News Briefs for the Week of January 21, 2022

Children’s Festival draws 118

The St. Michael Parish 2022 Children’s Festival was celebrated with 118 children from kindergarten to fifth grade. The children played games, ate ice cream, learned about our Mother Mary and loving Jesus through Mary, had the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, attended Mass, and prayed the rosary with a procession.

Electric lesson
Third grade students at St. Catherine Catholic School in Sebring explored different forms of energy during a lesson on Jan. 13, 2022. One of the more joyful parts of the experiments was learning about static electricity when they used a few balloons to cause some hair to stand on end.

Students thank officers
It was in December 2021 when a group of St. Francis Xavier Catholic School students received assistance crossing a busy intersection with the aid of the Fort Myers Police Department in their patrol cars and using their lights and sirens to the delight of the children. As a way of thanks, the fourth graders invited members of the Fort Myers Police Department to personally thank them for their support and service in celebration of Law Enforcement Appreciation Day on Jan. 7, 2022.

Retreat Center weathers pandemic while marking 25 years

Sitting on the lazy, peaceful banks of the Myakka River in Venice is Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat and Spirituality Center (OLPH), the primary retreat center for the Diocese of Venice.

It was some 25 years ago when the groundbreaking on the 250-acre property took place with the first buildings opening within a year. Since that time in 1995, untold thousands have visited the OLPH grounds either to visit or to take part in one of many retreats.

For a time, early in the global pandemic, there was a question on whether OLPH could maintain its operations restrictions that included social distancing, the wearing of masks and the sanitizing requirements needed for a facility that can host dozens of overnight visitors.

Father Mark Yavarone, OMV, OLPH Director, explained how in the midst of a great deal of uncertainty, something amazing happened.

As people began to work from home, Father Yavarone and the staff at OLPH figured out a way to transition to give individual retreats online, meeting one-one-one for an hour each day with each retreatant by video. The question was would people be willing to discuss their relationship with God over the computer?

“When the pandemic hit, we knew our retreats would drop some 40 percent,” Father Yavarone continued. “You know what happened, the individual one-on-one retreats – where you meet with the person every day for 3 days. 5 days, 8 days – they went up 50 percent because people from all over the country, and even the world, were desperate to find an open retreat center. We were able to do it safely.”

The applications for retreats came from across Florida and beyond, including California, Australia, New Zeeland and the United Arab Emirates. This created a problem with trying to figure out time zone difference. Each retreatant was provided with instructions on how to best set up their home space, away from distractions, so as to focus on the retreat. While these were helpful to many, there were limits as the lack of access to the Mass or the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the absence of these were deeply missed by all.

This online option continued for a time, even as OLPH reopened to in-person individual retreats. Men and women came to OLPH desperate for time alone with the Lord in an era of stress and anxiety, finding the peace that only Jesus can give, Father Yavarone added.

One retreatant remarked: It helped me clear my mind and give me hope for the future.” Another said, “I lived the story of the Prodigal Son by coming here, and I was welcomed home.”

“It was an amazing thing to get to ministering to so many people on a very deep level who were struggling with COVD,” Father Yavarone explained. “It is something for which I am very grateful to God.”

Of course, the number of large groups using OLPH remained low for much of 2020 and into early 2021 as retreat size restrictions were necessary due to social distancing and other safety guidelines for all retreatants. Even when in-person retreats returned, the retreats were different, as the Sacrament of Confession was necessarily from a greater distance than was normal. “We adjusted to create an environment where everyone was comfortable,” Father noted.

As 2022 moves forward, the long-awaited celebration of the 25th Anniversary of OLPH is nearing. Necessarily postponed because of the pandemic, “The Butterfly Ball,” will take place from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 19, at St. Thomas More Parish Chelsea Center, 2506 Gulf Gate Drive, Sarasota. The evening includes a cocktail hour, formal dinner, musical entertainment, dancing, and a silent and live auction. Tickets are $150. each. For more information, or to purchase tickets, please visit our website at www.olph-retreat.org or call 941-486-0233.

Shortly after the establishment of the Diocese of Venice, Bishop John J. Nevins asked Father Charles Mallen, C.Ss.R., to begin the process of promoting the development of a retreat center for the young diocese.  The groundbreaking ceremony took place in January 1995 and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center became a reality.

The site includes a conference center, villas for overnight guests, a dining center and chapel. In addition to the seven buildings on-site, there is the newly dedicated Shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, all laid out to allow retreatants the opportunity to spend time enjoying the beautiful grounds which include the Way of the Cross, the Rosary Walk and the prayer decks located along the riverbank.

Regardless of the 25th Anniversary celebrations, OLPH is back and hosting groups of all sizes.

Retreat Offerings

Of course, OLPH continues to offer 3, 5, and 8-day individual retreats. Each retreat begins with a meeting with a priest spiritual director, and dinner. Mass is offered each day, as well as a meeting with the director, spiritual reading assignments, and peaceful time for introspection and contemplation. The final day concludes with a meeting, Mass, and lunch. For those with less time, OLPH also offers a 1-Day retreat (often referred to as a Desert Day). There are also Ignatian Preached Retreats (the next one is May 20-23) which are silent and introduce participants to the Spiritual Exercises in a group setting.

Another popular offering is the Monthly Day of Prayer, with the next Wednesday session is on Feb. 9 and the Sunday session is on Feb. 13. The day begins at 9:30 am 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, ending at 3:15 pm. The cost is $40. Note: the conference topics are the same for the Sunday and Wednesday sessions in each respective month, so please choose the day that is compatible with your schedule.

OLPH is also hosting a Couples Retreat from Feb. 25-27.  This is a chance to open our hearts to the grace of the marriage vocation. Couples are invited to spend some time with each other to explore God’s grace. What has our marriage meant to us? What has God taught and what is left for us to learn? Scripture, prayer, papal teaching, fellowship, and the Eucharist will help us grow closer to our Lord and each other. The cost is $450 per couple, which includes private room and meals.

The Easter Triduum Retreat is also very popular. The weekend begins with dinner on Holy Thursday (April 14) and ends with Mass and breakfast on Easter Sunday (April 17). The liturgies of the Lord’s Supper, Way of the Cross, Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion, Easter Vigil, and Sunrise Easter Liturgy are celebrated. A series of six 1-hour conferences on varying topics is offered throughout the retreat. In addition, the opportunity for Confession or spiritual direction is available.

To learn more about these retreats go to www.olph-retreat.org/schedule-of-events or call 941-486-0233.

 

Looking ahead to 2022 in the Diocese of Venice

Opportunities abound for the faithful of the Diocese of Venice to grow closer to the Lord as the new year begins while continuing to deal with the impacts of the global COVID-19 Pandemic. A variety of Diocesan events are scheduled or in the planning stages while at the same time numerous Parishes are in the process of either completing or beginning major construction work. Therefore, 2021 is sure to be an exciting year for Catholics across Southwest Florida.

In the coming months there will be the Ordination to the Priesthood of three men, the Diocesan Phase of the Synod on Synodality, Masses for couples celebrating significant wedding anniversaries, a first-time joint Men’s and Women’s Conference, a continuing initiative to curb the impacts of pornography on society, opportunities to promote the sanctity of life, and learning experiences of various types.

During the first half of 2022, taking center stage will be the Diocesan Phase of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” Specifically, there will be a series of listening sessions which will take place in each part of the Diocese and to be announced in the next few weeks. The goal of these sessions is to discern the Word of God in Scripture, what those Words are saying to us while remembering the living Mission of the Church. This Diocesan Phase was inaugurated with an opening Mass celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on Oct. 17, 2021, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

Coming in March is one of the most valuable opportunities to grow in the Faith, a first-ever joint Women’s and Men’s Conference. This year, the Conference agenda has been supercharged with dynamic speakers addressing relevant topics within the Church for Catholic men, women and their families. The 2022 Diocese of Venice Men’s & Women’s Conference is Saturday, March 5, at the Charlotte Harbor Event Center, 75 Taylor Street, Punta Gorda. Speakers include Trent Horn, Matthew Leonard, Emily Wilson, Dr. Michael Dauphinais, and Nicole Caruso with several breakout sessions geared specifically toward men or women. The large venue is ideal for allowing all participants to grow closer to the Lord. In addition, there will opportunities to participate in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Confession all day. Bishop Dewane will conclude the day by celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Doors open at 8 a.m. with the day beginning at 9 a.m. and concluding with the closing Mass at 4 p.m. To register, visit https://dioceseofvenice.regfox.com/2022-menswomens-conference. If you have any questions, contact the Diocesan Evangelization Office at 941-484-9543 or evangelization@dioceseofvenice.org.

For all couples celebrating a significant wedding anniversary (25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, or more than 50 years of marriage) in 2022, Bishop Dewane will be the celebrant of two Masses in your honor. The Masses will be celebrated at 11 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 12 at St. Leo the Great Parish, 28290 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs, and at 11 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 19 at Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Avenue, Venice. The Masses will be followed with a lunch and include the opportunity for complimentary anniversary photos taken with Bishop Dewane. To register, please contact your local parish office for reservations no later than a week prior to the event you choose to attend.

The Office of Respect Life will be busy throughout 2022 with a variety of activities, all to raise awareness about important issues regarding the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. First up is the 24th annual Sarasota Prayer Walk for Life on Tuesday, Jan. 18, outside of the Planned Parenthood in downtown Sarasota. Bishop Dewane will celebrate Mass at 8:30 a.m. at St. Martha Parish, 200 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota. A bus will shuttle participants to the abortion center on Central Avenue to circle the block in prayer as many times as desired. The walk coincides with the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade court decision which paved the way for legalized abortion in the U.S.

In addition, there are two Parish-based prayer walks Saturday, Jan. 22. Members of the Ave Maria Parish Respect Life Outreach, along with Ave Maria University and Community Pregnancy Clinics Inc., will be hosting a March for Life from the Ave Maria University football field 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Special guests include Bishop Dewane and Pro-Life speaker Pam Stenzel. The same day, the St. Leo the Great Parish Respect Life Outreach in Bonita Springs is hosting its 3rd Annual Walk for Life on U.S. 41 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Participants are asked to park in the Parish parking lot at 28290 Beaumont Road and everyone will meet on nearby U.S. 41.

Later in the year, there will be an opportunity to participate in the national 40 Days for Life Spring Campaign during Lent in Fort Myers and Sarasota, then the Fall Campaign (October) at multiple locations in the Diocese.

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., will be hosting several events to support its more 30 than programs throughout the Diocese. First up on Wednesday, Jan. 19, is the “Celebration of Hope Luncheon” to benefit the programs in Lee, Hendry and Glades counties, The Luncheon begins at 11:30 a.m., at the Lexington Country Club, 16257 Willowcrest Way, Fort Myers. For tickets to this event, please contact Victoria Guevara at victoria.guevaranunez@catholiccharitiesdov.org or call 239-334-4007 ext. 2100.

In the beginning of February, make plans for an elegant evening at the “Together Again” Catholic Charities Ball, which supports the programs of Catholic Charities in Sarasota, Manatee, Highlands, Glades, DeSoto and Hardee counties. The Ball is 6 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 5, at the Ritz-Carlton, 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Sarasota. For tickets or to sponsor the event, please visit https://catholiccharitiesdov.org/event-on/ or call 941-909-7817.

Coming later in February is the Our Mother’s House Annual Wine Tasting, Auction & Dinner Dance at 6 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 24, at the Venice Community Center, 326 Nokomis Ave. S., Venice. Funds raised by this event will ensure that Our Mother’s House is able to offer the support needed to the mothers and their children as they journey towards self-sufficiency. For more information, please contact Lisa Ventura at 941-485-6264 ext. 1500 at lisa.ventura@catholiccharitiesdov.org. For tickets, please visit https://catholiccharitiesdov.org/event-on/.

Next among the Catholic Charities events in early 2022 is the Emerald Ball 2022. This evening supports the Catholic Charities programs in Collier County and will take place at 6 p.m., Thursday, March 10, at the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort, 280 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples. For more information or to sponsor the event, please contact Rosa Aspilcueta 239-455-2655 ext. 3100 or emeraldball@catholiccharitiesdov.org, or visit https://catholiccharitiesdov.org/event-on/.

Continuing on the success of the first Safe Haven Sunday in 2021, the Diocesan Office of Family Life is working on developing the second phase of the initiative for the fall of 2022. This phase help to raise awareness about the harmfulness of pornography in the family and society. Pornography creates unsafe environments for children and confuses others about attitudes towards sex and marriage. This day of awareness describes the impacts pornography can have on marriages, families, and culture, while providing helpful resources for all. Detailed information will be shared with the faithful about how to combat this scourge in the weeks leading up to Safe Haven Sunday.

In the coming months, Bishop Dewane will preside over a variety of celebrations which occur each year, including the Rite of Election on the first Sunday of Lent, March 6, when Bishop Dewane welcomes those in Parish RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) programs from throughout the Diocese who will be fully entering the Church at the Easter Vigil; a Mass for Victims of Abuse will take place in April – National Child Abuse Awareness Month; later in the year a Veterans Day Mass at Sarasota National Cemetery, a Red Mass for legal professionals and more. As earlier mentioned, three men will be Ordained to the Priesthood by the Bishop this summer at Epiphany Cathedral.

Throughout 2021 there will be a variety of Parish-based celebrations coming in 20211. Among those is the 40th Anniversary of the founding of St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples, which is also going through an expansion project slated to begin in 2022. The dedication of new Parish Life Centers for Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Boca Grande and St. William Parish in Naples will be happening in the first half of the year; and renovations to existing buildings as new Parish Life Centers at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee and Our Lady of the Angels Parish Lakewood Ranch are nearing completion. The coming year will be a big one at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Sarasota which is nearing the completion of a major Church renovation and ground will be broken on a new Ministry Center. There will also be a renovation of the baseball fields at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers as well as the expansion of the religious education building at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula. Additional smaller, but no less important, projects are slated throughout the Diocese in an effort to benefit current and future generations.

As 2022 moves forward, check the Diocesan website (www.dioceseofvenice.org) frequently for information about these and other upcoming events. As always, check the weekly Florida Catholic e-Edition to read stories and view photos from these and other happenings across the Diocese. If you would like to read the story looking back at life in the Diocese during 2021, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/looking-back-on-2021/.

Looking back on 2021

The continuing global pandemic did little to curb the important work of spreading the Good News of the Lord to the faithful throughout the Diocese of Venice in 2021.

While some events were modified, delayed or even postponed, the Diocese was blessed to have two men Ordained to the Priesthood; welcome hundreds into the Church at the Easter Vigil; start a massive robotics program in its Catholic schools; host a successful Youth Rally, as well as Women’s and Men’s Conferences; honor the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony; continue to pray for victims of abuse; honor our veterans; prayer walks for an end to abortion; assist tens of thousands with food and other support; evidence major enrollment gains in its Catholic schools; dedicate a new Parish Church and Retreat Center Shrine; continue to expand the outreach to the Hispanic Catholic community; inaugurate the Diocesan Phase of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” and conclude the “Year of St. Joseph.”

This list is just a small sample of what took place across the Diocese of Venice in 2021, all while the Diocese as well as the Parishes and Catholic schools modified operations to ensure that everyone remained safe. Each activity during the year was carefully planned to ensure participants would benefit from participating and ultimately working to the goal of helping the faithful grow ever closer to the Lord.

While taking time to look back covers many pivotal events in the life of the Diocese, the following is by no means a comprehensive listing of the initiatives and events which take place throughout the Diocese.

Priestly Ordination and Vocations

One of the most important building blocks of the Catholic Church is the ordination of men to the priesthood. The Diocese of Venice was blessed to have two men ordained in 2021 presided over by Bishop Frank J. Dewane at Epiphany Cathedral. Three other seminarians were ordained to the Transitional Diaconate in 2021 and are expected to be ordained to the priesthood in 2022.

Also encouraging is that there are currently 16 active seminarians in the Diocese, including the transitional deacons. The Vocation’s Office hosts several informational trips to the seminaries in Florida for prospective young men.

Chrism Mass and Celebration of Jubilarians

During Holy Week the priests of the Diocese gathered for the annual Chrism Mass; a powerful sign of unity with more than 100 priests on the altar with Bishop Dewane at the Cathedral. This annual Mass is one of the most critical and unifying moments for the Diocese during Holy Week. At the Chrism Mass, priests and deacons who celebrate milestone anniversaries were honored. To accommodate the latest guidance on social distancing and limiting the size of gatherings at the time, only priests and Permanent Deacons and their wives were present for the Mass. The public was able to view this Mass via livestream.

Catholic schools

The Diocese of Venice uniformly strengthened STREAM education in 15 Diocesan Catholics Schools through an investment in a partnership with FIRST®, a global robotics community, “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” placing students ahead of the curve in primary fields while continuing to promote core Catholic virtues. A gift of 500 robots and curricular resources were presented by Bishop Dewane to Diocesan Catholic Schools on March 10, 2021. Since that announcement Catholic schools throughout the Diocese have been enhancing STREAM-based learning and taking the time to continuously engage students through playful learning activities to think critically and solve complex problems, regardless of their learning level.

Also of good news, a report from the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops (FCC) has revealed that the Diocese of Venice leads all other Arch/diocese in enrollment gains in the past year. This trend also wipes out enrollment losses that occurred due to the pandemic. The Diocesan numbers – a 15.2% enrollment increase in elementary schools and 8.9% percent increase in secondary schools – compare favorably to the rest of the state.

Throughout the year, many schools implemented programs to improve sustainability through water conservation and energy reduction effort all in the spirit of Laudato Si, an encyclical from Pope Francis on the care for our common home.

Respect Life Outreach

The Diocese of Venice had huge numbers participate in prayer vigils at abortion facilities throughout the Diocese of Venice. With this topic gaining national attention due to laws restricting access to abortion in Texas and Mississippi and pending decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court, the vigils took a renewed sense of urgency. A focused prayer walk takes place each January in Sarasota to coincide with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, while two 40 Days for Life campaigns take place at multiple locations each Lent and again in the fall to coincide with October, National Respect Life Month.

Honoring the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony

As the sanctity of marriage continues to be attacked from many different levels, Bishop Dewane takes time out each year to honor the men and women who have dedicated their lives to living the Sacrament of Marriage. Two Mass are held during the year which the Bishop celebrates for couples enjoying significant wedding anniversaries; many celebrating more than 50 years of marriage and some more than 70 years. These couples represent a shining example of this important Sacrament in the face of many attacks on this vital institution. In addition, the Diocese hosted the inaugural Marriage Enrichment Conference in October in Sarasota and Naples. The goal was to help form married couples to live out their vocation in holiness and joy.

Safe Haven Sunday

To help bolster the family, the Diocese also participated in the first ever Safe Haven Sunday in March 2021. Safe Haven Sunday was set aside so as to give focused time and resources to address the harmful effects of pornography on youth, marriages, and families. Resources to protect individuals, marriages and families were given to families attending Masses that weekend. This was followed up by a series of Cyber Safety workshops for parents, religious educators, and principals.

Catholic Charities

Each year the programs of Catholic Charities within the Diocese of Venice assists thousands of individuals and families and through the pandemic the numbers remained high as inflation has caused housing and food prices to skyrocket further impacting families. More than a million pounds of food was served to some 150,000 individuals at food pantries throughout the Diocese. Catholic Charities also hosted several volunteer vaccinations sites in rural communities with great success. An additional 2,000 received mental health counseling through in-person and tele-mental health programs. Nearly as many received some sort of emergency financial assistance. This support was in addition to the 30 other programs Catholic Charities has at locations throughout the region and ranges from afterschool tutoring to senior care.

Year of St. Joseph

Because St. Joseph is Protector of the Universal Church, Bishop Dewane consecrated the Diocese of Venice to a “Year of St. Joseph” in the context of the COVID-19 Pandemic beginning March 19, 2020. The Diocesan dedication to a “Year of Saint Joseph” was extended to continue until Dec. 8, 2021. This was in direct support of Pope Francis creating a Universal “Year of Saint Joseph” from Dec. 8, 2020 to Dec. 8, 2021. Among the activities which took place to honor St. Joseph, the Diocesan Office of Family Life introduced a 30-day St. Joseph Devotional for the month of September 2021, as a way to continue to mark the ongoing “Year of St. Joseph,” as well as the celebration of the Year of Amoris Laetitia Family.

Synod on Synodality

Bishop Dewane inaugurated the beginning of the Diocesan Phase of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” with an afternoon Mass on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, at Epiphany Cathedral. Participating in the Mass were Diocesan priests, as well as some 300 people representing many Parishes, various movements, and many other groups. During the Diocesan Phase there will be a series of listening sessions which will take place in each part of the Diocese in the coming months. The goal of these sessions is to discern the Word of God in Scripture, what those Words are saying to us while remembering the living Mission of the Church. Two episodes of the Bishop radio show, “Witnessing Faith with Bishop Dewane,” were dedicated to covering the intricacies of the Synod.

Dedications

Two major dedications took place in the first half of 2021. First was the Dedication and Blessing of a new Parish Church for St. Paul Parish in Arcadia on March 21, 2021. The building more than quadrupled the capacity of the previous church and offers room for future Parish offices, classrooms and a Parish Hall. The project followed strict guidelines to ensure the building is energy efficient is the context of Laudato Si. A centerpiece feature of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice was dedicated and blessed by Bishop Dewane before an enthusiastic crowd on June 6, 2021. The Shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a fitting memorial to the Blessed Virgin who serves as the exemplar for all to follow.

Other items of note

  • For the 14th consecutive year, during Child Abuse Awareness Prevention Month – April, the Diocese of Venice offered a Mass to pray for the victims of abuse at Epiphany Cathedral. Normally there are two Mass, but the pandemic necessitated only one Mass in 2021. So as to accommodate a larger audience, the Mass was live-streamed. The Diocese of Venice, and its entities, take very seriously the safety of all young people and vulnerable adults. To this end, the Diocese, with a zero-tolerance policy, works to prevent any instances of abuse, particularly against minors and vulnerable adults.
  • The 12th Annual Veterans Day Catholic Mass made a successful return to Sarasota National Cemetery as Bishop Dewane prayed for those currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, those who have died, and their families. More than 500 people attended the Mass which was celebrated in 2020 at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice out of caution because of the pandemic and the threat of a hurricane.
  • For the past four years the Hispanic Ministries outreach of the Diocese of Venice has strived to meet the needs of those desiring to be better formed in their Faith. The Spanish-language Faith Formation Program recently distributed certificates of completion to 219 students who have completed an educational program to better understand the teachings of the Catholic Faith, bringing the four-year total to more than 1,500. Spanish Faith Formation Program sessions were developed following the local consultation process of the V Encuentro in 2016 and 2017.
  • The Diocese also hosted successful Women’s and Men’s Conferences as well as a full-scale Youth Rally with some 1,000 attendees. Each of these events was necessarily scaled back in 2020.
  • A Catechetical Conference, hosted by Diocese of Venice Department of Education and spearheaded by the Office of Religious Education, provided an understanding as to how to bring Jesus Christ into the classroom as a catechist according to Church teachings. The bilingual Conference was Sept. 25, 2021, and offered catechetical leaders, catechists, religion coordinators and religion teachers a training day aimed at helping them to grow spiritually and professionally.

While 2021 brought great challenges to many, including to the Diocese of Venice, the Catholic Church remains strong and 2022 looks to be a time of celebration and hope.

Stay tuned to learn about the events of 2022 coming in the Jan. 14, 2022 e-Edition of The Florida Catholic.

Diocese Catholic School enrollment increase tops state

A report from the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops (FCC) has revealed that the Diocese of Venice leads all other Arch/diocese in enrollment gains in the past year. This trend also wipes out enrollment losses that occurred due to the pandemic.

Jesuit Father John Belmonte, Diocese of Venice Superintendent of Catholic Education, said the numbers – a 15.2% enrollment increase in elementary schools and an 8.9% percent increase in secondary schools – compare favorably to the rest of the state. The FCC reported a statewide 4% enrollment increase in elementary schools and 2.4% in secondary schools.

“There was a focused effort to let the community in on the secret that Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools provide a top-notch education at all grade levels,” Father Belmonte said. “There are exciting things happening in our schools and families are taking notice.”

In a letter of congratulations to the 15 Diocesan Catholic School principals, Father Belmonte said the enrollment success in the Diocese is impressive compared to the rest of the state but should come as no surprise to them.

Father credited the hard work of the principals and their admission teams, adding that “the addition of Father Jeff Putthoff, SJ, to our team (for support in promoting a state scholarship initiative), your efforts to respond to new families, and the increased scholarship opportunities all played a part in our success. I am also grateful for the leadership and support of Bishop Frank J. Dewane and the Chancellor. Dr. Volodymyr Smeryk, without whom our new initiatives would not have happened.”

The excitement about what is happening in Diocesan schools comes in no small part from the expansion of the STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math) model in all classrooms. This is part of a larger partnership with FIRST® (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), the leading robotics competition in the world.

This project, fully supported through the generosity of Bishop Dewane, will be place students ahead of the curve in primary fields while continuing to promote core Catholic virtues by helping students to develop cognitive thought processes and gain skills such as leadership, communication, complex problem solving, teamwork and creativity.

The earlier cited growth in enrollment has been in part related to the robot initiative. Parents of newly enrolled students cited the visionary aspect of the program – with its vital Faith component – as a key factor in their decision to choose a Diocese Catholic school.

Not one to rest on the laurels brought about from the FCC report, Father Belmonte told the principals, “Success builds on success. I look forward to working with you and your teams to continue to build on our successes this year!”

Detours Happen When Jesus Calls us on Mission

By Father Robert J. Kantor, V.F., Director, Diocese of Venice Mission Office

Have you ever been on a journey that had unexpected detours?  I once led a pilgrimage in France with a wayward bus driver who never seemed to know where he was going.  Once he took us down a one-way street the wrong way and got us stuck in a narrow alley!  It was one of many miscues that were frustrating then and comical only now.  But God delivered some powerfully graced experiences along the way.  That detour took us further from the great Rouen Cathedral that was our destination but brought us right up to another interesting church not even on our itinerary, named for St. Joan of Arc in the place where she was martyred.

When the age and infirmity of our pilgrims who had suffered multiple falls on uneven cobblestones made it evident our group could not climb to the top of Mont Saint Michel toward the end of our journey, an easier day at a seaside village for shopping and lunch included Mass in a beautiful wooden chapel.  I was disappointed, but God had a reason for the detour.

During our travels, I got to know the bus driver and the many challenges of his life, including the abuse he suffered as a foster child following the early deaths of his parents, and the tragic passing of his own wife and son.  I told him I would offer Mass for them that day and, after many years of blaming God for all his misfortunes, he came to church for the first time in years.  It was a tearful surrendering into the arms of Jesus who knows the suffering of crosses better than anyone.  Had we gone to Mont Saint Michel, he would likely have spent that day back at the bus, waiting for our return.  Instead, he was reconciled with the God who made him and loves him.  This is the mystery of encountering God in the detours of life.

No one can deny that COVID-19 has led to many changes in our lives, detouring us beyond our control. This has included interrupted travel, cancelled family celebrations, curtailed parish events, postponed weddings and funerals, and vacations turned staycations.  And yet, God has delivered graces along these detours.  People, now more than ever, appreciate the power of human contact and relish time with others that we used to take for granted.  Parishes have discovered livestreaming and other creative ways to reach out and remain in contact with parishioners.  And, this World Mission Sunday, some of us will have to try new methods of supporting the never-ending work of the Church to spread the Gospel.  Online giving through our parishes may be one new way for us to ensure that missionaries around the globe continue to receive our support and know that they are not forgotten.

No one sets out on a journey expecting detours, and when they happen most of us don’t welcome them.  But God can use these course deviations to take us out of our comfort zone to new adventures beyond our imaginings.  Blessed are hearts open to a life’s journey led by God, going to destinations more amazing than any we could have ever planned, because they are charted by our magnificent God of detours, a God who calls us on mission.

World Mission Sunday is Oct. 24, 2021. The Diocese of Venice collection for World Mission Sunday is the same weekend of Oct. 23-24.

Father Robert Kantor is the Director of the Diocese of Venice Mission Office, Dean of the Southern Deanery, and Pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Naples. He can be reached at frbob@stagnesnaples.org.

News Briefs for Week of Sept. 17, 2021

Civilize it! Campaign Relaunched

It was during the 2019-2020 election cycle that Most Rev. Frank J. Dewane, Bishop of the Diocese of Venice, encouraged all to take a Pledge entitled “Civilize It!” for a more enlightened political season.  On September 7, 2021, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) relaunched Civilize it:  A Better Kind of Politics, to address the polarization in society.  Join Catholics across the Diocese of Venice in taking the Civilize It Pledge to engage individuals, families, and communities in a dialogue of bridgebuilding.  Visit  https://www.usccb.org/civilizeit and sign the Pledge today.

Civilize It:  A Better Kind of Politics Prayer

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where uncivil words prevail, show me how to model love.

Help me remember the God-given dignity of all and invite others to do the same.

Show me how to build bridges and not walls and see first what unites us rather than how we diverge.

Let me seek to understand before asking to be understood.

Give me a listening heart filled with empathy and compassion.

May I be clear in sharing my own position and respectful and civil in describing those of others.

Let me never tolerate hateful ideas.

May I invite all to charity and love.

Lord, help me to imitate your compassion and mercy.

Make me an instrument of your peace. Amen

School benefactor dies

Louis Zazarino, a supporter of St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Catholic Academy in Sarasota died Sept. 4, 2021. He was 78. A devoted parishioner of St Martha Parish in Sarasota, Zazarino took great joy in giving back. He loved dancing, horses, and cars. Those who knew him loved him for his humor, humanity, and humility. He will be dearly missed by his family and children. A social media post from St. Mary Catholic Academy stated, “His legacy as a supporter of Catholic Education will never be forgotten. The Zazarino Center of St. Martha and St. Mary will serve as a reminder of his generosity, love and support forever. May God grant him eternal rest.” A similar post was made by St. Martha Catholic School. A funeral Mass, celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane, was Sept. 9, 2021 at St. Martha Parish in Sarasota.

Venice CCW member named to State Board

Brenda Dolan, Immediate Past President of the Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women, has been installed as President, Provincial Director-Elect Florida Council of Catholic Women (FCCW) Board. The new Board members were installed at the Province Dinner on Aug. 26, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia. This was part of the 101st National CCW Convention. In June 2021, Dolan, of St. Therese Parish in North Fort Myers, completed a two-year term as Co-President of the Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women. She was President for two years before that. Several women from the Diocese of Venice also serve on FCCW committees, including Iris Gomez, Legislative Advocacy Co-Chair; Ellen Bachman, Our Lady of Good Counsel Co-Chair; Dolan, By Laws Committee Chair. The current Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women President is Josephine Weiss.

Giving back on Labor Day

Students and faculty from St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples gave up some of their Labor Day holiday to help distribute food at nearby St. Elizabeth Seton Parish. Under the portico in front of the Parish Church, the students and faculty helped to load vehicles with food for families in need. Among the helpers were four Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco, who serve at St. John Neumann, including Principal Sister Patricia Roche.

Blizzards in a jar

For students learning in Florida it is pretty rare for them to experience a blizzard, but with a little bit of science kindergarteners and first graders at St. Mary Catholic Academy created their own blizzards – in a jar, of course. These students took part in the science experiment during class on Sept. 9, 2021 in Sarasota. Here’s how it works: Because oil is less dense than water, the water will naturally sink to the bottom of the jar. When the Alka-Seltzer is dropped into the jar, its interaction with the water creates pressure in an upward direction, and the oil pushes it back down. This pressure back and forth is part of what creates the snowstorm. The other element is the interaction between water and sodium bicarbonate in the Alka-Seltzer, which generates carbon dioxide gas. The combination of these factors creates a blizzard every time! The students had a blast!

Happy Birthday Mary

On the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sept. 8, 2021, students at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers by making their own Mary statues and writing the Blessed Virgin birthday cards.

Science students learn about hurricanes and earthquakes

Students in an Environmental Science class at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers learned about the impact of hurricanes and earthquakes on structures in a Sept. 8, 2021 lab where they created their own houses.

Bishop celebrates Mass at Mooney

Bishop Frank J. Dewane, joined by Father Eric Scanlan, Chaplain of Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School, receives the gifts presented by students during the school Mass held on September 14, 2021.

Parish helps dreams come true for youth

Over the years the parishioners of St. Leo the Great Parish have forged a strong bond with Catholic Charities programs in Bonita Springs.

“We proudly host their presence on our campus in the Juan Diego Center and constantly witness and support the good works provided by their staff and volunteers, many of whom are our own parishioners,” said Anne Bellows, Assistant to the Pastor.  “We partner in providing donations from our St. Leo Food Bank, as well as annual holiday food and gift drives at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. We receive the most delight in this relationship when it impacts our area children.”

The Positive Youth Development Program is one such Catholic Charities resource which helps area children and operates after-school tutoring and summer camps, explained Jose A. Perez, Positive Youth Development Program Manager.

Each of the 40 children who participated in the Program’s Summer Enrichment Camp received scholarships from parishioners of St. Leo the Great Parish. During the summer the children received tutoring in math and reading, as well as enjoying enriching activities during their seven weeks on campus including a number of day trips.

“This year we wanted to do something special for the youth we have the privilege of working with,” Perez said. “The last two years have been hard on everyone, but especially on youth who will look back and remember the Pandemic as a significant life event, and it has not been a very positive one.”

Perez figured that perhaps the Program could do something that will leave a positive memory for these challenging times in all this sadness.

“After much thought, I decided to reach out to the most magical place on earth (Disney World) since the kids have always asked about visiting since none had ever been,” Perez said. “Looking back on my first time at Disney, I remember what a fantastic experience it was, but it was also expensive.”

With this goal in mind, Perez worked tirelessly to put the pieces together to make this marvelous adventure happen within budget and without a hitch. The effort included reaching out to Disney for discounted tickets and to a local company for economical transportation.

“St. Leo Parish has always been there for our Positive Youth Development Program,” Perez said. “They help us with whatever comes up. Once the time came for us to meet about scholarships, they asked if we’re doing anything different this year, and I said ‘Yes!’ I explained what we were trying to accomplish making a lasting memory for the students, and they were on board. So, we came up with what we wanted to call the trip: ‘Making Dreams That Last Forever.’”

St. Leo the Great Parish covered the cost of nearly everything, including additional funding for t-shirts and money for souvenirs, Bellows noted. “’Making Dreams That Last Forever’ became a joyful reality made possible through the generosity of our parishioners.”

The parents were as excited as the kids were when they learned about the trip, Perez explained. One mother said: “Thank you for giving our children an opportunity we could never give them.”

Therefore, on the July 31, 2021, the group, including 40 youth, nine high school-aged volunteers, and Catholic Charities staff went on a trip of lifetime.

Upon entering the Magic Kingdom, a girl named Arianna said to Perez: “Mr. Jose, look, it’s the Castle! It’s real!”

Camper Briana described her experience this way: “This was amazing. I had always dreamed of going to Disney. I am so glad I was able to come to summer camp. Thank you!”

Other campers had similar reactions: “It was such a magical feeling when we entered the park.” “This is so cool!” “Thank you for making my dream come true!”  “This was the most fun I have ever had!”

Perez said the trip was “beyond what I thought possible, the kids had a fantastic time. Getting to see their faces as we entered the park as they were greeted with the sight and sounds was priceless.”

To learn more about the Catholic Charities Positive Youth Development Program please contact Lose Perez at 239-390-2928 ext. 2302 or email Jose.Perez@catholiccharitiesdov.org. To support the Program, visit www.catholiccharitiesdov.org.

To learn about St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs, please visit www.stleocatholicchurch.org/ or call 239-992-0901.

Parish holds dual celebration

An installation of a new Pastor is a punctuation in the life of a Parish, and a recent one was made more memorable because it also coincided with the Parish Feast Day.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane installed Father Elbano Muñoz as Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Bradenton on June 11, 2021, the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The installation was within the context of the Mass, celebrated in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole, reflecting the different cultural members of the community.

A Pastor is someone who serves the faithful but at the same time leads them in a closer relationship to Christ, Bishop Dewane said. A Pastor needs the support of the faithful in order to succeed in his task, which is to call on people to be true disciples, evangelizers and messengers of their Faith.

“You are all witnesses of the Faith,” the Bishop continued. “Your presence here in support of your new Pastor shows that Father has the support he will need to succeed… Let this moment be a new chapter in the history of Sacred Heart Parish here in Bradenton.”

Father Muñoz expressed his gratitude to Bishop Dewane for having the confidence in him as the new Pastor. He thanked the faithful for their support and understanding since his arrival. Father also recognized his fellow priests, nine of whom concelebrated Mass with several having had connections to the Parish.

The history of the Parish dates to the post-Civil War era, when in 1868 Jesuit missionaries established a mission in Bradenton dedicated the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Eventually, when a new church, St. Joseph, was built nearby, Sacred Heart became a Chapel at its current location on 12th Avenue. It was not until 1968 when it was elevated to Parish status. The Parish Center and administration building were built in the following years while the Parish Church received several upgrades to include new stained glass and a renovation of the sanctuary. A Grotto of Our Lady of Guadalupe was added in 2004. There are approximately 800 families with Mass celebrated in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole.

As part of the installation process, Bishop Dewane first introduces the priest as Pastor to the parishioners. The priest later recites a profession of faith for all to hear, including an additional part solely for him. The new Pastor then recites an Oath of Fidelity and promises to “adhere to the teachings, which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise authentic magisterium.” The installation also includes prayers to provide the new Pastor the wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit to lead the Parish.

The ceremony concluded with the signing of documents by the Bishop, the new Pastor, and two official witnesses of the Parish community, who serve as witnesses for all of the parishioners.

A celebratory reception was held in the Parish Hall with dinner and several cakes honoring both Father Muñoz and the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

2021 Graduates urged to carry Faith with them forward

Three of the four Diocese of Venice Catholic high schools held their commencement exercises in mid-May, sending off their graduates well prepared for a bright future.

Ahead of each graduation, Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated a Baccalaureate Mass, sharing a hope-filled message that they must each “go forth with God as your guide and let Faith, hope and love be your path through life.”

Bishop Dewane praised the graduating seniors for their academic and athletic accomplishments through the years, having overcome the impact of a global pandemic, emerging ready to move on to the next phase in their lives. Thanks to the unrelenting encouragement of their parents and teachers, they have been guided through their time in high school.

“What you have done is an accomplishment,” Bishop Dewane stressed. “Your future may be uncertain, but your Faith is not uncertain. I say this to the Class of 2021, God goes with you. That is where your Faith resides. The house of hope in your life. The source of love that lasts forever. What is most important is who you are within. Your Faith can stay with you and make you strong. But it is you, the Class of 2021, that have to be the doers of your Faith. Your pastors can’t do it for you. Your parents can’t do it. Your teachers can’t do it. Graduation means all of that is up to you now.”

Encouraging the graduates to go forward with their Faith, Bishop Dewane reminded them that they need to continue to go to Mass, to live the Commandments, receive the Sacraments often, go to confession, to actualize the presence of God in their lives, and to witness it to those around them.

“Do all of those things, even though no one tells you. Use that opportunity to become more that man or woman of God you are called to be. Believe that the Lord is with you always.”

Bishop Dewane expressed his gratitude to the parents of the graduates for entrusting their children to Diocese of Venice Catholic high schools. He also publicly thanked the teachers and faculty for their commitment to the students and being their guides along their spiritual and academic journey.

The Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School Baccalaureate Mass was May 12, at Incarnation Parish in Sarasota while the Commencement Exercises were held May 14 at LECOM Park in Bradenton. The Bishop Verot Catholic High School Baccalaureate Mass was May 14 at St. Andrew Parish in Cape Coral and the Commencement was held May 15, in their Viking Stadium in Fort Myers. The St. John Neumann Catholic High School Baccalaureate Mass was May 17 at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples and Commencement was May 18 on their football field.

The Baccalaureate Mass and Commencement for Donahue Catholic Academy of Ave Maria Parish in Ave Maria will be May 27.

Please check back with the Florida Catholic e-Edition in the coming weeks for more information about the resilient Diocese of Venice Catholic high school Class of 2021.

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