“Smile! God Loves You!” Sarasota Pastor of 31 years retires

With a radiant smile and infectious positivity, not to mention his Italian accent, Pallottine Father Fausto Stampiglia retires from St. Martha Parish in Sarasota leaving behind a legacy that is nearly impossible to comprehend.

For the past 31 years, as Pastor of St. Martha, Father Stampiglia – known as Father Fausto to all – served the faithful with all his heart, impacting the lives of countless individuals and families, being there for moments great and small.

Ordained to the priesthood in 1960, now 86, Father Fausto enters retirement comforted by the knowledge that he did the best he could while shining the light of the Lord into the world. A favorite phrase – “Smile, God Loves You!” is on a plaque of his bust on the wall outside the Parish Hall named in his honor, with the rest of the quote saying – “and so do your Parishioners.”

This feeling of love for Father Fausto has been evident throughout his many years and became more prevalent as his retirement approached in recent months.

Comments posted to social media when the official date for Father Fausto’s retirement was made public included: “You will be missed in this role – you have touched so many in our community.”  “You will always have a special place in our hearts. Thanks for everything you’ve done for me and my family.” “Your messages of Christ’s love and infinite ability to forgive us were deeply appreciated!” “Your entire life has been about serving God through us, His children.” “Father Fausto’s legacy is one of great care for generations of students. We pray his retirement be filled with blessed days and good health! Well done, Father Fausto, you have been a good and faithful servant.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane reflected on the impact of Father by stating: “Father Fausto deserves great recognition and praise for the pastoral work he has accomplished in his years of service with the Diocese of Venice. He has been a blessing to the Diocese of Venice and to St. Martha Parish. Most may only know him as the Pastor of St. Martha, but he contributed in so many other areas. His compassion and love for all is always evident. While he is retiring and his cheerful presence will be missed, the legacy Father Fausto leaves behind will be remembered for generations. Father was a legend in his own time!  I know that he will continue the good work of our Lord in his life going forward in all that he does.”

The humble Italian understands how much people care for him and deeply appreciate his service as Pastor at St. Martha. He recently reflected on his life, from growing up in war-torn Italy where he sought shelter from bombings from the age of five to nine; to his entering religious life at 16 with the Society of Catholic Apostolates (Pallottines); then to his scholarly studies then to assignments teaching first in Italy then in East Harlem, New York, then to Albany, New York. Then he became the expert at starting or reinvigorating Permanent Diaconate Programs at several different Dioceses.

That is what brought Father Fausto to the Diocese of Venice in 1986.

Living at St. Patrick Parish in Sarasota, Father Fausto worked at the Catholic Center and assisted at Parishes in Sarasota while expanding the Permanent Diaconate program and helping to establish the Institute for Catholic Studies and Faith Formation.

As the Diocese expanded and new Parishes were erected, the Pallottines, with Father Fausto as Pastor, were asked to take over St. Martha Parish in downtown Sarasota in 1991. When he arrived at St. Martha, the Parish was in debt, and St. Martha’s school was facing a possible closure.

With Father Fausto’s charm, patience and humble approach to each problem, the Parish soon got out of debt and the school started adding students. Honesty and directness helped during this process as Father Fausto sought donors to support his plans for the future. This included building a new school on property several miles east of the Parish.

While going through that process, Father saw a need and supported the establishment of a new school for students with learning disabilities, the current St. Mary Academy (then known as Dreams Are Free Academy).

Father also supported the Spanish-speaking Catholics in the area, having been assigned to several Spanish-language Parishes in his early priesthood, and helped to establish St. Jude Parish.

Throughout the years at St. Martha, Father helped establish the Vietnamese and Tridentine Rite Masses, and has always been a strong supporter of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., including St. Martha Early Learning Center for needy pre-school children, and Bethesda House (a outreach for victims of AIDS), which sit across from the Parish Church. He was also active in creating Casa Santa Marta I & II (low-income housing for seniors), as well as a Caritas outreach.

During his service to the Diocese of Venice Father Fausto has also been Vicar Forane (Dean) of the Northern Deanery since 1991, Theologian to the Bishop, Director of the Permanent Diaconate, an ex-officio member of the Presbyteral Council, a member of the College of Consultors, Liturgical Commission, and Diocesan School Board, as well as the Diocesan representative on the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Ethics Committee. He is also a Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus.

At the conclusion of the “Year for Priests,” in 2010, Father Fausto was honored with the Papal Medal of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (For Church and the Pope) from then-Pope Benedict XVI by Bishop Dewane. The Papal Medal is the highest recognition for a Religious Priest and was presented for his exemplary service and for his dedication to the people of St. Martha Parish and to the Diocese of Venice.

Throughout his service to the Church, Father has been with the faithful at every moment of life, from births to deaths and everywhere in between.

To help smooth his transition from Pastor to retirement, the last official act Father Fausto had as Pastor occurred on May 14, 2022, presiding over the First Holy Communion of the students from St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Academy. At his side was his successor, fellow Pallottine Father Jerzy (George) Suszko. In the following few weeks, he was also present as an assisting priest at Confirmation and at Masses for the students at St. Martha and St. Mary before the close of the Academic Year.

Although he often has the energy of people half his age, Father’s retirement comes in his mid-80s, a time when most people would relax. That is not Father’s style.

First on his agenda is a trip to his home in Rome, Italy, to see family and friends for the first time since the start of the pandemic. While in Italy, Father will also visit the superiors of his religious order, Society of Catholic Apostolates (Pallottines).

Upon his return to the U.S., he will vacation at national parks in the American West, something he has done for decades. After that, he will assist at St. Martha whenever he is needed.

“I will be living in Sarasota and remaining at St. Martha,” Father Fausto explained. “I’m going to help. It is part of being a religious priest. The Pallottines are staying here so I will be here. This is my home; my family.”

News Briefs for the Week of May 20, 2022

Volunteers sort food

More than 150 volunteers came to the St. Joseph Food Pantry in Bradenton to help sort and store 50,000 pounds of food on May 14, 2022. The food was collected during the U.S. Postal Service Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive.

CCW council re-established in Sebring

The St. Catherine Council of Catholic Women was re-established during a ceremony in Sebring on May 7, 2022. The installation ceremony included representatives from the Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women who aided in this process. The Council acts within the Parish to support, empower and educate Catholic women in spirituality, leadership and service. The installation was presided over by Father Jose Gonzalez, Pastor of St. Catherine.

Diocesan seminarian Valedictorian

Transitional Deacon David Portorreal, a Diocese of Venice Seminarian, graduated on May 12, 2022, from St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. The commencement address was by Most Rev. Felipe J. Estévez, Bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine. Deacon Portorreal was the Valedictorian of his graduating class and will be ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on July 16, 2022, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

SVdP International president visits Parish

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul International President General Renato Lima de Oliveira visited members of the Sacred Heart Conference on May 5, 2022, in Punta Gorda. He congratulated the conference for their spirituality, friendship and their Vincentian Spirit. He was amazed at the size and ability of the conference to help the community in so many ways.

Ordination to the Permanent Diaconate June 18

All are invited and encouraged to attend the Ordination to the Permanent Diaconate for the following candidate: Craig Dutka of Holy Cross Parish in Palmetto. The Ordination will be held at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, June 18, 2022, at Holy Cross Parish, 506 26th St. W., Palmetto. A reception in the Parish Hall will follow.

Our Lady of Fatima Rosary Rally

Please join our national America Needs Fatima Rosary Rally for the Traditional Family and Public Prayers in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to end abortion Saturday, June 4, from noon to 1:00 p.m., at the corner of Daniels Parkway and Daniels Commerce Blvd near Tile Outlet of America and TIAA Bank in Fort Myers. Parking is in an empty lot at Daniels Commerce Blvd and Commerce Park Blvd or John Yarbrough Linear Park off Daniels at Metro Parkways. Please arrive 10 minutes early and bring your Pro-Life signs, chairs, water and umbrellas. For more information, please contact Toni at toni@defendingtheunborn.com.

Charismatic Pentecost Celebration

The Diocese of Venice English Charismatic Renewal invites all to join them for a celebration on Pentecost Sunday at 3:00 p.m., June 5 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 211 West Charlotte Avenue, Punta Gorda. The afternoon will include praise and worship followed by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at 4:00 p.m. Please bring your Prayer Group Banner and Stand as there will be a Banner Procession. For further information, please contact Alice Keough at keough@epiphanycathedral.org or 941-484-3505 ext. 1104.

Youth Conference in July

The 14th annual Ave Maria University Youth Conference – “Fearless” is July 8-10, 2022. Featured talks are by Father Rick Martignetti, Father Joseph Lugalambi, Father Rich Pagano and Chris Padget. The event includes the talks, Mass, Adoration, praise and worship, fellowship, opportunities for confession and much more. The cost is $175 and includes lodging, all meals t-shirt and more. To register, call 239-348-4725, aveconferences@gmail.com or www.aveconferences.com.

Looking back on 2021

The continuing global pandemic did little to curb the important work of spreading the Good News of the Lord to the faithful throughout the Diocese of Venice in 2021.

While some events were modified, delayed or even postponed, the Diocese was blessed to have two men Ordained to the Priesthood; welcome hundreds into the Church at the Easter Vigil; start a massive robotics program in its Catholic schools; host a successful Youth Rally, as well as Women’s and Men’s Conferences; honor the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony; continue to pray for victims of abuse; honor our veterans; prayer walks for an end to abortion; assist tens of thousands with food and other support; evidence major enrollment gains in its Catholic schools; dedicate a new Parish Church and Retreat Center Shrine; continue to expand the outreach to the Hispanic Catholic community; inaugurate the Diocesan Phase of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” and conclude the “Year of St. Joseph.”

This list is just a small sample of what took place across the Diocese of Venice in 2021, all while the Diocese as well as the Parishes and Catholic schools modified operations to ensure that everyone remained safe. Each activity during the year was carefully planned to ensure participants would benefit from participating and ultimately working to the goal of helping the faithful grow ever closer to the Lord.

While taking time to look back covers many pivotal events in the life of the Diocese, the following is by no means a comprehensive listing of the initiatives and events which take place throughout the Diocese.

Priestly Ordination and Vocations

One of the most important building blocks of the Catholic Church is the ordination of men to the priesthood. The Diocese of Venice was blessed to have two men ordained in 2021 presided over by Bishop Frank J. Dewane at Epiphany Cathedral. Three other seminarians were ordained to the Transitional Diaconate in 2021 and are expected to be ordained to the priesthood in 2022.

Also encouraging is that there are currently 16 active seminarians in the Diocese, including the transitional deacons. The Vocation’s Office hosts several informational trips to the seminaries in Florida for prospective young men.

Chrism Mass and Celebration of Jubilarians

During Holy Week the priests of the Diocese gathered for the annual Chrism Mass; a powerful sign of unity with more than 100 priests on the altar with Bishop Dewane at the Cathedral. This annual Mass is one of the most critical and unifying moments for the Diocese during Holy Week. At the Chrism Mass, priests and deacons who celebrate milestone anniversaries were honored. To accommodate the latest guidance on social distancing and limiting the size of gatherings at the time, only priests and Permanent Deacons and their wives were present for the Mass. The public was able to view this Mass via livestream.

Catholic schools

The Diocese of Venice uniformly strengthened STREAM education in 15 Diocesan Catholics Schools through an investment in a partnership with FIRST®, a global robotics community, “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” placing students ahead of the curve in primary fields while continuing to promote core Catholic virtues. A gift of 500 robots and curricular resources were presented by Bishop Dewane to Diocesan Catholic Schools on March 10, 2021. Since that announcement Catholic schools throughout the Diocese have been enhancing STREAM-based learning and taking the time to continuously engage students through playful learning activities to think critically and solve complex problems, regardless of their learning level.

Also of good news, a report from the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops (FCC) has revealed that the Diocese of Venice leads all other Arch/diocese in enrollment gains in the past year. This trend also wipes out enrollment losses that occurred due to the pandemic. The Diocesan numbers – a 15.2% enrollment increase in elementary schools and 8.9% percent increase in secondary schools – compare favorably to the rest of the state.

Throughout the year, many schools implemented programs to improve sustainability through water conservation and energy reduction effort all in the spirit of Laudato Si, an encyclical from Pope Francis on the care for our common home.

Respect Life Outreach

The Diocese of Venice had huge numbers participate in prayer vigils at abortion facilities throughout the Diocese of Venice. With this topic gaining national attention due to laws restricting access to abortion in Texas and Mississippi and pending decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court, the vigils took a renewed sense of urgency. A focused prayer walk takes place each January in Sarasota to coincide with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, while two 40 Days for Life campaigns take place at multiple locations each Lent and again in the fall to coincide with October, National Respect Life Month.

Honoring the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony

As the sanctity of marriage continues to be attacked from many different levels, Bishop Dewane takes time out each year to honor the men and women who have dedicated their lives to living the Sacrament of Marriage. Two Mass are held during the year which the Bishop celebrates for couples enjoying significant wedding anniversaries; many celebrating more than 50 years of marriage and some more than 70 years. These couples represent a shining example of this important Sacrament in the face of many attacks on this vital institution. In addition, the Diocese hosted the inaugural Marriage Enrichment Conference in October in Sarasota and Naples. The goal was to help form married couples to live out their vocation in holiness and joy.

Safe Haven Sunday

To help bolster the family, the Diocese also participated in the first ever Safe Haven Sunday in March 2021. Safe Haven Sunday was set aside so as to give focused time and resources to address the harmful effects of pornography on youth, marriages, and families. Resources to protect individuals, marriages and families were given to families attending Masses that weekend. This was followed up by a series of Cyber Safety workshops for parents, religious educators, and principals.

Catholic Charities

Each year the programs of Catholic Charities within the Diocese of Venice assists thousands of individuals and families and through the pandemic the numbers remained high as inflation has caused housing and food prices to skyrocket further impacting families. More than a million pounds of food was served to some 150,000 individuals at food pantries throughout the Diocese. Catholic Charities also hosted several volunteer vaccinations sites in rural communities with great success. An additional 2,000 received mental health counseling through in-person and tele-mental health programs. Nearly as many received some sort of emergency financial assistance. This support was in addition to the 30 other programs Catholic Charities has at locations throughout the region and ranges from afterschool tutoring to senior care.

Year of St. Joseph

Because St. Joseph is Protector of the Universal Church, Bishop Dewane consecrated the Diocese of Venice to a “Year of St. Joseph” in the context of the COVID-19 Pandemic beginning March 19, 2020. The Diocesan dedication to a “Year of Saint Joseph” was extended to continue until Dec. 8, 2021. This was in direct support of Pope Francis creating a Universal “Year of Saint Joseph” from Dec. 8, 2020 to Dec. 8, 2021. Among the activities which took place to honor St. Joseph, the Diocesan Office of Family Life introduced a 30-day St. Joseph Devotional for the month of September 2021, as a way to continue to mark the ongoing “Year of St. Joseph,” as well as the celebration of the Year of Amoris Laetitia Family.

Synod on Synodality

Bishop Dewane inaugurated the beginning of the Diocesan Phase of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” with an afternoon Mass on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, at Epiphany Cathedral. Participating in the Mass were Diocesan priests, as well as some 300 people representing many Parishes, various movements, and many other groups. During the Diocesan Phase there will be a series of listening sessions which will take place in each part of the Diocese in the coming months. The goal of these sessions is to discern the Word of God in Scripture, what those Words are saying to us while remembering the living Mission of the Church. Two episodes of the Bishop radio show, “Witnessing Faith with Bishop Dewane,” were dedicated to covering the intricacies of the Synod.

Dedications

Two major dedications took place in the first half of 2021. First was the Dedication and Blessing of a new Parish Church for St. Paul Parish in Arcadia on March 21, 2021. The building more than quadrupled the capacity of the previous church and offers room for future Parish offices, classrooms and a Parish Hall. The project followed strict guidelines to ensure the building is energy efficient is the context of Laudato Si. A centerpiece feature of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice was dedicated and blessed by Bishop Dewane before an enthusiastic crowd on June 6, 2021. The Shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a fitting memorial to the Blessed Virgin who serves as the exemplar for all to follow.

Other items of note

  • For the 14th consecutive year, during Child Abuse Awareness Prevention Month – April, the Diocese of Venice offered a Mass to pray for the victims of abuse at Epiphany Cathedral. Normally there are two Mass, but the pandemic necessitated only one Mass in 2021. So as to accommodate a larger audience, the Mass was live-streamed. The Diocese of Venice, and its entities, take very seriously the safety of all young people and vulnerable adults. To this end, the Diocese, with a zero-tolerance policy, works to prevent any instances of abuse, particularly against minors and vulnerable adults.
  • The 12th Annual Veterans Day Catholic Mass made a successful return to Sarasota National Cemetery as Bishop Dewane prayed for those currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, those who have died, and their families. More than 500 people attended the Mass which was celebrated in 2020 at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice out of caution because of the pandemic and the threat of a hurricane.
  • For the past four years the Hispanic Ministries outreach of the Diocese of Venice has strived to meet the needs of those desiring to be better formed in their Faith. The Spanish-language Faith Formation Program recently distributed certificates of completion to 219 students who have completed an educational program to better understand the teachings of the Catholic Faith, bringing the four-year total to more than 1,500. Spanish Faith Formation Program sessions were developed following the local consultation process of the V Encuentro in 2016 and 2017.
  • The Diocese also hosted successful Women’s and Men’s Conferences as well as a full-scale Youth Rally with some 1,000 attendees. Each of these events was necessarily scaled back in 2020.
  • A Catechetical Conference, hosted by Diocese of Venice Department of Education and spearheaded by the Office of Religious Education, provided an understanding as to how to bring Jesus Christ into the classroom as a catechist according to Church teachings. The bilingual Conference was Sept. 25, 2021, and offered catechetical leaders, catechists, religion coordinators and religion teachers a training day aimed at helping them to grow spiritually and professionally.

While 2021 brought great challenges to many, including to the Diocese of Venice, the Catholic Church remains strong and 2022 looks to be a time of celebration and hope.

Stay tuned to learn about the events of 2022 coming in the Jan. 14, 2022 e-Edition of The Florida Catholic.

Thanksgiving a time to give back

Throughout the Diocese of Venice, Thanksgiving 2021 was a time to reflect and be grateful for all of the bountiful blessings God has bestowed upon the world as uncertainty and turmoil continues to be ever present.

For many, expressing their gratitude was achieved by going to Mass, giving back to the community through donations of food or money, and by cooking Thanksgiving Day dinners for those who were in need of a hot meal or might otherwise be alone this holiday.

On Thanksgiving morning, Bishop Dewane celebrated Mass at Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch, something he has done for nearly a decade. Bishop Dewane spoke of how we all have so much for which to be thankful for, even during the continuing pandemic. “We gather together to be thankful for the graces God bestows upon us; for our presence here and for those around us. We must use that grace to express our gratitude to the Lord by being the leaven; going out into the world as the voice to change things through bringing Christ into the lives of all. Be the example to the world. Tell others where it is you find gratitude – in the Lord.”

Food distribution took place in the days leading up to Thanksgiving at multiple locations.

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., distributed food and turkey at each of its food pantries and even delivered food to homes in Naples, Arcadia and Immokalee.

A partnership between St. Elizabeth Seton Parish and St. Matthew’s House in Naples meant that for two days vehicles lined up to receive food, including a frozen turkey. Bishop Dewane helped load turkeys on the first day, and over the two days some 700 turkeys and food for meals were distributed.

Meanwhile, at the St. Joseph Food Pantry in Bradenton, some 900 turkeys and bags of food were distributed in two days. This effort is an outreach of the Parish and takes place throughout the year. However, Thanksgiving week a special bag of food and a turkey are offered for all. Countless volunteers on the car line and in the background made the distribution a success.

Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers distributed extra food from its pantry and provided gift cards to families for the purchase of a turkey or other food that was appropriate for the large Hispanic community.

The Knights of St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers went above and beyond the call of duty when they delivered 204 turkeys and all the trimmings to a local food pantry and then gave 129 turkeys to St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston and 380 turkeys to St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Moore Haven.

The Sarasota Ministerial Association and St. Martha’s Church held the 21st Annual Thanksgiving Wednesday Community Luncheon Nov. 24, 2021, in the Father Fausto Parish Hall. Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School students were among the volunteers who assisted in making the event a success. The luncheon is the combined effort of many different groups in the area by providing hot food for the local homeless population.

On Thanksgiving Day, several groups hosted hot meals for the community.

One of the largest was the Knights of Columbus Our Lady of Victory Council 3358, which hosted its annual Thanksgiving Dinner at their Hall on Fruitville Road in Sarasota. This was open to anyone including those who are alone or in need a hot meal. Bishop Dewane helped plate the mashed potatoes and corn. Bishop Dewane frequently assists at this meal.

Before the meal, the Bishop blessed the Knights and all of the volunteers who made the meal possible. Some 250 boxed meals were delivered throughout the area to elder housing and low-income housing facilities, while at the same time there was a steady stream of grateful people arriving throughout the afternoon for a meal with all the trimmings, including pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top. The leftovers were donated to help feed the homeless. The Knights in Sarasota have been hosting this annual meal with all of the trimmings since the late 1980s.

The Knights of Columbus of Epiphany Cathedral in Venice hosted their own Thanksgiving Dinner for the community with Msgr. Patrick Dubois, Rector of the Cathedral, helping to serve apple and pumpkin pie.

St. Peter the Apostles Parish in Naples also hosted its annual Thanksgiving Dinner for those who might otherwise be alone for the holiday, a tradition that goes back a number of years.

These were just a few of the ways the faithful of the Diocese lived their faith in celebration of Thanksgiving.

Giving back for Thanksgiving

Catholic schools and Parish youth groups across the Diocese of Venice learned a valuable lesson ahead of Thanksgiving: to be thankful for what they have and how wonderful it feels to give to others.

Thousands of cans of food and other non-perishable items were collected and then delivered to various Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. food banks or those of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

For example, at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers the students took part in the school’s annual “Share Your Blessings” canned food drive. The drive was led by the National Junior Honor Society in partnership with the Knights of Columbus and collected more than 3,500 items for the nearby St. Vincent de Paul Society which helps feed those in need. Top collecting classes earned a prize of holiday cookies.

This important lesson of giving back resonates with students of all ages and is a strong representation of the Catholic Social Teaching regarding charity, where one doesn’t just give but gives from the heart to everyone in need regardless of their race or religion because “Christ is all and in all.”

Although many world religions uphold charitable work, it is specially emphasized in the Christian Faith and is a central message found in the Gospels. For example, in Colossians 3:11 we are instructed to love our neighbors because they are the children of God as we are all part of the same human family and share the same nature, needs and dignity.

This is why the smiles on the student faces last a little bit longer as they learn to appreciate that their combined hard work translates into food on the table for many families in the community who are less fortunate.

When organizing food drives, many Catholic schools often have friendly competitions amongst the different classrooms and grade levels.

This went to an extreme level at Donahue Academy of Ave Maria Catholic School in Ave Maria, where the whole school took part in a massive, canned food drive competition to help the Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities in Immokalee.

How massive? One local store had to stay open two extra hours as the students were buying so many cans. Then, when the stores ran out of cans, the students collected rice, pasta and more. This created a temporary counting problem as the faculty tried to figure out the equivalent value of a canned item versus a bag of rice or box of pasta.

The result was a massive 6,000 items of food. So much that it took more than one trip to deliver everything to the grateful staff of Catholic Charities.

The competition was also fierce at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers where students put their donated food items into large cans labeled with the name of favored teachers or faculty members. The name which had the most food was obligated to wear a turkey outfit after school on Nov. 19, 2021 – the start of the Thanksgiving break – and wave to all of the families and students. The “winner” was Matt Hiller, Assistant Dean of Students who gladly wore the outfit and held a sign as he waved and gobbled – “Save a TURKEY – Eat PIZZA!”

At St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples the students, faculty, and staff delivered a total of 6,474 items to Catholic Charities. In addition to the school-wide food drive, the Celtic baseball team decided to go above and beyond and host an additional food drive, donating more than 200 items to another area charity.

Nearby, St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School students collected over 1,000 pounds of food and over $250 from a dress down (non-uniform) day collection.

Not to be forgotten, the St. Columbkille Parish Youth Group & Faith Formation families came together to donate and assemble many large baskets of food. This was in addition to turkeys donated by the Knights of Columbus.

These were just a few examples of the generosity and charity from the students and youth of the Diocese of Venice leading up to Thanksgiving. The lessons of charity were well learned and countless families were the beneficiaries of their generosity.

Catholic Charities Summer Appeal – Leave your ‘footprint’ by helping neighbors

Every day, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. serves the most vulnerable population by feeding, housing, empowering, and helping all in need.

Proverbs 16:9 reminds us, even during the COVID-19 Pandemic, of the plans of the human heart and that the Lord directs those steps. Now is the time you can leave your footprint by helping your neighbors through giving to the annual “Summertime and the Giving is Easy” Appeal.

Catholic Charities offers the people of Southwest Florida the means to move beyond poverty and strive to achieve self-sufficiency. The appeal is critical for the continuing operations of the three dozen different programs available in locations throughout the 10-county Diocese of Venice. These programs remained functioning during the Pandemic while the demand for fundamental help skyrocketed. Between the end of March 2020 and the end of May 2021 Catholic Charities has assisted some 300,000 individuals or more than 100,000 households with items such as food, tele-mental health, financial assistance and more recently assistance in accessing vaccines.

Throughout the year, the programs help support a child’s success by helping them grow into strong leaders and the community’s most vulnerable youth thrive. This is done through providing essential school supplies, bedding for a child, or supplies for new mother.

A main focus in all of the work of Catholic Charities is striving to help give peace of mind to those who seek help by creating a better tomorrow where children and adults can experience hope, recovery, and wellness. Mental health counseling offers the tools necessary to overcome challenges. This includes life skills classes for mothers, as well as mental health counseling for children and survivors of human trafficking.

At the forefront of the homeless issue, an extremely complex matter that impacts the entire community, programs are operated to provide stable, permanent housing which is the first step in helping individuals and families achieve better lives. To accomplish this, there are programs which focuses on providing transitional housing for homeless families and human trafficking survivors as well as a program that prevents moms with babies from becoming homeless.

Of course, a key component of the work of Catholic Charities is helping to combat hunger. In Florida, 1 in 5 children struggle with hunger. Together, we can fight food insecurity by providing food to children, families and seniors to end hunger in the community. This is accomplished by providing hot meals through a soup kitchen, bags of food for a family to get through a crisis (both short-term and long-term like the Pandemic), and weekend food for children when school meals are not available.

Philomena Pereira, Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Charities, says all donations – great or small – will enable Catholic Charities to continue to help those most vulnerable in the Diocese.

“The annual ‘Summertime and the Giving is Easy’ appeal reminds us all that many people in our communities of Southwest Florida do not have the essentials,” Pereira said. “Please consider a donation. You can make a real difference!”

How to Help

To donate to the “Summertime and the Giving is Easy” appeal, please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org or mail a check to Catholic Charities, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285. You can make your contribution in honor or memory of a loved one.

$10,000 helps maintain 5 transitional houses for homeless individuals and families.

$6,500 provides a notebook computer for 20 children.

$6,400 provides life-skills classes for 22 moms for 1 year.

$5,000 provides over 2,000 hot meals at our soup kitchen for one month.

$3,900 will house a disadvantaged mom and her baby for 2 months.

$2,800 allows a child mental health counseling for an entire school year.

$1,700 provides a homeless mom with 12 sessions of counseling.

$1,600 purchases a pallet of black beans feeding 500 families.

$1,250 houses a human trafficking survivor and family for 1 month.

$1,000 gives a backpack full of school supplies for 10 children.

$750 provides 150 children weekend meals when school meals are not available.

$600 helps a survivor of human trafficking with 2 months of mental health counseling.

$500 provides a new twin mattress, frame, and bedding for a child.

$250 supplies diapers, wipes, and hygiene supplies for a mother and child for 1 month.

$100 feeds a family of 4 for 2 weeks from a food pantry.

$75 provides a laundry basket filled with cleaning and household products to a family transitioning to a new home.

Service Locations

Arcadia, Boca Grande, Bonita Springs, Bradenton, Clewiston, Fort Myers, Immokalee, Naples, North Port, Palmetto, Port Charlotte, Sarasota, Venice, Wauchula

Programs & Services

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Demand for food at Parishes remains strong

Wendy Shaver owns a small consulting agency, but her business has been closed since August when all of her clients went out of business due to impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“It has been a very difficult time,” Shaver said on Jan. 28, 2021 as she waited patiently for food that was being distributed  by members of the Sacred Heart Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the parking lot of Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda. “I never thought I would ever need food, but I was desperate as all of my savings are gone. This food will help me get by another few weeks.”

The food is part of the regional Harry Chapin Food Bank mobile food pantry distribution and organized through the Charlotte County COAD (Community Organizations Active in a Disaster) Food Task Force. Distribution take place four times a month, twice at Sacred Heart Parish, and includes a food kit, with about 5 days of meals.

Paul Kaiser, President of the Sacred Heart Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, explained that a core group of volunteers ensures the bi-monthly food distribution takes place without a hitch. The Conference has also kept its offices near the Punta Gorda Airport open three days a week. On these days, food is distributed to 40 to 80 individuals and families, or up to 240 a week beyond those helped through the mobile food pantry. That compares to 150 assisted per month before the Pandemic.

Meanwhile, at Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers, the small food pantry there is officially open each Tuesday morning, but for families in need of assistance during off-hours, help is available.

“We help up to 100 families a week, but we support several hundred households regularly since not every family comes weekly – some come biweekly, or monthly, or only occasionally in an emergency situation,” explained Father Patrick O’Connor, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, Pastor of Jesus the Worker Parish.

The pantry receives food from the Harry Chapin Food Bank, as well as from MidWest Food Bank, but the Parish staff and volunteers must pick up its own food. The Parish also relies upon donations from the faithful within the community and from surrounding Parishes.

“The food pantry is a defining ministry in the Christian life of our community,” Father O’Connor described. “Our people are proud of the work of our pantry and see it as an important part of our Catholic identity as a Church community, fulfilling one of the great mandates of love of Jesus – to feed the hungry. One might think that such a ministry would be a drain in the community, but quite the opposite, it draws people to our community, and it is life giving.”

The food pantry at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula also remains very busy. The weekly distribution early Saturday mornings begins before sunrise and is over by 9 a.m. The food comes from various sources, including parishioners, the All Faiths Food Bank in Sarasota, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., and other churches.

Sister Maria Madre de le Alborada Quizhpe, Sister Servant of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, who organizes the weekly distribution, said the number of families seeking help each week remains high at 200 or more. That is only slightly less than the peak immediately after the Pandemic began.

“There are many who are out or work or working less, so the need is there and they come to St. Michael’s for help,” Sister Alborada said, noting that the farming community has been impacted hard by the pandemic as crops are smaller because demand is less. Because of the different sources, the food distributed in Wauchula is a mix of fresh vegetables, frozen meat, bread and essentials, such as beans and rice. When possible, candy is added for the small children.

In Wauchula, as is the case in Punta Gorda and Fort Myers, the food distribution relies on a core group of volunteers who work during the distribution or in advance to help prepare the food. They also each rely on the generosity of those individuals who are not facing as much of an impact during the Pandemic as others.

“People have been generous, and it is making a big difference,” Sister Alborada said. “But the demand is still here.”

How to support or volunteer at a food pantry

Sacred Heart Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, visit https://www.svdp-dov.org/sacred-heart/, call 941-575-0767 or write to 25200 Airport Road, Punta Gorda, FL, 33950.

Jesus the Worker Parish food pantry, call 239-693-5333, or write to 881 Nuna Ave., Fort Myers, FL 33905.

St. Michael Parish, call 863-773-4089, or write to 408 Heard Bridge Road, Wauchula, FL 33873.

Another way to help

Walk for the Poor

The 12th annual Walk for The Poor to support the Charlotte County Conferences of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, is 9 a.m., Feb. 13, 2021, at the Laishley Park Pavilion in Punta Gorda (registration begins at 8 a.m.). Each year, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul hosts the Walk for the Poor to raise funds and to increase awareness of the needs of the less fortunate living in our Charlotte County community.

The walk will proceed along the Trabue Harbor Walk or the northbound U.S. 41 bridge, if preferred. For more information call: 917-549-0555; to register or donate visit our website at https://svdp-dov.org/charlotte and click on Walk for the Poor.

Generosity abounds leading to Thanksgiving

The generosity of the faithful, whether they are part of a Diocese of Venice Catholic School or Parish, knows no limits.

With many people struggling because of the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Thanksgiving for some seemed as if it could be without the basic needs of food on the table.

Food and fundraising drives at Diocesan Catholic Schools and Parishes, as well as through a variety of other organizations, stepped up to answer the call for help with a late season surge of food and monetary donations.

Students from St. John Neumann Catholic School in Naples held their annual Thanksgiving Food Drive for Catholic Charities and collected 4,837 cans. The students and faculty then delivered the items on Nov. 20, 2020 to the Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center.

St. Columbkille Parish members of the Knights of Columbus delivered donated turkeys to St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Moore Haven and then to St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston.

The St. Joseph Food Pantry in Bradenton was also the beneficiary of the Knight of Columbus. The Ss. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish Council donated money from the annual Msgr. Moretti Memorial Golf Tournament, which was used to purchase 100 frozen turkeys. Kindergarteners at St. Martha Catholic School also collected more than 200 pounds of food for the food pantry.

On Nov. 23, and 24, the St. Joseph Food Pantry loaded 1,500 frozen turkeys for families in need in lieu of the normal bag of food. The demand for food at the pantry has risen dramatically since the start of the Pandemic and thanks to donations like those from the Knights and Diocesan Catholic schools, there was enough to provide turkeys this year, ensuring everyone a happy and blessed Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, St. William Parish in Naples is reaching out to those who are alone this Thanksgiving by calling parishioners during Thanksgiving week. These calls, to those added to a list of those who are alone, are to offer prayers and conversation; a human touch for those who remain necessarily isolated out of caution and concerns due to the Pandemic.

These are just a few of the examples of what took place in the Diocese of Venice leading up to Thanksgiving, showing that the faithful are filled with holiday spirit while also caring for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are less fortunate than ourselves.

Schools celebrate Thanksgiving

While some Catholic Schools focused on collecting food for others, students also learned about and did a variety of activities in celebration of the holiday before the break.

For example, at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice the pre-kindergarten-4 class learned about friendship, built a teepee, made Native American clothing and turned corn into popcorn. Fifth-grade students at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers, had a Thanksgiving Day Balloon Parade! After reading “Balloons Over Broadway,” by Melissa Sweet, students were challenged to make their own balloon to fly in a class parade. Kindergarten students at St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral celebrated Thanksgiving a little early on Nov. 17 with a classroom feast with all the trimmings.

Again, these are just a sampling of the many activities which took place at Diocesan Catholic School leading up to Thanksgiving.

Parish Outreach Center dedicated, blessed in Wauchula

The mission of the new St. Michael Outreach Center in Wauchula is to develop each person’s recognition of their individual dignity and worth through the cultivation of their emotional, spiritual, intellectual and social development. The Center’s supportive economic, therapeutic, and educational resources are designed to provide a healthy framework for personal and social growth within families and the community.

That mission was celebrated with a dedication and blessing ceremony of the Outreach Center by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on Nov. 21, 2020. Participating in the ceremony were staff, volunteers, supporters and local government officials (including Hardee County Manager Lawrence McNaul), as well as the Servant Sisters of the Virgin Matara, the religious sisters who serve at St. Michael Parish. Among the supporters’ present were members of the Our Lady of the Angels Knights of Columbus.

The Outreach Center, purchased and remodeled by the Diocese of Venice, is designed for community outreach to low-income individuals/families and the migrant community. This includes overseeing a food bank and thrift store as well as having afterschool programming, immigration services, mental health counseling from Catholic Charities, and other classes for both children and adults.

As part of the ceremony, a prayer service, which included Bishop Dewane first incensing the exterior and interior of the building as well as blessing the building with holy water. The was followed by comments for key people involved in the Outreach Center.

Bishop Dewane praised everyone for their hard work noting that they are making a real difference in reaching out and providing needed services in this poor economically challenged community.

The blessing was delayed because of the COVID-19 Pandemic and participants wore masks as a precaution. Programming at the Center began several months ago but are limited due to social distancing requirements as well as the ongoing urgent need for supplies.

The afterschool program for kindergarten through fifth grade is supplementing the student’s education by providing small group teacher-led instruction to bring them up to grade level. This is necessary because many are simultaneously learning a second language. Teen helpers assist with homework and provide other guidance for the younger children. Included in the afterschool effort is handwriting and cursive instruction, character formation, as well as outdoor developmental playtime.

Chantelle Garcia, who is an elementary school teacher, assists with the afterschool program as tutor and program coordinator. Garcia explained that in the first three weeks of the program the children made great strides. “It is amazing to see the difference that was made in such a short period of time. Imagine how they will be in three months or longer. There is a wait list because families are learning how well those in the program are doing.”

While the Outreach Center is making a positive impact, there are urgent needs. These include basic school supplies (construction paper, card stock, paints/pastels, crayons, educational games, books) for younger children (K-5). There is also a demand for children’s underwear, socks, shoes and sneakers to help the poorer families provide necessities. Another need is for metal supply cabinets with locks, as well as shelves for storage.

“We are just getting started and we don’t have a lot of money in the community, so our needs are great,” explained Erika Wood, Outreach Center Coordinator.

Another example of a need is that of musical instruments. Thanks to a donation of a grand piano, the Outreach Center does offer piano lessons. However, only a few children are learning to play, while other music lessons are limited to teaching basic notes and rhythm. The wish list includes Yamaha electric pianos (with headphones) as well as other instruments, so as more children can learn at the same time.

Sister Gema Ruiz, who is the Director of Religious Education at St. Michael Parish, said it is a blessing to have the Outreach Center and for Bishop Dewane to be present for a blessing and dedication.

“We are providing needed services in this community and it is good to have the Bishop here to see our work and to inform the Diocese of the blessed work we are doing here in Wauchula,” Sister Gema said.

To learn more about how you can help the St. Michael Outreach Center, you can reach Erika Wood at 863-832-6904, Erika.wood@stmichaelwauchula.org, or you can send donations to: St. Michael Outreach Center, 317 N. 6th Ave., Wauchula, FL 33873.

News briefs for the week of Nov. 20, 2020

Vigil held for children killed by violence

A Candlelight Vigil was held Nov 7, 2020 at St. Joseph Church in Bradenton to honor the memory of the 1,080 children who have been killed by gun and domestic violence between Jan. 1, 2020 and Nov. 7, 2020. Each of the names of the children were read aloud, along with their age, city and state and a candle was lit for each and every child! Prayers were said by Father Shawn Roser and joined by both Deacon Ron Dains and Deacon Ron Ochner who read the names, while many joined in lighting candles for the lost children and their grieving families. A Manatee County Sheriff’s Deputy spoke on how hard this senseless loss of life is for law enforcement officers as well as all of us!

School supports charity, honors veterans

The National Junior Honor Society at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers collected more than 1,100 items of food to be delivered to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. This effort was made possible with the assistance of the Knights of Columbus. The school also delivered more than 150 Veteran’s Day cards made by students to Mission BBQ. Mission BBQ handed out free lunches to veterans on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2020, and with their lunch they each received a handmade card! The students were honored to make these cards and show their appreciation for our local community.

Student donates hair for third time

For the third time, Serafina Colonneso, a student at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton, has donated 12 inches of her hair to Children With Hair Loss. Children With Hair Loss is a non-profit organization that provides human hair replacements at no cost to children and young adults facing medically-related hair loss. Way to go Serafina!

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