Students implement service project with local hospital

St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers is implementing a Good Samaritan partnership with Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

“Our fifth-grade teaching team, Natalie Kuznicki and Melissa Lanzilotta originally wanted this to be a year-long service project for their students,” said Esther Kiesel, Director of Development at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School. “During their planning sessions, word got out and the entire school embraced ‘Breath of Life – Help Our Heroes,’ which became a schoolwide service project, that runs this calendar year.”

As a result, each grade will share their time, talent and treasure to bring joy, comfort and support to the frontline staff at Golisano Children’s Hospital NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) Respiratory Team.

The initial project – “Friendship” – was presented by the fifth grade students and delivered in September. The students created an in-house thank you video, and gave up recess time to make friendship bracelets, greeting cards as well as candy jars of joy!

In October, the sixth-grade students practiced their letter writing skills to create formal letters of gratitude. In these letters the students recognized the compassion, care and dedication of the NICU Respiratory Team, that helps save the lives of children in their community. The students and school provided these dedicated caregivers with cookies, sweets, snacks and coffee they could enjoy when taking a brief respite during their shift at work.

During the coming months, each grade is excitedly working on their service project, recognition theme and thoughtful treat.

As we approach the holiday season of Thanksgiving and Christmas, we are reminded to embrace our call to serve others,” said John Gulley, St. Francis Xavier Principal. “What a blessing to put into practice our school mission, ‘To Be Like Christ’ in all that we think, do and say, while experiencing the joy of learning.”

Verot tackles Mooney in rivalry football game

The Homecoming Football Game for the Bishop Verot Catholic High School Vikings on Oct. 22, 2021 in Fort Myers was a rousing success when they beat their long-time nemesis Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota.

The Mooney Cougars took an early 10-0 lead, but the tenacious Vikings came charging back to claim victory with the final score of 28-17. For the season, the Vikings are now 5-3 and the Cougars are 6-3.

The Homecoming Game opened with a special dedication to Coach Mike Gill, a 1968 graduate of Verot and teacher. The rivalry game marked the 50th Homecoming for Gill as a teacher. He teaches woodshop and is a favorite among multiple generations of Verot students who have viewed him as a mentor (he has coached several sports) and someone whom they admire and respect.

Just before kickoff, Gill was greeted by the referees and then was given the honor of making the coin-flip to decide who would get possession of the ball first. A special coin was struck for the occasion, which had the school logo on one side and “Coach Gill’s 50th Homecoming” on the reverse.

“This is all so humbling,” he said while trying to control his emotions as his entire family, including grandchildren, and all of the Verot faithful cheered him on.

Before the game, it was announced that the school designated that one of its courtyard’s would be named in his honor.

Among those congratulating Gill was Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocese of Venice Superintendent of Catholic Education. Father Belmonte celebrated Mass for the Verot football team prior to the game and gave the Invocation. To be impartial, Father Belmonte spent the first half on the Verot sideline and the second half on the Mooney sideline.

Before the game was an Alumni tailgate and at halftime the Homecoming Court was presented. Homecoming Week included Mass, “Dressed to Impress Day,” a field day, “Alien and Astronaut Day,” game show competitions, a senior breakfast, Powderpuff football, and a traditional Homecoming Bonfire the night before the game.


The ‘CASE’ to Educate About Cyber Awareness

With the proliferation of digital devices in everyday life, the Diocese of Venice has taken proactive measures to protect children from the online world’s moral pitfalls by giving its education professionals the knowledge and resources to teach cyber awareness to elementary and middle school students.

On Oct. 20-21, 2021, principals, teachers and directors of religious education (DRE) and catechists across the Diocese participated in an in-depth “train the trainers” course on how to apply the Cyber Awareness Safety Education (CASE) curriculum in their classrooms.

Led by Liz Repking, founder of Cyber Safety Consulting, the course teaches students about internet safety in a fun, interactive way. CASE encourages small group discussions of real-life internet experiences with a feedback loop to school parents. This approach provides greater retention and understanding among students and enables them to effectively apply these lessons to their online life.

The classes for DREs and catechists were held on Oct. 20, 2021 at St. Martha Parish in Sarasota and at Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers on Oct. 21, 2021. During the evening of both days the training by Repking was tailored for principals and teachers and took place at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota and St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers. The training was part of the Virtus Protecting God’s Children lesson plans for Diocesan religious educators.

The presentations were a follow-up of the Safe Haven Sunday workshops presented by Repking in April 2021. Those presentations to principals, DREs and parents and were titled, “Protecting God’s Children Online in a Hyper Digital Age.” Repking spoke about keeping children safe from cyber bullying, online predators, sexting, online gaming, and how to help children create an escape plan when trouble arises.

Safe Haven Sunday (March 6-7, 2021) was presented by the Diocese Office of Family Life and Department of Catholic Education to provide families with basic tools and practical tips for adults to create a safer digital environment for themselves and their children.

John Carkeet provided information to this report.

News Briefs for the Week of October 29, 2021

Saints Devotional Project: Junior Catechist Training

The Diocese of Venice Department of Catholic Education welcomed eighth graders and their teachers and parents from all 15 Catholic schools to its first Saints Devotional Project Junior Catechist Training Oct. 22, 2021, at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice. This Diocesan-wide project centers on hand-picked pairs of eighth graders from each school to catechize their fellow students by traveling classroom to classroom to give formal presentations about the Saints, Name Days and the Catholic devotion to the saints. These students were chosen through their demonstration of outstanding leadership, excellent instruction and unwavering devotion. The Saints Devotional Project offers opportunities to highlight the importance of leadership in the Faith, evangelization, and discipleship. The training seminar gave the junior catechists the tools and resources they need to conduct classes, while their parents and teachers participated in an orientation that outlined the significance of the devotional project.

Science experiments wow students

Science was on the agenda for students at St. Mary Catholic Academy in Sarasota on Oct. 20, 2021. The students had fun using their hands on experiments, mixing substances such as sugar, salt, vegetable oil and sand with water to predict if they were suspensions or solutions. This was followed by a great discussion as the students predicted what they thought would happen and what they saw with their own eyes.

Parish holds living rosary celebration

St. Paul Parish in Arcadia held a special living rosary celebration on World Mission Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021. The youth of the Parish led the reading of the different decades of the rosary and stood in for the different beads. They were divided into five different groups, wearing distinctive colors, representing different mission countries throughout the world.

Cathedral students stand up to bullying

Students from Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice took part in Unity Day activities on Oct. 20, 2021, by wearing orange and standing together vowing an end to bullying. Among the lessons learned was that all should follow the example of Jesus Christ and be kind to one another, no matter what. The students also went outside and stood in the soccer field spelling out the words “BE KIND” as a drone took a photo of everyone.

Lego rover helps students explore

Fifth graders from St. Catherine Catholic School in Sebring built a Lego rover as part of a STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) project in mid-October 2021. This project helped the students explore ways scientists and engineers reach remote places, create and program “Milo” the Science Rover, and document how Milo can help discover a special plant specimen.

Boosterthon raises money for school

St. Andrew Catholic School students participated in a Boosterthon Fun Run on Sept. 21, 2021, in Cape Coral. The students had fun running while a big thanks went out to families and extended families who helped the school reach its goal of $30,000. The money will go toward allowing more flexible seating options for students in many of the classrooms.

Christ the King Novena Nov. 12-20

On the last Sunday of each liturgical year, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, or Christ the King. This year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) urges all Catholics to take part in a Christ the King Novena from Nov. 12-20, 2021. During the nine days preceding the Solemnity, the USCCB asks all to offer their prayers to Christ the King for the freedom of the Church. The USCCB Committee for Religious Freedom, in its core document “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty: A Statement on Religious Liberty,” urged that “the Solemnity of Christ the King – a feast born out of resistance to totalitarian incursions against religious liberty – be a day specifically employed by bishops and priests to preach about religious liberty, both here and abroad.” A link to the novena can be found at

News Briefs for the Week of October 22, 2021

Bishop celebrates Mass for students in Sebring

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated Mass for the students at St. Catherine Catholic School in Sebring on Oct. 18, 2021. The Mass is the latest in a series of Masses celebrated by the Bishop for students at each of the 15 Diocesan Catholic schools. During the Mass, which took place on the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, Bishop Dewane encouraged the students to focus on developing their prayer life each day.

VDCCW Retreat held

The Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women hosted a retreat on Oct. 16, 2021 at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. The bilingual retreat included talks from Father Janusz Jancarz, Spiritual Moderator for the VDCCW and Pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Venice; Father Claudio Stewart, Diocesan Director of Hispanic Ministries, and Father Thomas Heck, a retired priest of the Diocese. The women also participated in Mass, adoration and praying of the rosary.

Students celebrate Chaplain’s birthday

The students at St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Catholic Academy in Sarasota serenaded their Chaplain, Pallottine Father Fausto Stampiglia, to a rendition of “Happy Birthday” on October 15, 2021. The more than 500 students gathered outside, near the main entrance of the two schools, as Father Stampiglia was delighted by the outpouring of love from the students. As a special surprise, in honor of Father, a wall-mounted sculpture of St. Mary and St. Martha with Jesus was unveiled and is now on permanent display outside of the front lobby of the schools. Happy Birthday Father Fausto!

Heading Up ‘STREAM’

The Diocese of Venice Department of Education hosted its first Middle School Robotics Coaches and Teachers training seminar Oct. 15, 2021 at its Innovation & Simulation Teaching & Learning Lab at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice. Led by Jennifer Falestiny, curriculum coordinator at the Diocese of Venice in Florida, the seminar challenged teachers to build Lego robots then program them to complete various logistical and mechanical challenges on a 3D map. The seminar is part of a comprehensive training program to help teachers prepare their students for the FIRST Lego Lead Challenge in 2022. This and other competitions encompass the Diocese of Venice’s Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STREAM) strategic initiatives.

New mural completed in Naples

What an amazing experience for St. Ann Catholic School in Naples to enjoy and participate in the creation of a beautiful mural. Artist Marcus Zotter created the work which spans the wall between two classrooms in the main courtyard. Included in the image is a cross, two doves, angel wings, a dolphin (the school mascot) and a beach. While the mural was being created, art students at St. Ann’s assisted in creating different aspects of the work.

Parent Book Club in Sarasota

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School Theology Teacher Timothy Shipe hosted a Cougar Parent Book Club on Oct. 13, 2021 in Sarasota. A large number of parents joined in to study Trent Horn’s, “Why We Are Catholic?” book. The discussions about the Faith were lively and interesting, taking place in the school’s multi-media lab. All are welcome to join. Contact

Students gain engineering skills

Fifth-grade students at Donahue Academy of Ave Maria Catholic School built bridges on Oct. 14, 2021, while sixth-grade students used engineering skills to build a ballista, a trebuchet and two kinds of catapults as part of the study of medieval history.

Sophomore retreat in Naples

Sophomores at St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples covered the campus Oct. 14, 2021 and enjoyed every aspect of their class retreat. It was a day that included skits and projects, discussions and reflections, prayer and adoration, and, of course, fun and games. In Neumann style, the class of 2024 celebrated Faith, family, sports, school, independence and friendship. “When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away.” – Isaiah 43:2a

Students go on “Safari”

Kindergartners at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota went on an amazing “Nature Safari” Oct. 14, 2021. They trekked to the front field and searched for soil, sun, butterflies, spider webs, grass, flowers and more. They then went to the pond to collect water samples, which they studied using eye-droppers, hand lenses, and mini forceps. It was a great adventure!



School honors law enforcement during National Faith & Blue Weekend

By John Carkeet, Special to the Florida Catholic

The words resonated across the Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School’s recreation field as hundreds of students, faculty, and their guests in dark blue uniforms recited the prayer to St. Michael:

St. Michael the Archangel,

defend us in battle.

Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.

May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,

and do thou,

O Prince of the heavenly hosts,

by the power of God,

thrust into hell Satan,

and all the evil spirits,

who prowl about the world

seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

The prayer concluded the opening ceremony for Epiphany Cathedral School’s (ECS) celebration of National Faith and Blue Weekend conducted Oct. 7, 2021 on its campus in Venice. The event recognized Faith and Blue’s campaign to develop safer and stronger communities across the nation by unifying law enforcement professionals with their local faith-based organizations.

“Faith and Blue helps the Venice community understand that the values of its police officers are aligned with the people they have sworn to serve and protect,” said Lt. Andy Leisenring, director of the Venice Police Department’s special operations bureau. “The department is grateful for the opportunity to visit Epiphany Cathedral School and celebrate a common culture of service and respect.”

Organized by ECS third grade teacher Erin Phillips, in conjunction with the Venice and North Port police departments, the event showcased a myriad of crime fighting tools, gadgets, vehicles and equipment. The officers invited every student to sit in a police car, climb aboard a patrol boat, and activate their sirens. The students also learned about crime scene investigation and met one of Venice PD’s K9s. Even McGruff the Crime Dog earned his 15 minutes of fame as dozens of students showered him with hugs and high fives.

“Giving children a hands-on experience is the best way to show that (we) are here for their safety,” said Sgt. Scott Smith with the North Port Police Department. “It’s important to show them firsthand that we do a lot more than what they see in the media.”

Smith, whose daughter, Reagan, entered her fourth year at ECS, believes the connection between ECS and the Venice law enforcement community is made stronger by their shared values and beliefs.

“Both the Epiphany Cathedral School and the local law enforcement community build stronger relationships by striving to do what’s right,” said Smith, a 25-year veteran of the North Port and Bradenton Police Departments. “We share God’s word through good deeds that promote peace and respect. ECS infuses these values in its curriculum. That’s why I enrolled Reagan here … so that she may excel academically and grow in the Catholic faith.”

Nicole Loseto, Principal of Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School, punctuated Smith’s observations that faith and service form the foundation of safe and vibrant communities.

“This event shows students that service and our Catholic identity extends beyond the ECS campus,” said Loseto. “Epiphany Cathedral School is part of a larger community that supports and safeguards them. One day this same community will look to these same students for their service and leadership as Disciples of Christ.”

Concluding on a note of gratitude, students gave handwritten thank you cards to every man and woman wearing a badge that day. Usually stoic faces gave way to smiles as the officers opened and read the cards aloud to one another.

“That’s how Epiphany Cathedral School and the Diocese of Venice cares for those who care for the community,” said Loseto. “Faith and Blue Weekend is just one example of how service is rooted in the teachings and traditions of the Catholic Church and its schools.”

In addition to Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School, many Diocesan Catholic Schools and Parishes celebrated National Faith and Blue Weekend from Oct. 7-10 with recognition coming in the form of prayers, formal ceremonies. and many to the men and women who are dedicated to protecting and serving the community.

St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral hosted a ceremony honoring local members of law enforcement. Students gave each guest a St. Michael the Archangel pin and greeted them with fist bumps and “Thank You’s!”

St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton had a visit from the Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue. The students shared the tradition at the school of praying for first responders, and when they hear a siren, they stop what they are doing and immediately pray for the victims and the first responders. The firefighters were very touched to learn that the students remember them in prayer.

John Carkeet is the Marketing Coordinator for the Diocese of Venice Office of Catholic Education, and he can be reached at 

News Briefs for the week of Oct. 15, 2021

Educators learn about athletic outreach effort

Principals, athletic directors and coaches from Diocese of Venice Catholic schools heard a presentation Oct. 12, 2021 at St. Ann Catholic School in Naples, titled “Play Like a Champion.” This is a comprehensive education program aimed at encouraging true character development while showing off core Catholic values in sports and being proactive in creating a positive environment for all levels. The group heard from Kristin Sheehan, Program Director, who explained how the outreach targets coaches, sport parents and athletes, teaching the positive character of sports with the aim of giving the game back to the children. St. Ann Principal Michael Buskirk shared his positive experience with implementing the “Play Like a Champion” program in his previous school and how it sets expectations and switches the current emphasis on sports from the “me” to the “we.”

Parish hosts youth festival

St. Michael Parish in Wauchula hosted 75 junior high students for a day-long festival on Oct. 8, 2021 with a theme: “Whatever I did for the one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” Matt 25:40. The day included Mass, confessions, prayer time, talks, food, games and fun.

ECS Tigers on the Air

Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School Principal Nicole Loseto and faculty members appeared on WCCF News Radio’s Sunrise Charlotte County Oct. 6, 2021. Loseto and her fellow guests promoted ECS’ Catholic Identity, STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Arts, Engineering, Mathematics) initiatives and the Young Marines program.


New online course assists parents as primary teachers of the Faith

By John Carkeet, Special to the Florida Catholic

How are you, as a Catholic parent, fulfilling the promise you made at your children’s baptism to teach the faith to your sons and daughters?

The Diocese of Venice Office of Family Life and the Diocesan Institute of Catholic Studies and Formation can help Catholic parents fulfill that promise through “Empowering Parents as Teachers of Faith,” a three-week online course beginning Oct. 11, 2021, that inspires parents to practice the irreplaceable role they have in passing on the faith to their children.

“Empowering Parents as Teachers of Faith” will explore societal trends impacting children and what the Church proclaims about parenthood. The course will also explain the process of conversion and demonstrate how parents may apply this process to help their children develop a personal relationship with the Lord.

“The Church’s teachings have always put parents as the primary evangelizers and teachers of their children,” said Carrie Harkey, Diocesan Family Life Coordinator. “This course equips parents with practical tools and resources to accomplish the duties of forming their children.”

Harkey, a mother of three, designed the course alongside Dr. John Gresham, Executive Director of the Institute, in a manner that will effectively share relevant knowledge, generate fruitful discussion, and maximize online convenience.

“The Diocese understands firsthand that parents have busy schedules,” said Gresham, a father of five and grandfather of four. “That’s why this course comprises short, pre-recorded lessons that can be accessed anytime, anywhere and on any device.”

In addition to structured lessons, “Empowering Parents as Teachers of Faith” also provides an online forum for parents to ask questions, share best practices and acquire relevant resources. The forum also opens opportunities for parents to actively participate in a faith-based community that integrates the Church’s teachings into modern home life.

At the end of the course, the Diocese will facilitate a physical connection for all parents who registered by hosting a complimentary picnic for them and their families. Featuring hot food, fun games, and sweet treats, the outdoor social will take place Nov. 14 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice.

“’Empowering Parents as Teachers of Faith’ was designed by parents for parents to help them grow in their relationship with Jesus,” Harkey said. “I pray that this course will give parents the knowledge and confidence to help mold their children as models of Christ’s teachings.”

Register for “Empowering Parents as Teachers of Faith” by Oct. 11 for only $25 at

John Carkeet is the Marketing Coordinator Diocese of Venice in Florida Education Department and can be reached at 941-484-9543 or


News Briefs for the Week of Oct. 8, 2021

Mass to Open Diocesan Phase of Synod

As a part of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” Pope Francis has invited every Diocese in the world to inaugurate the beginning of the Synod with an opening Mass. In the Diocese of Venice, this opening Mass will be celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane at 2:30 p.m., Oct. 17, 2021, at Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Ave., Venice. All are welcome and encouraged to attend this Mass. In this Diocesan Phase of the Synod, Catholics in the Diocese of Venice are encouraged to participate in listening sessions, which will be announced in the coming weeks.

Bishop meets Pope Francis

Bishop Frank J. Dewane had the opportunity to greet and meet with Pope Francis following the General Audience in the Vatican’s Pope Paul VI Hall on Sept. 29, 2021. Bishop Dewane spoke briefly with the Holy Father who in return asked about what is taking place in the Diocese of Venice. The Bishop was in Rome to witness the Ordination to the Transitional Diaconate of Diocesan Seminarian Christian Chami on Sept. 30, 2021.

Ministry of Acolyte conferred on Seminarian

Diocese of Venice Seminarian Jacob Gwynn was conferred to the Ministry of Acolyte on Sept. 26, 2021 at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. The principal celebrant for the Mass was Bishop Luis R. Zarama of the Diocese of Raleigh. As an Acolyte, Gwynn is now charged with assisting at the celebration of the Eucharist, purifying the sacred vessels and, when needed, to assist with the distribution of Holy Communion. As part of the Rite, the Bishop placed the paten, which contains the hosts for the celebration of Mass, in the hands of the candidate. He then said, “…take this vessel with bread for the celebration of the Eucharist. Make your life worthy of your service at the table of the Lord and of his Church.”

Blessing of the Animals

Many Diocesan Parishes and Schools hosted a Blessing of the Animals to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi on Oct. 4, 2021. While many Parishes hosted the blessings during the preceding weekend, schools opted to either have the blessing before school or prior to the end of the day. The variety of animals was immense, from horses to hamsters, parrots to rabbits as well as nearly every assortment of dog and cat imaginable. It was evident that these creatures were well loved and an important part of each family.

Rosary making educates children

Kindergarten and first graders at St. Mary Catholic Academy in Sarasota used part of religion class on Sept. 29, 2021 to make rosaries. It was at that time the students learned how October is the month of the Holy Rosary and both October and May are months in which we give special honor to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Cardinal Mooney named Apple Distinguished School

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota has been recognized as an Apple Distinguished School for 2021-2024 for actively implementing a 1:1 iPad program, Apple Classroom, Apple TVs, Canvas Learning Management System, digital textbooks, and so much more across the curriculum.

Apple Distinguished Schools are centers of innovation, leadership, and educational excellence. They use Apple technology to connect students to the world, fuel creativity, deepen collaboration, and make learning personal.

“The ingenuity of our teachers, from project-based learning to direct instruction, allows our students the opportunity to explore different uses of technology throughout the college preparatory curriculum at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School,” said Principal Ben Hopper. “We are proud of our faculty, students, and families who have embraced the daily integration of technology with the result being recognized as an Apple Distinguished School.”

While maintaining Mooney’s Catholic traditions, teachers and administrators realized that in order to teach tomorrow’s creative thinkers and problem solvers, it is necessary to use current technology taking Verot beyond the limited walls of the classroom.

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School is committed to creating an innovative and compelling learning environment that engages students and provides tangible evidence of academic achievement. From math and science to fine arts and world languages, teachers and students utilize iPad apps to prepare students for real-world experiences.

Elsewhere in the Diocese of Venice, Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers has been an Apple Distinguished School since 2017. This distinction has been renewed and will continue through at least 2022.