New Evangelization Director brings extensive experience

James F. Gontis cherishes the opportunity to multiply the good of the Catholic Faith in his new position as Diocese of Venice Director of Evangelization.

Starting his new role on Aug. 1, 2022, Gontis brings to the Diocese his diverse experience in the evangelization and catechetical field. Most recently Gontis served in the Diocese of Harrisburg, first as Director of Religious Education and then for the last five years as Director of Evangelization and Catechesis.

In Harrisburg, he oversaw classes, workshops and presentations on theological and Catholic teachings, evangelization and much more and previously directed Adult Religious Education and related programs and workshops.

Gontis explained that his role as Director of the Department of Evangelization – which includes the Office of Family Life and the Office of Youth and Young Adult Outreach – is to draw people closer to God.

“Faith cannot be in the abstract but has to be lived out in the here and now,” he said. “I am grateful to serve the Church in this beautiful area, helping to remind everyone the role we all have – as the baptized – to live our Faith as God calls. We do this through the way we live, what we say, and what we do. It is easy to say and hard to do. But we must respond, confident that the Lord gives us sufficient grace to do what He asks; to live for the Glory of God and get into heaven, while bringing with us as many others as possible.”

Gontis earned a M.A. in Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and before that a degree from Adams College (University) in Colorado. He was a teacher in Farmington, New Mexico and Fountain Springs, Pennsylvania, before taking a Diocesan position in Harrisburg.

Married for 25 years and counting, Gontis has eight children. Three are still in school, while the five oldest children are in college or working. His parents live in Punta Gorda, and a sister is also nearby, so he was not unfamiliar with the area before recently moving his family to the Sarasota area.

The Office of Evangelization is currently organizing a Diocesan Eucharistic Congress and Youth Rally for March 24-25, 2023, a large event in Fort Myers that is part on the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival. The Revival is an initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to reaffirm a devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

In addition, the office is also hosting a “Together in Holiness” Marriage Conference on Oct. 22 in Fort Myers as well as planning a Diocesan pilgrimage to World Youth Day 2023 in Portugal. Please visit for information about these and other events.

“As important as those events are, evangelization is not just about these mountaintop experiences,” Gontis explained. “The Parish is the primary focus of our work, building up the Faith – this is done through programs that reach out to support marriage, as well as youth and young adults. We know the family is a foundation of the Church, but at the same time we will work hard to keep youth and young adults engaged in the Faith, reminding them that they are not only the future of the Church, but they are also the present of the Church, crucial to the renewal of the Faith.”

James Gontis is the Diocesan Director of Evangelization and can be reached at 941-484-9543 or

Fort Myers Parish gives “Words of Encouragement”

Fort Myers Parish gives “Words of Encouragement”

The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down social gatherings within Parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice, but through the initiative of staff and the faithful, with a little help from technology (social media and Parish websites), alternative ways of reaching out have been developed.

One example of this can be found at St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers, which began an online video series called “Words of Encouragement.” This series of short videos – one minute or less – include reflections from leaders of various Parish outreach programs as well as everyday parishioners who wanted to share their thoughts about staying strong in the Faith during the pandemic.

Jennifer Engelman, Coordinator of Parish Engagement, who compiles and edits the videos for length, said the first “Words of Encouragement” video was posted in mid-April, and the response has been great.

“We sent out a request for videos asking parishioners to share a prayer that strikes them; what they are doing when anxious or concerned; how they shelter in place with Faith,” Engelman explained. “We based it on how people were coping while staying at home. It is a whole new life away from Church, but also away from each other.”

The video series content generated a great deal of interest among the parishioners. Some videos include prayers, others offer music or information about a devotion to find comfort in difficult times, such as to Our Lady, Christ or a specific saint.

Judy Siegel of St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers speaks during a segment of the “Words of Encouragement” video series online.

One video message was from Judy Siegel, a sacristan and member of the Crafty Ladies. She encouraged everyone to focus on the Light of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who will help everyone get through these dark times. “He will do it. He will never leave us. He chose each and every one of us, and His love is eternal.” Siegel concluded her video by reminding everyone to wash their hands and wear a mask when they go out.

“We are thrilled with those who stepped forward,” Engelman said. “They range in age from 8 ½-years-old to 90. We’ve had such a good response that some days we’ve posted videos in the morning and afternoon. Much of what is being shared is relevant and timely. Initially the comments were people recognizing friends, but it really has opened an avenue to comment. It’s a nice way to keep the parishioners engaged when we are not coming to Mass or being together and socializing.”

The idea of the video series came out of the regular Parish strategic planning committee and is a spin-off of the regular spiritual reflections from Pastor Father Bob Tabbert.

“The response to the Father Tabbert videos made people feel good about the Church and gave comfort in knowing that the priests were praying for them,” Engelman said. “People felt very good seeing their Pastor and from that the idea of having others share their ideas was born.”

To view the “Words of Encouragement” video messages, go to Facebook and search for St. John XXII Catholic Church in Fort Myers.

This is just another example of the many ongoing outreach efforts from Parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice as they try to keep the faithful engaged while most Parish activities are indefinitely suspended.