.

Other liturgical celebrations by Bishop Dewane which were made available through a livestream included the Mass for Victims of Abuse, Veterans Day Mass, Red Mass for legal professionals and more.

The annual Diocesan Youth Rally was different from its usual gathering of nearly 2,000. On Nov. 14, 2020, about 100 gathered at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples to hear music, talks and then participate in Mass with Bishop Dewane. At the same time, youth joined virtually from 20 satellite locations across the Diocese.

Diocesan Catholic Schools closed for an extended Spring Break before classes resumed virtually in late March 2020 for the balance of the academic year as everyone adapted to the ever-changing situation.

All Diocesan Catholic Schools successfully reopened for the new 2020-2021 Academic Year in August to both in-classroom and online instruction, including a full slate of athletics. This was accomplished by using lessons learned in the spring, combined with the implementation of comprehensive health and safety protocols. The success of this effort is reflected in the reality that nearly 90 percent of all students are learning in the classroom.

Bishop Dewane declared a “Year of St. Joseph,” effective March 19, 2020, the Feast of St. Joseph, the Protector of the Universal Church. This happened to be the last day of public Masses before the temporary suspension. “Particularly in this time of uncertainty in light of the Coronavirus pandemic, it is appropriate to seek the intercessions of the saints for guidance and protection,” Bishop Dewane stated. It should be noted that Pope Francis declared a global “Year of St. Joseph” from Dec. 8, 2020 through Dec. 8, 2021. Considering this notice, Bishop Dewane extended the Diocesan year to conclude Dec. 8, 2021.

A “Year of St. Joseph,” page (https://dioceseofvenice.org/a-year-of-st-joseph/) was added to the Diocesan website so as to provide prayers, devotions and general information about the foster-father of Jesus. Meanwhile, in December 2020, the Diocesan Department of Catholic Education started a St. Joseph Devotional Project to promote a devotion to the saint while at the same time developing a devotional life of both children and adults.

Before the Pandemic, activities which took place as usual included: a Widows and Widowers Mass on Jan. 26, 2020; a Men’s Conference on Feb. 8, 2020; a Women’s Conference on Feb. 22, 2020; two Wedding Anniversary Masses in February; as well as a Prayer Walk for Life in January. Parish activities slowly restarted in August and have been adjusted to ensure the health and safety of all.

While 2020 brought great challenges to many, including to the Diocese of Venice, the Catholic Church remains strong and 2021 looks to be a time of celebration and hope.

Stay tuned to learn about the events of 2021 coming in the Jan. 15, 2021 edition of The Florida Catholic.

Celebrating Christmas during a Pandemic

The Christmas Season is a time to celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ and an opportunity to let the light of the Lord shine forth from within.

Celebrations abounded throughout the Diocese of Venice with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Masses bringing in the number of faithful not seen since before the start of the global COVID-19 Pandemic.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane recorded a Christmas Day Mass for broadcast on TV to the homebound and also offered a livestream Mass from the Catholic Canter in Venice on Christmas Day.

The message of Bishop Dewane was of hope, not only of the news that vaccines are being distributed, but the “hope that God gave us in sending His Son into the World. That is what we celebrate today… Allow Christ to be the light in your life.”

Aside from the decorated altars, behind the scenes it was the Faithful who magnified the light of Christ through their generosity in supporting those in the community who are less fortunate.

To reach as many children as possible, while still staying safe, St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston, distributed gifts during smaller celebrations throughout December. Each child also received a t-shirt with an image of Jesus embracing a child and the name of the Parish. In all, some 500 children received gifts.

At St. Jude Parish in Sarasota, Pastor Father Celestino Gutiérrez helped to distribute toys and food for 58 families at the Myakka Mission for Migrants brings smiles to the faces of 118 children.

Donors from across the Diocese brought holiday cheer to children at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, where gifts were distributed following an outdoor Nativity Play on Dec. 19, 2020. In addition to the gifts, the young children of the Parish also received jackets, donated by the Knights of Columbus from Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch.

Those in religious education classes at Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda, who usually visited nearby assisted living facilities, turned their disappointment into activities which included handmaking Christmas cards and creating gift bags for residents. The youth created videos of Christmas Carols that were shared with the residents and posted to social media.

Donations not only came from Parishes and the faithful, but from inspiring children who wanted to help kids like themselves.

For example, Renata, Milena and Tyler, along with their friends, all from the Vilano Community in Sarasota, pooled their lemonade stand money to buy necessities and donate them to the mothers at Our Mother’s House in Venice, a residential and support program of Catholic Charities which assists single mothers and their children who might otherwise be homeless.

One young girl from Fort Myers, 5-year-old Chandler Ciccarello, first went to friends and then went on social media to raise money so she could use the money, with the help of her mom, to buy gifts for area needy children. In the end, more than $4,000 was raised and gifts were purchased for 400 children and donated to Catholic Charities of Lee County. Originally the idea was to buy bicycles for children and enough was raised that all children who asked receive a bicycle for Christmas courtesy of Chandler.

These are but a few examples of the spirit of Christmas which spread across the Diocese of Venice this Holiday Season.

Bishop helps Parish celebrate Feast Day

While the faithful sang music proclaiming the arrival of Jesus Christ at Christmas and the three kings at the Epiphany, a Eucharistic Procession circled the property of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish and Catholic School in Naples.

This procession took place on the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord (Jan. 3, 2021), with Bishop Frank J. Dewane carrying the monstrance, and served as the opening of two days of celebrations in honor of the Feast Day of St. Elizabeth Seton on Jan. 4, 2021.

Carey Ford said it was wonderful to take part in a traditional Eucharistic Procession, bringing her back to her youth when her home Parish in Ohio had such public displays of Faith several times a year. “We are out here to honor Christ, something St. Elizabeth Seton did in the way she lived her own life. Also, everyone can see who we are as Catholics, particularly at a time when many are staying away, whether from the pandemic or for other reasons.”

St. Elizabeth Seton is patroness of Catholic schools, seafarers, those rejected or persecuted for their faith, orphans and widows and was the first native-born American to be canonized by the Catholic Church. Bishop Dewane noted that the Lord spoke to her at different points in her life as a wife, mother, widow, religious and teachers.

“The Lord called her through different moments of her life and despite many hardships which could have turned her attention away she didn’t forget about the call of the Lord,” the Bishop said. “Just as the three kings followed a star at the Epiphany, she followed a star and once she received the gift of Faith, it was Christ and the Lord who brought her through the stages in her life to ever more profoundly encounter Him. As St. Elizabeth Seton did, we must open ourselves up to be accessible for an encounter with the Lord.”

St. Elizabeth Seton Parish Administrator Father Casey Jones led adoration in the church following the Eucharistic Procession. For the Feast itself, a relic of St. Elizabeth Seton was on display and the church was open to silent prayer.

St. Elizabeth Seton was born before the American Revolution and grew up in New York as part of a prominent Episcopalian family. She married in 1794 and had five children. Discovering Catholicism while in Italy, where her husband died, she eventually returned to the U.S. and entered the Catholic Church in 1805. Later, she moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she entered religious life and founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, the first community for religious women established in the U.S. She also began the first free Catholic girl’s school in the country, which formed the foundation for the modern Catholic education system. She died in 1821 and was canonized on Sept. 14, 1975.

Haitian community gathers for annual celebration

By Jean Gonzalez – of the Florida Catholic staff

Even though Myrlande Cola left her native Haiti 23 years ago, she still holds a fierce love for her country, especially Jan. 1, when she joins other community members to celebrate the independence of Haiti from France.

“This Mass is a big thing for me,” said the Immokalee resident who traveled to Bonita Springs to celebrate Mass with fellow emigrees of the Caribbean nation. “I took off work six months ago to be able to attend this. I cannot miss this Mass.”

Cola was speaking about the annual Mass held for the Haitian community in honor of both the Solemnity of Mary, Holy Mother of God and the 217th anniversary of Haiti being the first independent republic in the Caribbean. The annual Mass is hosted by the Diocese of Venice, in conjunction with the Haitian Catholic community, and was celebrated at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs Jan. 1, 2021.

The event usually draws as many as 1,000 people from throughout the Diocese of Venice and includes a visit from a bishop or archbishop from Haiti. There are currently Masses celebrated in Creole at the following parishes: St. Charles Borromeo in Port Charlotte; St. Francis Xavier in Fort Myers; St. Michael in Wauchula; Sacred Heart in Bradenton; Our Lady of Guadalupe in Immokalee; and St. Peter the Apostle in Naples. The New Year’s Day celebration is one of the few times the entire community can gather in one place.

But precautions against the coronavirus meant a visiting prelate could not travel and buses could not be used to bring in Haitians from cities throughout the 10-county diocese. Yet, Father Jean-Marie Fritz Ligonde, director of Haitian Ministry for the Diocese of Venice and parochial vicar of St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers, said the community was blessed to still have the opportunity to celebrate the special day. As he does every year, Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated the Mass with Father Ligonde, and five other Haitian priests of the diocese. The precautions might have made the crowd gathered much smaller, but the spirit of the Mass was just as joyous and enthusiastic.

“We expected between 300 and 350 and are pleased with what we have,” Father Ligonde said. “(The community) says ‘thank you’ to Bishop Dewane for being with us every year. For sharing our meal, sharing our custom and sharing our tradition. And he kept the tradition even during the coronavirus, he decided to do it. It is to be praised and we are grateful to him.”

In his homily, Father Ligonde compared the Marian feast celebrated to Haiti’s Independence Day. The Solemnity of Mary, mother of God, is the first Marian feast, and Haiti is the first independent Black nation in the Western Hemisphere when the slaves there gained independence from France Jan. 1, 1804. Haitians should find strength in Mary’s example to go forward because Mary, even she suffered and exiled while carrying Jesus.

“Because Haiti is becoming poorer and poorer now, it is time that we engage ourselves to make the resolution to go forward. We have to put action into our words,” Father Ligonde said. “Our motto as Haitians is ‘L’Union fait la force’ — our strength is in our union. We must show strength to move forward and develop our country.”

Before closing the Mass, Bishop Dewane thanked the congregation for being present during this difficult time of living through the pandemic.

“I very much regret we couldn’t have a guest bishop for you. It is a long tradition, but I think you all understand,” he said. “It is my prayer that next year we will be full again. And we will have a bishop from Haiti who will be here. Let us keep one another united in prayer, for the well-being of all gathered here, and all who have been here in the past and could not meet this year. Thank you and a blessed and happy new year to all of you. Bòn ane.”

The Mass ended with the congregation waving Haitian flags and singing their country’s national anthem — “La Dessalinienne,” named in honor of Haiti’s revolutionary leader and first ruler Jean-Jacques Dessalines. It begins, “For the country, For the ancestors, Let us march. Let us march united.”

Traditionally following the Mass, the congregation gathers in the parish center to enjoy soup joumou, a rich pumpkin soup. Father Ligonde explained how the French would make the soup and never offer it to the slaves. So, after the independence of Haiti, it became a tradition to enjoy the soup as a symbol freedom and equality.

“On Jan. 2, we celebrate the feast of our ancestors, and we have a big meal with turkeys. But on Jan. 1, we have our soup jomou. It is a meal. It is so rich, we could eat it all day,” Father Ligonde said with a smile.

But that tradition also had to be modified because of the coronavirus. Instead of sitting to have soup, the community held a drive-thru where families could still receive celebratory food, but instead of eating together, would bring it home to their own families.

News briefs for the week of Jan. 4, 2021

“A Seminarian Story” fifth installment available

The Diocese of Venice in Florida Office of Vocations launched a video series titled, “A Seminarian Story,” to celebrate the 16 Seminarians currently in formation. The first four videos have been released and more will follow approximately every few weeks. The most recent video is about Seminarian Christian Chami who is doing formation at Pontifical North American College in Rome. Developed with the assistance of the Diocese Communications Department, the goal of the series is to inspire others to follow in the path to the priesthood or religious life, as well as encourage the faithful to continue to support the seminarians as they continue their formation process at different seminaries. “A Seminarian Story” featuring Christian Chami can be found at https://vimeo.com/443069438.

Sarasota Prayer Walk for Life

The 23rd annual Sarasota Prayer Walk for Life will be held on Jan. 22, 2021. The day begins with the 8:30 a.m. Mass celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane at St. Martha Parish, 200 N. Orange Ave. A shuttle bus will run after Mass until 3 p.m. to Planned Parenthood, 736 Central Avenue, where participants will circle the block in prayer for an end to abortion. An additional Parish Mass is available at noon. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, space is limited and advanced registration is required by Jan. 11, 2021, at www.dioceseofvenice.org/2021prayerwalk. The 8:30 a.m. Mass will be livestreamed as part of the national 9DaysforLife.com campaign at facebook.com/DioceseofVenice. Masks will be required. Questions? Contact Jeanne Berdeaux at Berdeaux@dioceseofvenice.org or 941-374-1068.

Time to Take Holiness Seriously with virtual class

Enjoyed the Catholic Mysticism series and want to go deeper? Or did you miss the opportunity to join us with our first series? You are welcome to join a 10-week Catholic book study on Catholic Spirituality using the book “Knowing the Love of God” by Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. Learn from this true spiritual master with a group of your peers and see how you can actually become a Saint and grow in your spiritual life (no matter the circumstances!). The sessions will be held virtually 10 a.m. each Tuesday beginning Jan. 12, 2021, and concluding March 16, 2021. Please contact Joshua Mazrin for more details at mazrin@dioceseofvenice.org.

Catholic Charities Ball Feb. 13

Please join us Feb. 13, 2021, for an elegant evening at one of Sarasota’s beautiful Jewels on the Bay, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Bring your valentine to an elegant evening featuring exquisite cuisine and wine pairing event by Michael’s on East. The beautiful and unique setting of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens reminds us that, despite this pandemic, we are surrounded by God’s majesty and Mother Nature’s glory. The event begins at 6 p.m. with cocktails. Tickets are $350 with a limit of 150 guests. For more information call 941-909-7817 or email hilles.hughes@catholiccharitiesdov.org.

Our Mother’s House Child’s Play Virtual Event

Our Mother’s House is hosting a Virtual Fundraiser to support the mothers and babies we serve. Join us for a night of interactive fun in support of Our Mother’s House with wine, auction, and more at 7 p.m., Feb. 25, 2021. For information about the event, contact Lisa Ventura (941) 485-6264, email Lisa.Ventura@CatholicCharitiesDov.Org or visit https://ccdov.ejoinme.org/MyEvents/OurMothersHouse2021VirtualGala/tabid/1147646/Default.aspx.

Registration open for January Faith & Wine Lee County Virtual Event

Faith & Wine of Lee County will hold its next Virtual Zoom Event at 7 p.m., Jan. 21, 2021. The guest speaker is Kitty Cleveland on the topic “Beloved: Finding My Identity in Christ.” Registration is now open for this free event at faithandwineleecounty.com.

Virtual Catholic Days at the Capitol

Through the use of technology, Catholics will continue to bring their values and voices to Tallahassee to promote and protect human life and dignity. Register now to participate in the Feb. 2-3, 2021, virtual event to include a legislative briefing on key bills, a rosary with the Florida Bishops, an award presentation to a legislator, meetings with legislators and the Red Mass of the Holy Spirit.  Join us for all or any part of the event!  For details see flaccb.org/cdac or contact Jeanne Berdeaux at Berdeaux@dioceseofvenice.org or 941-374-1068.

Anniversary Masses

All couples celebrating 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, or more than 50 years of marriage are invited by Bishop Frank J. Dewane to an Anniversary Mass in their honor to be celebrated in two locations. This year, considering the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, each location will have two Masses to allow for appropriate social distancing. The Masses are 10:00 a.m. and noon on Feb. 6, 2021, Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Ave. W., and 10:00 a.m. and noon, March 6, 2021, St. Leo the Great Parish, 28290 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs. All registration is being handled through your local Parish. Please reserve seats at least one week before the Mass you wish to attend.

Save the Date for Men’s and Women’s Conferences

Mark your calendars for the 2021 Men’s and Women’s Conferences which will be held at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers. The Men’s Conference will be 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. Saturday, February 20, and the Women’s Conference will be held 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. Saturday, March 13. Stay tuned for registration details! Please contact the Office of Evangelization with any questions at evangelization@dioceseofvenice.org or 941-484-9543.

Safe Haven Sunday

Pornography is one of the leading causes of addictions, abuse, adultery, divorce, and even human trafficking: it is, in short, a pervasive evil inflicting grave wounds on our families. Pornography creates unsafe environments for children and confuses others about attitudes towards sex and marriage. It is a moral issue. For this reason, March 7, 2021, has been designated as Safe Haven Sunday in the Diocese of Venice. This day for awareness will give an opportunity to address the harmfulness of pornography in marriages, families, and culture, while providing helpful resources for all. Detailed information about the implementation of this program will be shared in the coming weeks through your Parishes. If you have any questions, please contact Carrie Harkey, Diocesan Coordinator of Family Life at harkey@dioceseofvenice.org.