News Briefs for the Week of Jan. 6, 2023

Retired religious priest dies

Father Joseph P. Jocco, Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, a retired priest who assisted at St. Ann Parish in Naples and Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers, died on Dec. 24, 2022. Father was born in Chicago and served in the U.S. Navy as corpsman prior to entering the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, professing his first vows in 1977.  He was ordained a priest on June 9, 1984. Father Jocco worked in a variety of ministries in secondary education in Philadelphia, Wilmington, Delaware, Daytona Beach, and at Bishop Verot in Fort Myers. He was also the Vocation Director for the Wilmington-Philadelphia Province and Superior of the Salesian community at Parishes in Philadelphia, Robesonia, Pennsylvania and St. Ann Parish in Naples. Father Jocco is survived by several brothers and sisters, as well as many nieces and nephews. A Mass of Christian Burial was held Jan. 3, in Childs, Maryland, with burial following in the Oblate Cemetery.

Bishop celebrates Feast Day Mass in Naples

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated Mass on the Feast of St. Elizabeth Seton (Jan. 4, 2023), at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naples. The Mass included the participation of the students from St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School. Bishop Dewane encouraged the students to learn about their patroness who served as an example to follow in how she answered a call from the Lord and helped launch Catholic education in the United States.

Mooney starts equestrian club

Adventure awaits students in Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School’s newest club! The first outing for the Equestrian Club was Dec. 10, 2022, at a local dressage stable, where students learned about horse safety, grooming, and horse care. Members saddled up the beautiful horses at Rosaire’s Riding Academy to learn the basics of riding so that they can go on future trail rides together. The Equestrian Club also had fun hearing presentations by fellow Mooney students that compete in horse shows on the events that comprise equestrian sports – show jumping, hunter trails, and dressage. The next goal is a ride at the beach! The new Equestrian Cub was founded by sophomore Marianna Cardona Ortiz.

Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal continues

The 21st Annual Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal is continuing through January 2023. A donation to the Appeal strengthens Catholic Charities ability to provide much-needed support, for those recovering from Hurricane Ian, or who need any type of assistance in the region. This outreach is accomplished through more than 35 programs in locations throughout the 10-county Diocese. These programs annually support more than 100,000 individuals and families in ways both large and small. To support the Christmas Appeal, please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org or mail a contribution to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285.

Time running out for hotel rooms for Eucharistic Congress

The two-part Diocese of Venice Eucharistic Congress and Youth Rally is coming March 24 and 25, 2023, to the Conference Center and Luminary Hotel on the riverfront of downtown Fort Myers. The Eucharistic Congress Youth Rally is 5 to 10 p.m., Friday, March 24, 2023, while the main Eucharistic Congress for adults is Saturday March 25. Exciting speakers and musicians are scheduled for these two events. Both events will include Eucharistic Processions and the opportunity to grow closer to the Lord through the Blessed Sacrament. Visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/eucharistic-congress/ to register and for additional details. For those wishing to spend the evening of the 24th or 25th at the Luminary Hotel, the deadline to obtain a special rate is closing soon, please make your reservation by visiting https://www.marriott.com/event-reservations/reservation-link.mi?id=1658159545793&key=GRP&app=resvlink.

Sarasota student earns top Christmas art honor

Isabella Valentine wants to be an artist when she gets older. If the people at the Missionary Childhood Association (MCA) Christmas Artwork Contest are any judge, Isabella is well on her way to achieving this dream.

Isabella is an eighth-grader at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota and was one of 24 artists to be recognized for her work in the MCA Christmas Artwork Contest. Her artwork, and that of the other winners, is on display through the Advent and Christmas Seasons at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. All winners are featured as MCA eGreetings, which launched on the First Sunday of Advent at egreetings.missio.org.

Isabella’s winning artwork of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Child Jesus was of her own interpretation from her creative mind.

The honor of being recognized for her artwork is very exciting for the young lady as her mother, Tamera Valentine, explained, “We are so beyond proud of Isabella and this amazing award. Isabella’s true passion is art. In her free time, she is always drawing and creating. Her dream is to go to Ringling College of Art and pursue her passion.”

Isabella’s progression and skills as an artist has impressed her parents and they encourage her in reaching for her dreams. The artwork created for the MCA contest was created when she was in seventh grade, and her mother said in one year she has improved her skills immensely.

This is not the first time a St. Martha Catholic School student has been honored through the MCA Christmas Artwork Contest. In fact, in 2021, two students were recognized, and several have been honored in years past.

Throughout the years, Mary Jo Salamone, Isabella’s art teacher, takes time to ensure her students take part in the different art competitions, but never losing sight that each award is a gift from God which should be shared with others.

“The St. Martha Catholic School art students win many national and local art awards during the school year,” Salamone said. “It is always great to see one of our students be recognized for their talent.”

Hundreds of submissions were received, both through the mail and online, for the annual MCA competition which dates back to 1933. Back then, MCA used children’s artwork on Christmas seals. Christmas cards were introduced in 2005, and in 2007 eGreetings were launched with these drawings depicting scenes of the Christmas story: shepherds and angels, the Three Kings and the Holy Family, the animals present by the manger, and the Infant Jesus.

An agency of the Pontifical Mission Societies, the MCA asks children in the nation’s elementary schools and Parish religious education programs and those who are home-schooled to submit their artwork to illustrate “The Nativity & Mission.”

The MCA was founded in France in 1843 by Bishop Charles de Forbin Jansen. Its purpose is to encourage all children to be aware of the needs of children living in mission Dioceses throughout the world and support them both spiritually and sacrificially. Today it is in 110 countries and helps make Jesus known to children all over the world. Under its banner “children helping children”, monies raised through schools are directed towards self-help programs involving the building of schools, the provision of health and nutrition programs and medications, school fees, as well as teaching and learning resources.

Father Joseph Gates is the Director of the Diocese Office of Propagation of the Faith (Mission Office), which coordinates activities regarding foreign, domestic, and Diocesan mission work. For more information, please call 941-776-9097 or email missionoffice@dioceseofvenice.org.

 

News Briefs for the Week of Dec. 23, 2022

Televised Christmas Mass for the Homebound

The televised Christmas Day Mass for the Homebound, with Celebrant Bishop Frank J. Dewane, will air for a full hour on Christmas Day. For viewers in the northern portions of the Diocese (DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Manatee, and Sarasota counties), the Mass will air at 9 a.m. on the CW Network. In the southern portions of the Diocese (Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee counties), the Mass will air at 10 a.m. on WFTX-TV (FOX-4). Please check your cable provider for channel listings. The Mass will also be available at www.dioceseofvenice.org/tvmass. For more information email ardy@dioceseofvenice.org.

Students use food to create stable

Fifth and second grade students at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers collaborated on Dec. 19, 2022, to complete a “Chopped” style challenge. Each team was given a kit with many different types of food and supplies to build a stable and unique 3D Shape. The students had a fun and messy time working together on this STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, art, math) project! The students were lucky enough to have teachers and administrators come around to give feedback on their choices for the most creative.

Science and inventors recognized in Cape Coral

Middle school students at St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral took part in their annual Science and Inventors Fair with judging taking place on Dec. 16, 2022. Projects included answering age-old questions such as “Is organic better than non-organic?” “Can plants grow with other liquids?” “How strong are dogs senses?” “Do horses sense weather changes?” “Are hamster balls humane?” “Which light is better for plant growth?” Or coming up with creations such as “Solar “S’Mores,” “The ultimate mosquito trap,” “The chipgrabber,” “Putting the grip back in grip tape,” “Toddler safety stool,” “Fishing rod holster 2.0,” and much more. This type of science fair helps students learn about the world around them as well as allowing them to perhaps invent something to make the world a better place. That is what a balanced STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, art, math) education is all about.

Former Diocesan Judicial Vicar dies

Father Arthur J. Espelage, OFM, former Judicial Vicar of the Diocese of Venice, died Dec. 9, 2022, in Columbus, Ohio at the age of 78. Born in Cincinnati, Father Espelage attended St. Francis Seminary in Cincinnati before entering the Franciscan novitiate on Aug. 15, 1962, and then entered Duns Scotus College in Southfield, Michigan, where he made his solemn vows on Aug. 16, 1966. He was ordained to the priesthood on June 12, 1971, at St. Leonard College in Centerville. He later earned a JCB, then JCD in canon law from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. As a priest, Father Espelage served in New Mexico, Ohio, and Palm Beach. In 2008, Father Espelage was named Judicial Vicar for the Diocese of Venice, a position he held until 2014. He then served at St. Meinrad School of Theology before taking a position as Adjutant Judicial Vicar for the Diocese of Tucson. A Mass of Christian Burial Friars is at the St. Anthony Friary and Shrine in Cincinnati on 11 a.m., Jan. 16, 2023.

Two Mooney graduates recognized for academic prowess

Two Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School graduates have been recognized for earning perfect scores on their college-level Advanced Placement® Exams in spring 2022, an achievement announced in December. Hallie Monserez and Madalyn Shuck are among an elite group of students, two of the only 306 in the world, to earn every point possible on an AP Research Exam and receive the maximum score on each portion of the exam. AP Exams are scored on a scale of 1 to 5 and they received the top score of 5. Furthermore, both Hallie and Madalyn received their Mooney AP Capstone Diploma, along with six other Mooney seniors, upon graduation in Sarasota in May 2022. AP Capstone is a diploma program from the College Board based on two yearlong AP courses: AP Seminar and AP Research. Both courses prepare students for college and career success through the development of critical thinking, academic research, collaboration, presentation, and time management skills.

Charlotte County Society of St. Vincent de Paul receives special donation

The St. Vincent de Paul Charlotte District Council recently received a donation of $12,000 from Florida State District 75 Rep. Michael Grant, which includes Charlotte County. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul provides services for those who are struggling with poverty, homelessness and hunger, and has been actively involved in the community and has met the increased demands since Hurricane Ian.

“The volunteer work of St. Vincent is critical to the health and welfare of our community,” Rep. Grant said. “I am honored to assist them in their endeavors to help those in need as they deal with the aftermath of Hurricanes Ian and Nicole.”

“Being residents of Charlotte County ourselves, we at SVdP know what it’s like to have your life turned upside down by a disaster,” said Joe-Ann Pierre, Charlotte District Council President. “We are so grateful for this donation to help those affected by these hurricanes.”

To learn about volunteer opportunities or to make a donation, stay up to date with the latest news, see www.svdppg.org, call 941-575-0767 or follow the organization on Facebook at www.facebook.com/svdppuntagorda.org.

Benefactor of Catholic education dies

Rhodora J. Donahue, a strong supporter of Catholic education, died Dec. 12, 2022, in Naples at the age of 97. The matriarch of a large family (13 children, 84 grandchildren and 168 great-grandchildren), was married to the late John F. Donahue. Rhodora lived in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area (Ligonier) for many years before settling in Naples in 1986. In Naples, the couple was a strong supporter of St. Ann Catholic School, St. John Neumann Catholic High School, St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School and later the Royal Palm Academy (a school affiliated with the Diocese in Naples), and finally the Rhodora J. Donahue Academy of Ave Maria Catholic School in Ave Maria was established and named in her honor. A Mass of Christian Burial took place Dec. 21, 2022, at St. Paul Cathedral, Pittsburgh.

Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal continues

The 21st Annual Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal is continuing through January 2023. A donation to the Appeal strengthens Catholic Charities ability to provide much-needed support, for those recovering from Hurricane Ian, or who need any type of assistance in the region. This outreach is accomplished through more than 35 programs in locations throughout the 10-county Diocese. These programs annually support more than 100,000 individuals and families in ways both large and small. To support the Christmas Appeal, please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org or mail a contribution to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285.

St. Ann Catholic School Foundation supporter dies

Mary Alice (Manning) Wasmer, co-founder of the St. Ann School Foundation Fashion Show, died Dec. 12, 2022, in Naples at the age of 98. Born and raised in Ohio, she married John “Jack” C. Wasmer, Jr., and they had seven children. Wasmer was active in the arts in the Cleveland area and transferred that passion to Florida, moving to Naples permanently in 1986. A patron of the arts, a gallery at Florida Gulf Coast University in Estero is dedicated to the family. Mary was dedicated to the support of children and Catholic education, championing events for inner city schools in Cleveland. In Naples, she continued her work with St. Ann Parish and the St. Ann School Foundation for several decades. Wasmer co-founded the Foundation fundraising fashion shows and was an honorary chair of the Foundation galas. A Mass of Christian Burial took place Dec. 17, 2022, at St. Ann Parish.

Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrated across Diocese

Throughout the Diocese of Venice tradition, prayer, reverence, and music marked the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, of the New Evangelization, and of unborn children.

Celebrated on Dec. 12, the Feast is often linked to the Dec. 9 Feast of St. Juan Diego, the day in 1531 when Our Lady first appeared to the Saint near modern day Mexico City.

Parishes throughout the Diocese celebrated this special day with a variety of events including Masses, overnight vigils, large processions, early morning prayer celebrations, and outdoor festivities. Many of the activities included traditional music with elaborately dressed dancers, as large numbers of small children also dressed as our Our Lady or St. Juan Diego.

“Our Lady of Guadalupe means so much to me and so many others,” said Olivia Gomez of Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers who participated in the Dec. 11, 2022, Mass and an outdoor festival. “My family has a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin. We pray to her each day. This gives us great comfort.”

That gratitude was magnified this year as the Fort Myers community was hard hit on Sept. 28 by Hurricane Ian. Gomez, whose home had roof and water damage, was out of work until just recently because the business where she worked was badly damaged.

“On this Feast Day, in a special way, we all join together to give thanks to Mary and to honor Her for the blessings we have received throughout the year, but especially since Ian,” Gomez said. “We have been truly blessed by the love and kindness of everyone in the community who have come together to rebuild.”

Carlos Diaz, of St. Paul Parish in Arcadia, also had home damage from river flooding after Ian and had to replace nearly the entire contents of his home.

“We needed clothes for the children and furniture,” Diaz said during the Parish outdoor celebration. “The Parish was our lifeline as Our Lady of Guadalupe shined Her light upon us all. We are doing great now. We really are blessed that it wasn’t worse. We are still in our home, which is better than many of our family and friends.”

At Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated the Feast Day Mass. The Mass there was preceded by a procession around the church. Afterwards, the Bishop blessed a variety of religious articles and then everyone enjoyed a celebration in the Parish Hall.

Bishop Dewane expressed joy at the commemoration and how it represented the Universal nature of the Church, with Our Lady taking on a special meaning for all. “We honor Our Lady of Guadalupe and Her presence among us as this is an important moment that deserves our prayerful thanks and a true celebration.”

Celebrations also took place in many Parishes and schools throughout the Diocese. Huge crowds took part in a large procession from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish through the streets of Immokalee, while at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples the procession wound its way to the Parish from U.S. 41.

A smaller procession preceded a trilingual (English, Spanish, Creole) Mass which took place Dec. 11 at Frontier Park in Zolfo Springs for the faithful of St. Michael Parish in Wauchula and Holy Child Mission in Bowling Green.

Each Diocesan Catholic elementary school held a variety of celebrations to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe, many taking the opportunity to create a teaching lesson about the Universal Church and devotions to Our Lady.

Our Lady appeared, dressed like an Aztec princess, to St. Juan Diego, a poor widower who was on his way to Mass. She asked, in his native language, to have the Bishop of Mexico build a church in Her honor. Skeptical, the Bishop asked for a sign. Our Lady again appeared to St. Juan Diego who shared the request of the Bishop. So, Our Lady provided a sign, beautiful roses in the middle of winter which were placed in the tilma, a cloak made of cactus fibers, which St. Juan Diego wore. Upon his return to the Bishop, when Juan Diego opened the tilma, the roses fell to the floor, and an impression of Our Lady appeared on the tilma in the form of an indigenous woman. The image amazed the Bishop and all those present and word of this miracle quickly spread.

This apparition led to the conversion of Mexico almost overnight, when up to that time Catholic missionaries from Europe had made very little headway. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City was built on the site of the apparitions and is one of the most visited religious shrines in the world. It is also home of the actual tilma of St. Juan Diego, which can still be seen, with the image clearly visible, nearly 500 years later.

Patronal Feast of U.S. celebrated

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Thursday, December 8, 2022, is the patronal feast day of the United States, and was celebrated throughout the Diocese of Venice.

Father David Portorreal celebrated Mass for the students at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers. Part of his message was a gentle reminder that the Solemnity celebrates the Immaculate Conception of Mary in her mother, St. Anne. The Immaculate Conception does not refer to the original conception and birth of Christ, as is often thought, but rather to the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was conceived without inheriting original sin.

Part of the confusion comes from the Gospel reading of the day, which is from Luke and recounts the Annunciation (March 25), when the Archangel Gabriel appeared before the Virgin Mary and told her she was carrying the Child Jesus.

Pope Francis publicly visited a statue dedicated to the Immaculate Conception near Rome’s Piazza di Spagna, a tradition of Popes since 1953, which was preempted the past two years because of the global pandemic.

“You, from heaven where God has received you, see the things of Earth far better than we do; but as Mother you listen to our invocations to present them to your Son, to his heart full of mercy,“ Pope Francis prayed Dec. 8.

The Holy Father invited the faithful to entrust themselves to Our Lady. He reminded Catholics that “Mary, the only human creature without sin in history, is with us in the battle, she is our sister and above all Mother.”

Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education, Father John Belmonte, SJ, celebrated the Solemnity Mass for students at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers.

Father Belmonte brought roses for our Blessed Mother and presented them with help from one of the students. His homily included ‘show and tell’ with a life vest representing how to save your body from drowning as a symbol of how our Faith is a life vest for our soul.

“Walking with Moms in Need” still relevant

It has been five months since the historic U.S. Supreme Court Dobbs decision which effectively overturned five decades of unlimited access to abortion. However, the Catholic Church’s fight to protect life from conception continues.

In the wake of the Dobbs decision on June 24, 2022, Bishop Frank J. Dewane said the “legal protection must be accompanied by more care for mothers and their children. The Catholic Church, and the Diocese of Venice, stand ready to help mothers in need. Pregnant women are not alone… Parishes in the Diocese of Venice have redoubled their efforts to accompany women and couples who are facing unexpected or difficult pregnancies, offering them loving and compassionate care.”

At that time, the Diocese introduced “Walking with Moms in Need,” a program which educates Parish staff and the faithful about how to help pregnant moms in need, including where to send them for help (https://dioceseofvenice.org/walking-with-moms-in-need). All resources are available in both English and Spanish.

There are 22 Pregnancy Help Centers and nine residential maternity and after-birth homes within the Diocese, standing ready to help. Importantly, there are many financial and volunteering opportunities available to support these Pregnancy Help Centers.

For decades, the Diocese of Venice has supported these Pregnancy Help Centers and will continue to do so. Our Mother’s House of Catholic Charities in Venice is one of the programs in the Diocese that supports single mothers and their children, providing not just housing and material needs, but valuable counseling and education.

A recently released video from Bishop Dewane (available at the “Walking with Moms in Need website noted above) discusses “Walking with Moms in Need” within the Diocese. The Bishop stresses how the Church has built a Culture of Life and how we must all stand as a voice for the voiceless – the unborn. It is through the “Walking with Moms in Need” program that Parishes are to be “Islands of Mercy” in a sea of indifference and a field hospital for those in search of support, as called on by Pope Francis.

Bishop Dewane extends an invitation for the faithful to join in the “Walking with Moms in Need” program “guided by the Holy Spirit, let us offer Christ’s presence and love to mothers in their time of need through our faithful service and support.”

Jeanne Berdeaux, Diocese of Venice Respect Life Director, said the message from Bishop Dewane and the “Walking with Moms in Need” program are crucial. “The Catholic Church needs to be there for pregnant women to help with their needs. We need to come alongside the Pregnancy Help Centers, Maternity Homes and After Birth Homes as they continue to work diligently with each mom, the dad and other important family members.”

Berdeaux said that the abortion issue will be in the news again when the Florida Legislature gathers in their upcoming 2023 session from March 7 to May 5.

As the Bishop statement pointed out following the Dobbs decision: “In God’s eyes, all human life is sacred, from conception to natural death; this is the teaching of the Catholic Church.”

As the Diocesan statement concludes, we are reminded: “Let us all continue to pray for the end to abortion, and the end to taking the lives of an entire category of human beings, the preborn.”

To learn more about “Walking with Moms in Need” please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/walking-with-moms-in-need, or contact Jeanne Berdeaux at 941-374-1068 or Berdeaux@dioceseofvenice.org.

Opportunities to Support Life

St. Augustine March for Life

The 17th annual March for Life will be held in St. Augustine on Friday, January 13 and Saturday, January 14 with speakers, music, and activities at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche. For details please visit www.marchforlifestaugustine.com. (Plans are underway to move the march to Tallahassee in 2024.) Make your hotel reservation soon! Questions?

Catholic Days at the Capitol

Join others from around the state for the annual Catholic Days at the Capitol in Tallahassee from March 7-9, 2023. The three-day trip includes a legislative briefing on important bills relating to human life and dignity, a breakfast with legislators and the Florida Bishops, tours of the capitol and museum, scheduled visits with legislators and the annual Red Mass of the Holy Spirit with the Florida Bishops and public officials. Bus transportation is provided while space is available at no cost.

National March for Life

A group of youth and adults will take place in the 50th Annual National March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. 2023. The Diocese participates in this March each year and it includes groups from Parishes as well as the Diocesan Catholic high schools. The Diocesan group will also participate in the Vigil Mass on Jan. 19, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

 

 

“We kept kids in school during COVID – and it shows”

By Father John Belmonte, SJ – Diocese of Venice Superintendent of Catholic Education

As happens in many families, our Catholic schools can display this year’s report card proudly on the refrigerator! The nation’s Catholic schools received their report card (in mid-November) as the results of 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card, were released.

Catholic schools outpaced the public schools in overall average NAEP scores. Nationwide only 33% of public school fourth graders and 31% of public school eighth graders read at or above grade proficiency. Amid widespread declines in public school scores, Catholic school achievement was a bright spot. As Kathleen Porter-Magee said in the Wall Street Journal, “If all U.S. Catholic schools were a state, their 1.6 million students would rank first in the nation across the NAEP reading and math tests for fourth and eighth graders.”

The story told by these test scores suggest an answer to why so many new families enrolled in Catholic schools during and after the pandemic: excellence and responsiveness to student needs matters to families. Simply put, our Diocesan Catholic schools managed the pandemic well with in-person classes, adapting better and more quickly than the public schools. The Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools were in-person throughout the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years, never closing a school.

The academic benefits are clear. Across our Diocesan schools over the past two years, scores in Reading, Science and Math all increased. On average our Diocese of Venice students tested 3.6 years above grade level in Reading. 79% of our students scored above the 50th National percentile in Reading, Math, and Science.

In addition to strong test scores, despite the pandemic, Bishop Frank J. Dewane led the Diocesan schools by initiating the only Diocesan-wide K-12 STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, Math) curriculum and Robotics program in the country.

Parents have responded. During that two-year period, Diocese of Venice Catholic schools have enjoyed a 25% increase in enrollment.

Beyond a very good report card and innovative curriculum, we can be especially proud that our teachers, principals, and pastors who all stayed focused on our mission to teach Christ by leading young people to the “yes” of faith.

Father Belmonte can be reached at 941-484-9543 or belmonte@dioceseofvenice.org.

News Briefs for the week of December 9, 2022

Verot football shines amidst adversity

The Bishop Verot Catholic High School Viking Football Team fell in the FHSAA 2S Final Four on Dec. 2, 2022, ending the season for a team seeking the school’s first state title in its 60-year history. The team dominated most games, bring much needed smiles to the faces of the community devastated and overwhelmed by the impacts of Hurricane Ian. Undefeated Florida State University High Seminoles defeated Verot 38-28 in Tallahassee. The Vikings ended the season 10-3 having claimed the 2S Region 4 Final over Frostproof on Nov. 25. This was their first regional title since 1994. The best seasons in Verot history came in 1990 and 1994 when the teams reached the championship game. When the Vikings departed the Verot campus on Dec. 1, the entire student body came out to cheer them on. Enroute to Tallahassee, the team bus took a short detour to visit St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers where those students also cheered on the team. In a statement to the Fort Myers News-Press, Bishop Verot Coach Richie Rode said, “This has been a resilient group all year that continued to fight against a really good team… We’re disappointed in the moment, but we’ll be proud of what we did.” Great season!!

Mooney Volleyballer honored

Jordyn Byrd, a senior at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, has been named the Florida Dairy Farmers Class 3A Volleyball Player of the Year. Jordyn was also named the FACA District 16 3A Player of the Year. She received the identical honor as a junior and was also named 2022 Florida Gatorade Player of the Year. Jordyn is committed to playing at the University of Texas in the fall of 2023. and Coach Chad Davis was named the District 16 3A Coach of the Year.

“Spiritual Bouquet” of prayers offered for Ian victims

The 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season will be long remembered by the faithful of the Diocese of Venice as the time when Hurricane Ian struck the shores of Southwest Florida on Sept. 28, 2022. Many lives were lost, many more lost homes or their livelihoods and still more are recovering and rebuilding. While many sent monetary donations or items to help in the hurricane relief and recovery, still more offered their prayers. The Diocese of Venice opened up an offering of a “Spiritual Bouquet” for those who wished to offer a special prayer for the victims of Ian. The practice was for a person to commit or pledge a “flower” of prayer to offer in union with others doing the same. These flowers of prayer offerings can take a wide variety of forms, such as a Rosary, a Divine Mercy Chaplet, a Holy Hour, litanies, novenas, or Holy Communion intention. An initiative of the Diocese Evangelization Office, participation in the “Spiritual Bouquet” was offered online through Nov. 30, the official end of the 2022 Hurricane Season. In all, 2,399 offerings were made for those who suffered in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian; 310 submissions were made, allowing participants to do a variety of actions. These actions were broken down as follows: 432 Mass Remembrances; 417 Holy Communions; 126 Visits to the Blessed Sacrament; 821 Rosaries; 31 Divine Mercy Chaplets; 147 Stations of the Cross; 203 Novenas and Litanies; and 222 Acts of Penance. Thank you to everyone who participated in this special outpouring of prayer.

Sarasota youth give back

In keeping with learning about Catholic social teachings, 8th graders from St. Martha Catholic School along with the students from the St. Martha Parish Service Club/Faith Formation Program learned about several ministries that help those in need on Dec. 4, 2022, in Sarasota. The youth provided the following to the community: 140 gift cards and handmade Christmas ornaments to the elderly residents at Casa Santa Marta; 100+ blankets for the homeless; get well/Christmas cards for those in the hospital; 180 St. Nick Treat Bags for the parish students of the Religious Education/Faith Formation Program; toys and miscellaneous household items for the families of Family Promise; four ministry pantries stocked with food and supplies; “kindness rocks” (that they made) placed in the memorial garden and prayed for our parishioners buried there; 100 Blessing Bags to Resurrection House for the homeless community.

Mooney musicians perform for shoppers

The members of the Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School symphonic orchestra spread the joy of Christmas by performing for shoppers at University Town Center (UTC) in Sarasota on Dec. 5, 2022. The musicians helped shoppers get into the spirit of the holiday ahead of a performance on Dec. 7 in the School Music Hall.

STREAM activities are so much fun!

St. Mary Academy students took part in a lesson on Dec. 5, 2022, called “Candy Cane Calamity.” The students were challenged to design a package that could be used to send a candy cane to a friend. The package that kept the candy cane from breaking and weighed the least won the competition. After the packages were “delivered/smashed” a few times, (against a wooden door!) students unwrapped their candy canes to see if they were successful. What a blast they had learning!

Many work to make Thanksgiving joyful

Thanksgiving is an annual national holiday to praise and give thanks to God for our blessings of food and life.

In preparation for the holiday, many volunteered to help those who are less fortunate or who are struggling in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

Parishes and Diocesan Catholic school students collected thousands of cans of food and other items to help fill local food pantries. Many also volunteered to distribute food as lines of vehicles twisted through parking lots in hopes of getting items for a hearty meal this year. Some Parishes hosted pre-Thanksgiving dinners to bring holiday cheer wherever they could.

For example, St. Andrew Catholic School students in Cape Coral donated 1,630 pounds of food to a local food pantry while at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton, the student there collected 1,253 items. Similarly, St. John Neumann Catholic School students in Naples held their own food drive to benefit Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., collecting and delivering 6,423 canned goods.

The beneficiary of the St. John Neumann food drive was the Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center of Catholic Charities in Naples. The Thanksgiving food distribution there took place on Nov. 22, 2022.

Allegra Belliard, Program Director, supervised as a steady stream of grateful families came and received a turkey and ham as well as bags of food. The turkey and ham meals were courtesy of Publix Charities.

Belliard said the demand is higher in 2022 as compared to the height of the COVD-19 pandemic. This is because the cost of food is much higher due to inflation combined with many people being out of work because of Ian. The hurricane damaged or destroyed many homes, businesses, and resorts, dramatically impacting those in the service industry. Among the places damaged was the Family Resource Center itself. Storm surge flowed through the building and surrounding neighborhood, but the food pantry part of the building was open within a few weeks as the demand remained high.

Cordelia Fulton felt blessed to have Catholic Charities provide food for her family. “Bless you all,” the mother of three who has been unemployed since Ian said. “It will be a happy Thanksgiving in our home.”

Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities in Immokalee did their own food distribution on Nov. 19. This area had some damage during Hurricane Ian, but the greatest impacts were to the crops which are an important resource for work in the rural community.

Peggy Rodriguez, Catholic Charities Regional Director for Collier County, said teams of volunteers packed more 700 bags of food ahead of Thanksgiving, above what is normally distributed each week. About 200 of those bags were dispersed directly from the Guadalupe Social Services food pantry. Meanwhile, several agencies worked together to deliver the balance of the food to 500 more families who were unable to arrive during regular hours.

Students from St. Joseph Catholic School show off the items collected during a Thanksgiving food drive on Nov. 18, 2022, to benefit the St. Joseph Food Pantry in Bradenton.

In Manatee County, where hurricane damage was scattered, the demand for food ahead of Thanksgiving was still very high at the St. Joseph Food Pantry in Bradenton.

A line of vehicles filled with families seeking a turkey with all the trimmings, twisted its way through the parking lot of St. Joseph Parish on Nov. 21. In a three-day period, the pantry expected to distribute food to 800 families. A generous donation of 2,000 turkeys the week before Thanksgiving enabled the pantry to give every family a turkey, something that isn’t always possible.

Sylvia Trotter said she has been struggling to feed her family while juggling expenses such as caring for two children and her parents. “We combine our money for important things, and we doubted that we would celebrate Thanksgiving this year,” Trotter said. “Everything is a luxury now, which makes these wonderful (volunteers) my heroes.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane offered the following Thanksgiving message to the faithful of the Diocese:

“Greetings to all and a Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving! In this season of gratitude, let us remember to give thanks to God who has given many great gifts to all. The greatest gift God has given is the body and blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, in the Eucharist. The word “Eucharist” actually means “an act of thanksgiving to God”. By participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we are united as one body, one human family, in Christ.

On Thanksgiving Day, I extend my gratitude to all here in the Diocese of Venice, and to the many around the country, who so generously have provided aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. Know that you remain in my prayers.

Happy Thanksgiving! Have a Blessed Advent Season!”

If you would like to support Catholic Charities, please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org or if you would like to support the Diocesan effort to recover from Hurricane Ian, please visit www.dioceseofvenice.org/hurricaneian.

Mooney swimmer takes State title for fourth consecutive year

A Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School senior repeated as Class 1A State Champion Nov. 18, 2022, at Sailfish Splash Park and Aquatics Center in Stuart.

Michaela Mattes took the State Championships in the 500 Freestyle for the fourth year in a row and came in second in the 200 Individual Medley, proudly representing her Sarasota school. Michaela completes her swimming career as the most decorated Mooney athlete and will go on to swim for the University of Florida in the fall.

Michaela took the 500 Freestyle with a dominating time of 4:43.80, more than 9 seconds faster than her nearest competitor. Her winning time earned her automatic All-American status with the National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association (NISCA). She was also State Champ in the same event as a freshman, sophomore and junior.

In the 200 individual medley, Michaela took silver with a time of 1:59.27, again earning All-American status. This was also the fourth consecutive year Michaela medaled in the event, taking gold in 2020 and silver in 2019 and 2021. On her own, Michaela took 15th in the team competition.

The Mooney boys qualified for States in the 200 medley relay with swimmers Alexander Mitten, Daniel Krajewski, Michael Navarro-Lenza, and Turner Mitten. Turner Mitten finished 12th in the 500 free, while Krajewski qualified for the 200 individual medley, and Alexander Mitten in the 100 backstroke.

At the same event, Bishop Verot Catholic High School swimmers Alexander Price, Stephen Prendiville, Nicolas Scripcariu and Daniel Perez also qualified for the 200 medley relay. Meanwhile, Eleanor Bonds, finished 11th in the 1 meter diving competition, while her teammate Kaylie Cunniff finished 14th in the same event.

The 1A State competition was delayed one week due to impacts from Hurricane Nicole.

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