Future bright in Diocese One Year into Pandemic

What a difference a year makes.

It was on March 19, 2020 that the celebration of public Masses was suspended within the Diocese of Venice. On that day, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, sadness and worry prevailed for an occasion normally set aside to celebrate and honor the foster-father of Jesus Christ, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Patron of the Universal Church who is also guardian and protector of the Church and Her faithful.

It was also on that day the Diocese of Venice began its celebration of a “Year of St. Joseph.” “Particularly in this time of uncertainty in light of the coronavirus Pandemic,” Bishop Frank J. Dewane said at the time: “It is appropriate to seek the intercession of St. Joseph, a saint whom we look for guidance and protection.”

One year later, the Solemnity in 2021 takes on a new meaning of hope as the Diocese has made great strides in the effort to return to all pre-pandemic activities. Numerous successful events, including conferences, Masses and prayer walks, have brought an approach of normalcy to people of the Diocese, through spreading the “Good News of the Lord.”

For the Solemnity this year, the Bishop is celebrating a traditional Mass in Italian. Diocesan school children who have been taking part in a St. Joseph Devotional Project will also be recognized at a special event. The Diocesan “Year of St. Joseph” has been extended to Dec. 8, 2021 to coincide with a Universal Year dedicated by Pope Francis.

The Diocese resumed public Masses on May 18, 2020 with up to 50 percent capacity, social distancing, and mask requirements, as well as enhanced cleaning protocols, all of which remain in place to this day. While visiting any Parish within the Diocese of Venice there are signs requiring all to wear masks and maintain social distancing. The ubiquitous hand sanitizer is also there. Behind the scenes are dedicated people who do deep cleaning.

Catholic schools and Parish religious education programs went to virtual learning in the spring and summer of 2020 before a massive effort was made to enable in-person instruction by August at all schools and for most religious education students.

The results have been inspiring during a time of great sorrow and struggle as everyone was impacted by the Pandemic in some way. There have been no outbreaks linked to the celebration of Mass in the Diocese, in-person instruction or for that matter at Diocesan or Parish events. Therefore, confidence has built in the effectiveness of the Diocesan safety precautions. Therefore, the number of people returning to Sunday Mass has steadily increased while at the same time the number of students learning virtually has correspondingly dropped for the same reason. In fact, only 3.4 percent of all Diocesan Catholic school students are currently remote learning.

This success has come about through the leadership of Bishop Dewane, in conjunction and consultation with the priests, principals, Chancery and numerous internal and external professionals, in coordinating the Diocesan efforts during this evolving process while implementing these policies across 61 Parishes and 15 schools.

As we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph, let us reflect upon the past year in remembrance of those we have lost and those who have struggled in any way.

The Holy Father in declaring the Universal Year of St. Joseph against the backdrop of the Pandemic, which, he stated, has helped us see more clearly the importance of “ordinary” people who, though far from the limelight, exercise patience and offer hope every day. In this, they resemble St. Joseph, “the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence, who nonetheless played an incomparable role in the history of salvation.”

Mysticism for Everyday Catholics

By Joshua Mazrin, Diocese of Venice Director of Evangelization,

Many, having read about Saints within the Catholic Church, have found themselves awestruck at the beauty and depth of their relationships with God. One thinks that those Saints must have had something special; some kind of unattainable grace that was given to only to them. While it is true that God gives individual graces to people and even special graces for different circumstances, it is equally true that He gives all members of the faithful the same grace to be conformed to Him.

What we are talking about here is mysticism, or real holiness: the holiness of the Saints, but even more importantly, the holiness that can be lived in your own life, in the home, amongst families, and in each vocation. Those stories of the Saints who had mystical relationships with God, heard Him speaking directly, or experienced spiritual ecstasy might sound miraculous, but those realities are actually for everyone.

The great thing about this is that in order to achieve a personal relationship with God to such heights, it does not require one to become a monk, a religious sister, a full-time penitent, or even a hermit. Rather, all it requires is learning a little bit about how God’s grace works in the soul so that you may do your part in removing obstacles coming in the way of His action so as to become more open to receive from the vast treasury of gifts and graces that He continually offers.

This topic is called mystical theology and is the Church’s understanding of mysticism and spirituality.  It is not all that complicated when getting down to the basics and what it provides for Catholics in all walks of life is a structured way to grow personally in holiness in a tangible way that can be understood.

Matthew Leonard, Founder of Next Level Catholic Academy, in the latest episode of the Diocesan Podcast, Journey to Jesus, says, “there’s an ordered process by which we move into the life of God, so it’s not this kind of random free-for-all where we’re just kind of treading water hoping to be in a state of grace when we die.” This process helps in moving from one part of the spiritual life into the next, constantly growing while progressing through the different “stages” of the spiritual life.

Mysticism is a word that can be heard thrown around in Catholic lingo and jargon before, but oftentimes it goes without proper explanation. Growth in the spiritual life leads all Catholics toward God and helps them to be conformed to His life. The end of this road is the Beatific Vision in heaven, but this encounter with God need not wait until after death, rather, mysticism is that eternal life begun. It is when God communicates His life and love to the soul which allows Him to do so freely.

Leonard continues, “The deeper into prayer you go the more conformed you are to Christ and when you do this it revolutionizes every aspect of your faith because Mass then isn’t just something that you do. Mass is transforming you as you offer yourself up on that altar along with Jesus Christ; you’re conformed more to Him and you become bit-by-bit and piece-by-piece more a part of that divine family of God.”

What Leonard is saying here is that the transformation which is undergone through the deepening of the life of prayer ultimately brings about a more personal relationship with God that can even be experienced on earth. Those inspiring stories about the Saints having mystical experiences with God are now not merely stories about distant holy figures, but a roadmap to where the Lord will bring all who seek to be transformed in love during this life.

This is attainable by you. This is attainable by your friends and family, as well. It does not matter the struggles undergone or the sins which have been committed in the past; it does not matter the particular vices being addressed in the present. This roadmap for the spiritual life will help those who live by it overcome everything coming in the way of the grace of God.  It will aid in the opening of hearts which enables one to enter more profoundly into that divine family of God which they are already a part.

Every other part of the Faith flows from this beautiful life of grace. This is the best kept secret of the Catholic Church. It is right out here in the open for all and God is waiting for Catholics to receive it and do something with it. If the faithful knew the infinite grace that was available, Churches would not be closing or consolidating, but would be growing and expanding, building bigger Churches to accommodate the overflowing crowds of people who want this as well.

Leonard said that this has radically changed his life because it is, “what you are made for!” This is the Catholic faith truly lived out.

The Diocese of the Venice’s Office of Evangelization is hosting an online 8-week discussion of these very teachings using the program “Catholic Mysticism & the Beautiful Life of Grace” presented by Leonard. The 8-week series will include the live-viewing of the 15 video series, a live question and answer segment, a discussion, and also a workbook which will further explain each segment, provide quotes and Scripture references, as well as discussion questions and room to take notes.

All participants will be given access to the videos of the lessons as well as the workbook. Discussion will be facilitated by the Diocese Director of Evangelization and a panel of educated contributors. The series will begin on Oct. 20, 2020 and run at 10 a.m. each Tuesday until the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, 2020.  Videos of the material and discussion will be available to view at any time by all participants.

For more information visit www.dioceseofvenice.org/prayer or email evangelization@dioceseofvenice.org.

Catholic Schools ready to open

Each of the 15 Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools is ready to reopen for the 2020-2021 Academic Year.

In just a few days, on Aug. 17, 2020, the students will be returning to the classroom for a fresh start for in-classroom instruction. Naturally, the return to school comes in the midst of the global COVID-19 Pandemic so the first day may look different than in the past but the joy of returning will be real for teachers, students and parents alike. An estimated 85 percent of parents requested in-school classes, while 15 percent prefer the virtual option.

While everyone will be wearing face masks or coverings, and there will be enforcement of social distancing at every opportunity, the schools have been transformed to ensure each student receives the quality Catholic education they deserve.

Using a comprehensive reopening plan from the Diocese Department of Catholic Education as a basis, each school has its own reopening plan to reflect its unique situation. These factors include: school layout; arrival and dismissal procedures; a reimagining of the use of indoor spaces including classrooms; the implementation of the student cohort model which minimizes the interaction of students; health checks; alternative learning opportunities; comprehensive cleaning protocols; and so much more.

The introduction of the Diocesan School Reopening Plan opens with a statement from Father John Belmonte, SJ, Superintendent of Catholic Education: “Over the past four months, we have learned in a deeper way, the value and importance of our Catholic Schools. As we prepare to reopen our schools, let us remain focused on Christ who is the reason for our schools, the reason we teach, and the reason why we will gather, prudently and safely.”

All Diocesan Catholic schools will offer an alternative at-home learning opportunity for students in high risk populations. Those who have chosen synchronous at-home learning, do have the freedom to switch to traditional face-to-face learning during the school year. Those decisions will be made with the school principal. In addition, if a student needs to quarantine at home, this at-home learning option will be available to that student until he or she can safely return to school.

In preparation for reopening, teachers and staff returned to St. Elizabeth Catholic School in Naples Aug. 4, 2020. There, Principal Maria Niebuhr reviewed safety protocols and welcomed everyone with inspirational messages of optimism, faith, gratitude and teamwork. In addition, Father Casey Jones, Administrator of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish, gave a special blessing for everyone and then blessed every classroom with holy water. The school also offered an online opportunity for parents, students and supporters to sign-up and participate in a novena prayer for the teachers and students.

At St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples, the teachers are not the only ones preparing for a great school year. The House Captains (seniors who will serve as student leadership throughout the school year) are hard at work making sure that the Salesian Spirit is shining through all the adjustments being made to ensure the campus remains a place that is a home, a school, a Church and a playground.

Meanwhile, St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton is installing social distancing decals throughout the campus with inspirational messages to live by, such as: Pray, Learn, Give, Obey, Forgive, Respect, Honesty, Gratitude and more.

St. Mary Academy in Sarasota is offering its students the opportunity to purchase facemasks emblazoned with the school logo, enhancing the shared experience and the sense of community for everyone.

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota got creative when planning to ensure social distancing. The school quickly raised the money to install outdoor academic spaces – two large tents, with tables and chairs, will be used for both classes and for the lunch period and provide some comfort from the elements.

These are just a few of the examples of the monumental effort being taken to reopen the Diocesan Catholic School on Aug. 17. To learn more about Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools, please visit www.dioceseofvenice.org/education.

Graduating in a time of Pandemic

Each graduating class points to one moment or event during their senior year that will serve to inexorably unite the group for years to come.

A banner adorns the facade of Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers, honoring the graduating Class of 2020.

For the Class of 2020, the COVID-19 Pandemic is obviously that event/moment. The impact not only caused schools to close and introduce new meaning to phrases like distance learning and quarantine, but it altered each graduating seniors’ perspective of themselves and the world in which they live.

The four Diocese of Venice Catholic high schools accommodated their students with Zoom classes and altered graduations plans.

The Donahue Catholic Academy of Ave Maria held their graduation June 5, 2020, a week late. The graduation took place in the Parish Church, following the Baccalaureate Mass celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane. Each of the graduates sat with their immediate family only and were separated by at least one pew.

This Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School graduating senior proudly stands with her mother in front of a graduation sign delivered to their home on April 23, 2020.

Arrangements are being made to ensure local health and safety guidelines are followed for the in-person graduations at the other three Catholic high schools. For example, the Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers (Mass, July 17 and graduation, July 18), the graduation may be switched to the school’s stadium. St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples (Mass and graduation July 23), will hold both events in the church with limited access. Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota (Mass, July 30 and graduation July 31) is holding its graduation at LECOM Park, the Bradenton spring training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Because of social distancing requirements, each graduation will limit the number of guests, meaning some family members will not be able to attend. To help lessen the impact, each of the graduations will be streamed live on social media.

The graduates have expressed a feeling of loss or emptiness by missing key moments of the last semester. Whether it was the prom, class trips, awards ceremonies, even the last days and chances to say farewell in person. Delayed and social distancing graduations add to the unusual nature of the final months of their high school lives.

Inevitably, not all students will be present for graduation. In fact, one student watched her graduation from afar for the Donahue Academy ceremony.

Anne Klemeyer of Cardinal Mooney is not sure she will be able to watch her own graduation as she has reported to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. She is heartbroken to have missed out on many of the senior year traditions. Klemeyer really enjoyed going to school each day and said it was hard having a last day of school and not even knowing it would be the last.

The last few months of school for Spencer Ebenger of Bishop Verot were described as the most trying time in his young life. “We all worked so hard. we had goals, and it was hard to stay motivated. It really made me appreciate being at school, my friends and the teachers. But it was also a time when I saw the world experiencing the same thing. Everyone came together for the betterment of others. It showed that there is a lot of good in the world.”

The Donahue Catholic Academy of Ave Maria commencement took place June 5, 2020 in the Ave Maria Parish church. Social distancing rules applied as only families sat together.

Distance learning taught the Class of 2020 what life will be like after high school, explained Abbey Lawe of Donahue. “The pandemic caused me to realize just how much of my character, personality and identity was formed by my Catholic school. It has given me a deeper gratitude and sentiment for all that Donahue has given me.”

The leadership of St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples, including the religious sisters, are on a school bus ready to deliver graduation presents to the Class of 2020 on April 30, 2020.

The most mundane and ordinary things, such as going to school, a restaurant, or simply hanging out with friends is something St. Neumann’s Ryan O’Connor will never take for granted again. “Things that seem so simple can easily be stopped, or come to an end, and because of that we should cherish every moment… I will definitely have this new mindset during the next chapter in my life.”

The Diocese of Venice Catholic High School Class of 2020 learned many lessons from the changing world, including adapting and preparing to face whatever challenges that come their way armed with a faith-based education centered in Gospel values.

News briefs from July 6 2020

Priest becomes U.S. Citizen

Father Rafal Ligenza, Administrator of St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton was sworn in as U.S. Citizen on July 6, 2020. A native of Poland, Father Ligenza was ordained to the priesthood in 2011 for the Diocese of Venice by Bishop Frank J. Dewane. Father Ligenza has been Administrator at St. Joseph Parish since January of 2019 and previously served as Parochial Vicar at St. William Parish in Naples and St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers. Congratulations Father!

CCW supports Catholic Charities

Representatives of the Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women recently presented a check to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice Inc. for their homeless prevention program. The presentation took place on June 23, 2020 at the Catholic Center in Venice. VDCCW President Brenda Dolan and Board Member Ellen Bachman presented the check for $7,000 to Philomena Pereira, CEO of Catholic Charities. Bishop Frank J. Dewane was also present as a show of support for both the VDCCW and Catholic Charities. The money is part of an annual effort of the VDCCW and will go toward the numerous programs that provide housing and also prevent people from becoming homeless.

Virtual Summer Reading Challenge

A Virtual Summer Reading Challenge is taking place for the students of St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton. Students were sent home books in early June and they are also encouraged to read more books on their own. Students in online reading sessions with guest readers via Zoom. For each book read, the students receive a wristband. During the first week of the reading challenge, the students read 197 books. With each book comes activities and projects. The group kicked off the Fourth of July Weekend by taking a virtual field trip to the Statue of Liberty in New York City, via Google Earth! The students learned the history of the statue and shared the book, “Emma’s Poem” by Linda Glaser. The group ended the morning by learning how to make “fireworks in a jar.” Some students have already completed up to 20 books. Well done!

If you need help

If you need assistance from Catholic Charities for food, financial assistance or tele-mental health counseling, please call the number for your area listed below 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. Services have expanded to include assistance in applying for state and federal benefits if you have lost work due to the COVID-19 Pandemic:

  • Sarasota/Manatee/DeSoto/Hardee/Highlands counties: 844-385-2407,
  • Charlotte/Lee/Hendry/Glades counties: 844-385-2423,
  • Collier County: 844-385-2404.

Food distribution

Catholic Charities food distribution will take place only at the following times and locations. Please call the regional number for more information.

  • Monday-Friday, 9-11 a.m., Guadalupe Social Services, 211 S. 9th St., Immokalee, the Soup Kitchen is providing take-out/meals-to-go;
  • Tuesdays, 9-11:30 a.m., Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center, 3174 Tamiami Trail E., Naples;
  • Thursdays, 9 a.m.-noon, St. Margaret Parish, 208 Dean Duff St., Clewiston;
  • Fridays, 9-11 a.m., St. Leo the Great Parish, 28360 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs;
  • Fridays, 9 a.m.-noon, Elizabeth K. Galeana Pantry, 4235 Michigan Avenue Link, Fort Myers;
  • 2nd and 4th Fridays of the month, 9-11 a.m., St. Paul Parish, 1208 E. Oak St. Arcadia.

Prayer to Overcome Racism

Mary, friend and mother to all, through your Son, God has found a way to unite himself to every human being, called to be one people, sisters and brothers to each other.

We ask for your help in calling on your Son, seeking forgiveness for the times when we have failed to love and respect one another.

We ask for your help in obtaining from your Son the grace we need to overcome the evil of racism and to build a just society. We ask for your help in following your Son, so that prejudice and animosity will no longer infect our minds or hearts but will be replaced with a love that respects the dignity of each person.

Mother of the Church, the Spirit of your Son Jesus warms our hearts: pray for us. Amen.


While the celebration of public Mass resumed May 18, 2020, Bishop Frank J. Dewane announced that the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains in effect through Sept. 1, 2020 for those who are at greater risk or anxious about returning at this time. The Faithful ought not to worry about remaining home if they are concerned for their wellbeing or that of other parishioners. Of course, those who are sick or have symptoms associated with COVID-19 are to stay home. Please check the Diocese of Venice website for any updates on any extension of the dispensation to attend Mass.


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

Sunday Televised Mass

The Televised Mass for the Homebound is available throughout the Diocese each Sunday. In northern parts of the Diocese (Manatee, Highlands, Hardee, Sarasota, DeSoto and Charlotte counties) the Mass airs on television at 9:30 a.m. on the CW Network. In the southern portions of the Diocese (Collier, Lee, Glades, Hendry, Charlotte counties) the Mass airs at 10:30 a.m., on WFTX-TV (FOX-4). This same Mass can be found on the Diocese of Venice website at any time during the week, www.dioceseofvenice.org/tvmass. Please check local listings for channel information.

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 their 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.

Online Resources

A special coronavirus webpage is located on the Diocese of Venice website homepage at www.dioceseofvenice.org. Resources include links to the Mass, the prayer for 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.

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.

Safety During Hurricanes

As the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season continues (June 1-Nov. 30), a prayer is presented here by which one asks God for protection and safety from the storms that often threaten Southwest Florida. With the formation of Tropical Storm Arthur in med-May, it promises to be another busy season of watching the tropics. We must all remember the devastating effect of Hurricane Irma from 2017 and what was witnessed when Hurricane Michael struck the Florida Panhandle in 2018, everyone in the Diocese of Venice knows and understands the power of these storms and the suffering which follows in their wake.



O God, Master of this passing world,

hear the humble voices of your children.

The Sea of Galilee obeyed Your order

and returned to its former quietude.

You are still the Master of land and sea.

We live in the shadow of a danger over which we have no control:

the Gulf, like a provoked and angry giant, can awake from its seeming lethargy,

overstep its conventional boundaries, invade our land, and spread chaos and disaster.

During this hurricane season we turn to You, O loving Father.

Spare us from past tragedies whose memories are still so vivid

and whose wounds seem to refuse to heal with passing of time.

O Virgin, Star of the Sea, Our beloved Mother, we ask you

to plead with your Son on our behalf,

so that spared from the calamities common to this area

and animated with a true spirit of gratitude,

we will walk in the footsteps of your Divine Son

to reach the heavenly Jerusalem,

where a stormless eternity awaits us. Amen.

Bradenton Catholic School hosted a STREAM program

St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton hosted a two-week virtual STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math) program in June 2020 for students of all ages.

Connected to their teachers via online Zoom sessions, students were empowered to follow the “Invention Process” as they collaborated, innovated, designed prototypes and learned from their failures. Program kits were sent directly to the students’ homes ahead of time so they could actively follow along and learn.

Students learned about flight with gliders, rockets, and robots. They constructed paper airplanes and measured their flight path and even built air traffic control towers. In addition, the students also investigated, took apart and customized a high-tech flight simulation robot.

They drew sketches, built prototypes, and designed logos for a new invention they created. Later the students created parachutes to air-drop different animals into different environments.

The inventors also designed and produced energy-efficient LED plant lights and even manufactured their own biodegradable pot and later planted seeds.

Participants discovered the unseen inventors behind their favorite sports and then designed and built their own ultimate sports complex. Students used simple machines to roll a ball during a table-top game.

Through these activities, students gained essential skills they can apply throughout their lives.

This STREAM program is just the latest in cutting-edge educational opportunities provided to students at St. Joseph Catholic School. To learn more about the school, please call 941-755-2611 or visit https://www.sjsfl.org/

Virtual presentation to high school seniors covers serious topics

The Diocese of Venice Respect Life Office works tirelessly to educate people of all ages on the Church teachings on issues of life, from conception to natural death.

While it is always hard to educate young people on such topics as abortion, premarital sex, the transmission of sexual related illness and other health issues, the most difficult group to reach and educate are high school-aged girls and boys. The combination of outside influences and the reality that many teens do not have a solid understanding of Church Teaching, makes any discussion challenging.

This screen capture is a from a recorded a frank virtual presentation by Pam Stenzel to Diocesan Catholic high school seniors on sex, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases.

To help reach the students in Diocesan Catholic High Schools, Diocese Respect Life Director Jeanne Berdeaux reached out to Pam Stenzel, a national speaker and founder of Enlighten Communications, with more than 25 years’ experience speaking to teens around the world.  She is currently the senior regional clinic coordinator for Community Pregnancy Clinics of Southwest Florida, with special focus on Gainesville and Sarasota.

“The idea to have Pam speak came about when we had another speaker talk to the students in 2015, and afterwards a survey was done.  Many of the students, even after the presentation, were sympathetic to the idea of abortion in cases of rape. Pam does a great job on this issue since her birthmother was raped.”

While it was planned to have Stenzel give a presentation at each high school in April, these were cancelled because of the COVID-19 Pandemic. When distance learning became the new normal for Diocesan schools, it was decided that Stenzel would record her presentation and each of the Diocesan high schools would incorporate it into the May lesson plan for graduating seniors.

The hour-long video covers a variety of topics and teachers were provided with a list of discussion questions.

Stenzel said her goal for the presentation was that no one would be able to watch her talk and leave and never again have to say to a physician, to a counselor, or to a future husband or wife – “nobody told me” about the consequences of premarital sex.

“Today you are going to be told, and whatever you choose to do after our time together is 100 percent up to you,” she stressed.  “I don’t decide what you are going to do about sex… The choice is yours. Your parents can’t choose for you. Some of them might wish they could… All we can do is love you. Tell you the truth and pray you make good choices.”

Starting with the basics, Stenzel explained that God created sex – but with boundaries. He also created choice, knowing that there would be pain, suffering and even death as a consequence when one steps outside of the boundaries.

The boundaries created by God are to contain sex within the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, she added, “not just when you are in love or have a warm fuzzy feeling. In the Sacrament… This is the rule. If you are not married, don’t do it. If you have sex outside of the context of one monogamous marriage, there is a cost: physically, emotionally and spiritually.”

She spoke about how young girls come to pregnancy clinics in fear of being pregnant, and how they are suddenly relieved if that test in negative. Of course, Stenzel must ask the follow-up questions of whether the girl has been tested for more than a dozen sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Many of these STDs have horrible and lasting side-effects. In fact, she added that young girls are 10 times more likely to receive an STD than to get pregnant during a sexual encounter. “They are not at all worried about getting an STD, they are worried only about getting pregnant. Unbelievable!”

While talking about many different topics, Stenzel spoke extensively on St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, and what it means to love someone freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully, noting that it takes integrity, respect and courage to wait to have sex until married. “You are worth it.”

The frankness of Stenzel is necessary to get her powerful message across. She stresses that she is not trying to upset or scare anyone but wants the teens to all know the price of having sex outside of the Sacrament of Marriage. “Knowledge will help you make the decision that is right for you.”

She left them with the advice to seek out the Catholic community wherever they are going to college, noting that it will be exponentially harder to live their Faith in the years ahead, thus having a solid connection to the Catholic Church will give them the strength they need.

St. Martha 6th graders share lessons learned during lockdown

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and extended distance learning forced upon Catholic school students in the Diocese of Venice, is likely difficult to quantify.

One St. Martha Catholic School teacher in Sarasota created a document for her sixth-grade students to evaluate the time of eLearning. Sister Cathy Bonfield, School Sister of Notre Dame, added to that evaluation the following question: “What life lesson did you learn that you can apply to your future?”

“As a teacher for 50+ years, I believe that it is important to help students process situations and learn from them,” Sister Cathy explained. “For sure, this is a moment in history that they will remember.  Hopefully, they will also remember the life lessons learned and apply them in their futures.”

As one might imagine, the responses covered a wide spectrum of topics from being happy to sleep in late, to proclaiming time management and organization are needed to succeed at distance learning. However, others offered a more practical and sometimes philosophical response.

The 100 responses were posted on the St. Martha Catholic School Facebook page. Here is a small sampling:

  • Even in bad times, we’ll all have to be there for each other.
  • I do not have to be afraid of failing because God is with me.
  • Washing your hands is very important.
  • I have learned how to manage my time, spend quality time with my family, and have fun.
  • If you don’t have something you’re used to, you tend to miss it a lot.
  • Life can throw anything at you, but you have to push through.
  • I learned that I am very fortunate to have these (online Google classroom) Meets and being able to have an education.
  • Family is one of the most important things in my life.
  • Be grateful for what you have, appreciating healthcare workers more, making sure that your family knows that you love them.
  • This experience really has been making me even more sure that I want to be a teacher.
  • It is so important to spend quality time with your family. Hanging out with them more… allows me to see what their lives are like in the day.
  • I learned that teachers are working very hard to allow us to even get a learning component during quarantine.
  • My anxiety shouldn’t stop me from doing things… because coronavirus can’t and shouldn’t stop me from doing these things.
  • You have to learn to deal with whatever comes your way.
  • The government makes lots of decisions.
  • It takes a lot of time to make a vaccine. It takes a lot of time for things to happen.
  • I can help my family during this hard time.
  • Life is boring during this time. I want to see my friends. I just miss school.
  • My family is always there for me.
  • A small thing can become a worldwide disaster.
  • Staying healthy is important.
  • Being with your family 24/7 for a few months is not as bad as it sounds, even with having two older sisters.
  • Life is precious, and it needs to be taken seriously because everything can change quickly and (you) usually end up missing something.
  • Things can come at any time. I learned not to live in fear.
  • Change is unexpected and teaches you lessons. Do not take anything for granted and enjoy every moment.

News briefs for the week of June 1 2020

School shares virtual May Crowning images

These two students from St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples pray before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary during May.

St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School did not want to let the COVID-19 pandemic cancel a favorite annual tradition, the May Crowning of Mary. Seton families were sent a request to submit pictures of students at home praying the rosary, placing flowers at a statue of Mary, coloring pages of the Blessed Mother, etc., and the results were inspiring. The results were so impressive that the school created and shared a short video which can be found on the school’s Facebook page. What a great way to honor Our Lady during the Month of May.

These are some of the drawings created by students from St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples created to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary during May 2020.

Bishop Dewane celebrates Pentecost Vigil at Cathedral


Sarasota student continues to help front line workers

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School student Malory Albritton helped pack and load the donations of blueberries to Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton in mid-May 2020.

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School student Malory Albritton is continuing to serve the community during COVID-19 pandemic. She helped pack and load the donations of blueberries from Albritton Fruit Farms made to Manatee Memorial Hospital nursing staff and doctors. Thank you for all that you do!

Ordination to the Priesthood June 27

The Ordination to the Priesthood of Transitional Deacon Franckel Fils-Aime will take place at 11 a.m., June 27, 2020 at Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Ave. W., Venice. All are welcome and encouraged to attend this important event in the life of Deacon Franckel and the Diocese of Venice. A reception will follow in the Parish Hall.

New basketball coach for Mooney

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota announced the appointment of Clayton Slentz as the new head varsity coach for the boys’ basketball team. Coach Slentz will continue to build on the growing strength of the Cougar athletic program. He has been an assistant varsity basketball coach with the Cougars for the past three years and currently teaches history at Cardinal Mooney. Slentz earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida in 2015 and his master’s degree in history in 2017. For nine years, Slentz has been coaching basketball at the high school level.

Incarnation student receives honor for writing play

Incarnation Catholic School student Cora Thayer was one of 20 script submissions selected from more than 7,600 entries as part of the Florida Studio Theater “Write-A-Play” program. A participant in the Florida Studio Theater’s Writing Workshop, Cora’s “Big Dreams Under the Big Top,” will be performed during the Young Playwright’s Festival in the Spring of 2021. Her play is about a tiny inchworm named Illianna who overcomes many obstacles to become a circus Ringmaster.

Incarnation Catholic School in Sarasota hosted a Florida Studio Theater Writing Workshop for students in January.

Online Preached Retreats

During the current health crisis, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice is offering online 3-day, 5-day, and 8-day retreats based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. In these online retreats, Father Mark Yavarone, OMV, or Father Lino Estradilla, OMV, trained spiritual directors, will meet with you for an hour each day via a link provided to you, to help you to pray and to recognize how God is speaking to you. A Bible and journal should be available for your use. Participants will be emailed any additional materials needed as the retreat unfolds. The cost is as follows: 3-day online retreat, $132.23; 5-day online retreat, $203.98; and 8-day online retreat, $306.48. All information will be confidential, and password protected. If you would like to participate in an online retreat, please email Denise Riley at riley@olph-retreat.org and a code will be provided for your online registration as well as an application. For planning purposes, please allow 7 days from your completed application until the beginning of your retreat.

News briefs for the week of May 4, 2020

Neumann delivers cheer to seniors

The leadership of St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples spent two days on “Operations: Celebrate Our Seniors” delivering cheer from the school van to the homes of graduating seniors. Each student received their cap and gown, yard sign, a t-shirt and personalized cookie. If the seniors can’t come to school, the goal was to bring the school to them. Each senior was asked to sign a graduation poster as they received words of encouragement from the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco who run the school.


Online Bible Study LIVE beginning May 12

A Bible Study will be offered online through the Diocese of Venice Facebook Live on Tuesdays May 12 through July 28 using the program “Genesis to Jesus” from the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. Each session will begin at 2:00 p.m. Join by going to https://www.facebook.com/DioceseofVenice/ and simply watch the live-stream video on the page. You will also be able to type in your questions and comments in real-time to participate from your own home (you do not need to have a Facebook account to watch the video but you do need to have an account to comment and ask questions)!  With so much great Catholic content out there now, here is something you can participate in yourself!

Scam Alert targeting parishioners

It has once again been brought to the attention of the Diocese of Venice that parishioners have received text/email messages from people pretending to be priests and requesting donations in the form of gift cards and/or wire transfers. The messages often greet the person by name and have the priests name in the closing signature of the message; this is a well-crafted and targeted attack on the Church across the country which has hit our Diocese again. These text/email messages are ‘spoofed’ fakes that should not be responded to or taken seriously by anyone. The best defense against this sort of scam is to raise awareness in the community and not respond or open any worrying attachments. It is Diocesan policy that no priest or staff within the Diocese request donations in the form of gift cards, PayPal, MoneyGram, etc

There is already an established process in place on how parishioners can make donations and participate in the life of the Parish. Whenever a parishioner is worried about any request for money from the parish or a priest, they should immediately call their parish and under no circumstances should they respond to these scam requests.

Year of St. Joseph resources online

On the Solemnity of St. Joseph, March 19, Bishop Frank J. Dewane consecrated the Diocese of Venice to the care and protection of Saint Joseph in the context of the Coronavirus and announced a “Year of St. Joseph” beginning March 19, 2020 through March 19, 2021.  St. Joseph is the Patron Saint of the Universal Church, fathers, workers and the sick and dying. A number of resources, including a Novena to St. Joseph, have been made available on the Diocesan website – www.dioceseofvenice.org.

Bradenton Food Pantry

The St. Joseph Parish Food Pantry, 2704 33rd Ave. W., Bradenton, is open and distributing food from 9 a.m. to noon Monday-Friday, 5-7 p.m. Wednesdays, following all social distancing protocols. Cars will be directed through the parking lot and trunks will be loaded by volunteers in protective gloves and masks. Call 941-756-3732 if you have any questions. You do not need to be a regular client to receive food. To make a donation of money or food, please visit https://www.stjoepantry.com/.

Music lessons continue

St. Francis Xavier Catholic School first grade student learns to play an instrument with the virtual assistance of Music Teacher Jeffery Jodice using ‘Google Meet’ in Fort Myers.