Retreat Center weathers pandemic while marking 25 years

Sitting on the lazy, peaceful banks of the Myakka River in Venice is Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat and Spirituality Center (OLPH), the primary retreat center for the Diocese of Venice.

It was some 25 years ago when the groundbreaking on the 250-acre property took place with the first buildings opening within a year. Since that time in 1995, untold thousands have visited the OLPH grounds either to visit or to take part in one of many retreats.

For a time, early in the global pandemic, there was a question on whether OLPH could maintain its operations restrictions that included social distancing, the wearing of masks and the sanitizing requirements needed for a facility that can host dozens of overnight visitors.

Father Mark Yavarone, OMV, OLPH Director, explained how in the midst of a great deal of uncertainty, something amazing happened.

As people began to work from home, Father Yavarone and the staff at OLPH figured out a way to transition to give individual retreats online, meeting one-one-one for an hour each day with each retreatant by video. The question was would people be willing to discuss their relationship with God over the computer?

“When the pandemic hit, we knew our retreats would drop some 40 percent,” Father Yavarone continued. “You know what happened, the individual one-on-one retreats – where you meet with the person every day for 3 days. 5 days, 8 days – they went up 50 percent because people from all over the country, and even the world, were desperate to find an open retreat center. We were able to do it safely.”

The applications for retreats came from across Florida and beyond, including California, Australia, New Zeeland and the United Arab Emirates. This created a problem with trying to figure out time zone difference. Each retreatant was provided with instructions on how to best set up their home space, away from distractions, so as to focus on the retreat. While these were helpful to many, there were limits as the lack of access to the Mass or the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the absence of these were deeply missed by all.

This online option continued for a time, even as OLPH reopened to in-person individual retreats. Men and women came to OLPH desperate for time alone with the Lord in an era of stress and anxiety, finding the peace that only Jesus can give, Father Yavarone added.

One retreatant remarked: It helped me clear my mind and give me hope for the future.” Another said, “I lived the story of the Prodigal Son by coming here, and I was welcomed home.”

“It was an amazing thing to get to ministering to so many people on a very deep level who were struggling with COVD,” Father Yavarone explained. “It is something for which I am very grateful to God.”

Of course, the number of large groups using OLPH remained low for much of 2020 and into early 2021 as retreat size restrictions were necessary due to social distancing and other safety guidelines for all retreatants. Even when in-person retreats returned, the retreats were different, as the Sacrament of Confession was necessarily from a greater distance than was normal. “We adjusted to create an environment where everyone was comfortable,” Father noted.

As 2022 moves forward, the long-awaited celebration of the 25th Anniversary of OLPH is nearing. Necessarily postponed because of the pandemic, “The Butterfly Ball,” will take place from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 19, at St. Thomas More Parish Chelsea Center, 2506 Gulf Gate Drive, Sarasota. The evening includes a cocktail hour, formal dinner, musical entertainment, dancing, and a silent and live auction. Tickets are $150. each. For more information, or to purchase tickets, please visit our website at or call 941-486-0233.

Shortly after the establishment of the Diocese of Venice, Bishop John J. Nevins asked Father Charles Mallen, C.Ss.R., to begin the process of promoting the development of a retreat center for the young diocese.  The groundbreaking ceremony took place in January 1995 and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center became a reality.

The site includes a conference center, villas for overnight guests, a dining center and chapel. In addition to the seven buildings on-site, there is the newly dedicated Shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, all laid out to allow retreatants the opportunity to spend time enjoying the beautiful grounds which include the Way of the Cross, the Rosary Walk and the prayer decks located along the riverbank.

Regardless of the 25th Anniversary celebrations, OLPH is back and hosting groups of all sizes.

Retreat Offerings

Of course, OLPH continues to offer 3, 5, and 8-day individual retreats. Each retreat begins with a meeting with a priest spiritual director, and dinner. Mass is offered each day, as well as a meeting with the director, spiritual reading assignments, and peaceful time for introspection and contemplation. The final day concludes with a meeting, Mass, and lunch. For those with less time, OLPH also offers a 1-Day retreat (often referred to as a Desert Day). There are also Ignatian Preached Retreats (the next one is May 20-23) which are silent and introduce participants to the Spiritual Exercises in a group setting.

Another popular offering is the Monthly Day of Prayer, with the next Wednesday session is on Feb. 9 and the Sunday session is on Feb. 13. The day begins at 9:30 am with continental breakfast and includes two conferences, lunch, Eucharistic Adoration, Mass, and opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, private meditation and prayer. The day concludes with Mass, ending at 3:15 pm. The cost is $40. Note: the conference topics are the same for the Sunday and Wednesday sessions in each respective month, so please choose the day that is compatible with your schedule.

OLPH is also hosting a Couples Retreat from Feb. 25-27.  This is a chance to open our hearts to the grace of the marriage vocation. Couples are invited to spend some time with each other to explore God’s grace. What has our marriage meant to us? What has God taught and what is left for us to learn? Scripture, prayer, papal teaching, fellowship, and the Eucharist will help us grow closer to our Lord and each other. The cost is $450 per couple, which includes private room and meals.

The Easter Triduum Retreat is also very popular. The weekend begins with dinner on Holy Thursday (April 14) and ends with Mass and breakfast on Easter Sunday (April 17). The liturgies of the Lord’s Supper, Way of the Cross, Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion, Easter Vigil, and Sunrise Easter Liturgy are celebrated. A series of six 1-hour conferences on varying topics is offered throughout the retreat. In addition, the opportunity for Confession or spiritual direction is available.

To learn more about these retreats go to or call 941-486-0233.


Detours Happen When Jesus Calls us on Mission

By Father Robert J. Kantor, V.F., Director, Diocese of Venice Mission Office

Have you ever been on a journey that had unexpected detours?  I once led a pilgrimage in France with a wayward bus driver who never seemed to know where he was going.  Once he took us down a one-way street the wrong way and got us stuck in a narrow alley!  It was one of many miscues that were frustrating then and comical only now.  But God delivered some powerfully graced experiences along the way.  That detour took us further from the great Rouen Cathedral that was our destination but brought us right up to another interesting church not even on our itinerary, named for St. Joan of Arc in the place where she was martyred.

When the age and infirmity of our pilgrims who had suffered multiple falls on uneven cobblestones made it evident our group could not climb to the top of Mont Saint Michel toward the end of our journey, an easier day at a seaside village for shopping and lunch included Mass in a beautiful wooden chapel.  I was disappointed, but God had a reason for the detour.

During our travels, I got to know the bus driver and the many challenges of his life, including the abuse he suffered as a foster child following the early deaths of his parents, and the tragic passing of his own wife and son.  I told him I would offer Mass for them that day and, after many years of blaming God for all his misfortunes, he came to church for the first time in years.  It was a tearful surrendering into the arms of Jesus who knows the suffering of crosses better than anyone.  Had we gone to Mont Saint Michel, he would likely have spent that day back at the bus, waiting for our return.  Instead, he was reconciled with the God who made him and loves him.  This is the mystery of encountering God in the detours of life.

No one can deny that COVID-19 has led to many changes in our lives, detouring us beyond our control. This has included interrupted travel, cancelled family celebrations, curtailed parish events, postponed weddings and funerals, and vacations turned staycations.  And yet, God has delivered graces along these detours.  People, now more than ever, appreciate the power of human contact and relish time with others that we used to take for granted.  Parishes have discovered livestreaming and other creative ways to reach out and remain in contact with parishioners.  And, this World Mission Sunday, some of us will have to try new methods of supporting the never-ending work of the Church to spread the Gospel.  Online giving through our parishes may be one new way for us to ensure that missionaries around the globe continue to receive our support and know that they are not forgotten.

No one sets out on a journey expecting detours, and when they happen most of us don’t welcome them.  But God can use these course deviations to take us out of our comfort zone to new adventures beyond our imaginings.  Blessed are hearts open to a life’s journey led by God, going to destinations more amazing than any we could have ever planned, because they are charted by our magnificent God of detours, a God who calls us on mission.

World Mission Sunday is Oct. 24, 2021. The Diocese of Venice collection for World Mission Sunday is the same weekend of Oct. 23-24.

Father Robert Kantor is the Director of the Diocese of Venice Mission Office, Dean of the Southern Deanery, and Pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Naples. He can be reached at

Catholic schools preparing to open

Lesson plans are being drawn up and classrooms and being decorated as work is ongoing to ensure everything is ready for the start of the 2021-2022 Academic Year in Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools.

Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocese Superintendent of Catholic Education, said that enrollment is up across the 15 Catholic schools in the Diocese and that several initiatives are moving forward to engage students to not only grow academically but, more importantly, spiritually.

In a July 23, 2021 letter to parents and guardians Bishop Frank J. Dewane and Father Belmonte announced the 2021-2022 Academic Year for Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools will start on time and will continue to provide Christ-centered education in-person, five days a week.

The letter also stressed that the priority remains to provide a safe and healthy environment for all students and employees.

Guidelines for the 2021-2021 school year include:

  • Prayers for the continued wellbeing of all students, as well as faculty and staff.
  • Masks for students, staff, and volunteers are optional but indeed highly encouraged.
  • It is understood that changes to these guidelines may be made at any time. The Diocese of Venice Department of Education will continue to monitor guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and other experts.
  • Vaccinations for Covid-19 are not mandated.
  • Social distancing protocols will not be required.

“The Diocese of Venice Department of Catholic Education strongly encourages families to continue following recommended preventative measures to reduce the spread of the virus and stay healthy,” the letter from the Bishop and Father Belmonte continued. “Let us be united in prayer for the safety and wellbeing of our students.”

The letter included gratitude to parents and guardians, as well as students, faculty, staff and volunteers, for the success of the 2020-2021 Academic Year. Additional gratitude was expressed for the patience and understanding of all as planning for the new school year progressed.

Meanwhile, Diocesan Catholic schools continue to be at the forefront in education with a curriculum that is STREAM-based (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math). This initiative has been a priority for many years and highlights religion as a dimension which help students have a superior academic experience rooted in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Father Belmonte stressed that the primary function of all Diocesan Catholic schools is to introduce the world to its Savior. This is being accomplished through the development of a strong Catholic culture at each school.

To further the STREAM aspect of Catholic education, Father Belmonte said the previously announced initiative involving robots, in a partnership with FIRST® (“For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), is moving forward and will be integrated into each school and at every grade level.

All Diocesan schools were provided with age-appropriate kits and robots to compete at the highest levels of competition through FIRST®. These kits use LEGO products, such as Duplo blocks for the youngest students, and more traditional blocks for older students. Each progressive kit increases with difficulty and broadens the concepts learned in earlier years. Older students will build robots for competitions.

Keeping in line with the effort to build a strong Catholic culture, the initiative incorporates Catholic values and virtues through the Diocesan curriculum called, “The Gifts of Christ: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Affability, Fortitude, Humility, and Prudence.”

This partnership with FIRST® was made possible through the generosity and vision of Bishop Dewane who made the initial investment of some 500 robots and other resources to the schools. “It is all about investing in our students because they are our mission and we want them to succeed; to become the leaders, the professionals, the faith witnesses of tomorrow,” Bishop Dewane said during the March announcement of the initiative.

The earlier cited growth in enrollment is directly related to the robot initiative. Parents of newly enrolled students have cited the visionary aspect of the program, with its Faith component, as a key factor in their decision to choose a Diocese Catholic school.

In addition to the robotics, Diocese Catholic schools will continue to build their devotion to St. Joseph, as part of the ongoing “Year of St. Joseph.” This will be accomplished through an initiative planned to begin in October which will include bringing prayer and devotion to the home.

Meanwhile, the different schools continue to work hard in preparing classrooms and other facilities to be ready for the return on students the week of Aug. 9. Among that work included the upgrade of facilities including fencing, landscaping, roofing, renovated classrooms and much more.

To learn more about Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools, please visit

Parish holds dual celebration

An installation of a new Pastor is a punctuation in the life of a Parish, and a recent one was made more memorable because it also coincided with the Parish Feast Day.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane installed Father Elbano Muñoz as Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Bradenton on June 11, 2021, the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The installation was within the context of the Mass, celebrated in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole, reflecting the different cultural members of the community.

A Pastor is someone who serves the faithful but at the same time leads them in a closer relationship to Christ, Bishop Dewane said. A Pastor needs the support of the faithful in order to succeed in his task, which is to call on people to be true disciples, evangelizers and messengers of their Faith.

“You are all witnesses of the Faith,” the Bishop continued. “Your presence here in support of your new Pastor shows that Father has the support he will need to succeed… Let this moment be a new chapter in the history of Sacred Heart Parish here in Bradenton.”

Father Muñoz expressed his gratitude to Bishop Dewane for having the confidence in him as the new Pastor. He thanked the faithful for their support and understanding since his arrival. Father also recognized his fellow priests, nine of whom concelebrated Mass with several having had connections to the Parish.

The history of the Parish dates to the post-Civil War era, when in 1868 Jesuit missionaries established a mission in Bradenton dedicated the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Eventually, when a new church, St. Joseph, was built nearby, Sacred Heart became a Chapel at its current location on 12th Avenue. It was not until 1968 when it was elevated to Parish status. The Parish Center and administration building were built in the following years while the Parish Church received several upgrades to include new stained glass and a renovation of the sanctuary. A Grotto of Our Lady of Guadalupe was added in 2004. There are approximately 800 families with Mass celebrated in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole.

As part of the installation process, Bishop Dewane first introduces the priest as Pastor to the parishioners. The priest later recites a profession of faith for all to hear, including an additional part solely for him. The new Pastor then recites an Oath of Fidelity and promises to “adhere to the teachings, which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise authentic magisterium.” The installation also includes prayers to provide the new Pastor the wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit to lead the Parish.

The ceremony concluded with the signing of documents by the Bishop, the new Pastor, and two official witnesses of the Parish community, who serve as witnesses for all of the parishioners.

A celebratory reception was held in the Parish Hall with dinner and several cakes honoring both Father Muñoz and the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The Eucharist – Deepening ones Union with Christ and the Church

Little girls in beautiful white dresses. Boys in their first suit and tie. These sights are common each spring in churches across the Diocese of Venice as thousands of young people receive our Lord in the Holy Eucharist for the first time.

But this isn’t simply a first communion, but hopefully the first of many communions.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living in charity wipes away our venial sins. By giving Himself to us Christ revives our love and enables us to break our disordered attachments to creatures and root ourselves to Him.” (CCC 1394)

Primarily, the Eucharist brings one into a deeper union with Christ. Through Baptism, all become a child of God, entering into the Church. The Eucharist then draws the faithful more deeply into union with Christ. The Lord said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:56) Through the Eucharist, one may become more and more like Christ, as St. Paul said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

The Catechism says that “the Eucharist makes the Church,” (CCC 1396); meaning that without the Eucharist, there would be no Church, just a collection of men and women that would eventually dissolve through petty bickering and divisions. But through the Sacrament of the Eucharist – the “Sacrament of Unity” – the Church is more than a man-made institution, it is a Divine Institution, Mystically United through Christ. Not merely a social organization or a political party, the Church is one Body.

During a May 8, 2021 First Communion Mass at St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton, Pastor, Father Rafal Ligenza told the First Communicants that they are starting a new chapter in their lives by opening their heart for Christ.

“You are committing to receiving the Body of Christ and to be in Communion with the Lord forever,” Father Ligenza said. “Yes forever. Not only today, for one week, for one month, but forever… You will receive this miracle into your good hearts and become a most beautiful monstrance because Jesus will be alive in you and you will glorify the goodness of God.”

Father urged the adults present to recall their own First Communion when they heard the words for the first time “The Body of Christ.” “You answered with love in your heart “Amen” and you decided to be faithful to your beloved Jesus and to his invitation to love one another. This is the commitment by those who receive their First Communion today. They made the decision to love Jesus for their whole life.”

Pope Francis said the Eucharist is not simply something that we do: “It is an act of Christ! It is a gift from Christ, Who is made present and gathers us around Him, to nourish us with His Word and His life. This means that the mission and the very identity of the Church spring from this, from the Eucharist… Through the Eucharist, Christ wishes to enter into our existence and permeate it with His Grace, so that in every Christian community there is coherence between Liturgy and life.”

All benefit in a multitude of ways by receiving communion regularly, Pope Francis said. There is a gain of grace against sin, forgiveness of venial sins, and strength for the spiritual life; regular reception of the Eucharist is essential for a strong spiritual life.

The Holy Father encourages the faithful to “live the Eucharist with a spirit of faith and prayer, of forgiveness, of care for the needs of many of our brothers and sisters, in the certainty that the Lord will grant that which he has promised – eternal life.”

News Briefs for the Week of May 28, 2021

Student art on display at Fort Myers airport (held from last week)

If you happen to be traveling through the Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers sometime this year, take some time to check out the St. Andrew Catholic School student canvas on display in Concourse B. St. Andrew students in grades 5-8 participated in creating a collaborative canvas for the “Art In Flight” exhibit. Every couple of years the Alliance for the Arts coordinates with the Lee Art Educators Association to create student artwork for the exhibit. This year’s theme was “New Frontiers,” and students were challenged to question what would be the new frontier(s) for their generation. The title of our canvas is “Hope For Our Future”. You can visit to learn more about the project and view the student artwork.

Deacon aspirants finish first year of formation

The 11 aspirants for the Diaconate Class of 2025 finished their first year of formation with a weekend retreat on May 22-23, 2021 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice. The retreat was led by Father Jim Simko, Parochial Vicar of St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton.

Religious Freedom Week coming soon

Solidarity in Freedom takes place from June 22 to 29. The Week begins with the Feast of Ss. John Fisher and Thomas More, ends with the Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul and includes the Feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist. During Religious Freedom Week, Catholics are encouraged to pray and act each day for religious freedom. The (USCCB) United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Pray-Reflect-Act Series aims to help Catholics build solidarity with people of faith who are persecuted and find strength to carry out the mission of the Church here in the United States. For resources and reflections each day of this week, please visit

2021 Marriage Preparation Retreats

The Diocesan Office of Family Life is offering “Day of Reflection” retreats for couples preparing for the Sacrament of Marriage. A specially prepared volunteer team of married couples and a priest will share their experiences and information with the intention of enabling couples to be more aware of the privileges and responsibilities of marriage. The retreats in English are from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., on the following Saturdays: August 7, and November 13. Please visit to register for the English retreats. Retreats in Spanish take place: 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., August 7 and October 30 at St. Jude Parish, 3930 17th Street, Sarasota, and 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., August 14 and December 4, at Our Lady Queen of Heaven, 355 S. Bridge Street, LaBelle. To register for a St. Jude retreat date please contact the parish at 941-955-3934. Please visit to register for a retreat at Our Lady Queen of Heaven, For further information contact Carrie Harkey at 941-484-9543 ext. 3019.

Ave Maria University 12th Annual Youth Conference

All high school age youth from incoming freshman to outgoing seniors are invited to join us for the 12th Annual Ave Maria University Youth Conference “FEARLESS” July 9-11th at Ave Maria University. This incredible weekend will be full of faith, fellowship, music, and great speakers! The special rate for this year’s conference is only $130 per person and includes lodging, meals, and conference fee PLUS a cool t-shirt! Call or email 239-348-4725 or or visit us at for more information.

Time capsule dug up

The eight graders at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice opened up a time capsule on May 19, 2021, revealing what they buried as fifth graders. Among the items were photos and articles about the students, as well as notes to their future selves.

Students write children’s book

The work of St. John Neumann Catholic High School students in the Creative Writing class of Cindy Brewer culminated in mid-May through a published hardcover book that included stories written and animated by the class.

Each student used a monster friend to help conquer a specific fear. Once published, these freshman and sophomores visited nearby St. Elizabeth Seton School and read their stories to the kindergarten class.

Mooney hires new baseball coach

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota is thrilled to announce Mike Mercurio as the new head varsity baseball coach for the Cougars. Mercurio is an alumnus of Cardinal Mooney, Class of 1985, and has been coaching for Cardinal Mooney for nine years, the last three as the head junior varsity coach for the Cougars. His coaching experience and devotion to the Cardinal Mooney baseball team brings a wealth of knowledge to his alma mater. Mercurio is currently a Lieutenant with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office and will be retiring this summer after 34 years. Together with his wife Karen, they have two daughters that are also graduates of Cardinal Mooney.

2021 Graduates urged to carry Faith with them forward

Three of the four Diocese of Venice Catholic high schools held their commencement exercises in mid-May, sending off their graduates well prepared for a bright future.

Ahead of each graduation, Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated a Baccalaureate Mass, sharing a hope-filled message that they must each “go forth with God as your guide and let Faith, hope and love be your path through life.”

Bishop Dewane praised the graduating seniors for their academic and athletic accomplishments through the years, having overcome the impact of a global pandemic, emerging ready to move on to the next phase in their lives. Thanks to the unrelenting encouragement of their parents and teachers, they have been guided through their time in high school.

“What you have done is an accomplishment,” Bishop Dewane stressed. “Your future may be uncertain, but your Faith is not uncertain. I say this to the Class of 2021, God goes with you. That is where your Faith resides. The house of hope in your life. The source of love that lasts forever. What is most important is who you are within. Your Faith can stay with you and make you strong. But it is you, the Class of 2021, that have to be the doers of your Faith. Your pastors can’t do it for you. Your parents can’t do it. Your teachers can’t do it. Graduation means all of that is up to you now.”

Encouraging the graduates to go forward with their Faith, Bishop Dewane reminded them that they need to continue to go to Mass, to live the Commandments, receive the Sacraments often, go to confession, to actualize the presence of God in their lives, and to witness it to those around them.

“Do all of those things, even though no one tells you. Use that opportunity to become more that man or woman of God you are called to be. Believe that the Lord is with you always.”

Bishop Dewane expressed his gratitude to the parents of the graduates for entrusting their children to Diocese of Venice Catholic high schools. He also publicly thanked the teachers and faculty for their commitment to the students and being their guides along their spiritual and academic journey.

The Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School Baccalaureate Mass was May 12, at Incarnation Parish in Sarasota while the Commencement Exercises were held May 14 at LECOM Park in Bradenton. The Bishop Verot Catholic High School Baccalaureate Mass was May 14 at St. Andrew Parish in Cape Coral and the Commencement was held May 15, in their Viking Stadium in Fort Myers. The St. John Neumann Catholic High School Baccalaureate Mass was May 17 at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples and Commencement was May 18 on their football field.

The Baccalaureate Mass and Commencement for Donahue Catholic Academy of Ave Maria Parish in Ave Maria will be May 27.

Please check back with the Florida Catholic e-Edition in the coming weeks for more information about the resilient Diocese of Venice Catholic high school Class of 2021.

Bishop lifts face covering and distancing requirements

The following is a letter from Bishop Frank J. Dewane to the faithful dated May 14, 2021 regarding the face covering and distancing policy at Mass and Parish gatherings in the Diocese of Venice.




May 14, 2021


My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Greetings in the Risen Lord! As Holy Mother Church approaches the Solemnity of Pentecost, it is my prayer that you, the Faithful of the Diocese of Venice, may be filled with the graces of the Holy Spirit.

With this letter, I wish to address the face covering and distancing policy at Mass and Parish gatherings in the Diocese of Venice. As you are aware, on May 13, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided updated guidance for vaccinated individuals with regards to face masks and distancing. Under the new guidance, those who are fully vaccinated are no longer required to wear masks or physically distance except where required by law.

In accordance with the new CDC guidance and effective immediately, masks and distancing will no longer be required at Mass in the Diocese of Venice. Masks remain encouraged and certainly permitted, particularly for those who are not yet vaccinated. Masks will no longer be required for Parish group activities or other Parish gatherings.

For those who have children in a Catholic School or Parish religious education program, and due to only recent age eligibility for vaccines for some of these age groups, the CDC has said that masking is a key strategy to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools. Thus, for the remainder of this academic year, masks will continue to be required. This will be reviewed with the close of the school year.

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we all try to live in the context of the Pandemic and to be evermore mindful of our brothers and sisters around us who may be vulnerable, for whatever reason.

This opportunity is taken to extend to you the assurances of my continued consideration, as well as my prayers for you and your family.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+Frank J. Dewane

Bishop of the Diocese of

Venice in Florida

Scouting religious awards presented

Participation in Catholic Scouting is an act of discipline which strengthens body, mind, and soul, but it is also a powerful tool of evangelization and service.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane recognized all Catholic Scouts and members of comporable groups in the Diocese of Venice during the annual presentation of Religious Awards on May 16, 2021 at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. Prior to the awards presentation about 100 Scouts, Scout leaders and family members, took part in Mass for the Ascension of the Lord Sunday which was celebrated by Bishop Dewane and concelebrated by Father Lawton Lang, Diocesan Scout Chaplain.

During the awards ceremony Bishop Dewane recognized the challenges faced by all during the Pandemic as they worked to earn the various religious awards offered by different Scouting or similar groups. During the ceremony 154 awards were presented to 75 Scouts, some receiving multiple awards. Emily Black of American Heritage Girls Troop 1203 of St. Francis Xavier was the recipient of 17 different awards.

“Your hard work was commendable and identifies your dedication to the Catholic Faith as lived out through Catholic Scouting in the Diocese,” Bishop Dewane said before personally congratulating and presenting each award. “I hope that as you continue to experience the many varied lessons of Scouting, you will also continue to grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ and share that experience with others.”

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting awards included: the Rosary Series, the Marian Series, the Faith Series, Footsteps of American Saints, Modern Saints, Light of Christ, Parvuli Dei, St. John the Baptist, Our Lady, and Pope Pius XII. National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry awards included the Women in Scripture series. Diocesan Scout awards included Priesthood Sunday and Pillars of Faith. American Heritage Girls awards included Tenderheart and Explorer.

Of note at the awards ceremony was the presentation of the Pillars of Faith award to Bartosz Fabinski, of Boy Scout Troop 777 of St. Francis Xavier Parish. This award provides special recognition for youth in Scouting who earn all traditional Catholic Religious Medals: Light of Christ, Parvuli Dei, Ad Altare Dei and Pope Pius XII. This is the first time this award has been presented to a Scout in many years as it requires earning key awards at various stages in beginning at the age of 6 or 7 and continuing to age 15 or older. To make this recognition possible this year, Bartosz was able to earn the Pope Pius XII award, the final award in the sequence.

The Pius XII award is also rarely presented and requires a Scout to be 15 or older and educated on different vocations (single, married, religious, ordained). This also incorporates a discussion on current issues facing the Church and society and included an overnight camping retreat at St. Agnes Parish in Naples. In all, 10 Boys Scouts earned this award which was presented in the Diocese for the first time in 10 years.

In addition, American Heritage Girls Troop FL 1203 of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Fort Myers earned the National Catholic Quality Unit Excellence Award – Pope Paul VI. Adult recognition included the presentation of the following awards: St. Elizabeth Seton, St. Anne, Companions of the Journey, Light of the World, Bronze Pelican, and St. George Emblem.

Near the conclusion of the ceremony, Bishop Dewane was presented with the “Quality Diocese Award,” earned by only 40-50 percent of Dioceses nationally, for meeting certain requirements in supporting Catholic Scouting. This was the eighth year in a row the Diocese has earned this important award. The Bishop noted that while the award is given to the Diocese specifically, it is truly a reflection of the hard work and commitment of Scouts and Scout leaders throughout the Diocese.

Bishop encourages mental health awareness

Susan Laielli – Special to the Florida Catholic

During the next edition ofWitnessing Faith with Bishop Dewane” airing at 8:30 a.m., May 28, 2021, Relevant Radio listeners will hear the sincere passion of Diocese of Venice Bishop Frank J. Dewane as he raises awareness for the importance of mental health across the Diocese of Venice.

“What do we hear, one in five people suffer from a mental health challenge in some way,” Bishop said during the show recorded at the Catholic Center in mid-May, which is also Mental Health Awareness Month.

Bishop Dewane welcomed Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., Family Counseling Center Program Director Geralyn Poletti, LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), since 1998, to highlight the importance of helping our sisters and brothers who may suffer from a mental illness or find themselves in crisis as the result of the impacts of Hurricane Irma followed by a global Pandemic.

“We were a little office in Collier County before Hurricane Irma, and the Pandemic,” said Poletti, during the radio interview set to air on 1410 AM and 106.7 FM in Fort Myers and Naples.

Beginning with Hurricane Irma the American Red Cross provided a grant to Catholic Charities for free tele-mental health services for those who lived in Florida during the storm. According to Poletti, these services rolled right into the Pandemic making them busier than ever.

“We are now seeing the economic pitfalls between those who have financial security and those who do not,” said Poletti, referring to the amount of people not able to use tele-mental services because of the lack of phones, or simply the lack of privacy in the home while trying to obtain the services.”

Poletti says they were inundated with referrals from pediatricians and schools following the return to in-person learning. The social worker teams serve families, students and individuals who may be struggling with isolation, depression, and anxiety due to the fallout from having to stay home, alone, or with someone who might be ill.

Bishop Dewane encourages parishioners to reach out to neighbors and friends who might be struggling with mental health due to the stigma still attached and show them you care or are simply willing to listen. He said there is a crossover to some degree between Faith and mental health.

In terms of making a difference, Poletti says she knows Catholic Charities tele-mental health services and their counselors in the schools are having an impact because the families and schools provide feedback, as well as the clinical treatment plans and customer surveys which are measured against the goals and objectives.  They also rely on an evidenced based online tool which provides an overall score for success.

Bishop Dewane also spoke about the initiative to have Mental Health First Aid training offered throughout the Diocese. Initial Youth Mental Health First Aid training sessions took place on April 29 and May 1, 2021. This training was offered through the Diocese Department of Religious Education for priests, deacons, principals, teachers and catechists. Additional training sessions will be offered in the fall.

If you know someone struggling with mental health issues who might benefit from free tele-mental health or in-person counseling services from Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, contact Geralyn Poletti, at 239-455-2655, ext. 3107, or by email at

Since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., mental health outreach has been supporting people with tele-mental health calls and video therapy, and recently resumed in-person therapy.

2,311 COVID-19 video therapy since March 2020

967 COVID-19 telephone therapy since March 2020

610 COVID-19 in-person therapy since February 2021