Schools’ Marian Devotional Project concludes

The more than 6,200 Diocese of Venice Catholic school students have spent the past six months taking part in a special devotional project wherein they learned more about the Blessed Virgin Mary and the importance of praying the Most Holy Rosary, all in a continued effort to grow closer to Jesus Christ.

The “Cause of Our Joy: Marian Devotional Project” concluded with a Mass and celebration on April 24, 2024, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

The focus on the devotion to the Blessed Mother through the Most Holy Rosary was supported by Bishop Frank J. Dewane. In 2017, Bishop Dewane consecrated the Diocese of Venice to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and he has frequently cited the importance of praying the Rosary to grow closer to Jesus Christ.

Junior catechists, representing the 12 Diocesan elementary schools and who trained to promote the Marian Devotional message to their schoolmates, were invited to participate in the celebration. Also taking part were principals, teachers and parents. Six artists who received the top prize in a related devotional art contest were also invited.

During the Mass, Jesuit Father John Belmonte, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education, stressed the importance of Our Lady of Mercy, Patroness of the Diocese of Venice, an image used to inspire the student artists.

Father Belmonte said the goal of this year’s Marian Devotional Project was to bring students a deeper awareness of the mercy Our Lady brings into our lives and her love for all humanity.

“We are taught, through the example of Our Lady, that when we live our lives, it is not for ourselves, but for others,” Father Belmonte said. “She is the merciful Mother who saves us from ourselves and from the world.”

The Mass concluded with everyone present reciting a Marian Prayer of Consecration.

To ensure the devotional project’s success, in October 2023, the Education Department trained the junior catechists, eighth grade leaders from each of the Diocese’s 12 elementary schools. The training stressed the importance for the junior catechists to be leaders in faith, evangelization, and discipleship. These junior catechists then went into the classroom to teach their schoolmates about Our Lady, the Most Holy Rosary and how to grow closer to the Lord.

For their hard work, the junior catechists each received a gift bag which included a special 3D lighted display with Our Lady.

This is the fourth year the Diocesan Catholic schools have had a devotional project, with 2022-2023 focused on the Most Holy Eucharist (which coincided with the Diocesan Year of the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival); 2021-2022 on the Saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Saints; and 2020-2021 on St. Joseph.

Devotional Art Contest

During the Mass, Father Belmonte cited the excellent work of the devotional art contest participants, which included six 1st place winners. The artists used vivid colors and imagery in their work and were selected from among more than 200 entries from Diocesan Catholic students. Honorees were selected by representatives from the Diocesan Department of Catholic Education.

The central artwork placed in front of the altar during the Mass was a piece by Grace Breen, of Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers. Elements of the image include Mary, with people are shown seeking shelter under her garments. At her feet is a chain and pieces of gold.

“They are under her mantle – the mantle of Our Lady of Mercy, also known as Our Lady of Ransom. She is saving us from sin and from hell; saving us for eternity,” Father Belmonte said. “Her mantle is an example of her protection and love for us.”

The chain represents the different things that hold us back from Our Lord; while the gold “represents her willingness to free us, saving us from sin and death. That is because she will help all get to heaven. She does this by introducing us to her son Jesus. This means we can go to her for mercy as we try to live our lives under her mantle.”

Hailey Renner, of Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, who was recognized for the second year in a row for her artistic talents, portrayed Mary in prayer with the halo blazing behind her head.

“It is such an honor to be recognized again,” Renner said. “I pictured Mary in a contemplative pose because that is how I see her as she prays for all of us.”

As part of the recognition, the artists received an enlarged framed and printed version of their winning artwork with a ribbon and cards with the artwork on the front and the reverse including the Marian Consecration Prayer. While some of the cards were for family members, the cards were also distributed for use at each Diocesan Catholic school.

Marian Devotion Project art winners

The winning artists are: Marina Dolan, St. Ann Catholic School, Naples; Peyton Bass, St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School, Naples; Tien Doan, St. Andrew Catholic School, Cape Coral; Mary Guernsey, Donahue Catholic Academy of Ave Maria Parish, Ave Maria; Grace Breen, Bishop Verot Catholic High School, Fort Myers; and Hailey Renner, Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School, Sarasota.