New Superintendent meets Principals

Shares vision about building Catholic School Culture

The mission of the Catholic Church, and by extension its Catholic Schools, is to introduce the world to its Savior.

This mission concept favorite declaration of Cardinal Francis George, the late Archbishop of Chicago and shared by Father John Belmonte, a Jesuit and new Diocesan Superintendent of Schools.

Father Belmonte shared the message at a meeting with principals on July 8, 2020 at Epiphany Cathedral Parish Hall in Venice. “That is what we do,” he explained. “That is our mission.”

He added that the world happens to be the school for the principal, the classroom for the teachers, and the family for those who are parents.

“We get to do that as Catholic School educators every day; which in my view is the greatest mission that anyone could have the privilege of serving and why I certainly get up in the morning and what I want to have happen in all Catholic schools – to introduce the world to its Savior! There is nothing better!”

As Superintendent, Father Belmonte said he sees his job – and by extension the entire Office of Education – as helping each principal, and by association each Diocesan Catholic school, to be wildly successful.

“If you are already wildly successful, congratulations, we will continue to facilitate that,” Father continued. “If you’re not quite wildly successful, we will work on that… because if we are, then we are introducing our students, families, teachers, everyone that we are serving, to our Lord, through the Church. Nothing is more important than that.”

Father Belmonte did warn the principals that he obsesses about developing Catholic School culture and its deeper and richer meaning in comparison to Catholic identity. “It is much more than that.”

The gathering began with the Liturgy of the Hours, a daily prayer of the Church, followed by a welcome by Bishop Frank J. Dewane.

The Bishop welcome Father Belmonte and said he was humbled that Father accepted the position with the Diocese, having a strong background in education which is also the Charism of the Jesuit religious order.

Bishop Dewane opened his comments by first thanking the gathered principals for their hard work during the last few months and managing the challenges caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“Know that I am very proud of how you handled it, and how we were perceived out in the public arena in handling the online teaching during the spring semester and as we approach reopening in August,” said Bishop Dewane while specifically thanking Interim Superintendent of Schools Ben Hopper for stepping up while also doing double duty as principal at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School.

Father Belmonte has a long connection to the Diocese of Venice having visited the area with family, specifically Anna Maria Island in Manatee County, for the past 50 years. He has an extensive background in education as a teacher and administrator, most recently as superintendent of the Diocese of Joliet.

New Superintendent begins, Diocese welcomes three new Principals

July is a time for transitioning within Catholic schools across the Diocese of Venice as the most recent academic year is over and a new one is quickly approaching.

On July 1, 2020, Jesuit Father John Belmonte assumed his role as the Superintendent of Catholic Education of the Diocese of Venice, a move announced in May 2020. Prior to coming to the Diocese of Venice, Father Belmonte was Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Joliet since 2010 and earlier served at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and St. Ignatius Preparatory High School, Chicago, Illinois.

The Diocesan Catholic Schools also recently announced three new principals effective in July.

Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice announced the return of Nicole Loseto as Principal, returning to the school where she taught for years and served as assistant principal before December 2019 when she took the top post at St. Catherine Catholic School in Sebring. She has 18 years of educational experience and holds two Masters’ degrees – one from Touro College in New York (Education and Special Education) and a second from the University of Cincinnati, Ohio (Educational Leadership).

Filling her vacancy at St. Catherine Catholic School is Dr. Christine Higgins, who arrives after serving at Cardinal Newman Catholic High School in West Palm Beach since 2004, first as a teacher and then as Principal for the past eight years. She has attended Florida Atlantic University where she holds a B.A. in Mathematics “Cum Laude,” a M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and a Ph. D. in Curriculum and Instruction. She previously lived in Sebring as a child.

The final addition is Dr. Jack Chavez, who will be taking

over as Principal of Incarnation Catholic School in Sarasota. Chavez mostly recently served as Principal of St. Mary Nativity Catholic School in Joliet, Illinois. An historian, businessman and lifelong musician, he holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Indiana State University, an MBA and an M.S.Ed from Purdue University and a Bachelor’s degree from Northern Illinois University.

Welcome to all of the new leaders of Catholic Education in the Diocese of Venice!

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 ( 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, 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 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 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,, 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

Helping brothers and sisters in need

Crisis brings out best in people

“We would be here even if it was to help one family.”

This was the assertion made by Maria DeJesus the director of St. Jude Parish Food Pantry in Sarasota. In existence since the Parish was founded in 2006, the food pantry, which sits in a mobile home at the rear of the Parish property, normally assists a few dozen families each week. Most of these families are down on their luck or in need of emergency supplies because of other unexpected expenses.

The COVID-19 Pandemic changed the dynamics in the community as many families were struck with unforeseen job loss as well as an uncertain future. “We jumped to helping more than 120 families each week,” DeJesus explained. “It was shocking, but we responded in the best way we could; with prayers, hard work and the grace of God.”

Appeals for financial support went out and the faithful responded either with food or financial donations. With All Faith’s Food Bank – a primary source for supplies – nearly depleted because of the same demand, DeJesus and other volunteers purchased food at local stores – whatever they could get their hands on.

“It was tough,” she explained. “The stores didn’t have much, but we talked to the managers and they worked with us to get what we needed. They understood that our food was feeding people who might otherwise starve without our help.”

Starvation might seem like an extreme statement, but when families lose jobs and bills continued to come in, difficult choices must be made. Food becomes a luxury item and as the home cupboards emptied, they turned to the one place they trusted – the Parish.

Father Celestino Gutierrez, Pastor of St. Jude, said he is proud of the work being done through the food pantry and ensure they have what is needed to meet the demand.

“When we built the Church, I made sure we had this food pantry,” he explained. “I purchased this used mobile home (which holds the pantry) so that we had something when people came to us for help, we would always be there.”

Father Gutierrez said the Catholic Church is a beacon of hope for the world and in turn the Parish food pantry is an important part of that hope for the local community. “We are called by Jesus to help the least of our brothers (Matt 25:40). We must always remember to do that.”

As a vehicle approached on a recent Wednesday evening, the driver’s face was unfamiliar, but the story was not: job loss, hardship, worry, need.

Two overflowing bags of food were loaded into the back of the vehicle as the driver said she was thankful and wanted to get out and give them a hug. Of course, there are no hugs during social distancing, but the thanks and gesture were appreciated.

DeJesus said the peak demand has tapered off since mid-June as businesses are reopening and people go back to work, but there are still upwards of 60-80 families coming to the food pantry during the two distribution times each week (5-6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and 8:30-9:30 a.m. Saturdays). That translates to hundreds of mouths being fed. The pantry offers food that will last families for about two weeks, offering various dry good, and when available, meat, fruit and vegetables.

“No matter the demand, we will be here,” DeJesus said.

That same attitude is found at other Parishes which established emergency food pantries. St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples set up its emergency food pantry in the Spirit Center, a place where receptions and fun events normally take place. Directed by John Toti, the Parish Events Coordinator in other times, who noted that locally those working in service industries were particularly hard hit and requests for help came pouring in, even as the Parish offices were closed to visitors.

“In the past we would have either directed them to go to Catholic Charities or the St. Vincent de Paul Society, or even given them a gift card to a nearby store,” Toti explained. “But everyone was hit with demand all at once, so we knew we had to do something else.”

An emergency request was made to Catholic Charities and the response was positive as Toti previously volunteered at the nearby Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center, a facility run by Catholic Charities which includes a large food pantry. A general appeal to parishioners for donations generated its own overwhelming response and for the past eight weeks food has been made available to all.

“It is the right thing to do,” Toti said. “We are here every day (10 a.m.-3 p.m.) and provide a good mix of food that will last.”

While St. Jude and St. Peter the Apostle are not the only Parishes to step up during this crisis, either through their own food pantry or through donations from local organizations, the acts of generosity is not limited to these groups.

For example, St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota recently announced the generosity of Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School student and St. Martha Alumnus, Mallory Albritton who heard about needy local families and decided to help.

Mallory, along with Total Tennis Sarasota owner, Phil Perrla and his wife, Epp Miller, donated the meat from their hogs. Mallory bought hers through the 4H Market Swine Project with her own money ($1,300) specifically to donate to families while Perrla and Miller won theirs in the 4H Foundation Raffle. Mallory also paid with her own money to process the meat that was donated.

These donations will help seven families in need from St. Martha Catholic School, St. Mary Academy and Incarnation Catholic School, all in Sarasota. The donation included multiple packages of sausage, pork chops, ham steaks, hams, hocks, picnic shoulder, Boston butt, roast, spareribs and bacon!

Siobhan Young, St. Martha Principal, said she was visiting Albritton Fruit Farms a few weeks ago and was approached about the business wanting to donate the pork and asked if she knew anyone who was in the school that needed help. The farming family has had children and now grandchildren attend St. Martha.

“There are families at the schools that have lost jobs and were regularly using food pantries to sustain them,” Young explained. “The meat they received is up to a 4-week supply.”

These are just a few examples of the action taking place throughout the Diocese of Venice, not just in Parishes but by individuals. The hard work taking place is often done without fanfare or recognition, but it is an effort that is making a difference to our brothers and sisters in need.

If you know of any acts of kindness during the COVID-19 Pandemic that you think should be recognized, please contact Bob Reddy at 941-486-4701 or


How to help

St. Jude Parish Food Pantry

3930 17th St., Sarasota, FL 34235



St. Peter the Apostle Parish

5130 Rattlesnake Hammock Road

Naples, FL 34113

Sister Frances retires leaving advice: ‘Stay close to Jesus’

Susan Laielli – Special to the Florida Catholic

With a smile and her famous Irish twinkle shared with Parishioners of Epiphany Cathedral in Venice for the last 26 years, Sister Frances Lalor, RSM, announces her retirement effective June 30.

Religious Sister of Mercy Frances Lalor, longtime Director of Religious Education at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, is retiring June 30, 2020.

Sister Frances, 81, professed her vows as a Religious Sister of Mercy (RSM) on September 8, 1957 in Ireland, and completed her studies in Columbia, Missouri in the 1960’s, eventually serving as principal of a Catholic School in Lake Worth, Fla., before coming to Southwest Florida.

“When we first came to America, we had the most beautiful habits made for us in Ireland, but oh boy, were they hot,” laughs Sister Frances. “We had to make lighter weight habits on the hurry.”

Since 1994, Sister has been a leader in Catholic Education working as Epiphany Cathedral’s Director of Religious Education, a position that is extremely crucial with respect to teaching and preparing young minds and hearts for the Sacraments of Confirmation, First Confession and First Holy Communion, as well as overseeing the annual Vacation Bible School and weekly Religious Education classes. She also coordinated the Parish’s RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) Faith Formation classes, which brings new Catholics into the Church. In addition, she served as acting Principal of Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School for several months a few years ago.

Over two-and-a-half decades of teaching in Venice, one can only imagine the impact Sister has had on several generations of growing Catholics. The advice she always offered was to always “stay close to Jesus.”

“Well, I hope I have. You never know for sure if you have made a difference,” said Sister Frances. “In fact, I met a little girl just last Sunday who went through a very difficult time in her life when she was growing up here. Now, a nurse in Texas, she came back to visit. When someone says to you, ‘You saved my life’ – you know…”

With teary eyes, Sister recalls the little girl’s father died by suicide and she spent time working with the family through that rough time, including helping her to get through the Christmas pageant that year.

Religious Sister of Mercy Frances Lalor, center, seen in Ireland with her brother Tom, a newly ordained priest, and cousin Sarah Ryan in this photo from 1968. The longtime Parish Director of Religious Education is retiring on June 30, 2020.

Born in County Laois, Ireland, Sister Frances grew up in a “very” Catholic Family, one of seven children, who never missed Mass, and whom as a family prayed the Holy Rosary each night on their knees, as she says, “not in cushy chairs.”

“No matter who came to the door the Rosary didn’t stop. They just walked in and got down on their knees – whether it was a workman, or someone else, because we lived on a farm,” said Sister Frances.

The visitors would finish the Rosary with the family, then work would go on, she recalls.

With a memory of seven Popes in her lifetime, she says if she had to choose a favorite, it would be Pope (St.) John XXIII, who served from 1958-1963.

“I like Pope John XXIII because before he became Pope, he helped the Jews quite a bit, but when he became Pope, he was just natural and human,” said Sister.

Retirement is one of the unavoidable stages in a life well-lived and is bittersweet.

On June 1, 2020, Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School teachers honor retiring Religious Sister of Mercy Frances Lalor, a one-time principal at the Venice school. The longtime Parish Director of Religious Education is retiring on June 30, 2020.

As Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School celebrates 60 years of Premier Education for a Life of Purpose this year, the school recently honored Sister Frances with its 2020 Shining Star Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Epiphany Gala, held in February.

Before the effects of COVID-19 took hold, Sister Frances had big retirement plans to visit a religious order in San Antonio, Texas. But for now, those plans are on hold, so she’ll remain local with a few good meals until the Pandemic subsides.

“A favorite would be eggplant parmigiana with a glass of white wine – not red!” smiles Sister Frances.

Best and brightest of the Diocesan Class of 2020

Each year the four Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Venice send into the world some of the best prepared students.

The Class of 2020, which includes Bishop Verot in Fort Myers, Cardinal Mooney in Sarasota, Donahue Academy in Ave Maria, and St. John Neumann in Naples, has graduates who are going forth having received an excellent education based on Gospel values.

Among the graduating class, 97 percent have plans to go to college earning a combined $46.5 million in scholarship offers, all while dedicating thousands of hours of service in the community.

Of course, the Class of 2020 will likely be best remembered because their final semester was upturned by the impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic. An enforced quarantine and subsequent distance learning, as well as missing key events in their final months of school, did not dampen the excitement as they prepare for the next phase in their lives.

It should come as no surprise that at each school the students were nurtured in a supporting and spiritual environment to become life-long learners. The Pandemic did little to change that fact as some of the top graduates recently reflected upon their high school experiences and how well-prepared they are for college and beyond.

Alberto Macia, St. John Neumann Valedictorian, explained how the academics fully prepared him to be competitive for college applications and set him up to be successful. “However, it is so much more than academics,” the Cornell University-bound student said. “The faculty really cares about each student. The atmosphere is fun and really like a family. Some of my classmates have been my friends since I was three years old. They are more than classmates, they are family.”

Summa Cum Laude Bishop Verot graduate Connor Shovlin, who is a National Merit Scholarship Finalist and will be attending Duke University in the fall, said he is very prepared for college. “Verot delivers a superior quality education and has a great community and environment in which to learn. I have been very impressed with the support that Verot provides to its students. All of the teachers are passionate about their subject and about teaching.”

Donahue Catholic Academy Valedictorian Quinten Fairchild is heading to the University of Notre Dame and credits his school with providing each student the opportunity to do something great. “Catholic schools are able to speak about God in a way that public schools are not. Moreover, they are free to speak their minds, and that really manifests itself in great ways at Donahue.”

Graham Linehan, Cardinal Mooney Valedictorian, who is headed to the University of Florida Honors College, called his school a close-knit community. When asked what he would tell of prospective student, he said: “If you are looking for a specific personal experience, I would go for it… these schools are innovative and adaptive.”

The 13 years of Catholic education (St. Ann Catholic School and Neumann) provided to Salutatorian Ryan O’Connor, “truly instilled values I am thankful to have in my life.” The future University of Florida student continued: “By having a school deeply rooted in the Catholic Faith, I have been taught morals and principles that are hard to find in any other school community.”

Bishop Verot Summa Cum Laude graduate Spencer Ebenger is attending Vanderbilt University in the fall and while in school founded a non-profit to help improve literacy in rural areas as well as in Jamaica. He explained that Verot is a community of people who are there for each other. “It’s bigger than one person and has that extra personal touch. Everyone cares about each other. There is no censorship of other religions; there is an open dialogue. The culture is one big family. The people are there for you. They were there for me and (going) was easily the best decision of my young life.”

Anna Klemeyer, Cardinal Mooney Salutatorian, who recently reported to the U.S. Naval Academy, said she attended Mooney because her parents wanted her to go to a school with morality involved in the school culture. She also found the family atmosphere helped her succeed. “I will always cherish the relationships I built here, with not only my classmates, but the amazing faculty that help all students whether it be with math homework or supporting them in a time of need.”

The most valuable lesson Abbey Lawe, Salutatorian at Donahue, gained from her education was to learn how to think, not just what to think. Continuing her education at Providence College, she said Donahue was “more than just a school, it really was a community of teachers and students who so wanted us to succeed… allowed us to feel known, supported and loved by our teachers and classmates.”

These top graduates reflect well upon the entire Class of 2020 and serve as an example of the excellence found in the students of Bishop Verot, Cardinal Mooney, Donahue and St. John Neumann.

Below, please find more information on the top graduates from the Diocese of Venice Class of 2020.

Alberto Macia – St. John Neumann


Cornell University

Mechanical engineering

Clubs/sports: National Honors Society, Peer Ministry, House Captain, Beta Club, baseball for four years and football for senior year.

Ryan O’Connor – St. John Neumann


University of Florida

Biomechanical engineering

Clubs/sports: National Honors Society, Beta Club, four years of football.

Spencer Ebenger – Bishop Verot

Cumma Sum Laude

Vanderbilt University


Clubs/sports: National Honors Society, Model UN, Mock Trial, Spanish Club, Mu Alpha Theta Club, COSA (future health professionals).

Connor Shovlin – Bishop Verot

Summa Cum Laude

Duke University

Biomechanical engineering and computer science

Clubs/sports: National Honors Society, Math Honors Society, Spanish Honors Society, STEM Team, Academic Quiz Bowl, tutor, Verot Scholars Academy, National Merit Scholarship Finalist.

Quinten Fairchild – Donahue Academy


University of Notre Dame

History and political science

Clubs/sports: National Honors Society, Student Life, Model UN (founding member), Shakespeare in Performance, four-years basketball, three-years cross country.

Abbey Lawe – Donahue Academy


Providence College, R.I.


Clubs/sports: National Honors Society, Student Life, Model UN (founding member), Shakespeare in Performance, Yearbook Club, tutor, four-years-basketball.

Graham Linehan – Cardinal Mooney


University of Florida Honors College

International studies

Clubs/sports: National Honors Society, Junior Class President, Academic Olympics, Spanish Club, co-founder of Italian Club, four-year tennis player.

Anna Klemeyer – Cardinal Mooney


U.S. Naval Academy

Cyber Operations

Clubs/sports: National Honors Society, Academic Olympics, four-year volleyball player.

Together again: Bradenton school reunites to congratulate the Class of 2020

By John L. Carkeet IV – Special to the Florida Catholic

Friends and loved ones gathered at St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton June 17, 2020 to honor the Class of 2020. The graduation Mass and ceremony marked the first official occasion where students, faculty and families could meet face-to-face since March 13.

“This is the first time we have shared the same space since classes were suspended from the (COVID-19) Pandemic,” said Deborah Suddarth, principal at St. Joseph Catholic School. “I’m grateful we could make this happen in a safe and special manner.”

With facemasks mandatory and social distancing strictly enforced, 20 eighth grade graduates and their families were given the opportunity to celebrate the next chapter in their life’s journey under one roof.

Before the pandemic, all St. Joseph students would have been invited to attend the graduation, Suddarth explained. “One of this year’s graduates told me she would watch her older peers walk down the aisle and receive their diplomas year after year, and she couldn’t wait for the day it would be her turn… That’s when I knew we had to do our best to make this day special for the Class of 2020.”

The celebration opened with a Mass celebrated by Parish Administrator Father Rafal Ligenza. “One of the customary things to say during graduation is ‘believe in yourselves,’” Father Ligenza added. “If you only put faith in yourself, you will wind up disappointed. Believe in God instead. He will take care of you… You will succeed if you trust in the Lord.”

Mass was followed by a ceremony that recognized the achievements and accolades of the graduates. Joshua P. Ogline received several awards including highest honors in sports, science, religion and language arts.

“But I’m most proud of the St. Joseph Spirit Award,” said Joshua, who also served as the School’s Student Council President. “It recognizes the time and effort our school dedicated to service projects. It recognizes how we incorporated our faith by working together and having fun in everything we did.”

A luncheon followed the ceremony, giving graduates and their families something that most people once took for granted: authentic, in person communication.

“This is a mature class blessed with a supportive network of families,” Suddarth said. “They put the needs of others before their own, and they took every opportunity to lead by example… Although this may be the last time we meet as a group, it will not be the last we’ve heard of the Class of 2020.”

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.