Catholic Schools Week 2023 – Shining a light on Catholic Education

Each day is a celebration of educating the mind, body and spirit at Catholic Schools throughout the Diocese of Venice.

A more public celebration will occur the week of Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023, when Diocesan schools will participate in a series of exciting activities as part of the 49th annual National Catholic Schools Week.

Sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), the week provides an annual opportunity to share the good news about Catholic Schools. The theme, “Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service.” focuses on the important spiritual, academic, and societal contributions provided by a Catholic education firmly rooted in the Truth of the Gospel.

Schools typically observe the annual celebration week with Masses, open houses and other activities for students, families, parishioners and community members. On the weekend starting Catholic Schools Week, look for students to speak at Masses to explain the benefits of supporting their education.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said Diocesan Catholic Schools not only educate the mind but also the soul, teaching the students to have a concern for their brothers and sisters, whether they live in the same country, down the street, or in their classroom through prayer, and the teaching of values, morals and virtues.

“Through this broader approach, the student begins to learn, to reach out, and to touch the other, seeing for themselves that we are all made in the image and likeness of God,” Bishop Dewane said.

Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education said this reality is what distinguishes Catholic schools in the Diocese from all others.

“The basics of any education in a Catholic school has to do with learning and training people to think critically, to understand what is the truth. By truth, we mean capital T – as in Jesus,” Father Belmonte explained. “It’s also about training their wills and teaching them to make good decisions so that they can do the good that is needed by not only their families and themselves but by society.”

Diocesan Schools have a unique kindergarten through 12 STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and mathematics) curriculum using robotics as a catalyst for success.

“We prepare our students for today and the future,” Bishop Dewane said. “We give the students what they need for success in this challenging world, and our STREAM and robotics programs is enhance what we were already doing. Therefore, when it was decided to expand this initiative, it was clearly worth doing throughout all grade levels.”

Father Belmonte said the Diocese of Venice is the only Diocese in the country to take this expansive approach to STREAM, which is all connected to the faith. Diocesan Catholic school students learn virtues such as truth, beauty, and goodness, which are transcendental. The additional “Gifts of Christ,” are prudence affability, humility, and fortitude. Added to the robotics program this year, are courage, diligence, solidarity and charity.

“To offer innovation from the earliest ages puts us ahead of other schools,” Father Belmonte said. “Yes, it’s the study of STREAM, but it’s much more than that. This is about the education of the soul.”

Bishop Dewane said the Diocesan robotic STREAM initiative is being done in a context of why Catholic schools exist. “We are helping students to discover who they are as men and women of faith, as we let our students learn these virtues that Christ calls us to, time after time in the Gospel.”

Catholic Schools Week 2023 comes at a time when 10 of the 15 Diocesan schools are continuing their recovery from damage incurred during Hurricane Ian. Most significantly, the storm disrupted the lives of school families, faculty and staff.

“Everybody in the schools and communities of faith throughout the Diocese came together,” Bishop Dewane said. “People helped each other and helped their schools to work in a safe way to create new learning spaces so the students could be back at school quickly and feel comfortable again. My thanks and patience to everyone, and compliments for the adaptive nature taken to make everything happen so fast.”

Father Belmonte said Hurricane Ian brought school communities together and when possible, teams from schools went into their neighborhoods to help individuals and families pick up the pieces of their destroyed homes. In addition, there was an outpouring of support from across the region, state and country, funneled through the Diocese, which was directed at helping families and schools recover.

“The response was remarkable,” Father Belmonte added. “It was also healthy to get students back into the classrooms as quickly as possible, while the parents appreciated how well we responded.”

The 15 Diocesan Catholic Schools, serving 5,837 students, is an investment in the future and they serve as the heart of the Diocese, building the Catholic leadership of tomorrow. Schools are in Bradenton, Sarasota, Venice, Port Charlotte, Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples, Ave Maria and Sebring.

Scholarships are available to help ease some of the financial burden, and families should not assume that they wouldn’t qualify. In addition to school, Parish and Diocesan support, state scholarships such as Step Up For Students and McKay are also available.

Consistent academic excellence prevails at Diocesan Catholic schools, with the three high schools graduating every student and 99 percent going on to higher education, many with academic scholarships in hand. Students in all of the schools score at the advanced level on national tests while being grounded in the knowledge of the Catholic Faith.

To learn more about Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/catholicschools.

The January 2023 Relevant Radio podcast of “Witnessing Faith with Bishop Dewane” discusses Catholic Schools. To listen to this month’s show, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/our-bishop/.

Evenings dedicated to Charity

Now is the time of year that people are planning their busy seasonal social schedule with lots of interesting activities to choose from evenings of elegance or just casual fun.

While choosing from the many opportunities Southwest Florida has to offer, consider these events for a chance to give back to the community. Proceeds go directly to help our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in need through the many programs of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. These needs have dramatically increased since Hurricane Ian struck on Sept. 28, 2022.

In most cases, the Catholic Charities galas are elegant black-tie affairs, but no matter what the attire, all of the proceeds will go directly to help those in the community where the event is held. This means that by buying a ticket you could literally help a family struggling to recover from Ian, feed families, teach children to read or even prevent families from becoming homeless. There are five chances to support Catholic Charities in an entertaining and unique way.

“These Catholic Charities Galas and events are of critical importance as they bring like-minded and faith-filled people together for a good cause,” explained Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. CEO Eddie Gloria. “Each gathering serves to help educate people about a critical need in the area, while at the same time offering everyone a chance to have fun. This has become more critical as Catholic Charities focuses much of its efforts on helping the region recover from Hurricane Ian.”

The upcoming events will be centered on various themes and benefit either regional or specific programs of Catholic Charities. Many of the events will include a cocktail hour, auction, dining and dancing. The list of events is as follows:

  • Catholic Charities Ball, 6 p.m., Feb. 4, 2023, Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, benefitting the programs in Sarasota, Manatee, and Charlotte counties. This year’s theme is “Creating Hope.” Purchase tickets, sponsorships, or donate auction items, by visiting https://one.bidpal.net/ccb2023/welcome or email CCB2023@catholiccharitiesdov.org.
  • Our Mother’s House Wine Tasting, 5:30 p.m., February 23, at Venice Community Center in Venice. Funds raised will benefit this residential housing for needy moms. To purchase tickets or sponsorships, please visit https://one.bidpal.net/2023omhwinetasting/welcome or email horton@catholiccharitiesdov.org.
  • Venetian Ball, 6 p.m., March 4, at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church (Parish Hall), Bonita Springs, benefits the programs of Lee, Glades and Hendry counties. The theme for this gala is “Resilience, Rebuilding, and Community” and serves as an opportunity to come together as a community to support and partner with Catholic Charities to serve the many survivors of Hurricane Ian; to celebrate survival and helping of one’s neighbor; to Resilience, Rebuilding, and Community. To purchase tickets, and sponsorships or to donate auction items, contact Arlene Carratala at 239-334-4007 ext. 2100 or email carratala@catholiccharitiesdov.org.
  • Emerald Ball, 5:30 p.m., March 16, Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples, benefitting the programs in Collier County and the recovery from Hurricane Ian. To sponsor, purchase tickets, or donate items for the auction, please visit https://one.bidpal.net/emeraldball/welcome or email emeraldball@catholiccharitiesdov.org.
  • Boots & Bandanas, 6 p.m., March 23, at the King’s Way Golf Club, Port Charlotte, will benefit the programs in DeSoto County. To sponsor, purchase tickets, or donate items for the auction, contact Gloria Romero at romero@catholiccharitiesdov.org.

For more details about specific events, please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cathedral students back in main building after Ian damage

Damage caused by Ian repaired within 100 days

Patience, teamwork, hard work, perseverance, and faith were all needed to overcome the destructive impacts of Hurricane Ian at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice.

In less than 100 days, repairs to the main school building were far enough along to ensure all students would safely and joyfully return to their original classroom. It was Sept. 28, 2022, when Hurricane Ian tore off the roof of the main building, allowing water to pour into the classrooms. Replacement of the roof, HVAC and other items, as well as the ceiling tiles and floors of nearly every room, were needed before a return to the classroom could take place.

A celebration of this momentous accomplishment occurred during the morning assembly on Jan. 9, 2023. Students, faculty, staff, and parents gathered as everyone cheered the reopening of the building which houses grades one through eight.

“What a wonderful day,” Principal Nicole Loseto proclaimed. “When the hurricane struck everyone rallied together to salvage what we could to relocate classrooms all over the campus in just two days. It was a challenge to move everyone to a new location and it was seamless and beautiful… Now everyone came together to get us back into our main building. Thank you, everyone!”

Loseto singled-out several maintenance and support staff who went above and beyond in their help during the crisis. She also praised Bishop Frank J. Dewane and his Diocesan staff for overcoming many issues since the storm. Also recognized were Cathedral Rector, Msgr. Patrick Dubois, and Operations Manager Wendy Barraso, for overseeing the logistics of the repairs.

Only the pre-kindergarten students were not displaced by Hurricane Ian. The disruptions were extreme as kindergartners were housed in the library; first and second grades were placed in the cafeteria with a divider; fourth and fifth graders were in the Parish Hall; and middle schoolers were split between the Soy Hall and two gymnasium locker rooms.

Loseto said the students and faculty handled the transition well, adjusting and surmounting any difficulties, comforted in the knowledge that mitigation and repairs began within days. While everything was not perfect, Loseto said patience and understanding was shown in all.

She also gave a shout out to the many people who helped support the recovery effort through financial support which helped ease the burden on the school.

Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education, was present for the morning assembly and was quick to acknowledge that Loseto herself led everyone through the storm and its aftermath.

“When we first talked about how we were going to open school, even though you didn’t have the main school building, a lot of good ideas came forth on how to do that, and certainly, most coming from Mrs. Loseto. So, I think we owe her a big applause,” Father Belmonte exclaimed as everyone joined in that acknowledgment.

Msgr. Dubois led a prayer service and blessed the repaired building. A ceremonial ribbon-cutting ceremony took place before everyone entered the building.

Ahead of the reopening, a team of faculty staff and parents moved all of the desks and other educational items from their temporary rooms to the main building. The upper grades were allowed in the building on Jan. 6, the 100th day since Hurricane Ian struck Venice.

The younger grades, including Nicole Semlow’s second grade class, got their first look at their refurbished classrooms after the morning assembly. They were impressed.

Lots of oohs and wows were exclaimed as they entered the classroom to the smell of fresh paint and newly laid flooring. The smiles were radiant as they returned to their own room, their own desks, a place they had come to love before Ian. Now the classroom, without any outside distractions, was a place of normalcy for the students.

The students, faculty, staff and parents of Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School started the first full week of school in 2023 with a celebration they won’t soon forget. It marked an opportunity to turn the page beyond the immediate aftermath and recovery of Hurricane Ian into what is a “normal” routine of a Catholic education, including study, fun and prayer.

If you would like to support Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in their continuing recovery, please visit www.ecstigers.com.

Diocese celebrates Christmas

“When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.” Lk 2:15-17

Passed through generations, the retelling of the coming of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in such a humble way, born in a manger to reign over the world, should cause everyone to pause and reflect on the gifts of grace that have come to each one of us.

This pause and time of reflection is at the heart of what Christmas is all about. This moment was celebrated throughout the Diocese of Venice in a variety of ways, most significantly through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated a pre-recorded TV Mass for the Homebound from St. Thomas More Parish in Sarasota. This hour-long Mass reaches thousands of those who are unable to attend Mass for a variety of reasons.

Bishop Dewane also celebrated Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Mass at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. At the Midnight Mass, the Bishop brought forth the Child Jesus and placed Him in the manger as “O Come All Ye Faithful” was sung.

During the Midnight Mass, Bishop Dewane reminded the faithful that we are part of Salvation History. “We are living it today and we have a contribution to make, however small, it is there to be made by each one of us.”

As a part of Salvation History, we are each given a mission and responsibility to serve the Lord as His plan is to unite us to Him, Bishop Dewane said.

“God has sought you and me,” the Bishop said. “In striving for the mission, He gives to us our responsibilities in life… In response, we need to establish and develop our relationship with Our Lord, Jesus Christ… Take this Christmas as an opportunity to reflect upon how it is you are responding to the call of the Lord. Reflect the Light of Christ continually, knowing the Child in the manger represents our Salvation, and everyone has a role to play in that History.”

The manger, or Nativity scene, is a celebratory focus of the Christmas celebration. Several Diocesan Parishes and each Catholic school took time to have a retelling of the birth of Jesus with young children and in some cases with live animals.

For example, at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula a living Nativity play on Dec. 17, 2022, included a donkey, horses and many angels and shepherds. This community celebration is organized by the religious women who serve the Parish, the Sister Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, and includes a festival and the distribution of gifts for the children in the area. This year’s celebration took on a special significance as many families are struggling after being impacted in their homes or work from Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28, 2022.

St. Agnes Parish and St. Elizabeth Seton Parish, both in Naples, hosted living nativity displays through which people walked or drove.

Christmas is also a time to help others so donations for the needy and the many impacted by Hurricane Ian were piled high and distributed. The most common form of collecting items for needy children is through an Angel Tree, where the ornaments are a wish list item for a child or family.

Some Parishes collected general donations for organizations in the area, such as Catholic Charities, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and others. Many gave from their heart and brought bags of items well beyond what was sought. Naturally, no donated item was turned away and it just meant more people were granted a Merry Christmas.

Catholic schools spent much of the month in preparation for Christmas with pageants, recitals, concerts, parties and other fun. At the same time, the schools teach the true meaning of Christmas, including needing to spread the love of Christ, that is in their hearts, out to the world.

Young carolers from schools in Port Charlotte, Bradenton, Sarasota and Fort Myers visited nearby assisted living facilities to spread holiday cheer.

In addition, each school has a service component where students do work, volunteer or raise funds or gifts to give back to the community. This effort goes into high gear during the Christmas Season.

For example, at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota, second graders partnered with the Department of Children and Families and Florida Guardian Ad Litem program that provides items to give foster kids a normal life. The students created cards, ornaments and filled gift bags for the foster children.

Meanwhile, the eighth graders at the school and nearby Parish, worked together to learn about Catholic social teachings, to help those in need. The results were amazing. The Sarasota youth created 140 gift cards and handmade Christmas ornaments for the elderly residents at a Catholic Charities facility; donated 100+ blankets for the homeless; made Get Well/Christmas Cards for those in the hospital; collected and donated toys and household items for needy families; stocked pantries with food and supplies; and much more.

At neighboring Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School, students in the school chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society came in during their Christmas break to pack donated toys, books and stuffed animals on the Mooney “sleigh,” and delivered them to boys and girls at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Port Charlotte and St. Elizabeth Seton in Naples each participated in the Wreaths Across America project. This effort puts Christmas wreaths on the graves of veterans in local cemeteries.

These are just a small sampling of how Christmas was celebrated throughout the Diocese of Venice.

St. Pete Diocese helps with Ian relief

Bishop Gregory Parkes, Bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, generously made a donation from the faithful of the Diocese of St. Petersburg to the Diocese of Venice for its ongoing Hurricane Ian recovery.

Bishop Parkes met with Bishop Frank J. Dewane on Dec. 21, 2022, in Venice to personally present the check for $250,000. These funds were the result of a special collection following the hurricane.

The. St. Petersburg Bishop said the donation to the Diocese of Venice is directed to go where it is most needed to help rebuild following the devastating Sept. 28 hurricane.

More than 120 lives were lost in the counties of the Diocese of Venice with thousands losing their homes and livelihoods by storm surge, wind or flooding. Ian caused damage to 93 Diocesan properties. The damage was significant enough to 404 buildings to require major repairs which will be ongoing for many months to come.

Bishop Dewane said he was overwhelmed by the generosity and thoughtfulness of Bishop Parkes and the faithful of the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

“Hurricane Ian left a terrible path of destruction throughout Florida,” Bishop Dewane said. “It is a blessing for a fellow Florida Bishop to recognize the great need in our Diocese and is a testament to his compassion and caring for all our brothers and sisters in Christ who continue to suffer in the aftermath of this storm.”

In a Sept. 30 letter to all Parishes in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Bishop Parkes wrote: “Our hearts are moved with compassion for all those who have suffered damage and destruction due to Hurricane Ian, especially our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Venice.”

A portion of the money received during the special collection remained in the Diocese of St. Petersburg to help with its own recovery as numerous Diocesan facilities there were damaged.

However, Bishop Parkes stated: “This was a tough year for storms here in our area as well as our neighbors in the Diocese of Venice. Thanks to the generosity of our people, not only are we able to assist and help those who sustained damage here in our Diocese, but also to give hurricane relief to those who were affected in the Diocese of Venice. I thank the faithful of our Diocese for their generosity and we pray for all those that have been impacted by the hurricane and storms.”

If you would like to support the Diocese of Venice efforts to recover from Hurricane Ian, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/hurricaneian/.

Welcome Home! Mass returns to Sanibel

The Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday or Joyful Sunday, was an appropriate time for the Catholic Mass to return to St. Isabel Parish on Sanibel, after it was forced to close due to damage from Hurricane Ian

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated the Mass at 10 a.m., Dec. 11, 2022, expressing his prayers that all continue to recover with the grace of the Lord giving them strength. The Bishop added that since the hurricane passed, “Sanibel, and all in Southwest Florida, have been in my prayers. The church is a building, you are the Church, all of you. What is strong is the people who make up the Church.”

The barrier island and the Parish were overwhelmed by storm surge and wind damage from Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28, 2022. During the intervening 74 days it was impossible for the Mass to be celebrated, but due to perseverance as the mitigation and recovery proceeded, the “All Clear” was given to open.

Father Edward Martin, Pastor of St. Isabel, concelebrated and was outside of the church as the faithful arrived, greeting many with a heartfelt, “Welcome Home!”

Bishop Dewane cited the “desert experience” which is a theme of the readings for the day, recounting saints and prophets who lived in parched lands, with everyday things stripped away. This “desert experience” is being lived daily at the Parish and throughout the island as every building has some form of damage and is in different stages of recovery and/or repair while the landscape is only now slowly returning to its glorious splendor. Simple conveniences are sparse with little open and access to the barrier island still restricted.

“This bleak and dry period will end,” Bishop Dewane said. “Though we will all struggle for a time and our energy will be sapped, we have to allow ourselves to know that the Lord will have us bloom once again.  The joy, the energy; all of it will return. It’s an experience that is very Scriptural.”

It is during these difficult times, the Bishop added, that the faithful come to understand and appreciate a radical dependence on God, who gives us the good things in life; the very life we have.

“In that radical dependence, we pay attention, we might get angry, no doubt, but are we grateful for who is still with us and what we still have,” Bishop Dewane said. “Sometimes the healing that takes place following the desert experience takes time. It takes patience to have the desert bloom again around us. It’s only yourselves who can make that happen as instruments of the Lord. It is through the strength I see by your being here this morning as we journey through this desert experience and rely upon the Lord for His goodness and His Grace.”

The smiles on the faces were genuine as many were relieved to have the important faith component as part of the Sanibel recovery.

“It’s so wonderful to be back,” one woman told Father Martin after Mass. “Every part of the world at this latitude is a desert. We are the blooming desert. It was so moving to be here!”

While the parish property is mostly free of debris, evidence of the damage caused by Ian was clear once people entered the church. Mats cover a floor which was stripped bare to the concrete base. The drywall is cut at about the 4-foot level throughout. All the damaged pews were removed, and folding chairs were in their place.

That aesthetic didn’t matter to Phil and Laurie Jansen who were among the several dozen to attend the first Mass.

“We are so pleased to be back,” Laurie Jansen said. “It is a big first step in the recovery for everyone.”

The Jansens, and nearly everyone at the Mass on Dec. 11, had visited the Parish in the intervening weeks, monitoring the progress of the mitigation and cleanup, ever confident the Parish would reopen for Mass in a timely manner. “This is a great day. It means so much,” Laurie Jansen said.

While the number of people present for the first Mass was not large, a large number of islanders lost their homes and are living on the mainland or had not heard of the reopening. Father Martin is confident word will spread quickly and the people will come back.

Weekly updates have been sent to parishioners with photos to show the progress of the mitigation as well as prayers and words of encouragement as each person deals with their own recovery.

“Knowing we all face a long recovery ahead, it is important for our wonderful community to have a place of worship on the island once again,” a Dec. 6 announcement about the reopening stated.

Weekend Masses will continue while work at the Parish moves forward.

21st Annual Christmas Appeal comes at critical time

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

That simple statement encompasses a broad spectrum of programs of Catholic Charities which has provided food, clothing, shelter and a network of support services to people of all ages, all races and nationalities, and all religious backgrounds. The organization brings substantial relief and support to the most vulnerable populations in Southwest Florida. Every day, Catholic Charities strives to feed the hungry, comfort the brokenhearted, and shelter the homeless as it works to change lives for the better.

The destructive impacts wrought by Hurricane Ian caused the demand for help from Catholic Charities to skyrocket and the corresponding response was unprecedented.

Catholic Charities’ disaster response team was prepared and quickly opened 11 disaster relief sites throughout the Diocese. Staff and volunteers distributed 2,504 tons of supplies to more than 112,000 people in the immediate aftermath. In addition, teams served hot meals to upwards of 22,000 with the assistance of 2,000 volunteers. Donors and community partners came through with donations and supplies that allowed Catholic Charities to respond swiftly.

To enable Catholic Charities to continue to do its vital work, the 21st Annual Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal is taking place now through January 2023. A donation strengthens Catholic Charities to provide this much-needed support. This is accomplished through more than 35 programs in locations throughout the 10-county Diocese. These programs annually support more than 100,000 individuals and families in ways both large and small.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane noted that the support of Catholic Charities by the faithful of Southwest Florida is inspiring, as was witnessed in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, and is 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 relies 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.”

Eddie Gloria, CEO of Catholic Charities DOV said a gift to the Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal will aid in the fight to end hunger, homelessness, human trafficking and will help support disaster relief, behavioral health, and education services.

“Your gift makes an impact,” Gloria said. “It is because of donations like yours we were able to supply food and pantry services to 195,354 people, assist 1,513 with housing, offer support to 5,020 victims of human trafficking, help 4,660 people with behavioral health services, and provide 14,007 educational services to children and adults, all in one year.”

One success story during 2022 was from Alexa, a recent graduate of Our Mother’s House, a residential program for mothers and their children who might otherwise be homeless.

Alexa came to Catholic Charities as a new mother with an infant only weeks old; she had nowhere to live, no resources to care for her son, no job, income, or hope for the future. She moved into Our Mother’s House and, during her 2-years there she not only finished her college degree but landed a high-paying project management position with one of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies.

On her last day, while saying goodbyes, Alexa said, “Thank you for providing me with the help I needed to get back on my feet. Now I feel joy, and I’m hopeful about the future – because now I have one.”

Gloria said Alexa’s story is one of the many positive outcomes Catholic Charities has been privileged to support during the past year, and she is one of many who are “prepared for the possibilities of tomorrow because of donations like yours.”

The Christmas Appeal is also a thoughtful opportunity to give in memory of a loved one or to honor a family member or friend. Catholic Charities will send a Christmas card telling the special person about your generous gift.

To donate please mail a contribution to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285, or visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org.

Thanksgiving across the Diocese

The idea of giving thanks, knowing that we are here because of gifts given to us by God, is at the core of what Thanksgiving is all about.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane described the holiday this way while celebrating Mass at Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch on Nov. 24, 2022.

As hard as we try, Bishop Dewane added, “being who God called us to be is difficult, and we will fail along the way. But, the Bible records the wonderful gifts of God, which we can find within ourselves and in others who are all made in the image and likeness of God.”

The Gospel reading of the day was the parable of the 10 lepers, when only one returned to thank Jesus upon being cured of the debilitating illness. Jesus asks where the other nine were, and Bishop Dewane said that we are all among the nine at certain points in life, but must always strive to be among the one’s who return.

“Our appreciation and gratitude of thanksgiving increases over the years as we realize how much is done for us by those around us and by God Himself.” Bishop Dewane said. “By your presence at Mass on Thanksgiving, you are counted among those who returned to Jesus, just as you came to give thanks to God. Know the Lord sees the goodness and thanks you express.”

Being grateful for what they have was a strong theme during a Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner at St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Cape Coral.

The community was devastated by Hurricane Ian and is still recovering, which encouraged Father Ricky Varner, Pastor at St. Katharine Drexel, to host a Parish Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner.

Father Varner sent a request to the Parish staff and leaders of the different outreach groups (Knights of Columbus, Council of Catholic Women, Legion of Mary, Youth Outreach, Cursillo and more) to organize the dinner in an effort to help continue the healing process in support of families who are still displaced or rebuilding. Each group would be responsible for providing a designated dish.

“Since the wrath of Hurricane Ian on September 28th, I have had the privilege to see the best of all of you and to work alongside this incredible community… as we continue to support our brothers and sisters here and beyond to rebuild their lives and strive to get back to some form of normalcy,” Father Varner wrote in his appeal.

The results were glorious as more than 200 people came to enjoy a holiday meal.

Father Varner bussed the tables during the dinner pleased at the response to the meal by individuals and families, many still traumatized by the hurricane eight weeks later. “You people of St. Katharine Drexel – You Rock!”

One couple present were the Tremble’s who thought they would have to forgo a traditional Thanksgiving meal this year because their kitchen was destroyed in storm surge. The Tremble’s had hosted family from across the country each Thanksgiving since they moved to the area in 2010. That was not an option this year. They could have taken up any number of offers to go north for the holiday, but there is too much work to do in Cape Coral.

“Our life has been one long microwave dinner since Ian,” said June Tremble. “We are so thankful to Father Ricky and to everyone at the Parish for doing this. This is the best turkey I have ever had, because I know it was made with love.”

Other families had similar stories to share, with one person expressing their thanks for having a chance to put the recovery from Ian at the back of their mind, if only for a few hours.

“I have smiled and laughed more in the hour I have been here than in the two months since Ian,” said one man. “I really needed this. I think we all did.

The response by the staff and volunteers, as well as by the Parish families meant that Father Varner is already planning on making the dinner an annual tradition.

Meanwhile, Bishop Dewane went from the Mass in Lakewood Ranch to take part in a free community Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the Knights of Columbus Our Lady of Victory Council 3358 at their Hall on Fruitville Road in Sarasota.

The Knights delivered more than 200 meals to the elderly and homebound and then served hundreds more to those who needed a hot meal or didn’t have anywhere to go for the holiday. Guests were also encouraged to take meals home. Those meals included turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing, roll, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream.

Bishop Dewane offered the opening prayer for the Knights and other volunteers before the dining room was opened. Then, the Bishop took his traditional spot in charge of serving the corn and assisted in serving potatoes as well.

On Nov. 24, students from Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota volunteered and served food at the 23rd Annual Sarasota Ministerial Association Thanksgiving Dinner at Sarasota First Baptist Church. Students and families participate each year this event is held.

For those who watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from New York, they might have caught a glimpse of two cheer teams from the Diocese.

The National Champion Cheer Squad from Incarnation Catholic School in Sarasota were part of the larger “Spirit of America Production!” group.

Joining them was a group of senior cheerleaders from Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Sarasota. The participation of both groups is by invitation only and it is considered a great honor to be selected.

News Briefs for the week of December 9, 2022

Verot football shines amidst adversity

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

Mooney Volleyballer honored

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

“Spiritual Bouquet” of prayers offered for Ian victims

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

Sarasota youth give back

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

Mooney musicians perform for shoppers

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

STREAM activities are so much fun!

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

Many work to make Thanksgiving joyful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving! Have a Blessed Advent Season!”

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

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