2024 Hurricane Season begins – Awareness and preparation key

If anything is predictable in Florida it is that each summer the weather will be very warm and humid, and everyone should be keeping an eye on the tropics and preparing for Hurricane Season.

The 2024 Atlantic Hurricane Season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. With a history of these storms producing destruction in the region, just the mention of Hurricane Ian (2022), Hurricane Irma (2017), or Hurricane Charley (2004), can cause misery for many.

The Diocese of Venice, and many families are still recovering from Hurricane Ian nearly two years after the storm passed, but Bishop Frank J. Dewane said the Diocese of Venice is well-prepared for the coming season.

“We are all well aware of the catastrophic impacts of hurricanes as witnessed by the destruction caused during Hurricane Ian and other storms,” Bishop Frank J. Dewane said. “What we can do is to be prepared, and pray for protection. My prayers are especially for the people who continue to recover from previous storms. As the new Atlantic Hurricane Season arrives, let us all ask God for protection and safety from these storms in this year and beyond.”

Experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is forecasting a range of 17 to 25 total named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), well above the seasonal average. This follows the 2023 season which produced 20 named storms, including Hurricane Idalia, which threatened Southwest Florida before slamming into north Florida. NOAA stated that numerous factors were considered in the forecast, including near-record warm ocean temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean, development of La Nina conditions in the Pacific, reduced Atlantic trade winds and less wind shear, all of which tend to favor tropical storm formation, reported.

The names for this season, provided by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), include Alberto, Beryl, Chris, Debby, Ernesto and others. The list of 21 names is repeated every six years. The only time that there is a change is if a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate for obvious reasons of sensitivity (Ian, Irma, Charley, Katrina, etc.). If that occurs, then at an annual WMO meeting by the committee (called primarily to discuss many other issues) the offending name is stricken from the list and another name is selected to replace it. The new names on the 2024 list are Francine and Milton, replacing Florence and Michael. In 2018, Michael caused catastrophic damage to Florida’s Panhandle, while Florence caused widespread flooding in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and beyond.

Weather forecasters and emergency management officials stress that each tropical system is different, explaining that just because you survived Ian, Irma or Charley, without any damage doesn’t mean the next storm, whether it is a tropical storm or major hurricane, couldn’t destroy everything around you.

A recently published NOAA analysis of Hurricanes Ian and Charley, which both made landfall with winds of in excess of 150 mph and followed nearly identical tracks, caused very different devastation. Charley was a small storm (wind impacts), moving fast which meant there was little storm surge, yet it still caused 35 deaths and $16.9 billion in damage. The wind field of Ian was five times the size of Charley, was slow moving, had up to 15-foot storm surge in some areas, triggered catastrophic flooding, and caused 141 deaths and $113 billion in damage.

This emphasizes the importance of paying attention to tropical cyclone size and not just comparing track and intensity of previous hurricanes. The National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service take into account storm size when issuing watches and warnings, so it is highly advised that individuals use those when making decisions about protecting themselves, their families, and properties.

In its report, NOAA stated, “the bottom line is that forecasters understand how storm size can affect hazards and it is good practice to pay attention to forecasts rather than comparing the current event with previous storms or experiences.”

With many people no longer watching local news, NOAA officials also stress the need for everyone to have access to reliable local weather reports to avoid confusion when a storm approaches. This can be accessed through the National Weather Service, National Hurricane Center, local news outlets or other trustworthy weather sources.

While keeping a wary eye on the weather forecast is important, being prepared before storms approach is just as vital. Preparedness means many things, but a key part is simply knowing where you live in relationship to evacuation zones in your city or county. Also, knowing how well constructed your home is can also impact your preparations and planning in the event an evacuation is ordered. Also, as many learned during Ian, power could be out for days, or weeks, following a storm, and the decision must also be made if one wants to stay under those conditions.

22nd Annual Christmas Appeal comes at critical time

“Providing Help, Creating Hope, Serving All!” – the mission statement of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc.

Catholic Charities continues to bring hope to families and people in need in Southwest Florida, thanks to the generosity of benefactors who support the many programs of Catholic Charities throughout the year.

Catholic Charities assisted more than 335,000 people in need, providing a wide range of services throughout the 10-county Diocese of Venice this year. Service included emergency assistance, food and housing assistance, counseling and mental health services, and programs for seniors and children. For example: $3,000,000 provided financial assistance to keep families housed and fed in the post-pandemic period and recovery; 1,000 families and seniors were provided housing assistance; disaster relief continued for more than 100,000 impacted by Hurricane Ian; 5,000 services were provided to victims of human trafficking; and more than 270,000 hungry children and individuals were assisted at numerous food pantries.

To enable Catholic Charities to continue to do its vital work, the 22nd Annual Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal is taking place now through January 2024. A donation strengthens Catholic Charities to provide this much-needed support.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane noted that the support of Catholic Charities by the faithful of Southwest Florida is inspiring and critical to ensure “our brothers and sisters in Christ continue to receive the help and support they need. Please remember that every number represents a child, family or individual who relied on the support of Catholic Charities to get through a crisis. Catholic Charities does a wonderful job in providing programs that not only help in a crisis but assist in improving daily the lives of those they reach. Your support is appreciated, and critical!”

In an appeal letter to supporters, Eddie Gloria, CEO of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, and Rita Cavuto, Chair of the Board of Directors, wrote, “This Christmas, help us to continue to bring the message of God’s hope. Your donation this Season holds the power to uplift the lives of people in need. Each person and family seeking assistance faces unique challenges. Your help allows Catholic Charities to develop the programs and services to meet these diverse needs.”

Perhaps the personal testimony of beneficiaries says it best:


  • Judith of Cape Coral, a victim of Hurricane Ian, said of Catholic Charities, “I was granted a place to live, and they helped me pay my bills and it was a tremendous blessing. May God continue to bless their heart and their mind and the good work that they’re doing for people. They helped me to put myself back on my feet.”


  • Nicolas of Naples said, “I was struggling financially with my health. I reached out to Catholic Charities, and they assisted me with a medical bill and a portion of my rent. I’m truly grateful for the help and can’t thank you enough.”


  • Alexa, a graduate of the Our Mother’s House program for homeless moms and their children, said, “Our Mother’s House provided me with the help I needed to get back on my feet and care for my son. Now I feel joy, and I am hopeful about the future – because now I have one.”

This is just a small sampling of the many positive outcomes Catholic Charities has been privileged to support during the past year and they are prepared for the possibilities of tomorrow because of donations to the annual Christmas Appeal.

To support the 22nd Annual Christmas Appeal, please mail a contribution to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285, or visit https://catholiccharitiesdov.org/donate.

“No matter the amount of your gift, when combined with others, it will make a significant difference for those who turn to us for help!” the appeal letter concluded.

Special collection aids Diocesan hurricane recovery

The Diocese of Venice continues its recovery from Hurricane Ian which devastated the region on Sept. 28, 2022, with winds up to 155 mph and storm surge and flooding rains.

The recovery has been aided thanks to the kindness of many who saw the plight of the Parishes in the Diocese of Venice and contributed to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) 2022 Special Collection for the Bishops’ Emergency Disaster Fund. The Diocese of Venice has been awarded $1.383 million from the USCCB collection.

Since the time of the founding of the Diocese in 1984, the faithful have generously responded to help others through special collections, and now this generosity is coming back to our own Diocese, as it did following Hurricane Charley in 2004 and Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said he was personally grateful, on behalf of the faithful of the Diocese of Venice, “to all of the people who contributed to the Bishops’ Emergency Disaster Fund Special Collection in the wake of Hurricane Ian. The devastation to communities in the area, and even to the infrastructure of the Diocese, was catastrophic. Even today, as families continue the process of rebuilding, so do our Diocesan Parishes. I also wish to thank my fellow Bishops who saw the need in the Diocese of Venice and were generous to those Parishes who were most burdened financially when disaster struck.”

Ian took a heavy toll on the Diocese of Venice, with more than 685 reports of damage to various structures. Significant damage was found in more than 400 structures, including at 30 Parishes and 10 Catholic schools, as well as at many other Diocesan entities. The resulting cost to rebuild exceeded what many Parishes could begin to manage.

Bishop Dewane, on behalf of the Diocese of Venice, made a formal request for grant money raised through the Bishops’ Emergency Disaster Fund. This application included a complete description of damages, with accompanying photos, as well as the entities financial situations.

At a USCCB meeting, the Subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions awarded a $1.383 million grant from the Bishops’ Emergency Disaster Fund to the Diocese of Venice. This grant money was designated to assist 13 Parishes in the Diocese that serve impoverished communities and had sustained severe damage from Hurricane Ian. The funds received covered a significant portion of the insurance deductibles – in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars – and costs that Parishes owed for new roofs, mold mitigation, and other repairs that otherwise didn’t have resources.

Parishes receiving a portion of the grant monies included Jesus the Worker (San Jose Mission), Fort Myers; Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, Sarasota; San Antonio, Port Charlotte; St. Andrew, Cape Coral; St. Catherine, Sebring; St. Charles Borromeo, Port Charlotte; St. James, Lake Placid; St. Joseph the Worker, Moore Haven; St. Katharine Drexel, Cape Coral; St. Maximilian Kolbe, Port Charlotte; St. Michael, Wauchula; St. Paul, Arcadia; and St. Francis Xavier, Fort Myers.

The Bishops’ Emergency Disaster fund was established as a way for Dioceses to take up special collections in response to disasters and humanitarian crises. The fund supports USCCB efforts for pastoral and reconstruction efforts.

“St. Paul wrote that when one Christian suffers, all Christians suffer – because we are all part of one Body of Christ,” said Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on National Collections. “That unity is the heart of (special) collections. They bring faith, hope, and love to people in despair… and to disaster victims in our own nation.”

Bishop Dewane and Diocese of Venice Chancellor Dr. Volodymyr Smeryk visited impacted Parishes to see firsthand the extent of the damages and to learn of specific financial hardship. Parishes reported severe damage to churches, rectories and other Parish facilities.

Grant awards were announced in July, with the Diocese of Venice awarded $1.383 million. Smeryk said the grants assisted substantially in helping the most impoverished Parishes to recover from Ian faster than would otherwise have been possible.

In addition to the Bishops’ Emergency Disaster Fund grants, the Diocese was also the beneficiary of emergency grants from Catholic Charities USA in the weeks following the storm, support which continues to this day. This support went to the immediate disaster response, helping people with emergency supplies such as food and water. Catholic Charities USA’s generous contribution continues to help even today, now providing long-term disaster recovery and financial assistance for families who continue to rebuild from Hurricane Ian more than one year later.

OLPH reopens with celebration

It is fitting that the formal reopening of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center (OLPH) in Venice was a Mass, with a blessing of the new Chapel altar.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane presided over the Mass on Oct. 1, 2023, marking the official recovery of the retreat center after Hurricane Ian caused extensive flooding damage a year earlier.

“When the hurricane passed through, we knew there was much to be done,” Bishop Dewane said. “This had to be a priority to be fixed up, opened up, and functioning again, because of what this holy ground represents.”

“OLPH is a positive experience for so many people, where they have come to discover or receive God’s Mercy,” the Bishop continued. “This retreat center is a blessing to the Diocese and it has had struggles and highlights. We are now going through a new highlight.”

During the Mass, Bishop Dewane formally blessed the new altar first with a prayer of blessing and then with Holy Water and incense. Following the blessing, the altar was formally dressed, and the Mass proceeded.

OLPH Director Father Mark Yavarone, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, thanked the many present for their support in the recovery process. Father Yavarone pointed out the leadership of Bishop Dewane and Diocesan Chancellor Volodymyr Smeryk as the impetus to getting the retreat center open so quickly. The retreat center has been hosting retreats since late August and is very busy. In fact, a men’s Cursillo group was at OLPH for the weekend of the reopening celebration.

Large portions of the clean up after the hurricane and the rebuilding was made possible thanks to the help of many benefactors and volunteers. The financial support helped a great deal, but it was the volunteers whose expertise and love was put into helping with landscaping clearing and replanting, as well as the construction of the new furniture, saving OLPH tens of thousands in added expenses.

“We could not have survived without you,” Father Yavarone said to those gathered. He also praised his small staff for overcoming the many obstacles and logistics to get OLPH back to functioning fully in less than a year.

Father also reflected upon his first visit to the property by kayak a few days after Ian, witnessing the destruction up close, with all seven of the major buildings flooded. This included the Chapel, conference center, dining hall and four residential buildings. It was not until 10 days after the storm when the damage could be surveyed by foot.

“When I first came back on property on foot and saw all of the mold and destruction, I had an unsettling thought – ‘I wonder if the Bishop and Chancellor are going to pull the plug?’ But, I never heard a discouraging word. The question was ‘How can we rebuild to make the retreat center better than it was?’ and the focus has been on achieving that goal to where we are today,” Father said.

Bishop Dewane lauded Father Yavarone for his own leadership in guiding OLPH in its recovery process, doing off-site retreats at Epiphany Cathedral and Our Lady of Lourdes in Venice and San Pedro in North Port, all to ensure the ministry of the retreat center still reached many people, even if the physical buildings could not be used.

“Father never lost heart, because as we all know, OLPH has been a positive experience for so many people through the years and will continue to do so for many more to come,” Bishop Dewane said. “Thank you, Father Mark, for all you have done.”

Those gathered gave Father a standing ovation.

In addition to benefactors and volunteers, also present for the reopening were Carmelite Father J.J. McCarthy, former director of OLPH, and Sister Carmella Decosty, Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, who helped establish OLPH with Redemptorist Father Charlie Mallen in 1995.

A reception was held in the conference center and guests were offered a tour of the rebuilt facilities. At the reception, the faithful were also introduced to Father Greg Cleveland, the new OLPH assistant director.

OLPH offers a variety of individual and group retreats as well as Ignatian Spiritual Exercises.

For more information about OLPH, or if you would like to offer financial support, please visit www.olph-retreat.org or call 941-486-0233.

Boots and Bandanas helps support Ian recovery

Nearly a year ago the winds and flooding rains of Hurricane Ian displaced many families in DeSoto, Hardee and Highlands counties. Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., was on the front lines helping desperate people get the basics necessary for survival.

Today, the recovery is ongoing but the need to support families in the region remains. Large swaths of these counties had severe wind damage compounded by river flooding that washed away homes and displaced thousands of families.

In support of the ongoing recovery efforts in the region, the Boots and Bandanas Gala took place on Sept. 23, 2024, at Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch. On hiatus for the past few years, the event has a country-western theme which reflects the rural communities.

Catholic Charities programs is this region includes food pantries, farmworker housing, financial assistance, after school programming, and much more.

“Your support will go a long way to helping these needy families get the help they need,” said Eddie Gloria, CEO of Catholic Charities. “There continues to be a tremendous need in this area even a year after Ian.”

Gloria said that Catholic Charities helped more than 100,000 in the first months following the hurricane on Sept. 28, 2022, but that the demand for continued assistance in the rural communities of DeSoto, Hardee, and Highlands counties remains high.

After Ian, St. Paul Parish in Arcadia and St. Michael Parish in Wauchula served as distribution points for food and water and other emergency supplies, even while floodwaters surrounded the communities.

In fact, at both Parishes, people rallied to bring fresh food and hot meals to help feed their neighbor in need. In Wauchula, the religious sisters hosted an evening barbeque for two weeks after the storm passed. In addition, at both Parishes, donated clothing was also made available for those families who lost everything to flooding. Later, donated furniture and other necessities for rebuilding lives were donated and distributed. That work continues one year later.

In addition, Catholic Charities, helped by volunteers, organized a point of distribution of food, water, tarps, cleaning supplies and more, with the assistance of the National Guard and FEMA.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane was one of many who volunteered his time at both locations in the days following Ian and saw the need in the area. While Bishop Dewane was unable to be at the Boots and Bandanas Gala due to a prior commitment, a message of gratitude for the ongoing support of Catholic Charities was shared.

The Boots and Bandanas event was on hiatus because of Hurricane Ian and other logistical issues, before Father Sebastian Szczawínski, Pastor of Our Lady of the Angels, enthusiastically offered to host the gala for the first time.

The evening included a live auction item of dinner with Father Szczawínski, which two bidders won, as well as a wide assortment of silent auction items. The meal was provided by Mission BBQ, while the music was from Arcadia native Andy Pursell and his band.

“We’re happy that all these people came out, and we’re loving the fact that we can wear these boots and bandanas and make it a fun night for everyone,” Gloria said.

If you would like to support Catholic Charities in its mission to help those in need, please visit https://catholiccharitiesdov.org/.

Ian recovery continues – Long term help evolves to meet unmet needs

Even before Hurricane Ian slammed into the coast of Southwest Florida on Sept. 28, 2022, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., was gearing up to respond. In the intervening 12 months, the organization, with its teams of staff and volunteers, have been taking action to help people in a variety of ways.

First, after the winds, storm surge, and floods subsided, Catholic Charities was on the scene providing emergency supplies to thousands. That assistance transitioned over time to meet more complex needs beyond the basics of food and water to offering financial and other support.

Now, one year later, there are still many who need help in their recovery process. Therefore, Catholic Charities has partnered with Lee County to be the lead agency on a dedicated recovery team. The Lee County Long Term Recovery Group (LTRG) is a team of staff who are focusing on collaborating with dozens of not-for-profit, government, and private sector stakeholders to provide a “safety net” for Hurricane Ian survivors.

As a facilitator, the LTRG will help maximize the effects of the many agencies working to help Ian survivors with a goal to restore them to their pre-storm status, within reason.

Catholic Charities CEO Eddie Gloria said the LTRG is working on a long-term plan that focuses on fixing homes and infrastructure, improving the economy, providing social services and financial relief, and preparing for future disasters.

This process is backed by Bishop Frank J. Dewane, who saw the wisdom of this focused effort, as Catholic Charities will support the LTRG by providing full-time staff, guiding its strategy, helping with activities, measuring progress, raising awareness, influencing policy, and finding funding for recovery efforts in Lee County during the next five years.

Catie Eck, formerly of Lee County Emergency Management, was selected as the LTRG Director, and has been working to hire staff to ensure that as individuals go through the process of recovery, the pieces are in place to help them.

“If your primary residence was in Lee County on Sept. 28, 2022, and you have sustained damage or have been impacted by loss of work then they will come to our attention,” Eck said. “There is a great and continuing need in Lee County. It may not be obvious, but it is there. This group is here to help fill in the gaps of people who have exhausted the assistance that was initially made available to them and can’t reasonably complete their recovery from Ian by themselves.”

Initially, there were more than 2,200 who were identified as still needing immediate assistance, but that number has been whittled down to 311, a number that will evolve over time. This group of people have been handed over to designated disaster case managers.

Eck explained that the LTRG has resources that will be used to help people, such as licensed general contractors, suppliers who can offer construction material, a warehouse of donated items (clothes, furniture and other items), groups of volunteers who can do labor, as well as organizations who can offer financial support when other resources don’t fill the gap.

“This way, when a case comes before the board, everybody comes together to get a person what they need,” Eck explained. “We are striving to make them whole, to pre-Ian levels, but when that isn’t possible, we will work to get them as close to that as we can.”

During LTRG process, a person with an unmet need would approach a partner agency (Catholic Charites, United Way, etc.), and they would then be referred to a case manager. The applicant will be helped through the paperwork which will document damage, what recovery actions have been done since the storm and what help has been received. This includes making sure the person did everything to help themselves and used any aid appropriately (insurance, FEMA, etc.), before finally establishing that there is a true need.

Once a need is identified, the case manager will then put together a proposal on how to fill the gap, which is then presented to the unmet needs group. At that point, resources (roof repair, drywall, labor) are assigned, when available. If there is still a monetary gap, the funding aspect will come into play. There, the partner organizations would then divide up the financial burden based on available funding so no one agency takes on an undue burden.

This case management process eliminates duplication of aid and allows participating agencies to help the maximum number of people with the resources that are available. Those resources can come in the form of donations, grants and government funding, but they are not unlimited and the LTRG is responsible to ensure the money is being used as intended.

While the initial case management number is at 311, Eck said that the recovery process will take a long time.

“People are still recovering from Hurricane Katrina (2005),” Eck said. “You must remember, Lee County lost a municipality (Fort Myers Beach); the barrier islands and large parts of Cape Coral were under water, and more than 60% of hotel rooms were initially gone. We are coming back strong, but we are nowhere near where we need to be. This is why the LTRG exists; to continue to be there to help people who are in need.”

Eck noted that there are many who still need to clean out their homes from flood damage, others who have tarps on their roofs, some are living in the shell of a home or are in temporary housing waiting to return home.

“These are the people we will help,” Eck said.

While the LRTG will help as many people in need as possible, there are limits. First, if the financial need is greater than the capability of the supporting organizations, a decision can be made to deny a claim in preference to apportioning that aid to more people. Eck said these instances will be rare, but as an agency dealing with funding from different sources, most donated, there is a responsibility to use the money appropriately.

For those who are unwilling to provide the required documentation of their recovery, including financial disclosures, or even apply for state federal aid, Eck said there is little that can be done because of the inability to ensure donor intent.

Others who may be eligible for help in the future are the many who are still fighting their insurance company for a final claim. If the status of such an applicant changes and resources are then exhausted and unmet needs are identified, the LTRG will step in to fill the gap.

As the LTRG becomes more operational, Eck said a hotline will be established, but for now, cases are being filtered through the various agencies that are part of the overall group, such as Catholic Charities, the United Way and more.

“This Long Term Recovery Group is unique in that Lee County had the foresight to fund the staffing,” Eck said. “Catholic Charities then stepped up to take the lead. Government usually doesn’t work in that manner, but the scope of the disaster and the number of people who are still in need made this the best way to bring many different organizations together help the most people possible.”

School buildings get summer makeover

When students returned to Diocesan Catholic schools the week of Aug. 7, 2023, school administrators were in a last-minute rush to complete summer improvement projects which ranged from a fresh coat of paint, the installation of portable classrooms, to new roofs.

The work across the Diocese took advantage of students being off campus as crews with heavy equipment conducted loud and dusty work. The work is expected to continue in some locations right up to and beyond the first day of school, which was Aug. 9.

At Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers, crews have been working at various locations across the campus. Work included the installation of six new portable classrooms behind the theater to accommodate the growing number of students as well as other cosmetic upgrades throughout. Meanwhile, the finishing touches are being put on a new entrance to Viking Stadium. In its final phase in mid-August, the new plaza is being dedicated to Coach Mike Gill, who has been a teacher at Verot for more than 50 years. The work is expected to be completed by the first kickoff of the coming football season in late August.

Workers also descended on Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, throughout the summer. One building received a new roof, while there was new paint in the hallways and bathrooms, updates to the gymnasium roof and major renovations to the baseball field. Unexpected repair work was needed due to a mid-summer thunderstorm, which caused damage to the roof of the media center and a covered walkway, but that work was completed by the first day.

There have been several upgrades at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples. Work included installing two new modular classrooms to handle increased enrollment, new middle school lockers, an audio/visual system in the gymnasium, renovated restrooms in the cafeteria, smart boards, shiny floors, and much more.

Four additional classrooms were added to Donahue Academy of Ave Maria Catholic School in Ave Maria. These rooms had been used for various purposes, such as storage and other school activities, but the need for the class space became pressing as there has been a massive increase in enrollment in the past few years.

A new covered basketball court is being installed at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton. This court is nearing completion as the finishing touches are added. The covered area will allow more outdoor activities for students, including sports such as tennis and pickleball.

For Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School, much of the work focused on completing roof repairs from Hurricane Ian. The main school building was temporarily unusable following the Sept. 28, 2022, storm. Temporary repairs to the interior building and roof allowed students to return to the building by early January 2023, but the installation of the new permanent metal roof took most of the summer. St. Ann Catholic School in Naples also received a new roof in an upgrade to protect from future storms.

All ongoing work is expected to be completed soon, putting the 15 Diocesan Catholic schools in good shape for the more than 6,200 in the classrooms this year!

Longtime Pastor, former Diocesan Chancellor, retires

After nearly 60 years serving the ministerial priesthood, Father Jerome A. Carosella is retiring.

“Now that I’ll soon be 85, and a little less energetic, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is a bit weak,” said Father Carosella from Our Lady of Mercy Parish on Boca Grande, where he has served since 1988.

Father was the second Chancellor of the Diocese of Venice in Florida, being appointed to the post in 1986 and serving for 17 years. He reflected that the first few years in the position were a blizzard of paperwork as the Diocesan Curia was established and expanded, along with the opening of new Parishes in the growing region.

“It was after things settled down that I asked to be assigned to a Parish,” Father Carosella said, having spent most of his priesthood in one Parish or another. “I said I needed something that’s going to nourish my priesthood. I remarked that if a small Parish becomes available to the extent that I can manage to go back and forth, I would do it.”

It was at that point, in 1988, when he was appointed as Pastor of the newly elevated Our Lady of Mercy Parish, which had been a mission church since 1950. “It was ideal. I would celebrate morning Mass and go to the Chancery four days a week, with weekends free to focus on the Parish.”

Father Carosella was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, and studied at St. Andrew Seminary and St. Bernard Seminary, both in Rochester, New York, before continuing his education at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He was ordained to the priesthood on Dec. 18, 1963, at St. Peter’s Basilica, for the Diocese of St. Augustine.

His first assignment as a priest was as Parochial Vicar at a Parish in Gainesville while also serving at the Catholic Student Center at the University of Florida. He was then assigned as Parochial Vicar at St. Martha Parish in Sarasota for several years before moving on to St. Jude Parish in St. Petersburg. While there, the Diocese of St. Petersburg was formed, and the Parish was elevated to a Cathedral. In the new Diocese, Father was appointed as Vice Chancellor, a position he held for several years. He was next appointed Pastor of a Parish in Temple Terrace and in 1973 as Pastor of St. Martha Parish in Sarasota.

At St. Martha, Father oversaw the renovation of the church and building of a Parish center, before the construction of nearby Casa Santa Marta senior housing. The Parish adoration chapel is named in his honor.

A member of the Board of Trustees of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., since its founding in 1984, Father said the work done in nearly four decades has been amazing. “We had to build up and organize everything into one cohesive unit. Then we expanded the reach to grow and have a tremendous impact, helping people in need throughout the entire Diocese. Just look at what we have done in Arcadia; with the farmworker housing and other programs there. Really, it has been an amazing journey.”

With his retirement, he also leaves the Board of Trustees of the Diocese Pension Plan. Previously, he was Vicar Forane, and also served on the Presbyteral Council, Liturgical Commission, and several other Diocesan advisory boards.

While at Our Lady of Mercy Parish, Father Carosella oversaw the construction of a new rectory, a preschool, and most recently a Parish Life Center. In addition, he has overseen the recovery of three destructive hurricanes (Charley 2004, Irma 2017, Ian 2022), which impacted not just the Parish, but the closeknit island community.

The small Parish has a very seasonal population, but Father Carosella helped build a strong, active community with many different lay groups doing outreach locally and Diocesan-wide. With the new Parish Life Center, he has also started a popular monthly dinner.

“There are a lot of friends and memories that I leave behind here. But the time is right. It has been a good run at nearly 60 years as a priest and approaching my 85th birthday. Now it is time for someone else to take charge.”

Volunteers help restore OLPH

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice has always relied upon volunteers to support its outreach within the Diocese of Venice, never more so than now as the recovery from Hurricane Ian heads into its final phase.

An appeal for volunteers with strong backs was posted to social media on June 13, 2023, to the members of the various Hispanic movements to help plant flowers and bushes while others assembled furniture.

The movements (Charismatic, Emmaus and more) have a strong connection to OLPH with hundreds of members taking part in retreats through the years. With little surprise, the response to the appeal was immediate and overwhelming as dozens agreed to spend a few hours on June 17 helping OLPH return to its previous glory following devastating flooding caused by Hurricane Ian in September 2022.

The flooding washed away or destroyed nearly all the vegetation, and water entered each of the buildings on the property. Access to the property was not available for 11 days. The work to recover began immediately, but due to the scope of the work and many logistical factors, the restoration is not expected to be completed until September, about 12 months after the storm.

OLPH Director of Spirituality Father Mark Yavarone, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, was pleased by the number of volunteers, noting that more came than were ever expected. Therefore, Father spent much of June 17 assigning volunteers to various tasks throughout the property and getting them supplies and ensuring they stayed hydrated on the hot and muggy day.

Each volunteer got right to work, giving back to the retreat center which has provided so much to them in the past.

One man who helped assemble furniture had been coming to OLPH for Emmaus retreats for 10 years and called them a highlight of each year.

“This is such a peaceful place and coming for retreats was a wonderful experience. When I heard about the destruction, it was heartbreaking. When the call came for volunteers, I knew this was a way to give back to a place that means so much to me and many others,” Raul Martinez of St. Jude Parish in Sarasota said.

The towering oak trees were among the only vegetation that survived the flood, therefore the focus of volunteers with green thumbs was on landscaping in front of the conference center and dining hall, as well as at two of the villas. Volunteers previously had planted new flora around the OLPH Shrine.

The furniture was destined for Villas I and II, which will be used for a small group beginning on June 30. No other facilities are far enough along in their reconstruction to accommodate any retreats until late July. A full retreat schedule is expected by sometime in September as the last major work will include the installation of flooring and kitchen equipment. The last section of OLPH to be complete will be St. Joseph Chapel, which is currently being used for temporary offices and storage of much of the furniture and equipment.

Father Yavarone said the restoration of OLPH is taking place in the same sequence of the original construction, with the two main buildings and two villas the first priority and the larger villas and chapel last.

While much was accomplished by the volunteers on June 17, much more work needs to be done in the coming months and additional volunteers will be needed for a variety of projects. To be added to the OLPH volunteer list, please visit https://www.olph-retreat.org/new-volunteer or if you have any questions, please contact Dee Isabelle at isabelle@olph-retreat.org.

How to help OLPH recovery

OLPH is still raising money to cover expenses not covered by insurance. One specific way to help is to sponsor the purchase of a new Chapel chair. OLPH officials were able to locate the vendor that provided the previous chairs in 1999 and have begun the process of procuring new chairs. The new chairs will be very similar, however, the upholstery will be burgundy befitting of St. Joseph. Each chair costs $233.00. If you are interested in sponsoring a chair, a plaque will be installed at the back of the chair with your chosen inscription. To support this effort, please visit https://www.olph-retreat.org/sponsor-a-chapel-chair.

For additional options on ways to support OLPH, please visit https://www.olph-retreat.org/the-olph-annual-fund-and-ways-to-give.

Hurricane Season returns – Reminders of Ian linger

It has been eight months since Hurricane Ian struck Southwest Florida with devastating winds, storm surge and rain and it doesn’t take much searching to realize many continue to struggle with the recovery.

This is true in the Diocese of Venice as shortages of materials and workers have put nearly every rebuilding project behind schedule. While it is important to continue the steady work of recovery, unfortunately with the calendar soon changing to June 1, 2023, the official Atlantic Hurricane Season has arrived and it’s time to begin preparations again.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said that while the Diocese of Venice continues to recover from Ian, plans are in place to respond, if needed, to the next storm.

“We are all well aware of the catastrophic impacts of hurricanes as witnessed by the destruction caused during Hurricane Ian. Be assured everything is being done to mitigate from further damage in the future,” Bishop Dewane said. “My prayers are for the people who continue to be displaced by Ian and who continue to face the long road to recovery. We should all be comforted that as terrible as Ian was, the Light of Christ was reflected in our midst as neighbors helped neighbors. As the new Atlantic Hurricane Season arrives, let us all ask God for protection and safety from these storms in this year and beyond.” (Please see prayer on Page 4.)

Forecasters are expecting a “normal season,” with up to 14 named storms. The forecast does not note if any of the storms will strike Florida, but it is only intended for planning purposes and to raise awareness. Of course, it is an important reminder that as the region learned in 2022, it only takes one storm to strike to have a very bad hurricane season.

Officials also stress that each tropical system is different, explaining that just because you survived Ian without any damage doesn’t mean the next storm, whether it is a tropical storm or major hurricane, couldn’t destroy everything around you. This is why heeding evacuation orders is so important. This was particularly true during Ian when some models forecast the storm to make a direct strike as far north as Tampa, meaning many let their guard down.

While keeping a wary eye on the weather forecast is important, being prepared before storms approach is just as vital. Preparedness means many things, but a key part is simply knowing where you live in relationship to evacuation zones in your city or county. Also, knowing how well constructed your home is can also impact your preparations and planning in the event an evacuation is ordered. With many still needing repairs leftover from Ian, emergency management officials say that this must be a factor in determining the making of evacuation plans. Also, as many learned, power could be out for days, or weeks, following a storm, and the decision must also be made if one wants to stay under those conditions.

How Best to Prepare

Emergency Management officials recommend each family have a Disaster Supply Kit, which should have a minimum of enough water and food to last three to seven days. That means one gallon of water per person/per day, plus enough non-perishable food that does not require electricity to prepare and consume safely. Those who care for infants, or the elderly, also need to think hard about what specialty items will be needed such as medications.

Other keys items for a Disaster Supply Kit include clothing (rain gear and sturdy shoes), blankets/pillows, first aid kit, all medicines and prescription drugs, toiletries, flashlights, battery-operated radio, cash, important documents in a waterproof container, and any items for your pets.

Do not forget the problems many had in getting basic supplies after Ian while large swaths of the Diocese remained without power for weeks. The Federal Emergency Management Agency stresses that in the aftermath of a major disaster, you should expect to be on your own for at least three days, if not longer, before substantial state and federal resources can be expected.

To help encourage the people of Florida to buy their emergency supplies now, this year, the Florida Legislature has approved two 14-day disaster preparedness sales tax holidays. The first began May 27 and will continue through June 9. The second is Aug. 26 through Sept. 8.

During these two periods, certain hurricane supplies will be tax-free. Along with the traditional items in a supply kit – like flashlights, radios, tarps and batteries – the tax holiday also includes a number of items related to the safe evacuation of household pets.

Also new this year, common household items that may be helpful with disaster cleanup are included, such as laundry detergent, toilet and paper towels, soap, sunscreen and various household cleaning products. Check your local retail store for a complete list.

If you have a Disaster Supply Kit that went unused in 2022, go through it to ensure all items are fresh and the batteries are still good.

Hurricane Center officials add that having an emergency preparedness plan will help lessen the stress when inevitably, the new tropical system forms and threatens the region. Key things like know your evacuation zone, knowing if your home can withstand forecasted winds, and having emergency supplies and documents ready ahead of time, are key actions to take ahead of the season.

Anyone who has medical, or transportation, issues must contact their city/county Emergency Management Office (the number is in the blue pages of the phone book or you can dial the non-emergency 511), to register and to potentially be relocated to a shelter if a storm threatens.

Another key action is to make sure your insurance is up-to-date, and photographs are taken of all valuables before the storm. Keep in mind that hurricane and flood insurance can take up to 30 days to go into effect, meaning buying insurance now will mean it could take until July, a month into the season, before the policy can be used.

Hurricane Preparedness in the Diocese of Venice

The Diocese of Venice has its own Hurricane Preparedness Plan, as do each of the entities such as Parishes, Catholic Schools, Catholic Charities and more. These plans are revised each year under the guidance of Bishop Dewane and a team from the Diocese, and reflect the valuable lessons learned from Ian, but also from Hurricanes Irma (2017) and Charley (2004).

With many locations still recovering from Ian, Diocesan Buildings Director Joe Rego said contingency plans are in place to protect properties in the best way possible as repair work continues in many locations.

Meanwhile, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. remains at the heart of the Hurricane Ian recovery and is planning for a “what if we get impacted by another storm” scenario to ensure that disaster relief supplies are distributed quickly to those most in need. After Ian, a dozen different disaster response sites opened up throughout the Diocese helping tens of thousands of people get needed food, water and other supplies. Those will reopen as needed if a storm strikes.

Should disaster strike again, Catholic Charities will be at the forefront in preparing and responding. Catholic Charities will send a team to the epicenter of the disaster and then coordinate to set up relief centers — called PODs, which stands for Points-Of-Distribution – where the need is greatest. These centers – often located at Parishes or next to Catholic Charities offices – will be sites where water, clothing, food and other disaster relief assistance can be distributed.

The Diocese of Venice is well versed in responding to these storms. Each Parish, Catholic school and other entities have hurricane preparedness plans which assist in preparation before a storm and recovery afterwards.

For a complete list of how to plan and prepare for a disaster, please visit www.floridadisaster.org/planprepare.