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 or if you would like to support the Diocesan effort to recover from Hurricane Ian, please visit

Progress made in Ian recovery

In the two months since the devastating winds and waters of Hurricane Ian struck the Diocese of Venice the monumental work to clean up and rebuild have been going strong.

Ian struck on Sept. 28, 2022, with winds up to 155 mph and storm surge measured at 15 feet swept across Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach. In all, the wide impacts of Ian caused damage at 30 Parishes and 10 Catholic schools, as well as at many other Diocesan properties.


Two of the most dramatic impacts in the Diocese were to St. Isabel Parish on Sanibel, as well as to Ascension Parish and the Poor Clare Monastery of San Damiano on Fort Myers Beach.

At St. Isabel, the Parish church and hall suffered severe storm surge damage and contractors hired by the Diocese have worked non-stop to mitigate against further damage since Oct. 25, the first day access was granted to the island for contractors after the causeway was rebuilt.

A visit to the Parish on Nov. 12 revealed a team of 30 contractors chiseling out the tile floor and cutting out moldy drywall in the church after already doing identical work in the neighboring hall.

The approach to the Parish on Sanibel-Captiva Road revealed a pile of debris at least six feet high and approximately 75 yards long, obstructing the street view of the Parish property. This pile of debris included the contents of the hall and church, including flooring, drywall, ceiling tiles, furniture, and other built-in materials which were all beyond salvage. In addition, there was the debris that was scattered across the property by the surge and wind, such as trees, branches, pieces ripped from the Parish buildings, as well as various detritus scattered by the wind and water from nearby properties.

One of the lead contractors on Sanibel said the damage was severe but could have been worse as the walls of the church and hall both withstood the force of the wind and rain. The roofs of both buildings held up well, although there was water intrusion through the soffits and impacts to the roof. The drying of the building interiors was completed by mid-November, with clearing out the remaining debris from the grounds, the final step yet to be completed.

A message to parishioners on Nov. 18 stated “The first steps have begun toward the restoration of our Parish… Each building faces substantial restoration.”

The cleanup at Ascension Parish and the Poor Clare monastery on Fort Myers Beach started sooner but the destruction there was more complete. Contractors have been on the property since two weeks after Ian’s landfall dealing with what was left over after the storm surge blasted through the church, hall, rectory, and monastery.

By Nov. 12, all of the main debris, including the contents of all the buildings, had been pushed to the curb. The first part of this monumental task was clearing access to the property as there was rubble from at least nine destroyed homes piled as high as 15 feet. The debris was so deep that crews used front-end loaders and bulldozers to do the heavy work. The result was that most of the vegetation was scraped away, leaving bare dirt and sand in most areas. The final part of this process was draining and clearing out two large ponds which were overflowing with various wreckage.

In each building, the work crews also cut out the drywall and floors. Fortunately, the walls of the church and monastery were made of concrete, meaning no structural damage occurred. Part of securing the property from any further damage included putting plywood over each of the blown-out windows and doors as air blowers were helping with the final drying out process.

A sign of hope on the property was that the larger trees survived, and the stripped leaves are slowly returning.

Before reconstruction can begin on Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach, additional contractors and supplies need to be accumulated and brought to the barrier islands.

Joe Rego, Diocesan Buildings Director, who is overseeing the response to Hurricane Ian, explained that the Diocese is actively working to hire contractors to repair damage to all properties, but that the extensive damage at St. Isabel and on Fort Myers Beach will require an unknown amount of time to complete. This is because the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems in each building need to be assessed and either completely replaced or require extensive repairs after being exposed to storm surge inundation of salt water.

While it is hoped that reconstruction work can begin immediately, there is a shortage of workers and key supplies, such as drywall, plywood, flooring, and roofing materials, throughout the disaster zone.

“These issues are not unique to the barrier island properties, this is across the region,” Rego explained. “That part of the rebuilding effort is out of our control. The contractors have been up front in explaining the challenges and will expedite work wherever possible.”

All options are on the table, Rego added, meaning work at St. Isabel and on Fort Myers Beach might be done in phases to ensure some buildings are operational faster than others versus doing everything all at once.

“This is going to be a long process and we know we are not alone in facing these challenges,” he said. “We ask everyone’s patience as we work our way through this complicated process. In the end, we will build back better; it just might take a while.”

If you would like to support the Diocese of Venice efforts to recover from Hurricane Ian, please visit

Nicole brushes by Diocese, minor damage

Winds from Hurricane Nicole peaked at 57 mph at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and gusts were reported higher through the region still picking up the pieces from Hurricane Ian 43 days earlier.

Those winds on Nov. 10, 2022, were enough to cause tarps at several sites to be ripped, allowing more water into buildings which were damaged during Ian on Sept. 28.

Incarnation Parish and Catholic school in Sarasota both had damage and water intrusion during Ian and the winds from Nicole penetrated the tarps. Parish and school staff reported new water intrusion and teams were quick to come out to mitigate any further damage.

This type of tarp damage and water intrusion also occurred at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice, the rectory at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Port Charlotte and the hall at Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda. Each of those locations also had water intrusion during Ian with tarps that were compromised.

Diocese of Venice Buildings Manager Joe Rego said it was disappointing that the tarps failed, but thanks to quick action at the Parishes and schools, the additional damage was negligible and is unlikely to delay any scheduled repair work.

“It happens. We cannot control the weather,” Rego said. “This adds some more mitigation work we had not planned on at a time when we are starting to ramp up our work to get repairs done.”

At sites where damage to the buildings was extreme due to storm surge, such as Ascension Parish in Fort Myers Beach and St. Isabel Parish on Sanibel, the winds from Nicole added to the debris needed to be cleaned up.

One worker in Fort Myers Beach explained that there are many large piles of debris all over the island which meant even wind gusts of about 40 mph during the storm were enough to carry roof tiles, insulation, and other small items onto the grounds, adding to the cleanup process.

During Hurricane Ian damage was reported at more than 30 Parishes in the Diocese, 10 Catholic schools, as well as to other Diocese-owned and operated buildings. Teams have been doing mitigation work, such as putting tarps on roofs, removing damaged equipment and furniture and much more. Other work includes the removal of drywall where necessary.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done,” Rego said.

Check back in the Nov. 25, 2022, e-edition of The Florida Catholic for the latest in the recovery and rebuilding in the Diocese following Hurricane Ian.

Generosity overwhelms Catholic schools in Lee County

Cards, rosaries, prayer cards and much more have flowed into the Diocese of Venice from Catholic schools around the country as they send their prayers and support following Hurricane Ian.

The most recent delivery of backpacks full of supplies came from Immaculate Conception Catholic School and Immaculata Catholic High School in Somerville, New Jersey. Officials from the schools, whose own communities were impacted by Hurricane Ida in 2021, saw a request for assistance through social media and offered to help.

Their contact in the Diocese of Venice was Siobhan Young, Principal at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota. Young explained to the New jersey school officials how only five of 15 Diocesan Catholic schools were spared damage and that many Catholic school faculty, staff and families suffered devastating impacts.

Colleen Paras, director of campus ministry for Immaculata High School, told Young that the Somerville school communities were impacted by Hurricane Ida. Their experience with Ida, combined with witnessing the images of catastrophe from Ian, made a lasting impression on the students. “Our students had so much exposure to it – how could we not give them an invitation to respond? We know how important it is for anybody and everybody to offer acts of love, so even though we are not there with them, this is our opportunity to pay back what we were given (after Ida).”

Fifteen boxes of backpacks, each with school supplies and a handmade card, were shipped to Young at St. Martha. The cost for shipping was generously underwritten by an alum of Immaculata.

Some 100 backpacks were delivered to Sarasota and then transferred to St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers on Nov. 8, 2022. The backpacks will be split amongst needy students and children in the St. Francis Xavier religious education program which also had many families overwhelmed by the hurricane.

“Our families have been hit hard,” St. Francis Xavier Principal Gulley said, noting several faculty and staff also suffered. “Many lost everything, and even more had major damage. It has been very difficult for everyone.” Gulley was overwhelmed by the generosity of the New Jersey schools.

The items sent from Catholic schools across the country, including care packages, notes of encouragement, and school supplies, are going a long way to assist students and families who are struggling.

One item received was class artwork from St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in the Bronx, N.Y. The artwork includes a hand-rainbow, or a rainbow with the outline of the hands of each student displayed in a colorful rainbow. Gulley wrote back to the school in New York saying, “Thank you so much for sending your class artwork and including us in your prayers in the wake of Hurricane Ian. I can’t tell you how amazing and overwhelmingly the outpouring of support has been.”

Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education, has been forwarding many expressions of support to St. Francis Xavier, as well as to St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral and Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers.

“The outpouring of generosity from Catholic schools all over the country is truly humbling,” Father Belmonte said. “It’s in moments of crisis and need like this, when we see our Catholic schools at their best. Students and teachers around the country have prayed and been very generous in helping hurricane victims.”

The generosity first came from Catholic schools in the Diocese of Venice, in areas less hard hit by Ian. The initial focus was on immediate needs of the local community, and once addressed, and the extent of the devastation in Fort Myers and Cape Coral became clear, the outreach pivoted to helping the Catholic schools in Lee County.

Several truckloads of goods were shipped from Diocesan Catholic schools in Sarasota, Venice, Bradenton, Sebring, Ave Maria and Naples to the hardest hit areas in Lee and Charlotte counties.

St. Andrew Principal David Nelson said the gifts have ranged from prayers, cards for students, financial support to school supplies.

“They have been a huge blessing,” Nelson said. “We still have families who are just trying to get through each day. We are finding supplies and materials which will assist them now and even a few months down the road. Knowing others around the country are wanting to support our school and families has meant so much to our community. While Southwest Florida has gone through a horrific event, we are blessed to be back in school and have the support of so many generous individuals and institutions.”

Bishop Verot Principal Suzie O’Grady said each new arrival of a donation, whether cards, school supplies, generators, or other items, helps in the healing process.

“Knowing so many people are praying for us has a deeply profound meaning as we continue to recover from the devastation,” O’Grady said.

Father Belmonte added that many other schools across the country embarked upon various fundraising efforts, such as school dress-down days or other activities, and have sent checks to the Diocese to be used in the recovery efforts from Ian.

“Truly wonderful to see this far-reaching response,” Father said. “These Catholic schools recognized a need and did not hesitate to act to help their brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Catholic Charities continues response to Ian

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., has worked tirelessly to care for the most vulnerable, since Hurricane Ian struck Southwest Florida on Sept. 28, 2022. The numbers are astounding; Catholic Charites has served 107,000+ people, organized 1,900+ volunteers, provided 21,000+ hot meals, and distributed 2,500+ tons of supplies.

The demand was great,” said Eddie Gloria, CEO of Catholic Charities DOV. “Catholic Charities stepped up to do what had to be done even as many of our staff and volunteers suffered losses from Ian.”

While there were 10 official Hurricane Ian Disaster Response distribution points, a few other locations received supplies as the needs in additional areas became apparent. By early November, the number of Catholic Charities disaster response sites had dropped to six (three in Lee County, and one each in Charlotte, DeSoto, and Hardee counties), as the response has transitioned more to recovery and support.

“When new needs arose, there was a call for help and the response was outstanding,” Gloria said. “The generosity of people in times of crisis never ceases to amaze me.”

The basics of food and water were available at each site, some from donations of individuals, families, Parishes, non-profit groups and even corporations. The majority of what was distributed was in the form of FEMA Disaster Relief supplies, which included cases of bottled water and boxes of meals-ready-to-eat.

Nearly 127 semis, and an unknown number of other supply vehicles, brought the basics to sites in Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, Port Charlotte, Arcadia, Wauchula, Naples, North Port, Cape Coral and Venice.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said Catholic Charities in the Diocese has been “doing a yeoman’s job in striving to get to those who are most severely impacted by the hurricane.”

Bishop Dewane and Gloria both expressed their gratitude for the influx of donations of supplies and money in the wake of Ian, knowing that this support is making a difference on the ground each day.

While the initial crisis has passed and the demand for food and water has dropped, the work of Catholic Charities is far from over, in fact it is really just beginning.

Clint Branam, Catholic Charities COO, said that as people got power back and water became safe to drink again, the needs of those most severely impacted by Ian changed.

“We are past the first phase, which is responding to the immediate aftermath of this disaster,” Branam said. “Now we are focusing on helping people rebuild their lives. This means case management and support with getting people back into their homes whenever possible. Even if a family didn’t have serious damage in the storm, many had time off from work that they really could not afford. Others had damage they cannot afford to take care of, and still others need to relocate.”

These unexpected expenses are difficult in the best of times but can be more devastating than the winds of Ian for low-income families. The added destruction of many businesses means the number of people out of work is immense. Combine a damaged home and possible long-term unemployment and the second disaster from Hurricane Ian is not far behind.

For this reason, all Catholic Charities offices within the Diocese are offering disaster support in the form of financial assistance for those who lost their home or work, or both.

While Catholic Charities will always accept donations of cleaning supplies and food such as rice, beans and cooking oil, the real need is for financial donations, Gloria said.

“There is no doubt about it, if someone wants to help now, and for the foreseeable future, monetary donations are desperately needed,” he said. “We are transitioning into intensive long-term disaster case management. This helps people get back on their feet and has a heavier financial component. Catholic Charities will be helping people recover until there is no longer a need.”

If you need help:

For those in need of help, please visit There you will find an updated list of distribution points for food, water, and supplies, and how to receive other help.

To donate:

For those interested in making a financial donation to the Diocesan response to Hurricane Ian, please visit, or send a check to Diocese of Venice in Florida, ATTN: Hurricane Ian Relief, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285.

Scam Alert:

In the wake of Hurricane Ian, there are those who will take advantage of the vulnerable or those who seek the vulnerable during a crisis. When corresponding with someone – whether a contractor, an agency or person in need – be diligent and make sure the person or business is legitimate before handing over any money or personal information. In addition, if you are contacted with a request for money via email or text, and the message appears as though it is from a Diocesan priest or employee, do not reply. Instead, make direct contact with the person by calling the Parish and asking to speak with the priest or employee.

Sanibel church damaged as work to recover begins

The lush tropical setting of St. Isabel Parish on Sanibel Island is now a stark landscape that has lost its colorful and tranquil beauty in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. It was on Sept. 28, 2022, when the Category 4 storm, with winds of 155 mph and a massive storm surge, inundated the entire island.

St. Isabel Parish, which is located on a high point toward the east side of the island, had major damage. The church and parish hall are intact but had extensive water damage. Unfortunately, the Parish rectory was not so lucky. There is extensive damage with holes in the roof, as well as impacts from the surge which filled the entire building.

Father Edward Martin, Pastor of St. Isabel, evacuated to a home on the mainland and visited the Parish property on Oct. 24.

“It was shocking to see the devastation on the island and then to the Parish property,” Father Martin said. “The church and hall are intact. There was no damage in the sanctuary and the roof is intact. So, we might have to remove some pews that were sitting in water and a few other things, but otherwise we are going to leave everything. This means they can be fixed, and we will be back.”

The water intrusion to the church and hall was from the pressure of the surge, but no actually flowing water came into these buildings as doors and windows held fast even though water on the sides of the building reached 3 feet. The height of the surge was actually much higher as the church and hall are 5 feet above the grade of the nearby road.

Father Martin said he expects to either set up a tent outside for Mass in the coming weeks, or that the hall can be repaired quickly to accommodate the Liturgy.

Inside the church and hall, even a month after the storm, was standing water and muck (a congealed mix of water, sand, dirt and other debris). Contractors hired by the Diocese to dry out both buildings were working in the church and hall by Oct. 25.

The challenge for recovery on Sanibel is that the causeway, a three-mile bridge and island system from the mainland, was destroyed and only recently reopened. Traffic is being limited to residents, first responders and contractors. However, there is no power or running water on the island and no clear estimate as to when it will be restored.

Parish Business Manager Khristy Sheer, who has been a resident on Sanibel for 33 years, also evacuated and returned to the island by boat, once to see her home, which had surge through the second floor and roof damage allowing water into the top floors. Her personal losses are extensive and heartbreaking.

Her next trip to Sanibel was to visit the Parish with Diocesan Building Manager, Joe Rego, and insurance adjustors. They found the devastation there to be extensive but were feeling blessed that it wasn’t much worse.

One of the reasons the damage wasn’t worse was attributed to the fact that the church had a major renovation and upgrade after Hurricane Charley ripped the roof off in 2004. A similar upgrade took place in the Parish Hall in 2016. All this held back the worst of the winds and most of the water.

The landscaped grounds are a jumbled mess, but the main bronze statue of St. Isabel as well as a statue of St. Bernadette and Mary next to a cross, were unscathed.

“God was sitting with us,” Sheer said.  “This Island and this Parish are important in my life. Just like the island we will get the Parish up and running as a place of peace for everyone.”

While seasonal visitors and residents are reaching out to come and help right now, Sheer explained that now is not the time, as the recovery of the Island and the Parish will be a big job that takes time.

“We are determined to move forward, shoulder-to-shoulder and we will come back strong,” she said.

The Parish has set up a Rebuilding Fund for the church, hall, rectory and grounds which can be supported at

Pine Island residents seek solace at Parish

No structure in Matlacha or on Pine Island – home to fishermen, farmers, artists, and retirees – was spared the wrath of Hurricane Ian. The southern region was inundated with storm surge and had high winds, while the northern sections still had wind gusts more than 130 mph.

Fortunately, Our Lady of Miraculous Medal Parish in Bokeelia was spared the surge and catastrophic damage. While the church and Parish Hall had damaged tiles and some water inside both buildings, the Parish chapel and education building suffered the most severe impacts. The chapel, which was the original church, had an air conditioning unit torn out, exposing the building to heavy rain which damaged the interior.

However, having been spared the worst damage, Father Jacek Mazur, Miraculous Medal Pastor, had the church open for Mass on Sept. 29, 2022, the day after the storm. In attendance in the darkened church was one family of four. Masses remained in the dark for two weeks before power to the island was restored.

“And from there the numbers have steadily grown,” Father Mazur said. “It has been beautiful.”

Each Mass is filled with reunions of friends, with lots of hugs and smiles as everyone is asked how they fared during the storm.

The destruction to some parts of the community has brought a profound sadness to many, but all feel blessed and grateful to be alive and safe.

“The church is a place of reflection and comfort,” said Mary Davis, whose roof was partially torn off. “I feel so happy to be here and to see that the church is here and not badly damaged. It’s going to be okay. God was with us.”

Our Lady of Miraculous Medal is also the location of the Pine Island Food Pantry, which serves about 150 families a month and is supported by all of the churches on the island with additional assistance from Publix and Winn-Dixie, as well as the regional Harry Chapin Food Bank in Fort Myers.

Since Ian, the food pantry has been open nearly every day, with supplies going out almost as fast as relief was coming in from the outside, explained Diane Gleason, longtime resident and former Parish bookkeeper who now helps run the pantry.

“People have brought us everything from cleaning supplies and food and everything in between,” Gleason said. “We were running five days a week and have reduced to three days a week (effective Oct. 24) in person, and two days delivering to families who can’t get to the food pantry. These are the elderly, and the many who lost vehicles to the water.”

About a third of those seeking help were regulars before the storm, the rest are those in dire situations after. Donated items that have been dispersed beyond food and water include air mattresses, sheets, pillows, diapers, tarps, blankets, fans and cleaning supplies of all sorts.

Father Mazur, who remained on the island in the rectory during the storm, said during a Mass on Oct. 23, that Sacred Scriptures must remind us of the trust, love, mercy, and healing of the Lord.

“It is at this moment that we take a moment to examine our conscience; having been so touched by grace,” Father said, noting that many strangers came bringing all kinds of food and supplies; or offered help cleaning up or putting a tarp on a roof. “The Lord’s goodness toward the people He created is very beautiful and very tender, attentive to their needs and their condition.”

The Gospel reading for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Luke 18: 9-14, the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee, was appropriate for those recovering from Ian, Father Mazur explained.

“The Lord hears the cry of the poor,” Father Mazur continued. “He rescues His people from all pain and distress. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, He saves those who are crushed. He’s not deaf to the widow when she pours out her complaint. All of us will be rescued, will be helped, will be comforted. Therefore, we proclaim, ‘I will praise the Lord at all times; His grace shall ever be in my mouth.’ Today’s Scripture calms our hearts and our spirits, reminding us to trust in God; to hope in His providence, in His protection and in His healing… We have been tried, but we are not abandoned.”


Diocese receives gift of solar-powered generators

Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice, Inc. (CCDOV), the charitable arm of the Diocese of Venice in Florida, received a significant contribution from Geneverse Energy, Inc., valued at $235,000. To help with the aftermath left behind by Hurricane Ian in the Diocese of Venice, Geneverse has donated more than 100 solar-powered generators for those in need.

Many of these generators were distributed by Catholic Charities to families who suffered catastrophic damage from the hurricane in some of the hardest hit areas of the Diocese including Fort Myers Beach, Pine Island, Estero, Fort Myers, Cape Coral and beyond.

On Oct. 24, 2022, a team from Geneverse met with some of the recipients of their solar generators and heard harrowing stories of fear and desperation as the howling winds and rising storm surge from Ian encircled their homes.

Symantha Campagnolo, and her daughter Olivia, a 7th grader at St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral, were among the recipients of a new solar generator and shared their experience during and after Ian.

They live in Fort Myers, close to the Caloosahatchee River, but felt they were prepared for Ian, until they saw the water rise and their gas-powered generator fail early in the storm. Their home was flooded, and they had a lot of damage and lived without electricity for nearly two weeks. The donation of a solar-powered generator offers peace of mind for the future.

“Thank you so much for this solar-powered generator,” Campagnolo said. “I was afraid to operate what we had; and it turns out it didn’t work at all. This is so easy. And I can charge it and not worry about the danger of having to fill it with gas.”

Olivia was impressed by the technology that comes in the compact-sized generators and how a few solar panels, laid out in the yard, will charge to full capacity in about two hours. “That is amazing. It is perfect for what we needed in the days after the storm when you can’t find gas anywhere.”

Geneverse provided several types of solar-powered generators, each valued between $1,300 and $6,000, depending on size. The generators are quiet, safe for indoor use, and designed to help homeowners run their essential electrical items – such as refrigerators and cell phones — on their own power in the event of a power failure.

Anson Liang, Chief Executive Officer of Geneverse, Inc., said he was pleased and proud the company was able to help.

Liang, who founded Geneverse after a severe power outage in his San Francisco Bay Area neighborhood, said “Our product is designed to help in emergency situations like the Diocese of Venice has just experienced, in the aftermath of hurricanes like Ian. Solar panels capture the sun’s energy, convert it into electricity, and store it in a backup battery power station for immediate or later use. It’s perfect for people who live in Florida, with all the sun.”

Eddie Gloria, Catholic Charities CEO, said the organization has been at the forefront of the disaster response and said he is thrilled to have this generous and much-needed help from Geneverse.

“We still have clients that are displaced or in the beginning stages of rebuilding, and these generators will go a long way to help ease the burden and help them on their journey to recovery,” Gloria said.

Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education, was impressed by the solar-powered generators as well, and grateful that several Catholic school teachers and families received the generators.

Father Belmonte also witnessed a demonstration at St. Andrew as a science teacher set a generator out in a field and very quickly was able to have enough of a charge to run a toaster and charge an iPad, impressing his students, but they also wanted assurances that the generator was capable of running a gaming console. It can, plus many other items all at once.

Rivals battle on field, united in the Lord

The Bishop Verot Catholic High School Viking football team from Fort Myers defeated the Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School Cougar football team from Sarasota on the gridiron 27-24 on Oct. 21, 2022.

The final score of the hard-fought game was irrelevant as the two schools put aside their rivalry and came together in the wake of the devastating impacts of Hurricane Ian. The Fort Myers region was hard hit by Ian and many students, staff and faculty lost their homes. The Sarasota area did not have near as much damage, but impacts were felt, and the homes of several families were badly impacted.

Although sorrowed by their own losses, the realization by the Cougar football team that their rivals were hurting even worse caused them to spring into action. This included a school-wide effort to collect much needed disaster relief items. On Oct. 20, Mooney players and coaches loaded up a truck with these donations and delivered them to Fort Myers where they were given to needy members of the Verot community.

This gesture did not go unnoticed. Just prior to the opening kick-off, the entire Verot football team and cheer squad, accompanied by their coaches, crossed the field carrying a banner which read “Thank You for Supporting our Bishop Verot Community.” The banner included the school logos as well as the signatures and individual “Thank you” messages from each player, cheerleader, coach and support staff.

This act of Christian character and class brought a roar of approval from the Mooney grandstands as the banner was brought forward and the two head coaches shook hands. As a Cardinal Mooney social media post after the game stated: “Sometimes it is so much more than football.”

The game served as the Mooney homecoming and included honoring multiple graduating classes, with a special emphasis on the class of 1962, the first graduating class at Cardinal Mooney. At various moments before the game and during breaks, these special alumni were recognized.