Priest founder of two Parishes and School dies

Msgr. George W. Cummings, the founder of Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School, St. Raphael Parish in Englewood and San Pedro Parish in North Port, as well as longtime Pastor at Epiphany Parish, died Aug. 8, 2020 in Brooksville at the age of 102.

Ordained in Nov. 27, 1943 for the Diocese of St. Augustine, which covered the entire state of Florida at the time, Msgr. Cummings first taught at St. James Cathedral School in Orlando and then helped found Archbishop Curley Catholic High School in Miami. In addition, he founded Our Lady of Good Counsel Camp for youth in Citrus County at which he served as Director for many years.

Within the Diocese of Venice, Msgr. Cummings was the founder of St. Raphael Parish in Englewood (1957), Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice (1959), and San Pedro Parish in North Port (1965), all while serving as the second Pastor of Epiphany Parish (now Cathedral) from 1956-1976. At the request of Archbishop Joseph Hurley, he was given the ecclesiastical honor of Domestic Prelate (now Honorary Prelate) by Pope John XXIII in 1959.

After serving at Epiphany, he was assigned as Pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Citrus Park from 1976 until his retirement in 1991. He also served as Youth Ministry Director for the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

All funeral services will be held at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle, 5815 5th Avenue N., St. Petersburg, and will be as follows:

Visitation: Wednesday, August 12, 2020, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., Evening Prayer will be offered at 7:00 p.m.

Funeral Mass: Thursday, August 13, 2020, 10 a.m., Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch will be the Main Celebrant, with Very Reverend James B. Johnson as Homilist.

For those unable to attend, the Funeral Mass will be livestreamed on the Cathedral website: https://stjudesp.org/ and the Diocese of St. Petersburg’s Facebook page.

Burial will immediately follow at Calvary Catholic Cemetery, 5233 118th Avenue N., Clearwater.

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Msgr. Cummings.

Adoration resumes across Diocese

Bishop Frank J. Dewane has authorized the resumption of Eucharistic Adoration in Parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice while at the same time encouraging other Parishes to offer this as a new opportunity for the faithful to spend to with the Lord.

Bishop Dewane encouraged the expansion and availability of Adoration in an Aug. 5, 2020 letter to the priests of the Diocese. Adoration was necessarily limited upon the reopening of Parishes on May 18, 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic.

“This will be of great help and consolation to the Faithful during these turbulent times, when the People of God long to be close to the Lord,” Bishop Dewane wrote. “By offering Adoration, an opportunity for prayer in the Lord’s presence is provided for those who may have reservations about attending Mass due to the number gathered.”

Bishop Dewane also wrote that it may also be helpful to offer Holy Communion to attendees following the closing Benediction or at the start of Adoration.

“Clearly, I recognize that these are challenging times for us all,” Bishop Dewane added. “While in itself Adoration has great value, it does encourage another population to increase their contact with the Parish.”

While exposition may be held either in the main Parish Church or in a Chapel, the continued following of protocols for social distancing and face coverings is still required. If using a smaller space, it was suggested that Parishes may wish to consider a registration process to limit the numbers present at any one time.

The Bishop also noted in his letter that he highly values and appreciates the efforts of the priests to continue to provide pastoral care during these challenging times.

Permanent Diaconate Ordination Aug. 15

Candidates take Oath and Profession

Seven diaconate candidates took an Oath of Fidelity and gave a Profession of Faith on July 29, 2020, the final hurdle before the group will be ordained as Permanent Deacons on Aug. 15, 2020 at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane presided over Mass and the ceremony at Our Lady of Perpetual Retreat Center in Venice where the men were concluding a 5-day canonical ordination retreat.

Jeffrey Ball of Ave Maria Parish, Ave Maria; Enrique (Rick) Castro of St. Cecilia Parish, Fort Myers; Ramiro Hernandez of St. Michael Parish, Wauchula; Jack W. Milholland Jr. of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Lakewood Ranch; Roberto Pagán of Jesus the Worker Parish, Fort Myers; Vern W. Smith of St. Martha Parish, Sarasota; and Dr. William Soscia of St. Joseph Parish, Bradenton, are each concluding five years of discernment and study leading up to their ordination.

Bishop Dewane thanked Ball, Castro, Hernandez, Milholand, Pagán, Smith and Soscia, for having answered the call of Jesus to live their life in a particular way. “You have been chosen to a specific status which you are committed to. This Oath and Profession are a public expression of a promise to live your Faith in a precise way.”

During the Oath, the diaconate candidates recited the Profession of Faith for all to hear. The candidates then read the “Oath of Fidelity” and promised to “adhere to the teachings, which either the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate when they exercise authentic magisterium.” The ceremony concluded with the signing of documents by the candidates and the Bishop.

The Bishop was joined by Father Fausto Stampiglia, S.A.C., Director of the Diaconate and Pastor of St. Martha Parish in Sarasota; Deacon William Ladroga, Director of Diaconate Formation; and J. Robert Gaitens, Associate Director of Diaconate Formation.

During the process to become a Permanent Deacon, the seven have received training in theology, canon law and pastoral ministry. In 2019, they were admitted as acolytes to assist priests and other Permanent Deacons on the altar during Mass. Prior to that, they were admitted as candidates when they publicly declared their intention of becoming Deacons and the Bishop accepted them. They were also instituted as readers so they could read the Scriptures during Mass.

To a man, they describe their journey toward ordination as both a challenging and life-changing process which started with answering a call from the Lord they heard deep in their heart. Each also credit their wife for supporting and joining them on this journey of enlightenment.

The mission of the Permanent Deacons of the Diocese of Venice is to: serve as ministers of charity, lead in identifying the needs of others and strive to meet those needs; serve as ministers of the Word, when they proclaim the Gospel, preaching and teaching in the name of the Church; serve as ministers of the Sacrament of Baptism; witness marriages; conduct wake and funeral services; and lead the faithful in prayer.

Their ordination ceremony, celebrated by Bishop Dewane, is 11 a.m. Aug. 15, 2020, Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Ave. W., Venice. The Mass, which was postponed from early June due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, will include the wearing of masks and social distancing whenever possible. All are encouraged and welcome to attend. A reception will follow in the Cathedral Parish Hall.

Drive-thru blessing inspires

During a recent downpour, the faithful of St. Michael Parish in Wauchula patiently lined up in their vehicles to be closer to the Lord.

Father Oscar Mendoza, Administrator of St. Michael, led a drive-thru blessing on July 25, 2020, with the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Father Mendoza stood in the rain, with the monstrance safely under an umbrella, and offered a blessing as each vehicle paused.

“At the beginning, the idea of ​​blessing families with the Blessed Sacrament was to replicate what was done a few months ago, visiting house to house and covering as much area as possible,” said Father Mendoza while explaining what actions were taken while the Parish Church was closed due the COVID-19 Pandemic.

While the Church is open for Mass, Father said there are some elderly, sick, or those who were still in fear due to the Pandemic that are staying away from Church.

Understanding the concern, Father Mendoza consulted with Bishop Frank J. Dewane about options for the public to participate in Adoration, but in a new format.

“This time it was more meaningful for families, thanks to the suggestion of the Bishop to be outside the church,” Father Mendoza explained. “In fact, it was a success. Many faithful came to the blessing despite the heavy rain that afternoon, which I called a ‘Rain-down of Blessings.’”

Father began by setting up an appropriate outside altar where he could pray before the Blessed Sacrament. While wearing a mask, Father carried Jesus forward in a monstrance to be closer to the faithful who remained in their vehicles.

“At that moment, and with great emotion, I could perceive that the individuals and families who received the blessing were deeply moved by His presence and continued on their way with great gratitude and joy in their hearts,” Father said. Some people were brought to tears while others sought specific prayers for family members who are struggling because of the Pandemic, whether they are ill, in fear, or out of work.

Father Mendoza said he plans to have another drive-thru blessing. “This act of faith could be promoted, since the faithful are hungry and thirsty for God, especially in this uncertain time when they cannot participate in Mass as before due to the pandemic.”

Communicating with the faithful

Throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic the challenge to stay connected to one’s faith has been hampered by many factors: quarantine, social distancing, isolation, fear as well as access to technology by some to stay informed.

Parishes have used every resource they can to share updates with the faithful, including sending out mailings, letters or bulletins. Those with access to technology can find on websites and social media the Masses streamed live, videos on saints of the day, or reflections on the Scriptures.

More than a dozen priests have committed to weekly talks, providing updates on the Parish, which include measures taken to ensure safety when the faithful return, or updates on the financial needs. Most of these talks include a comforting spiritual element which serves to connect everyone.

Low tech efforts are also being taken, such as mailing and phone calls to the faithful to ensure people that the Catholic Church cares.

St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers took on the task of phoning each of the 3,650 registered families. This herculean effort was distributed among staff (working from home) and focused on learning how people were coping with the pandemic.

The response to the calls has been overwhelmingly positive as those who are isolated appreciated the contact from the outside world, in particular from their Parish.

“It has been an incredible thing,” St. John XXIII Pastor Father Robert Tabbert said. “Everyone has been so appreciative. We are learning things about them, but we are also learning about the issues they have. Calls are also being directed to me and the other priests here if there is a need for spiritual support.”

The calls have helped to provide a level of comfort for people who needed to know that the Parish was still there, Churches are open and when they are ready to return, everything will be okay.

“People just want a listening ear,” Father Tabbert explained. “People respect what we did in closing and in reopening as well as how we are taking every measure to ensure it is safe.”

St. William Parish in Naples is posting a series of items in the weekly bulletin called “Faith During a Pandemic.” This behind-the-scenes look at changes that have taken place in the Church is targeted for those who have not returned or who were curious about the reasons behind certain changes. Images from inside the church show the extensive cleaning taking place between Masses and what might appear different, including an empty brochure rack and prayer candles removed. All this explanation is to lessen the shock and to answer questions many have.

Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers regularly posts images inside its Church during weekend Masses. These show how everyone is social distancing and along with the photo suggestions are made on how to slowly return, such as attending a daily Mass before going to a Sunday Mass.

With the dispensation to attend Sunday Mass extended until Sept. 1, 2020 by Bishop Frank J. Dewane, a number of Parishes have created videos and taken other actions to inform the parishioners on what to expect when people return in greater numbers. All of the actions taken at the Parishes are being done to remove any doubts about returning.

News briefs for week of July 20 2020

Mary statue stolen from Sebring Parish

A statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was stolen from St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Sebring on Monday, July 13, 2020. It is not known why the statue was stolen, but the Church is asking for its return, or information of its whereabouts. The statue, which weighs about 200 pounds and was recently restored with fresh paint, has been located as part of a Memorial Rosary Garden in front of the Church for the past five years. It is valued at approximately $1,000. The theft follows the destruction of a statue of St. Francis of Assisi on the St. Catherine Church property which took place on June 26, 2020. St. Catherine Pastor, Father Jose Gonzalez, said both incidents are deeply disturbing and upsetting for the Faith community. Police reports have been filed in both cases. While it is unknown why the statues were targeted, it cannot be ignored that many such religious symbols have been vandalized or damaged nationwide in response to the recent social unrest. Anyone with information regarding these crimes is asked to contact the Sebring Police Department.

Beautification project transforms Parish

The faithful of St. Michael Parish in Wauchula recently assisted in a Parish beautification project in early July. The Parish Church and other buildings were power-washed and received a fresh coat of paint. Various landscaping work was also completed. The “Let’s Beautify the Parish!” initiative encourage people to share ideas and support the efforts as well as assist in the work.

Ordination to the Permanent Diaconate Aug. 15

Bishop Frank J. Dewane will ordain to the Permanent Diaconate seven men at 11 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020 at Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Ave. W., Venice. The candidates are: Jeffrey Ball of Ave Maria Parish, Ave Maria; Enrique (Rick) Castro of St. Cecilia Parish, Fort Myers; Ramiro Hernandez of St. Michael Parish, Wauchula; Jack W. Milholland Jr. of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Lakewood Ranch; Roberto Pagán of Jesus the Worker Parish, Fort Myers; Vern W. Smith of St. Martha Parish, Sarasota; and Dr. William Soscia of St. Joseph Parish, Bradenton. A reception in the Parish Hall will follow. All are invited and encouraged to attend.

Support After Abortion Virtual Conference

Join the Support After Abortion Healing Network Virtual Conference 2020: Building and Strengthening Abortion Healing Worldwide – Thursday, July 30 to Saturday, August 1.  See and hear online over 40 presenters: clergy, authors, curriculum leaders and those who have been impacted by abortion as they share their wisdom, insights and personal stories. Don’t be surprised that Support After Abortion resides in the Diocese of Venice and some of the presenters live here as well. There is no charge to watch any of the presentations during the three-day virtual conference by visiting www.supportafterabortionvirtualconference.com/home. See the website for a premium upgrade for access to each of the presentations for 90 days. (NOTE: Any priest interested in a free 90-day premium pass – a $49.99 value – can request one by e-mailing Berdeaux@dioceseofvenice.org or calling 941-374-1068.)

First Communion face masks donated by sewing group

The Sewing Group of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples donated 200 white masks for use at Mass by First Communicants and their families on July 11, 2020. The Faith Formation team facilitated the masks for the boys and girls as well as their families. Two Mass were necessary for all of the children as all social distancing rules were also followed.

 

 

 

Parish provides gift cards

St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs recently donated $25 Publix gift cards to families who were using the emergency Catholic Charities Food Pantry. The pantry, which has been in operation in Bonita Springs since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic, is open one day a week and provides emergency food for needy families impacted by the Pandemic. The gift cards were distributed to 200 families to help supplement the food they were receiving and were made possible through the generosity of the parishioners and Father Jarek Sniosek, Pastor of St. Leo.

3D face shield project update

The first phase of a STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts, math) 3D printing project to provide face shields to frontline workers has been a huge success. So far 100 already been delivered for use by Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. staff and volunteers at food pantry distribution sites. The project was the idea of Jennifer Falsetiny, Curriculum Specialist for the Diocese Department of Education. The goal is to turn the Camillus Project into an ongoing club for schools to participate so as to give back to the community while providing solutions to a real-world problem. The plan is to re-launch the program again in the new school year to hopefully get more schools involved in the hands-on STREAM 3D printing service project.

Prayer, formation, fun at summer program

The sounds of a few dozen girls praying together in Church had been missing for the past few months at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula.

The Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara (SSVM), women religious who serve at the Parish, were determined to change that by organizing two religion-based programs for children, one for girls the week of June 29-July 3, 2020, and the boys from July 6-July 10, 2020.

Sister Gema Ruiz, SSVM, said, “We are excited to see our children praying and playing together. These programs allow them to experience a week of joy and friendship in this time of hardship.”

The summer programs were for children from kindergarten through fifth grade and usually has more than 150 children. Therefore, the usual raucous crowds were a bit toned down this year with limits on the number of participants to about 60 each. This did nothing to change the purpose of the summer programs, bringing young boys and girls in a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.

This was accomplished through the daily participation in celebration of the Mass, prayer time, religion and Bible classes, games, arts and crafts with some fun mixed in to help burn off the pent-up energy of the young ones.

Safety protocols were followed by children and volunteers alike. There was lots of hand washing and wearing of masks was required at Mass, or at indoor activities in the Parish Hall or classrooms. Masks were only put to the side while eating or when outdoor games took place to avoid heat-related illnesses.

Assisted by men and women who are discerning life as religious with the order each day began early and lasted through the afternoon. There was even a field trip one morning to the Heartland Event Center.

The programs served the added benefit of bringing something normal back into their lives, being together with friends for a few hours.

When asked how his week had gone, one second grade boy jumped high off the ground stretching out his arms legs and exclaimed, “Great!”

Notes of encouragement sent to nursing home residents

At the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic, and its corresponding isolation of nursing home residents, one woman at Ss. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish in Bradenton knew she had to act.

“We are here on this earth to help each other,” explained Kathe Hughes, who tries to live her life like that each day. Therefore, she started a card/letter writing campaign to residents at five area nursing homes. “They are not able to have visitors and I knew they were so isolated, so I thought this would be a way to reach out.”

Hughes started her effort with notes or cards which were short “uplifting, encouraging and religious, plus a few with jokes.”

The response from the nursing homes was so positive and demand for more became overwhelming for just one person to handle, Hughes explained. She knew she did not want the letter writing to be a one-time effort, so she mentioned her work to staff at the Parish, which created a new Parish program called the Letter Writing Outreach. Now members of the Bible study, the Catholic Women’s Association as well as the prayer shawl group are all actively involved.

Fast-forward to July and amazingly more than 950 cards and notes have been delivered with more coming in each week.

The cards and notes are generic, and people drop their sealed messages off at the Parish offices, where Hughes regularly collects and immediately delivers them. She leaves the bundles outside to ensure they are handled safely by the facility.

Many start their participation by using old greeting cards they don’t use at home before transferring to writing longer notes. Because of privacy laws, the names of the recipients are unknown, but Hughes said that does not matter. “It is the message and support behind the message that matters. We care. They know that.”

Hughes also recently took on the mission to deliver 150 notes of support and encouragement from herself to the Bradenton Police Department, just another example of living her life helping others in ways large and small.

A letter writing effort is something she suggests anyone, or any Parish, can easily accomplish by simply reaching out to area nursing homes and asking if they accept cards and how many residents they have. Meanwhile, Hughes is already planning on expanding her efforts in anticipation of the Christmas holidays.

Naples Parish shows gratitude to Pandemic Heroes

Priests, doctors, nurses, grocery store clerks and so many others have stepped-up to put their own safety on the line during the ongoing response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Many have asked how they can show their gratitude and appreciation for these Pandemic Heroes for their compassion, devotion and service to the community. In response, St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples has partnered with its health and wellness partner, Blue Zones Project of Southwest Florida, to provide just the right type of acknowledgment.

The Parish is asking the Faithful to share the first name and job title of these heroes. It could be a healthcare worker that recently took care of them or someone they love. Or maybe it is the essential worker at a grocery store, restaurant, religious organization, or utility company whose actions have ensured our continued health and livelihood.

In addition to compiling the names and jobs, which will be posted weekly in the bulletin and online, the Parish will sound its bells each day at 2:20 p.m. in their honor. In addition, the names and occupations will also be listed in the Blue Zones Project newsletters.

Parish Business Manager Jean-Paul Boucher said the “Daily Bellagram” is a way to say, “Thank You!” to those courageous individuals who often go unrecognized while unfailingly answering the call to serve the community.

“With every facet of our lives transformed by the COVID-19 Pandemic and the international response required to save lives, Blue Zones Project and St. John wanted to find a way to positively unite our community in North Naples,” Boucher said.

More than two dozen names were posted in the first week or so. Among those being honored are priests, nurses, pulmonary/critical care specialists, pharmacists, physical therapists, grocery store workers and many more.

If you know of someone you would like to honor, please email bellagram@sjecc.com with the first name of the individual, along with their occupation or your reason for the gratitude, and they will be prayed for and thanked on a daily basis by the Parish and the Naples Community.

Drive-by farewell overwhelms retiring priest

After 22 years serving at St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales Father Stanley Dombrowski knew now was the time to retire.

“I had a great run, but it was time,” said Father Dombrowski, who will soon turn 73. He started at St. Cecilia as Parochial Vicar in 1998 before becoming Pastor in 2001 with his retirement effective July 1, 2020.

To mark his retirement, the Parish staff decided to hold a drive-by farewell on July 2, 2020, wherein the parishioners could drive into the parking lot and heap their praises on Father from their vehicles.

The unusual circumstances of the COVID-19 Pandemic forced this unusual, but successful farewell in lieu of a traditional farewell party. Vehicles arrived long before the celebration was to commence, and the line was so long it created a temporary traffic jam on nearby roads.

As much as a party, cake and speeches would have been more traditional, the drive-thru allowed each family to have a few moments to personally thank Father for his service and to pray for a blessed retirement. The impact one priest had upon the faithful at St. Cecilia was evident in the decorated vehicles and words of kindness.

One driver summed it up best for many: “No words can express what you mean to our family. We love you.”

Father Dombrowski wore a funny hat and was all smiles as he greeted every family by name, recognizing grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren who have been part of the Parish for many years. Jokingly, he reminded everyone that although he is retired, he will still help out at St. Cecilia. “I have the 7:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Mass this Sunday.”

Afterwards he said he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support. “That was wonderful. It brought back such strong memories.”

Father Dombrowski made his first profession with the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales in 1979 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1983. He first served as a teacher in Wilmington, Delaware, then as campus minister at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in Pennsylvania. He later served as a U.S. Navy Chaplain before arriving at St. Cecilia in Fort Myers.

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