OLPH reopens with celebration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those gathered gave Father a standing ovation.

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

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

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

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

Gathering focuses on promoting youth outreach

Representatives from 33 Parishes and two Diocesan Catholic high schools took part in a gathering to help bolster youth outreach.

Marthamaria Morales, Diocese of Venice Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry organized the gathering Sept. 8 and 9, 2023, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice. The 60 participants were those who serve youth at the Parish level, and included women religious, youth ministers, directors of religious education, and committed volunteers from Parishes that don’t have staff but serve youth and young adults.

Morales said this meeting was an opportunity for those active in youth outreach across the Diocese to get to know each other, build community, share best practices, dream together, and accompany one another in this amazing journey serving young people.

“This is the first time this wider group has gathered in one place in several years,” Morales said. “It is important for them to get together because we have a few new youth ministers and some other ‘seasoned’ ministers serving in different Parishes. We want them to feel value and all the support not just to survive but to thrive.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane offered words of encouragement to the group and expressed his gratitude for the important role they play in the Church within the Diocese of Venice.

“These young people are the Church of today, and they need our attention,” Bishop Dewane said. “It takes a certain type of individual who can rise up to answer the call to serve our young people, forming them into the person they are becoming in response to a call from God.”

A youth minister’s responsibility is to be the leaven in the Parish, the Bishop added, nurturing those who are present and working to help those who are absent to want to return and grow closer to the Lord.

The experience of the youth ministers in the Diocese who were present for the meeting ranged from 42 years to less than a week.

To assist, Morales brought in representatives from Project YM, a national outreach which helps youth ministers navigate the complicated world with the goal that the participants leave the gathering with a practical action plan to help bolster their young ministries.

Michael Marchand, president and co-founder of Project YM, offered sobering statistics about the current generation and how 42% of high school students are persistently sad or hopeless and approximately 22% have seriously considered suicide.

Marchand, who has more than 20 years of experience serving Catholic youth, said “it is vitally important to reach out to the youth at every level because it is about saving lives, both spiritually and literally.”

Another concerning number is that 80 percent of high schoolers who are active in their faith leave the Church before they graduate from college. Of those youth who remain in the Church after college, they overwhelmingly stated that having upwards of five adult mentors (outside of family) connected to the faith made a difference in their staying active in the faith.

“This really stresses the importance of investing in serving young people as much as possible, because the reality is that no Parish will ever have a 5-1 adult to youth ratio,” Marchand said.

Participants left the gathering with advice and action plans that are intended to help outreach programs increase participation and retention of youth of all ages.

One youth minister who has less than a year’s experience said she greatly benefitted from the gathering, noting that she learned the importance of mentoring as well as gaining insights into what activities work the best.

Jim Brantner, of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Grove City, who has more than four decades of serving young people, said, ”Genuinely love what you do and the young people you are responsible for, and Jesus will guide you through the rest.”

News Briefs for the Week of August 11, 2023

Knight’s Silver Rose visits Sebring

A special prayer service was held Aug. 8, 2023, at St. Catherine Parish in Sebring, when members of the Knights of Columbus brought the travelling Silver Rose to the Parish. Each year, from early March through mid-December, Silver Roses are stewarded by Knights of Columbus councils along routes from Canada to Mexico. Every stop the Silver Rose makes throughout the pilgrimage is a rosary-centered occasion for Knights, parishioners and community members to pray for respect for life, for the spiritual renewal of each nation, and for the advancement of the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Knights of Columbus expansive pro-life initiative includes supporting the National March for Life in Washington, D.C., and placing more than 1,000 ultrasounds in pregnancy resource centers throughout the world, including many within the Diocese of Venice.

Youth pray for priests

On the Feast of St. John Vianney, Aug. 4, 2023, youth from St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Cape Coral offered a Holy hour & Divine Mercy Chaplet for all priests in honor of the feast day of St. John Vianney. The French saint (1786-1759) was known for his faithfulness, his devotion to the Virgin Mary, and to St. Philomena, and for dedication to the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession) for his parishioners. St. John Vianney was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1925. He is the patron saint of clergy throughout the world.

Student commits to West Point

Sophia McCartney, a senior at St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples, has announced her commitment to accept an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2024. McCartney is a star basketball player at Neumann and intends to play at West Point.

Rosary makers hold luncheon

The rosary makers of Ave Maria Parish in Ave Maria held a luncheon on Aug. 5, 2023, to honor Our Blessed Mother. Our Lady’s Rosary Makers is a nationwide apostolate founded by Xaverian Brother Dylan in 1949. Rosary makers of Ave Maria meet Wednesdays 1-3 p.m. in the Oasis Club Craft Room – Del Webb. All are welcome; however, reservations are required. For more information, please contact Virginia Patterson at 916-616-8007, or Virginiapatterson37@gmail.com.

Bradenton students represent school in golf tournament

Congratulations to St. Joseph Catholic School students Niko and Tobias on attending the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship. Niko placed 72 among 170 in his division, and Tobias placed 33 among the 200 in his division. The Championship is played every August in Pinehurst, N.C., and gathers 1500 plus golfers in the age range of 5-12 years old from many different countries around the world. Niko and Tobias are pictured with family and friends at the event.


Youth celebration in Fort Myers Aug. 27

St. John XXIII Parish Youth Council in Fort Myers is hosting a Youth Celebration Family Event from 5 p.m. to 6:45 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 27, 2023, in the Parish Hall, 13060 Palomino Lane, Fort Myers. The evening is titled: “Celebrating the Catholic Family,” and will include a live performance by The Camp Veritas Band, dynamic speakers, adoration, a 50/50 raffle, and concessions. The event is free and is for youth (middle and high school age) and parents. For more information, please contact Kelly Evers at 239-561-3022 or kelly@johnxxiii.net.

Retreats Returning to OLPH

Registration is now open for several retreats at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center, 3989 South Moon Drive, Venice. The Monthly Days of Prayer start September 13. Also, several dates are available for our Desert Day retreats, a one day overnight private retreat. In addition, starting this fall, OLPH is offering single-day Youth Retreats for grades 6-12. The following Fall group retreats are also available for registration: Matt Talbot Men’s Retreat scheduled for October 15-17, and the Can You See Me? retreat scheduled for October 27-29. If you are interested in the 3-night, 5-night, or 7-night private, directed retreat schedule, fall dates are now available. To learn more or to register for a group or private retreat, please visit https://www.olph-retreat.org/, or call 941-486-0233.

Vocational Retreat in Arcadia Aug. 26

St. Paul Parish in Arcadia is hosting a one-day Vocational Retreat, “Encounter with Christ” from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Aug. 26, 2023, for males and females ages 15 to 30. The cost for the day is $20 and includes meals and materials. Pre-registration is available by emailing retreatreg20@gmail.com. For further information contact the Parish office at 863-494-2611.

Scam Alert

Parishioners of several Parishes in the Diocese of Venice have been contacted by imposters pretending to be their pastor and/or Parish staff, and asking them to send gift cards, cash or money orders via email or text. These requests are a scam and under no circumstances should you reply to these emails or comply with these requests. Nor should you divulge any personal information to anyone that is not a trusted source. 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.

News briefs for the week of Aug. 4, 2023

New Mooney athletic director named

Rafael Fernandez has been appointed as the new athletic director at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota. Fernandez is a 1991 graduate of Mooney having played baseball at the school. He comes to Mooney from the same post at Lake Howell High School in Winter Garden. Previously he was dean of students at South Seminole Academy in Casselberry, and before that at Lancaster Elementary School in Orlando. He has a degree from the University of Central Florida and is fluent in Spanish. Much of his family still lives in the Sarasota area as he returns to his roots to take on a program that has seen great success in recent years.

Knights support school

Two Knights councils, Ponce De Leon Council 8074 in Punta Gorda and Our Lady of Victory Council 3358 in Sarasota, recently presented gifts to St. Mary Academy in Sarasota. Council 8074 generously gifted $4,000 to support the school during a July 26, 2023, reception in Punta Gorda. Council 3358 presented a check for $5,000 on July 27. St. Mary offers an exceptional education for children with learning differences. For more information, please visit https://www.stmarysarasota.org/.

Children participate in summer camps

St. Michael Parish in Wauchula hosted two different summer camps, one for girls the week of July 10-14, 2023, and another for boys the week of July 17-21. These camps were all day and included fun activities but also had a strong component of faith, which included the participation in the Mass, prayer, adoration and taking part in Eucharistic processions. The camps were led by the religious women of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, who serve at the Parish, as well as many volunteers.

Scam Alert

There have been recent incidents where parishioners have been contacted supposedly by their pastor and/or parish staff to send gift cards, cash or money orders via email or text. These requests are a scam and under no circumstances should you reply to these emails or comply with these requests. Nor should you divulge any personal information to anyone that is not a trusted source. 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.

Summertime and the Giving is Easy Appeal

Every day, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., serves in the 10 counties that constitute the Diocese of Venice the most vulnerable population by feeding, housing, empowering, and helping all in need. This summer, you can be the one that makes a difference. Your acts of kindness have the power to transform lives and leave a positive impact in our community. The Catholic Charities Summertime and the Giving is Easy Appeal is asking for your support. The giving is easy! Your gift will make a positive impact on our less fortunate brothers and sisters! Please visit https://catholiccharitiesdov.org/ or mail a check to Catholic Charities, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285.

Retreats Returning to OLPH

Beginning this Fall, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center, 3989 South Moon Drive, Venice, will be offering a variety of retreats. There is available a single-day Youth Retreat for grades 6-12. The following group retreats are open for registration: Matt Talbot Men’s Retreat scheduled for Oct. 15-17, 2023, and the Can You See Me? Retreat scheduled for Oct. 27-29. Interested in a 3-night, 5-night, or 7-night private, directed retreat schedule? Fall dates are now available. To learn more or to register for a group or private retreat, please visit https://www.olph-retreat.org/, or call 941-486-0233.

Surviving Divorce

If you or someone you know is navigating the challenges of a separation or divorce, consider participating in the Surviving Divorce Program developed by Rose Sweet, a well-known Catholic author, and speaker.  The twelve-week program begins at 6:30 p.m., Aug.17, 2023, at St. John the Evangelist Parish, 625 111th Avenue, Naples. Contact Michael Dana at mgdana@gmail.com or 301-332-9055 to register.

Day of Reflection for Sacramental Marriage

The Office of Marriage and Family Life will be hosting a Day of Reflection for couples preparing for the Sacrament of Marriage in the Catholic Church.  A specially prepared team will share their experiences and information enabling couples to be more aware of the privileges and responsibilities of marriage.  This event will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sept. 9, 2023, at St. John the Evangelist Parish, 625 111th Avenue, Naples.  The cost of $50/couple covers all retreat materials and lunch.  Pre-registration is required at https://dioceseofvenice.regfox.com/marriage-preparation-seminar-2023.  Should you have questions or require additional information contact Carrie Harkey at harkey@dioceseofvenice.org or 941-484-9543 ext. 4748.

News Briefs for the week of June 30, 2023

Program helps incoming freshman in Fort Myers

Students in the first Bishop Verot Catholic High School LEAP program (Learning Enrichment Academic Program) of the summer finished on June 23, 2023, in Fort Myers. The two-week program is for incoming freshmen as they take part in a reading assignment (The Lord of the Flies) together and discuss it as a group each day. They even made their own bandanas (a key plot point in the dystopian novel). The program gives the new students a sample of high school life without the usual pressures of a full campus. A second LEAP session will take place in July and include a review of the novel Pygmalion. Another summer program includes the opportunity for upperclassmen and their parents to receive help with the college application process, including working on essays, collecting recommendations, or even filling out applications with Maria Barbato, Verot Director of School Counseling. This outreach to students is offered throughout the summer.

Summertime and the Giving is Easy Appeal

Every day, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., serves the area’s most vulnerable population by feeding, housing, empowering, and helping all in need. This summer, you can be the one that makes a difference. Your acts of kindness have the power to transform lives and leave a positive impact in our community. The Catholic Charities Summertime and the Giving is Easy Appeal is asking for your support. The giving is easy! Your gift will make a positive impact on our less fortunate brothers and sisters! Please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org or mail a check to Catholic Charities, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285.

OLPH needs volunteers

As Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice continues to recover from Hurricane Ian, volunteers are needed to assist in that effort. Projects include landscaping, assembling furniture and more. If you are interested in helping out and becoming a volunteer, please contact Dee Isabelle at isabelle@olph-retreat.org, call 941-486-0233, or register at https://www.olph-retreat.org/new-volunteer. If you would like to assist financially, please visit https://www.olph-retreat.org/the-olph-annual-fund-and-ways-to-give.

Free counseling services available

Did you know that Catholic Charities offers FREE counseling and Psychotherapy? If you or someone you know is ready to take the first step towards healing and wellness, call 888-249-9296. Catholic Charities serves ALL that come to us for help, regardless of race or religion.

Support pregnant mothers in need

Looking for a way to help pregnant women in need?  Your tax-deductible donation will help with rent, utilities, or other necessities.  Give to the Catholic Charities Pennies for Babies Fund, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285 where no administrative fees are taken from any donations. Questions?  Contact Jeanne Berdeaux, Berdeaux@dioceseofvenice.org or 941-374-1068.


Volunteers help restore OLPH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to help OLPH recovery

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

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

Retreat Center hurricane recovery ongoing

When Hurricane Ian’s floodwaters of the Myakka River receded a week after devastating Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice, it was clear it would take prayer, focus, determination, and lots of patience for the “Jewel of the Myakka” to return to its former glory.

OLPH Director, Father Mark Yavarone, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, first inspected the property by kayak on Sept. 29, 2022, the day after the hurricane. At that time, the Myakka River waters had risen to cover the entire property and were as high as they had ever been since OLPH was founded in 1988. Father noted at the time he was shocked to see the water so high, unaware that the menacing river was not done rising.

Sadly, the river crested on Oct. 2, 2 ½ feet above the record, and the result was at least 18-24 inches of water inside all the buildings on the property. It wasn’t until Oct. 10, 12 days after the hurricane, that the waters had receded enough to examine the damage in person.

OLPH was just finishing a major renovation program which marked the 25th anniversary of the retreat center. Father Yavarone said all of the flooring in every building had just been completely replaced as well as several other upgrades. In fact, the last piece needed to complete the project was a few metal panels on the roof of the dining hall. The roofs held, but the water rose and inflicted severe damage.

As soon as the property was accessible, the cleaning process began. What could be salvaged was, but the interiors of each of the villas, the dining hall, conference center and chapel were gutted. The landscaping, which always creates a serene setting for all who visited, was a jumbled mess with trees down and everything covered in a slime left over from the river’s passage. Even while the property was still covered in muck, bald eagles, osprey, herons, ibis, and alligators were seen in abundance.

Once the mitigation and drying out process was completed, the reconstruction began.

Joe Rego, Diocesan Director of Building and Construction, said a lack of contractors, supplies and other unforeseen obstacles have pushed the rebuilding back several months.

“This is a regionwide issue,” Rego explained. “Everyone is dealing with this. We had to first rewire everything and then put in drywall. Then the flooring. These things take time. The work is being done in a systematic way so we can get OLPH back open as soon as possible.”

Father Yavarone said the work has focused on the dining hall, conference center and Villas I and II.

“It turns out, this is the order the retreat center was built, so there is a symmetry to this,” Father said. “With those spaces available we will be able to start private retreats in June.”

Those retreats are already booked, and if the progress continues at its current pace, by August or September, the retreat center will be completely reopened for guests and larger group overnight retreats. Those bookings are already taking place, something Father said cannot wait.

“I cannot help but think that our retreat center has passed through a time of pruning,” Father wrote in a March reflection. “This is true even in a physical sense, as the destruction of the hurricane has already led to small but important improvements. For example, the removal of drywall exposed pipes in the villas that would soon have burst. Those pipes have now been replaced. Worn 25-year-old furniture, kitchen appliances, and sound systems are also being replaced… The end result, God willing, will be a facility fitted to bear fruit for decades.”

Father Yavarone said he has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support by the faithful, and their sadness over the damage, with many saying how much OLPH means to them.

While the retreat center is closed to visitors, Father Yavarone, and Father Shawn Monahan, OMV, have been hosting retreats at Epiphany Cathedral and Our Lady of Lourdes in Venice. They have also gone to several other area Parishes for talks.

The Monthly Day of Prayer continues at off-site locations while OLPH continues to recover from Hurricane Ian. The day begins at 9:30 a.m. with continental breakfast, and includes two conferences, lunch, Eucharistic Adoration, Mass, and opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, private meditation, and prayer. The day concludes with Mass that ends at 3:15 p.m. For the May sessions, Father Monahan will be the presenter. The topic for each day is “Two Gifts: Anger and Forgiveness,” as Father Monahan concludes the series of “Healing our Broken Hearts”. The cost is $40. The May events are Wednesday, May 10, at the Our Lady of Lourdes Education Center, 1301 Center Road, Venice, and Sunday May 14, at Epiphany Cathedral Parish Center, 310 Sarasota St., Venice. To register, please visit https://olph-retreat.org/monthly-day-of-prayer.

If you would like to directly support the OLPH Hurricane Ian recovery, please visit https://www.olph-retreat.org/olph-status-after-hurricane-ian.

Retreat Center dries out from Ian

For more than a quarter century Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice and the meandering waters of the Myakka River existed in harmony. That symbiotic relationship was upturned when Hurricane Ian brought high winds, epic rains, and the Myakka River to the door.

The result is that the waters rose far above record levels and water entered every building on the property. All is not lost, as all buildings are intact, and the property had full power by Oct. 10. While a great deal of work is required to get the retreat center fully functioning, efforts have already begun to make that happen.

OLPH Director, Father Mark Yavarone, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, first inspected the property by kayak on Sept. 29, 2022, the day after the hurricane. At that time, the waters had risen to cover the entire property. The waters were as high as they had ever been in comparison to all previous flooding events since OLPH was founded in 1988. Father noted he was shocked to see the water so high, unaware that the menacing river was not done rising.

Sadly, the river crested on Oct. 2, 2 ½ feet above the record, and the result was at least 18-24 inches of water getting into all the buildings on the property. It wasn’t until Oct. 10, 12 days after the hurricane, that the waters had receded enough to examine the damage in person.

“We are still evaluating the damage,” Father Yavarone said on Oct. 11. “We had just completely replaced the flooring in every building and were doing other upgrades. That is all lost. But we will be back. Repairs will take place and OLPH will reopen as soon as possible.”

Denise Riley, OLPH Business Manager, said it was hard to see the mold and the muck from the river covering everything that was green on the property. Trees fell and were being cleared as soon as the property was accessible, but the water damage will take time to fix.

“The Diocese is helping us get crews in here to dry out everything and start that process of coming back,” Riley said. “There are files that were lost and things that are sad to see damaged, but you have to go on.”

Diocesan Director of Building and Construction Joe Rego said it was difficult to stay away from the retreat center until the waters receded.

“We knew damage was taking place but the site was inaccessible for more than a week. We got out there as soon as the road opened,” Rego said. “There is extensive damage to the infrastructure that needs to be repaired or replaced. The length of time from when the water first came into the buildings and the inability to access the property made things worse. We have teams of people who are working to get everything cleaned up and then we can start the repairs.”

The cleanup is going to take time as the waters rose so high that there are watermarks on every building, every wall, every piece of furniture, and even on the trees and bushes. A black sludge, the stirred-up remnants of the swollen Myakka River, covered everything from the ground level up. The standing water, mold and rotting vegetation left behind by the storm and river created a terrible smell that brought a gloom to the property.

In a message posted on the OLPH website on Oct. 2, Father Yavarone shared the story of St. Margaret D’Youville, who worked tirelessly to build a hospital to care for the sick only to have it burn to the ground shortly after it was completed.

Just as St. Margaret, the people who have a connection to OLPH may wonder “Why would God want us to spend so much time and effort beautifying the grounds and the interior of the buildings if the mother of all hurricanes was on its way? Or were such efforts merely our ideas and not God’s will?” Father wrote. “How easily we forget that we are at the hands of a provident God who kept us safe in the midst of one of the many tragedies that must befall the world.”

Father wrote those words before the water receded and while he was staying at San Pedro Parish in North Port, where hundreds of homes were flooded and many stranded by the same flood waters that brought devastation to the retreat center. He noted that as he wrote his message, he looked out the window, witnessing hundreds of families coming to be helped by Catholic Charities, FEMA, and others. “It will be a busy Sunday for our priests and lay people as we try to be the hands and hearts of our provident God. His Grace will not be lacking.”

God’s grace is not lacking, as crews cleared away debris, the first important step in the recovery process. While the property is still covered in muck, bald eagles, osprey, herons, ibis, and alligators were seen in abundance.

Just as nature has rebounded quickly, so too will the retreat center. OLPH will return to its previously glory, in harmony with the Myakka River once again.

News Briefs for the Week of August 5, 2022


After consultation, Bishop Frank J. Dewane announces the following:

Father Thomas Carzon, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, as Pastor of San Pedro Parish in North Port, effective Aug. 1, 2022, and thus is relieved of his duties as Parochial Vicar of Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

New Marian statue blessed

St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers hosted the blessing of a new Marian statue on July 31, 2022. The statue of Mary was donated courtesy of Retired Pastor Father Stanley Dombrowski, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, and his sister Mary. Father Dombrowski led the blessing ceremony for the statue which sits outside, under the portico at the entrance of Marian Hall. The statue was dedicated to their parents, Stanley and Mary Dombrowski.

Men’s Retreat held in Lake Placid

Members of the John XXIII Retreats Movement gathered at Campo San Jose Retreat Center in Lake Placid on July 31, 2022, to celebrate the conclusion of another retreat. More than 25 men took part in the three-day retreat with their family and others taking part on the final day for the closing Mass. This makes more than 1,000 who have returned to the faith in the Diocese of Venice through the John XXIII Movement. The Movement is a private international association of laity, with the goal of leading marginalized communities to God. After completing an initial retreat, participants are encouraged to attend faith-formation classes and weekly meetings to strengthen their faith and personal relationship with God. Rooted in Eucharistic Adoration, the ministry serves the Church and its people through love, surrender, and sacrifice. For more information about the John XXIII Movement, please contact Father Stewart at stewart@dioceseofvenice.org or Jose Pastor Ramirez, Diocesan Coordinator, at JosePR72@hotmail.com.

Catholic Charities Summertime Appeal ongoing

Every day, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., serves its most vulnerable population by feeding, housing, empowering, and helping all in need. This summer, you can be the one that makes a difference. Your acts of kindness have the power to transform lives and leave a positive impact in our community. Catholic Charities, “Summertime and the Giving is Easy Appeal” is asking for your support. The giving is easy! Your gift will make a positive impact on our less fortunate brothers and sisters! Please visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org or mail a check to Catholic Charities, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285.

Walking With Moms in Need

Would you know how to help a pregnant woman in need? Maybe it’s your neighbor, cousin, niece, sister, granddaughter, or daughter. Maybe it’s someone you see in a store, restaurant, or church. Perhaps she is crying, looks distraught or is obviously being treated poorly by someone. Through a new national initiative from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) called Walking with Moms in Need, now you will know how to help. Walking with Moms in Need teaches the faithful how to help pregnant women in need, starting by letting them know they are not alone. The nationwide Catholic program calls every parishioner to learn the names of their local pregnancy help centers, the first responders for women with unexpected or difficult pregnancies. If you know of someone who is pregnant and needs help immediately, visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/walking-with-moms-in-need.

Parish youth help out  Do not run on same page as above brief

The St. John XXIII Parish Youth Outreach in Fort Myers has been working hard. First they organized shoes and backpacks collected from parishioners and to be delivered to families in need. Then they shifted their efforts to helping to organize and clean the Parish thrift store. Please keep all the youth in your prayers that they too will also say yes to living His word through action.

National Eucharistic Revival

A three-year revival of devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist begins with the Diocesan phase, from June 19, 2022, through June 11, 2023. During the Diocesan Year, there will be a series of events and retreats that encourage the renewal of the Church “by rekindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.” The pinnacle of the coming year will be a Diocesan Eucharistic Congress on March 24 and March 25, 2023. This event, which is in the early planning stages, will take place at the Convention Center and Luminary Hotel on the Fort Myers riverfront. The National Eucharistic Revival is a focused effort by the U.S. Catholic Bishops to revive a devotion to and belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. To learn more about the National Eucharistic Revival, visit www.eucharisticrevival.org. Stay tuned for more information for the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress by visiting https://dioceseofvenice.org/offices/offices-departments/eucharistic-congress-2023/.

Support after abortion – Project Rachel

Most women who choose abortion eventually realize that they made the wrong choice and face a lifetime of regret. Even if they confess this sin to a priest, they often find it difficult to accept God’s forgiveness and forgive themselves. Project Rachel is the Catholic Church’s program to help women and men come to terms with an abortion decision and find the hope and healing they need. Watch for more on post-abortion healing in the next edition of The Florida Catholic. For confidential help in English and Spanish, call 941-412-5860 or email project.rachel@dioceseofvenice.org.

Do You Need Help?

If you need assistance from Catholic Charities for food, financial assistance, or tele-mental health counseling, please call 941-355-4680 in Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto, Hardee, and Highlands Counties; 239-390-2928 in Charlotte, Lee, Hendry, and Glades Counties; and 239-793-0059 in Collier County between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 pm., Monday to Friday.

Retreat Center Fall Schedule Available Online

The Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center (OLPH) fall group retreats are now available for registration at www.olph-retreat.org. This includes a new one-day retreat on “Meditation in the Catholic Tradition,” scheduled for Saturday, October 22, the biannual silent Ignatian Preached Retreat, scheduled for Friday, November 18 to Monday, November 21, and the Monthly Day of Prayer series. Would you rather a private, directed retreat? OLPH offers 3-night, 5-night, and 7-night private retreats. To learn more about these retreats, please call 941-486-0233 or visit www.olph-retreat.org.

Food pantry needs help

The St. Joseph Food Pantry in Bradenton is in need of peanut butter. This staple is an important part of the pantry’s Family Bags and provides a key source of protein for children in need in Manatee County. The Food Pantry is happy to accept bulk, large, and small containers of peanut butter, as well as other non-perishable food items. If you wish to make a financial contribution, your donation can be doubled thanks to a partnership with the Flanzer Trust. Donations can be delivered to 2704 33rd Ave. W. Bradenton, FL  34205, Monday thru Friday 9 a.m. till noon. Please call 941-756 3732 or email directors@stjoepantry.com if you have any questions or if you need to make arrangements for drop off. For more information about how you can help, please visit www.stjoepantry.com.

Friends of the Seminary Gala

Please mark your calendars to participate in the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary Friends of the Seminary Gala, in person or via our on-line experience, on Friday, October 21, 2022. You will find information at www.svdp.edu/friends2022 (This page will continue to update as we get closer to the event). This event is the Seminary’s largest fundraiser and your support is essential to ensure the continuity of this important mission: Forming priests after the Heart of Christ for the future of the Catholic Church. The virtual portion will be open to all and include live feed of the Mass at 5:30 p.m., and an online auction. We pray that with your support and God’s Providence, we will have a successful event. For more information, please call 561-732-4424, Ext. 162.

News Briefs for the week of April 22, 2022

Computers, robotics and Legos make learning fun

St. Andrew Catholic School third grade students learned about landmarks on April 6, 2022, in Cape Coral. To do this, they researched various landmarks on their computers and then, with their new Robotics programing software, used their Lego kits to bring what they learned to life. This is another example of a cross-curricular activity using the STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math) model.

Fresh salsa made from school garden

The Bishop Verot Catholic High School Environmental Club members enjoyed the fruits of their labor with homemade salsa in Fort Myers on April 17, 2022. Each of the ingredients were cultivated from the school garden. The results were tasty.

Schools, Catholic Charities in northern counties to benefit from Giving Challenge

Diocesan Catholic schools and programs of Catholic Charities in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte, and DeSoto counties will be beneficiaries of the 2022 Giving Challenge, from noon April 26 to noon April 27, 2022. The Giving Challenge is presented by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. The giving is being augmented by The Patterson Foundation which will match all donations between $25 and $100. All donations made during the 24-hour Giving Challenge are unrestricted gifts to the nonprofit organization of your choice. You can visit www.givingchallenge.org to search for participating organizations. Note that many of the organizations also have Challenge Matches from various supporters. These matches serve to multiply the value of individual donations. Schools participating in the 2022 Giving Challenge include: Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School, Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School, Incarnation Catholic School, St. Mary Academy, St. Martha Catholic School, St. Joseph Catholic School, and St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School. In addition to Catholic Charities, other organizations within the Diocese that are part of the Giving Challenge include the St. Joseph Food Pantry, St. Vincent de Paul – St. Joseph Conference Bradenton Inc., as well as the Society St. Vincent de Paul – Ss. Peter and Paul the Apostles Conference.

Treasures of the Church coming to Diocese

An Exposition of Sacred Relics will take place in several locations within the Diocese of Venice and elsewhere in Florida in the month of May. Each evening begins with a presentation and teaching on relics which features the catechetical and spiritual basis for the Walk with the Saints where over 150 relics will be displayed. In the Diocese of Venice, the following dates and locations are available for all to attend: May 9, Incarnation Parish, 2929 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota; May 10, St. Katharine Drexel Parish, 1922 SW 20th Ave., Cape Coral; May 11, Ave Maria Parish, 5088 Annunciation Circle, Ave Maria; May 12, St. Elizabeth Seton Parish, 5225 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples. Each exposition will begin at 6:30 p.m. and there is no fee to attend. For further information please visit www.treauresofthechurch.com.

Students and parents help Needy

During a day off from school on April 18, 2022, students and parents from St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota volunteered to help pack 728 food boxes at All Faiths Food Bank in south Sarasota. This outreach, during a rare weekday off from school during the Monday within the Octave of Easter, reflected well the commitment to service Diocesan Catholic schools instill in its students and families. Great job everyone!

Breakfast with Bishop Joseph Coffey

The TMIY (That Man is You) Men’s Ministry of Ave Maria Parish is hosting a breakfast with Most. Rev. Joseph L. Coffey, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, at 8:15 a.m., May 13, 2022, in the Parish Hall at 5068 Annunciation Circle, Ave Maria. Bishop Coffey will speak on “The Causes of Canonization of Military Chaplains Father (Vincent) Capodanno and Father (Emil) Kapuan.” There is no cost or registration required. For more information, call Dom Micillo at 904-536-1480.

Port Charlotte school hosts first responders

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Port Charlotte was swarmed with first responders and their various emergency response vehicles on April 13, 2022. There was no emergency, in fact the first responders were present to give the students a variety of public safety demonstrations. Students were treated to a visit from the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, including helicopter landing on the athletic field, K-9 units, and more. Also present were representatives from Charlotte County Fire and EMS, Charlotte County Public Safety, Florida Highway Patrol, Florida Fish and Wildlife and Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. The day also included an opportunity for the students to thank the first responders for keeping the community safe.

Picnic tables installed at Bradenton school

April 13, 2022, was a scheduled day off at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton. However, the campus was busy as volunteers and the maintenance team assembled and moved 22 new picnic tables into the courtyard. The hard work paid off and when students and teachers returned on April 19, they received a pleasant surprise as there are new places for outdoor study, projects, lunch and relaxation.

Catholic athletes continue to excel

Teams from Bishop Verot Catholic High School earned both girl’s and boy’s tennis team district titles on April 13, 2022, in Fort Myers. Meanwhile, the Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School boy’s lacrosse team earned a district title on April 15. The Mooney girl’s lacrosse team defeated the Verot girls in the district playoffs on April 11.

Neumann seniors reflect on high school

Scientium Veritatis ~ Senior Reflection Day at St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples was April 19, 2022. The seniors presented before the faculty and staff their reflection projects, which called for them to dive deep and reflect on their last four years and the growth they have experienced. Students focused on Don Bosco’s Oratory (Home, School, Playground and Church) while showcasing important artifacts from their high school years.

OLPH Day of Prayer in May

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center’s final Monthly Day of Prayer Retreat for the season will be Sunday, May 8, 2022, and Wednesday, May 11. The cost for each retreat is $40 and includes a continental breakfast, two conferences, lunch, adoration, and Mass. The conference topics are the same for both sessions. The final Group retreat for the season is the Ignatian Preached Retreat scheduled for May 20-23. The cost is $460 and includes a private room and all meals. The Fall 2022 private retreat schedule is now available on the OLPH website and includes 3-day, 5-day, and 8-day directed retreats on their beautiful campus. To learn more about each retreat and to register, please visit: www.olph-retreat.org or call 941-486-0233. OLPH is located at 3989 South Moon Drive, Venice.

9th Annual Marian Eucharistic Conference in May

All are invited to the 9th Annual Marian Eucharistic Conference May 13 to May 15 at Ave Maria University, Ave Maria. The theme is “Do Whatever He Tells You.” Featured speakers will include Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Coffey, of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, Father Larry Richards, Father Rick Martignetti, Deacon Dr. Mark Miravalle, EWTN’s Steve Ray, and Johnnette Benkovic plus music by Martin Doman and the AMU Band. In addition to the talks, the Conference will include a Rosary Walk, Holy Mass, Benediction, and more. The cost is $180 per person and includes lodging, meals and conference fee for the weekend. For more information visit www.aveconferences.com,call 239-348-4725 or email aveconferences@gmail.com.