Parish Community Center dedicated

The Blessed Mother Center at St. William Parish in Naples has been operating for nearly 10 months, but on March 5, 2023, the community came together for a dedication and open house.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane presided over the dedication and blessing of the new multi-purpose building, which is much more than a Parish Hall. The dedication included a blessing of the people and the building.

“This will be used as a catechetical center; the focus of your Parish activities, and a place where we may come to know one another and give witness to our faith,” Bishop Dewane said during the ceremony. “It will be a place where adults and young children learn the Catholic Faith and deepen their commitment to live as Christ has taught us. We pray that the word of God may always echo from these walls.”

The Bishop congratulated the gathered faithful for responding to the call of Jesus Christ with their support of the project and their presence as people of faith. He apologized for the delay in getting the building dedicated citing a combination of issues which pushed the date back many months.

Bishop Dewane also recognized the leadership of Father George Ratzmann, Pastor of St. William, who has led the Parish for 15 years, which has included building a new Parish church and now the Blessed Mother Center.

Father Ratzmann also thanked the people for their generosity, adding, “You made the church possible and this new building possible. You have made ministry viable in this area, not only for now, but for generations to come.”

The 30,000 square foot Blessed Mother Center consists of two floors. The first floor includes 13 offices, a large conference room, a large auditorium (capacity for 300 for lectures and 150 for receptions), a small auditorium (capacity for 100 or 75 for receptions), a library with a pre-function area and catering kitchen. The second floor includes five meeting rooms, four additional meeting rooms for children’s activities, a large family faith room and a teen room. The contractor was Thomas Abraham and Kane Wei of Abraham Construction Group, and the architect was Adrian Karapici, AIA, NCARB, of AM Design Group LLC.

Since its opening, Blessed Mother Center has been a hive of activity with many different Parish groups using the facilities. In addition, on the ground are two pieces of art: Mary Seat of Wisdom in the courtyard (by sculpturer Timothy Schmaltz), and Seated Nun (a statue by Philip Jackson).

News Briefs for the Week of March 3, 2023

Sarasota musicians play Carnegie Hall

Alex Dilan, the music director at St. Thomas More Parish in Sarasota, and 18 members of the Parish traditional and Contemporary Choir were part of a “Voices in the Hall” concert on Feb. 19, 2023, at Carnegie Hall in New York. The group was invited to participate by well-known Catholic guest soloists ValLimar Jansen and John Angotti. In total there was a 215-voice choir along with a string orchestra and full band. After months of preparation and three days of rehearsal in New York, the group performed. the concert, which included 18 songs ranging from traditional pieces by Moses Hogan to Gospel and Contemporary music by Angotti and Jansen. Dilan conducted the spiritual “Over My Head I Hear Music” to end the first section. The concert received many standing ovations, and Dilan said “It was certainly a once in a lifetime experience!”

Youth lead Stations of the Cross

The San Marco Parish High School Youth Group helped the faithful get into the Lenten season with Live Stations of the Cross on Marco Island on Feb. 24, 2023. The Youth dressed as the key figures that are part of the Passion of Jesus Christ.

Testing students get furry visitor

Students at St. Ann Catholic School in Naples received special furry visitors from Golden PAWS Assistance Crisis Team (GPACT) Program, on Feb. 27, 2023. The visit came at the end of the first day of Terra Nova testing, which Catholic school students take to access achievement in reading, language arts, math, science, social studies, and many other areas. The students were able to spend time petting and hugging the dogs, who seemed happy to receive the attention.

Mooney rider wins prestigious equestrian show

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School freshman Alexis Peterson took part in the Feb. 16-26, 2023, Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show in Arizona. Alexis won several of the classes including a unanimous win in the “2023 Hunter Seat Equitation Championship 14 and under AHAA Scholarship Class.” She also had several wins in the Arabian Hunter and Half Arabian Pleasure Championship classes. Alexis was nominated by the Arabian Professional and Amateur Horseman’s Association (APAHA) as a 2022 final nominee in the category of Youth Hunter/Show Hack rider.

Students learn skills for the future

St. Joseph Catholic School students spent 6 weeks studying economic education objectives, including writing checks, using a debit card, keeping a checkbook register, writing newspaper articles, applying for a job, and working in a group. Following their studies, they dressed in business casual and put their learning into action by spending Feb. 23, 2023, at Enterprise Village at the Stavros Institute in Largo. During their business day, students worked in one of the 20+ businesses, took 3 breaks, received paychecks, received copies of their newspaper, held a town meeting, and had the opportunity to be consumers by making purchases in one of the business-sponsored storefronts.

Mooney students help feed the homeless

The Cougars in Action (CIA) student organization of Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota went “undercover” to complete acts of kindness for others on Feb. 23, 2023. They implemented the Corporal Works of Mercy and made 200 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to help feed the homeless in Sarasota. Keep up the great work CIA!

Robotics program brings out best in students

In a true display of Humility, the Gift of Christ that reminds us to always embrace the wisdom and knowledge that others have to share, students in 6th grade and 8th grade Robotics at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers met on Feb. 28, 2023, to exchange experiences with the latest FIRST Lego League Challenge. This STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math) initiative integrates Catholic values and virtues through the Diocesan curriculum called, “The Gifts of Christ: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Affability, Fortitude, Humility, and Prudence.”

Verot spring production a success

The Bishop Verot Catholic High School Theater production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” had a successful run in Fort Myers from Feb. 24-25, 2023. Shows were sold out – and for good reason, as the students put on an amazing show that won over the audience. An enormous “Congratulations” goes out to the Theater department, and in particular their teacher, Lisa Clark. Her passion and dedication for the arts has grown the theater program into what it is today.

Lakewood Ranch Pastor installed

An installation of a new Pastor is a punctuation in the life of a Parish.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane installed Father Sebastian Szczawinski as Pastor of Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch on Feb. 19, 2023, in the context of the Mass.

“You have all come to know him as an Administrator,” Bishop Dewane said. “I ask that you support Father moving forward as God will give him the grace to take on the responsibility of leading this rapidly growing Parish.”

The Pastor is someone who serves the faithful while at the same time leading them into a closer relationship with Christ, the Bishop said. The leadership and guidance the Pastor provides will allow the faithful of Our Lady of the Angels to walk out of Mass each Sunday knowing they have heard from Jesus Christ in that Gospel message, and also how they are going to live that message in their own lives.”

Our Lady of the Angels Parish was first established in 1999 as a Mission Church of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish in Sarasota and was initially led by Third Order Regular Franciscan priests. The original church was dedicated in 2003, while the current Parish Church was dedicated by Bishop Dewane in 2018. The area surrounding the Parish is rapidly growing and the number of registered families is now more than 3,100, necessitating six Masses each weekend. Because of the growth, the original church was converted into a Parish Hall, and there is an ongoing campaign for a new Parish Activities Center for religious education and other activities.

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 concludes 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.

At the conclusion of Mass, Father Szczawinski thanked the faithful of Our Lady of the Angels for being so supportive as he considers them all part of his extended family. A reception was held in the Parish Hall.

Rwandan genocide survivor shares journey of faith

Immaculée Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, was a recent guest speaker at two Diocesan Parishes, sharing her story of survival built upon her strong faith.

Holding a rosary, Ilibagiza spoke to hundreds at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice on Feb. 13, 2023, recounting her harrowing experiences during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, but her message was one of love and forgiveness.

“Mine is a message of love,” Ilibagiza said. “You can hate, or you can love. Life is your gift, and it is up to you how you choose to use it… Every day I wake up to use my life for something beautiful and to touch other human beings – love heals. When you care for another, you get love back. To love or to hate, to uplift or to pull down, to be kind or to be mean, if you choose love, I am with you.”

Raised a devout Catholic, her world, and that of her family, village, and country, were torn apart when the Rwandan president’s plane was shot down in April 1994. The assassination of the Hutu president triggered a genocide during which more than 1 million minority Tutsi tribe members were massacred. Ilibagiza hid in a 3×4 foot bathroom with seven other women for 91 days before being able to find safety at a nearby refugee camp.

During her time in hiding, Ilibagiza was first filled with anger and despair, hearing the rampaging hordes destroy the world she had known. Ilibagiza’s father was a prominent leader in the town and ordered her to hide in the home of a Hutu pastor, someone he trusted. Before sending her into hiding, he gave his daughter a rosary.

She prayed the rosary as a way to drown out the anger that was inside her and the evil that was outside. This was not always easy, as a key part of the prayer is reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and she had a hard time saying– “forgive those who trespass against us.” When she was finally able to say the prayers without hesitation, it was that turning point towards God and away from hate that saved Ilibagiza.

“Anytime I come to share I get so excited,” Ilibagiza said. “It’s not speaking about how terrible things were, it is to share the love of God and to share with you the lessons I have learned.”

Ilibagiza said she often wakes up at night to pray, times that remind her that: “Wow! God, you were there during that horrible situation. He was there then, and He is here now. And He will be with us in the future. To know without a shadow of a doubt that God is real –those who truly believe in God can be the ones who have true hope, because God can do anything.”

She was almost spared the horror of the genocide but was home for Easter break from university when her world devolved into chaos overnight.

Praying the rosary helped the young woman to focus her thoughts on Our Lady and the Lord during a time when her mind, body and spirit were being pushed to the limits in that small bathroom with the other women. There was constant fear that every sound, every movement might alert someone to their hiding spot and end their lives in a horrible way.

Ilibagiza emerged from that small bathroom weighing just 65 pounds and finding that in addition to her family, a million of her extended family, friends, neighbors and fellow Rwandans had been massacred.

After the genocide, Ilibagiza came face-to-face with the man who killed her mother and one of her brothers. After enduring months of physical, mental and spiritual suffering, she was still able to offer the unthinkable, telling the man, “I forgive you.”

She said that moment could have caused her to reignite the hatred that she had felt, but through the intercessions of the Virgin Mary and the Lord, her heart had truly been changed and forgiveness and love were the order of the day.

Ilibagiza is now an American citizen and has written several books about her experiences during the Rwandan Genocide and speaks internationally to share her story of survival, love and faith. This also included a presentation at St. William Parish in Naples on Feb. 14.

News Briefs for the week of Feb. 17, 2023

Seminarian instituted to Ministry of Acolyte

Diocese of Venice Seminarian Carlos Andres Galeso was instituted to the Ministry of Acolyte on Feb. 8, 2023, at Pope Saint John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts. Bishop John Noonan, Bishop of the Diocese of Orlando, presided over the institution of 10 men. The Mass of institution plays a significant role in the formation of these men as they journey towards ordination to the priesthood. An acolyte’s primary role is to assist the deacon and priest during Mass. They may also serve as Extra-ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, bring the Holy Eucharist to the sick, and assist the priest and deacon during other liturgical celebrations and devotions. Please pray for Seminarian Galeso and all discerning a vocation to the priesthood as they continue their formation to become priests who will serve God and His people.

Longtime financial advisor to Diocese dies

Ernest Clinton Skinner, 86, a longtime chair of the Finance Committee of the Diocese of Venice, passed away in Venice on Jan. 16, 2023. Skinner was a U.S. Army veteran and worked with IBM and later ATT (later known as South Central Bell and BellSouth) as a member of their management team. He lived in New York, Kentucky and Alabama. While in Alabama, Skinner volunteered with the Diocese of Birmingham, before retiring to Venice in 1993. In Venice, he was an active community volunteer and until his death served as the Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees for the City of Venice Police Officers’ Pension, was a member of the Board of Directors of SERTOMA, and also served on the Finance Committee for the Diocese of Venice for more than 30 years, most of those as Chairman. In addition, he was a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Skinner is survived by his wife of 65 years, Anne “Polly” Windeler Skinner, their three children and four grandchildren. Bishop Frank J. Dewane will celebrate the funeral Mass at 11 a.m. on Feb. 25, 2023, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. Visitation with the family starts at 10 a.m.

Eucharistic Exhibition held in Fort Myers

As part of the National Eucharistic Revival, the Vatican Exhibit of the Eucharistic Miracles visited St John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers from Feb. 9 to Feb. 12, 2023. The exhibition contained 146 Eucharistic Miracles by country and were available in English and Spanish. This exhibition was designed by Blessed Carlo Acutis, who dedicated years to collecting information from historical records, maps and photographs of the Eucharistic Miracles that have taken place in several parts of the world. In addition to the display, there were activities for young school children called “The Eucharist: The Great Miracle.”

Cape Coral school celebrates growth

The St. Andrew Catholic School Gala, entitled “Havana Nights” took place Feb. 11, 2023, at Marian Hall of St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers. The evening was a celebration on many levels as portions of the school community continue to recover from Hurricane Ian, and the school has experienced more than 40% growth in the past few years with current enrollment at 562 students. The event included dinner, silent and live auctions, cash raffle drawing and entertainment and dancing.

Students make Valentine’s for nearby assisted living facility

K-Kids at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton created Valentine’s Day bookmarks and heart ornaments which were then delivered to Truewood by Merrill, an assisted living facility near the school. This act of kindness brought joy to the residents. The K-Kids are part of a school Kiwanis Club which does service and outreach in the community.

Neumann students de-stress

Harley, Dana and Max from the Golden PAWS Assistance Crisis Team (GPACT) Program, made a special visit to St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples for De-stress Day on Feb. 10, 2023. It was difficult to determine who loved the visit more, the students or the dogs.

School hosts evangelization team

St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Academy in Sarasota welcomed the Redemptorist Team for Evangelization on Feb. 10, 2023. The three Redemptorist priests celebrated Mass for the students, along with Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education. The Redemptorist priest also spoke to the students about letting their light shining and opening their eyes, ears and hearts to God.

Youth Retreat held in Lee County

Youth from across Lee County were brought together for a faith and fellowship retreat at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers Feb. 4, 2023.

Featuring Joe Melendrez, the day included talks and music focused on the concept of “Chosen,” based on the Gospel of John 15:16 – “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name He may give you.”

Melendrez opened with some dance music to get the 130 attendees amped up for a day that was to challenge them and encourage them to live their best life as Jesus has called for them. Melendrez encouraged the young men and women to have the confidence and strength to follow the Lord, to trust in Jesus in the good times and.

There was time for the youth to spent time in small groups to share their personal encounters with the Lord. A powerful moment came later in the day when everyone took part in Eucharistic Adoration, as one-by-one the youth recognized the presence of the Lord. The day culminated with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The reaction from the day by the youth was a mix of excitement and reflection as they were encouraged to reexamine how they are living their faith daily as well as finding their place in the Universal Church.

Youth represented at the retreat were from St. Leo the Great in Bonita Springs, St. Katherine Drexel and St. Andrew in Cape Coral, as well as Bishop Verot, Resurrection, St. Cecilia, Our Lady of Light, St. John XXIII, and St. Francis Xavier in Fort Myers.

The retreat was a collaboration between adult leaders in Lee County who saw a need to work together on ways of supporting one another and as a result there have been two different youth events. The first joint event was Aug. 28, 2022, when the regularly scheduled youth outreach meetings at Parishes across Lee County were instead directed to St. John XXIII Parish, where the Parish Youth Council hosted a free summer concert event featuring EPIC the Band, for a night of music, adoration, faith and fun.

Kelly Evers, coordinator of youth and young adult outreach at St. John XXIII, said the idea of the retreat came out of regular monthly meetings when the leaders from different Parishes gather to share what is happening with their groups. The timing of the retreat at Bishop Verot coincided with the conclusion of Catholic Schools Week (Jan. 29-Feb. 4).

Evers said there will be more joint events for the youth in Lee County. Next up will be their participation in the Diocese of Venice Eucharistic Congress Youth Rally which is taking place in Fort Myers on March 24. Registration for the Youth Rally is through the Parish, but to learn more information please visit

News Briefs for the Week of Feb. 10, 2023


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

Father John Nghia Hoang, as Pastor of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish, Sarasota, effective Feb. 6, 2023, and thus, is relieved of his duties as Administrator of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish, Sarasota.

Father Robert M. Murphy, as Pastor of St. Raphael Parish, Englewood, effective Feb. 6, 2023, and thus, is relieved of his duties as Administrator of St. Raphael Parish, Englewood.

Father Paul Nguyen, as Pastor of Church of St. Patrick Parish, Sarasota, effective Feb. 6, 2023, and thus, is relieved of his duties as Administrator of Church of St. Patrick Parish, Sarasota.

Father Sebastian Szczawinski, as Pastor of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Lakewood Ranch, effective Feb. 6, 2023, and thus, is relieved of his duties as Administrator of Church of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Lakewood Ranch.

Father Michal Szyszka, as Pastor of St. Raphael Parish, Lehigh Acres, effective Feb. 6, 2023, and thus, is relieved of his duties as Administrator of St. Raphael Parish, Lehigh Acres.

Father Luis Albarracin, retired as Parochial Vicar of St. Leo the Great, Bonita Springs, effective Jan. 1, 2023, and thus, is relieved of his duties as Parochial Vicar of St. Leo the Great Parish.

Retired Sarasota priest dies

Father R. Patrick Wilson, Society of Catholic Apostolate (Pallottines), who served in the Diocese of Venice for 17 years, passed away Feb. 2, 2023, in Sarasota at the age of 76. Father Wilson was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and graduated from Pittsburg State University in Kansas and upon graduation in 1973 he joined the Brothers of Christian Service. As a religious brother, Father Wilson served adult men with special needs in Ohio. He earned advanced degrees from the University of Cincinnati before he was relocated to Sarasota in 1992. In Sarasota, he served as Director of Religious Education at St. Martha Parish and later sought to join the Pallottine religious order. He was ordained to the priesthood on Nov. 27, 2005, into the Society of the Catholic Apostolate in Rome. From that point, Father Wilson served as a Parochial Vicar until his retirement on July 1, 2022. Father Wilson continued to assist at St. Martha Parish after his retirement. Father Wilson was active in his support of the youth outreach, going to several World Youth Days and National Marches for Life, and was active in prison outreach as well. He loved traveling, tap dancing and musical theater and was a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. A Mass of Christian Burial is 10 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 9, at St. Martha Church, 200 N. Orange St., Sarasota. Please pray for the family of Father Wilson and the repose of his soul.

Seminarian instituted as Lector

William Patrick Long, a Diocese of Venice Seminarian studying at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary, Weston, Massachusetts, was among 11 men who were instituted to the Ministry of Lector on Feb. 1, 2023. Bishop William D. Byrne, Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts, presided over the Mass. Those who are in formation to be ordained as Catholic priests must serve in the Ministry of Lector in order to prepare them for their future role as proclaimers of the Word of God through their work in the community and through the celebration of Mass and other Liturgical Rites. The principal duties of the lector at a Sunday Mass are to proclaim the first and/or second readings. In the absence of a deacon, the lector may carry the Gospel Book to the altar in the entrance procession and proclaim the petitions for the Universal Prayer. The lector may also lead the responsorial psalm in the absence of a cantor. Please pray for Seminarian Long as well as for all seminarians as they further prepare to become priests and serve the faithful.

2022 Sarasota Charity Ball

The Catholic Charities Ball “Creating Hope” took place Feb. 4, 2023, at the Ritz Carlton Sarasota. The event benefitted the programs of Catholic Charities in Sarasota and Manatee Counties including the continuing recovery from Hurricane Ian, as well as support for Our Mother’s House, Bethesda House, and the St. Martha Early Learning Center. The Ball Chairperson was Bridget Spiess, and Bishop Frank J. Dewane was the guest of honor. A success story was shared about a family that overcame many heartbreaks and setbacks only to be aided by the staff and volunteers of Catholic Charities in finding housing that provided a room for each of their children. The elegant evening included a wine pull, silent auction, live auction, and live music. If you would like to support the programs of Catholic Charities, please visit

Annual Mass held for circus and traveling show workers

Each year the circus and travelling show workers of the United States gather for three days to thank God for their continued blessings. This retreat was Feb. 3 to 5, 2023, at St. Martha Parish in downtown Sarasota, which is designated the “National Circus Parish.” The pastoral workers, who ensure that the Sacraments are available and maintained for travelling show people, function under the direction of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat of Cultural Diversity’s Subcommittee on the Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers (PCMRT). Bishop Frank J. Dewane is the Episcopal Liaison of the PCMRT. Bishop Dewane celebrated the closing Mass on Feb. 5, and he was assisted by several of the priests who serve the circus and traveling show workers.

Regional Order of Malta retreat held in Naples

Regional members of the Knights and Dames of the Order of Malta took part in a retreat which began with Mass celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on Feb. 3, 2023, at St. William Parish in Naples. Also known as the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, the Order is a lay religious order of the Roman Catholic Church that seeks to glorify God by promoting the sanctification of each member through witness to the Catholic Faith and service to the sick and the poor. Bishop Dewane lauded the Knights and Dames for their continued charity and service to the Universal Church.

Eucharist Conference held at Ave Maria University

The Aquinas Center and the St. Paul Center hosted “The Holiness of God and the Mystery of the Eucharist” Conference from Feb. 2 to Feb. 4, 2023, at Ave Maria University. Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated Mass for the Conference on Feb. 3, in the Ave Maria Parish Church. Bishop Dewane praised the Conference organizers and the attendees for taking time to focus on the Holy Eucharist during the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year revival of devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. As part of the effort, the Diocese of Venice is hosting a Eucharistic Congress on March 25, 2023, in Fort Myers. This daylong event will include nationally renowned speakers, breakouts for men and women, sessions in English and Spanish. There will be a Eucharistic Procession and the day will conclude with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Registration is requested at

Blessing of the throats

On the Memorial of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr, Feb. 3, 2023, the Blessing the Throats is common. This is done by a Bishop or Priest who holds a pair of crossed candles held by a red ribbon (representing the blood of martyrs), which are placed at the throat and a prayer of healing is recited. Bishop Frank J. Dewane joined other priests in offering this prayer following a Mass at Ave Maria Parish in Ave Maria and then later at St. William Parish in Naples. St. Blaise, who was martyred in 316, saved the life of a boy who had a fishbone stuck in his throat by ordering the child to cough it up.

Parish hosts international food festival

To celebrate the varied backgrounds of the faithful at St. Agnes Parish in Naples, the 11th Annual International Festival made a tasty return on Feb. 5, 2023, after a hiatus of several years. Unique cuisine of more than 20 countries was represented. In addition to the food and drink, there was entertainment that included music and dance from a number of countries.

Migrant Care Grants application period open

Grant requests for funding of projects in 2023 are available from the Foundation for the Care of the Migrant Poor and need to be submitted no later than Friday, March 31, 2023. To be considered by the Board of Directors for a Grant, the project must clearly be seen as a service to the migrant poor or new immigrants. Preference will be given to those projects under Catholic auspices. Applications can be submitted by visiting

Blue Mass honors sacrifice of First Responders

St. Agnes Parish in Naples hosted an annual Blue Mass on Jan. 28, 2023, to honor and remember the service of active, retired and fallen law enforcement officers, firefighters and first responders who offer their lives in service to the community to keep us all safe and well. A crowd of more than 800 were present.

The opening procession was led by a bagpiper, the Knights of Columbus Color Corps, Columbiettes, Knights on Bikes (but not on their bikes) and Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Club, followed by the concelebrating priests.

Father Bob Kantor, Dean of the Southern Deanery, State Chaplain for the Knights of Columbus, welcomed everyone to the Parish. Father Kantor said the Mass serves to honor law enforcement, firefighters and all first responders, both active, retired and in remembrance of the deceased, particularly those who lost their lives in the line of duty.

In addition to many retired first responders from across the country, present at the Mass in and out of uniform were members of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, Collier County Fire Department, Naples Fire Department, Naples Police Department, Florida Highway Patrol, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, and Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“We are here to recognize and pray for those of you here who have sacrificed so much in your challenging professions,” Father Kantor added. “Your calling is not an easy one, but it is so vitally important in our society today and we deeply appreciate you and we wish to honor you for your selfless service. Our prayer today is that you be safeguarded from all harm and that God will lovingly bless you and your family who share in the sacrifices that you make to keep our community safe and well. May our prayers today give you comfort and strength.”

In attendance for the Mass were Governor Ron DeSantis and his family, U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds (District 19), Kathleen Passidomo, President of the Florida Senate, as well as Collier County Commissioners, Naples City Council Members and more.

The guest homilist, Father Kevin G. Donovan, a priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford, who has been a Chaplain at multiple public safety agencies, including the Connecticut State Police, and is a retired volunteer firefighter for more than 30 years, reflected upon his own experiences as a first responder and Chaplain. He noted, from the telecommunication experts in the 911 dispatch center who takes the 911 call for help, all the way to the last person to leave an emergency scene; they each take a pledge to repeatedly and immediately respond to do what they are trained to do.

“We once again give our oath to the safety, security, and wellbeing of people, to the protection of lives and property of the people of whom we have been called to serve – it doesn’t matter what kind of incident that call may be. It doesn’t matter whether the incident is a nuisance call or a terrible fire, in all of our efforts – when we respond — we recall that pledge that we made on the day we took that oath.”

Father Donovan concluded by calling on all people to reach out to first responders, known or unknown, and thank them and say that they are valued and treasured for choosing their life’s work.

Father Michael Orsi, Parochial Vicar at St. Agnes Parish as well as a police and fire Chaplain in Collier County, helped to spearhead the organization of the annual Blue Mass several years ago into an annual event. Father Orsi said he is always humbled to be in the presence of so many who put their life on the line each day, committed to helping others.

After the Mass, each active and retired first responder present was asked to come forward to receive a token of appreciation. Law enforcement officials received a St. Michael the Archangel Medal, firefighters a St. Florian Medal, and a special medal was also presented for all other first responders.

A barbeque, hosted by the Knights of Columbus, followed in the Parish Hall. It was during the luncheon when Governor DeSantis spoke about how the state supports the role of first responders and what is being done to boost their ranks through a variety of ongoing efforts.

News Briefs for the Week of February 3, 2023

Youth “Rock the Universe”

Youth from the Diocese of Venice took part in the annual “Rock the Universe” at Universal Studios in Orlando on Jan. 28, 2023. “Rock the Universe” is an annual Christian rock festival which has been taking place since 1998. Among the groups present was the youth team from Holy Cross Parish in Palmetto, led by Carmen Martinez.  Joining this team was Marthamaria Morales, Diocesan Youth and Young Adult Outreach Director.

Ball supports education

The gymnasium of St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples had an extreme makeover and served as the site of the annual Celtic Ball benefitting the school. The Ball, with a theme of “Palm Beach Chic Celebration,” took place Jan. 29, 2023, with Bishop Frank J. Dewane serving as the guest of honor. The purpose of the Ball was also to celebrate the next generation of Catholic leaders who are the beneficiaries of the faith-based education at St. John Neumann Catholic High School.

Youth wash cars in Fort Myers

Throughout the year, the youth at St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers host a series of fun events to raise money so they can participate in a variety of activities throughout the year. On Jan. 29, 2023, the teens hosted a car wash, washing cars while parishioners were either at Mass, or getting donuts and coffee in the Parish Hall after Mass. The money raised will allow the teens the ability to participate in the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress Youth Rally, as well as a variety of trips, each of which help the youth learn to grow closer to the Lord.

Rummage sale offered wide selection of goods

The Women’s Guild at Our Lady of Grace Parish in Avon Park hosted a Rummage Sale in the Grogan Center on Jan. 27 and Jan. 28, 2023. There were dozens of tables filled with items such as clothing, cookware, artwork and much more. The money raised supports the outreach the Women’s Guild does throughout the year.

Students recognized for artistic talent

St. Martha Catholic School students Caleb Shouse (4th grade), and Hannah Lomangino (3rd grade), had their artwork selected for the 2023 Sarasota County Government NEST (Neighborhood Environmental Stewardship Team) Calendar. Caleb’s artwork is featured on the November page and Hannah’s is on the December Page. They were honored, with the other winners, during an awards ceremony on Jan. 31, 2023, in Sarasota. Their art teacher, Mary Jo Salomone, was also present for the awards presentation.

Fort Myers sports teams ready for Districts

The Bishop Verot Catholic High School boys’ soccer team locked up the No. 1 seed in the 3A District 8 District Tournament for the fourth year in a row. The Verot girls’ basketball team also dominated this season under new head coach, Alissa Schenk, and enter the 3A District 12 District Tournament as the No. 1 seed. Well done Vikings!

Fort Myers rosary garden blessed

The work of young hands and inspiration of an American Heritage Girl helped create a new steppingstone rosary garden at St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers.

This new garden, located on Parish property across the street from the main church building, was blessed and dedicated on Jan. 8, 2023, by Father Paul Dechant, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, Pastor of St. Cecilia.

American Heritage Girl Samantha Mitchell (Troop 1203) proposed creating the garden as a special place to pray the rosary. Once approved by Father Dechant, Samantha, along with fellow American Heritage Girls and friends, installed the steppingstones in the shape of a rosary.

American Heritage Girls is a Christian-based Scouting-like organization which was founded in 1995 and has several troops within the Diocese of Venice.

The garden starts with the base of the cross (20 stones) pointing directly toward the church. Each bead is marked with a stone, with the decades having larger stones and the medal a cluster of four stones. The garden was placed primarily in the shade of pine trees to allow the faithful to enjoy peace and quiet while praying the rosary.

As part of the blessing and dedication of the garden Samantha led the faithful in praying the Joyous Mysteries of the Rosary.

The American Heritage Girl program is dedicated to the mission of building women of integrity through service to God, family, community and country and currently has about 52,000 members.

Girls across the nation and the globe participate in badge programs, service projects, leadership opportunities, and outdoor experiences, all with an emphasis on Christian values and family involvement.

Samantha Mitchell has been with the American Heritage Girls for several years and has earned numerous badges including several earned through the Diocese of Venice Scouting Award program. The rosary garden service project is similar in scope and importance to projects done by Boy Scouts who seek to become Eagle Scouts.