40 Days for Life fall prayer vigil kicks off

The Mercy of God can provide healing for many, and by acting as His messenger, through participation in one of three active 40 Days for Life prayer campaigns within the Diocese of Venice, one can reflect that mercy onto the world.

The 40 Days for Life campaign runs from Sept. 27 to Nov. 5, 2023, and seeks a peaceful end to abortion in the U.S. and around the world through the power of prayer. It is the presence of more than one million prayer warriors in 681 cities worldwide – including Fort Myers, Naples, and Sarasota within the Diocese of Venice – that will make a difference in this important battle to save the unborn.

To help jumpstart the fall campaign in Fort Myers, a traditional opening vigil took place Sept. 26 in front of the Planned Parenthood abortion center at 6418 Commerce Park Drive. Led by coordinators Rick and Paula Hellenbrand of St. Andrew Parish in Cape Coral, the vigil included speakers who covered the whole spectrum of the pro-life movement, including a doctor, a representative of a pregnancy resource center and a mom who once had an abortion.

Dr. James Breen, Member Catholic Medical Association and local general practioner, shared how the medical community has changed it view on pregnancy and abortion during the past few decades. First, medical professionals regarded a pregnant mother and her unborn child as two separate patients, to be cared for and nurtured for the survival of both. Breen explained how that has changed, as now a pregnancy is viewed as one patient focused on the heath of the mother only, thus making the unborn child viewed as easily disposable.

The result has created great conflict within the medical community today, as many Catholic physicians and medical professionals face persecution for not going along with the culture of death. Breen noting that it was therefore fitting that the Fort Myers opening vigil took place on Sept. 26, the Feast Day of Sts. Cosmas and Damian. These 3rd century martyrs were renowned physicians who were tortured and then killed for their devotion, both to the practice of healing but especially for their religious beliefs.

Kathryn Marriott, Outreach Coordinator of Community Pregnancy Clinics Inc., which has offices in Naples, Fort Myers, Sarasota, and Gainesville, shared how the focus of the clinics is directly reaching out to young ladies to make them aware that there are pro-life alternatives when an unexpected pregnancy occurs.  and offering the support they need from the first signs of pregnancy (an ultrasound and medical support) through the first years of the child’s growth (baby supplies and counseling).

Lastly, Christna, a woman who is active in her faith (married for 45 years and with four children), shared how when she first arrived in the U.S. from Chile and got married, she found herself pregnant. The young couple had no money at the time and a doctor’s visit resulted in an abortion that left the young woman distraught and grieving for years.

It was not until many years later that she could share her experience with others before finally confessing to a priest. This is when she found God’s all powerful mercy wash over her as the burden and guilt she had being carrying was wiped away.

“I wish I had had people like you standing outside that doctor’s office praying, then maybe I would have not had that guilt for so many years,” she said. “We are not here to judge young women who have the abortion, because we do not know what they are going through, we are here to be God’s witness of mercy, showing that there is a different path for them and their unborn child.”

All are encouraged to participate in the 40 Days for Life pray vigil. Many area Parishes have signed up for specific day and hours, but all are free to join at any time. The peaceful vigil takes place in the public right of way and appropriate signs are provided.

The prayer vigil in Fort Myers is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Mon. – Sat.), at 6418 Commerce Park Drive. In Sarasota, the vigil is daily, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., 736 Central Ave. The Naples prayer vigil is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (Mon. – Sat.), at 1425 Creech Road.

For more information, please visit https://www.40daysforlife.com/en/.


Lastly, anyone who has prayed outside an abortion center or just has a heart to help women and babies is encouraged to attend a special training program from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Oct. 28, at St. John XXIII Parish Center, 13060 Palomino Lane, Fort Myers.


During this program, Lauren Muzyka, Founder, President and CEO of the national organization, Sidewalk Advocates for Life, will train individuals interested in helping women choose life for their preborn babies. The peaceful, prayerful, law-abiding method of compassionate outreach has already saved more than 20,000 babies from abortion. Training material and lunch will be provided.


For details and to reserve your spot, contact Cyrille at 917-991-6147, cyrillevelasco@gmail.com or Jeanne Berdeaux, Berdeaux@dioceseofvenice.org or 941-374-1068.

Diocesan Rosary Congress Oct. 6 to 14

30 Parishes hosting opportunity to pray as a community

The month of October each year is dedicated to the Most Holy Rosary. Yearly, on Oct. 7, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in honor of the Blessed Mother. October was also the month in which Mary appeared for the last time to shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal, urging them to “say the rosary every day to obtain peace for the world.”

In celebration of the Blessed Virgin, 30 Parishes in the Diocese of Venice will be participating in a Rosary Congress from Oct. 6, to Oct. 14, 2023. During the Rosary Congress, the host Parishes will provide the hourly praying of the Holy Rosary as well as Eucharistic Adoration. Many of the Parishes taking part will also have the celebration of the Mass at the opening and closing of a 24-hour period of Adoration, while others will have at least a large period of time dedicated to the praying the rosary and adoration. In addition, several Parishes will make the Sacrament of Reconciliation available during specific times of the Rosary Congress. (See Box Below)

Initiated in 2021, the Rosary Congress is encouraged by the Diocesan Office of Evangelization as a way to present a unique opportunity to place all prayer intentions and the needs of all the faithful into the loving arms of the Mother of God.

“The Rosary Congress offers a great means of grace, combining many aspects of our Faith, and this year the Diocese is blessed that the Congress has expanded to 30 Parishes,” explained Jim Gontis, Diocesan Director of Evangelization. “Each Parish session will include Eucharistic Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the hourly praying the Our Lady’s Rosary, and most importantly, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This is an opportunity to experience a river of grace coming from the infinite ocean of God’s Mercy.”

Each hour the Rosary will be said for intentions such as the Church, the faithful of the Diocese of Venice, our country, and difficulties throughout the world. The faithful are encouraged to renew themselves to the Blessed Mother and for a ever greater love for Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist.

The Diocese has included the Rosary Congress as a key component of the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival which is in its Parish Year phase and concludes with a national pilgrimage to Indianapolis in July 2024. The Revival is an initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to reaffirm a devotion to, and belief in, the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

“What better way to do this than through praying to Mary, Mother of God, in the way She taught us, through the Holy Rosary,” Gontis said.

The Diocese of Venice has continually fostered its devotion to the Blessed Mother. Our Lady of Mercy is the Patroness of the Diocese. Under this patronage, the Diocese was formally consecrated to Our Lady during Advent of 2017.

Pope Francis frequently describes praying the rosary as armor to be used in the spiritual battle we all face each day.

“The recitation of the rosary is the most beautiful prayer we can offer to the Virgin Mary; it is a contemplation on the stages of the life of Jesus the Savior with his Mother Mary and is a weapon that protects us from evils and temptations,” the Holy Father said in 2021.

Pope Francis said that the Blessed Virgin Mary has urged the recitation of the Holy Rosary in her apparitions, “especially in the face of the threats looming over the world.”

More information regarding the Diocesan Rosary Congress may be found at www.dioceseofvenice.org or by contacting Jim Gontis at 941-484-9543 or gontis@dioceseofvenice.org.


Rosary Congress listings, including Parish name, address, phone, as well as any relevant details:

Friday, Oct. 6 – Saturday, Oct. 7

  • Resurrection of Our Lord, 8121 Cypress Lake Drive, Fort Myers, 239-481-7172 – from 8 a.m. Mass through 7 p.m. on Oct. 6;
  • St. Joseph, 3100 26th St. W., Bradenton, 941-756-3732 – from 8:30 a.m. Mass on Oct. 6 through 8:30 a.m. Mass on Oct. 7;
  • St. John the Evangelist, 625 111th Ave. N., Naples, 239-566-8740 – from 6 p.m. Oct. 6 through 6 p.m. Oct. 7;

Saturday, Oct. 7 – Sunday, Oct. 8

  • Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Ave. W., Venice, 941-484-3505 – from 8 a.m. Mass on Oct. 7 through 7:30 a.m. Mass on Oct. 8
  • St. Katharine Drexel, 1922 S.W. 20th Ave., Cape Coral, 239-283-9501 – from 4 p.m. Vigil Mass on Oct. 7 through 12:30 p.m. Mass on Oct. 8 (At 3 p.m. on Oct. 8 will be Divine Mercy Chaplet, Rosary, and Confession);
  • St. Michael, 408 Heard Bridge Road, Wauchula, 863-773-4089 – from 5 p.m. Mass on Oct, 7 through the 7 p.m. Mass on Oct, 8 at Holy Child Mission, Wauchula.  (Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament with the Rosary being prayed each hour is at the St. Michael’s Chapel the entire time between the two Masses on Oct. 7 – 8);

Sunday, Oct. 8 – Monday, Oct. 9

  • Sacred Heart, 1220 15th St. W., Bradenton, 941-748-2221 – 4 p.m. Mass on Oct. 8 in Creole through 7:30 a.m. Mass in English. Rosary will be prayed at various times in English, Spanish, and Creole;
  • St. Martha, 200 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota, 941-366-4210 – 5:30 p.m. Mass on Oct. 8 through 5:30 p.m. Mass on Oct. 9; Monday;

Monday, Oct. 9 – Tuesday, Oct. 10

  • Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, 6600 Pennsylvania Ave., Sarasota, 941-755-1826 –8 a.m. Mass on Oct. 9 through 8 a.m. Mass on Oct. 10;
  • St. Peter and Paul, 2850 75th St. W., Bradenton, 941-795-1228 – 11 a.m. Mass on Oct. 9 through 8 a.m. Mass on Oct. 10;
  • St. Elizabeth Seton, 5225 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples, 239-455-3900 –7 p.m. on Oct. 9 through 7 p.m. Adoration with praise and worship on Oct. 10;

Tuesday, Oct. 10 – Wednesday, Oct. 11

  • Our Lady of the Angels, 12905 State Road 70 E., Lakewood Ranch, 941-752-6770 – 8 a.m. Mass on Oct. 10 through 8 a.m. Mass on Oct. 11;
  • St. Francis of Assisi, 5265 Placida Road, Grove City, 941-697-4899 – 8:15 a.m. Mass on Oct. 10 through 8:15 a.m. Mass on Oct. 11;
  • Our Lady of Light, 19680 Cypress View Drive, Fort Myers, 239-267-7088 – 8:30 a.m. Mass on Oct. 10 through 8:30 a.m. Mass on Oct. 11;
  • St. Michael the Archangel, 5394 Midnight Pass Road, Sarasota, 941-349-4174 – 9 a.m. Mass on Oct. 10 through 9 a.m. Mass on Oct. 11;
  • Incarnation, 2901 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota, 941-921-6631 – 11 a.m. Mass on October 10 through 11 a.m. Mass on October 11;

Wednesday, Oct. 11 – Thursday, Oct. 12

  • San Marco, 851 San Marco Road, Marco Island, 239-394-5181 – 8 a.m. Mass on Oct. 11 through 8 a.m. Mass on Oct. 12;
  • St. John XXIII, 13060 Palomino Lane, Fort Myers, 239-561-2245 – 8 a.m. Mass on Oct. 11 with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Rosary until 8 p.m. (After 8 p.m., an open Zoom will focus on a shrine to the Blessed Mother. This will continue until the 8 a.m. Mass on Oct. 12);
  • St. Agnes, 7775 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples, 239-592-1949 – 8:30 a.m. Mass on Oct. 11 through 8:30 a.m. Mass on Oct. 12;
  • St. James, 3380 Placid View Drive, Lake Placid, 863-465-3215 – 9 a.m. Mass on Oct. 11 through 9 a.m. Mass on Oct 12;
  • St. Peter the Apostle, 5130 Rattlesnake Hammock Road, Naples, 239-774-3337 – 7 p.m., Oct. 11 through 7 p.m., Oct. 12. (Rosary in English, Spanish, Creole at various times);

Thursday, Oct. 12 – Friday, Oct. 13

  • Our Lady Queen of Heaven, 355 S. Bridge St., LaBelle, 863-675-0030 – 8 a.m. Mass on Oct. 12 through 6 p.m. Rosary on Oct. 13;
  • St. Charles Borromeo, 2500 Easy St., Port Charlotte, 941-625-4754 – 8:30 a.m. Mass on Oct. 12 through 8:30 a.m. Mass on Oct. 13;
  • St. Andrew, 2628 Del Prado Blvd. S., Cape Coral, 239-574-4545 – 9 a.m. Mass on Oct. 12 through 9 a.m. Mass on Oct. 13;
  • Ave Maria, 5078 Pope John Paul II Blvd., Ave Maria, 239-261-5555 – 9 p.m. on Oct. 12 through 9 p.m. on Oct. 13;

Friday, Oct. 13 – Saturday, Oct. 14

  • Our Lady of Lourdes, 1301 Center Road, Venice, 941-497-2931 – 8 a.m. through 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 13;
  • St. Patrick, 7900 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota, 941-378-1703 – 8 a.m. Mass on Oct. 13 through 8 a.m. Mass on Oct. 14;
  • St. Catherine, 820 Hickory St., Sebring, 863-385-0049 – 8 a.m. Mass on Oct. 13 through 9 a.m. Mass on Oct. 14;
  • St. Sacred Heart, 211 W. Charlotte Ave., Punta Gorda, 941-639-3957 – 8 a.m. Mass on Oct. 13 through 9:30 a.m. Mass on Oct. 14;
  • St. Vincent de Paul, 13031 Palm Beach Blvd., Fort Myers, 239-693-0818 – 9 a.m. Mass on Oct. 13 through 9 a.m. Mass on Oct. 14.

Pastor installed in Palmetto Parish

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

Bishop Frank J. Dewane installed Father Teofilo Useche as Pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Palmetto, on Sept. 17, 2023, in the context of the Mass.

“You knew him as your Pastor in the past, and he has returned,” Bishop Dewane said. “This Parish is of two cultures, two languages (English and Spanish), two gifts that come together, respectfully, one for the other. It is a beautiful sight to see.”

Bishop Dewane told the faithful how important a Pastor is to the spiritual development of the Parish, particularly one that is as culturally rich as Holy Cross.

“Father is here to help you grow into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ,” Bishop continued. “It is my prayer that you continue your support of Father well into the future as your Parish continues to thrive.”

Father originally served at Holy Cross from 2003 to 2011, appointed first as Administrator, then as Pastor. He was appointed to St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs in 2011 before going on to St. Maximilan Kolbe Parish in Port Charlotte in 2013.

Enhancing the celebration, the installation of Father Useche was just a few days following the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (Sept. 14), the Parish Feast Day.

The history of Holy Cross dates to 1956, when the first Mass was celebrated at the Palmetto Women’s Club. A new church was built on U.S. 41, north of the town and was dedicated in 1958. Due to growth, the Mission was elevated to Paish-status in February 1960. The current church was dedicated in 1989. The Parish has more than 1,000 families and Mass is celebrated in English and Spanish each weekend.

As part of the installation process, the priest first 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.

At the conclusion of Mass, Father Useche thanked the faithful of Holy Cross for being so supportive upon his return and considers them all part of his extended family. Among the well-wishers for the Mass were family and friends, as well as faithful from St. Maximilian Kobe Parish, where he had served as Pastor from 2013 to 2023.

A reception celebration was held in the Parish Hall. In addition, prior to Mass, and after Mass, dancers in traditional garb performed.

World Youth Day pilgrims share experiences

A group of Diocesan World Youth Day 2023 pilgrims from Epiphany Cathedral in Venice shared stories about their epic and faith-filled journey to their supporters during a gathering on Sept. 12, 2023.

Five teens, four priests and two adults, reflected upon their 11-day journey to Portugal, joining Pope Francis and 1.5 million others from around the world for a life-changing experience. They were among 52 pilgrims from the Diocese, including Bishop Frank J. Dewane, who travelled from July 29 to Aug. 8.

The evening was designed as a way for the pilgrims from the Cathedral to express their gratitude to the parishioners whose generosity allowed so many to go to World Youth Day. Stephanie Lovetere, Youth Director at Epiphany, organized the event.

As a slideshow of images and videos rotated on a screen, the pilgrims each reflected on highlights of the journey, including stops at Fatima, the site of a famous Marian apparition, as well as Santarem, the location of one of the earliest recognized Eucharistic Miracles, then in Lisbon for the main World Youth Day activities which included encounters with Pope Francis.

Christian DiGioia, a senior at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, said it was an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to go to World Youth Day.

“It didn’t hit me until we were in Fatima, as everything was happening so fast and we were all tired from flying and taking a bus, and then we were with a large group, praying the rosary, outside of the big Fatima Basilica and Shrine. What a faith-filled and joyful experience,” DiGioia said.

Others shared similar experiences with one teen saying how the frequent encounters with youth from different countries helped to reassure them about their faith, noting how language barriers meant nothing when words such as Jesus and Mary were sung or spoken, and the faith connection was made stronger.

One young man explained that a faith journey for teens today can be very lonely. However, being amongst 1.5 million other youth who are excited about their faith lit something within him – it is a gift he will carry with him for the rest of his life, he said.

The youth also enjoyed seeing Pope Francis, either during an opening ceremony or riding in the Popemobile, and hearing his inspirational words during the closing Mass.

Adult chaperone Krista Lopez, who journeyed to Portugal with her daughter, Tatiana, saw how the young people were “on fire for the Lord. None of them were faking it.”

Tatiana Lopez said the pilgrimage was “outstanding” and described how she and other Diocesan pilgrims had youth from around the world sign a Portuguese flag, with many adding inspirational messages.

“I also made a pledge to myself to pray for the supporters back here at Epiphany Cathedral who made this experience possible,” Tatiana said. “I am so blessed, as this is the closest time to my faith I have ever had, and it remains strong within me.”

Also sharing their experiences were Cathedral Parochial Vicars Fathers Alex Pince and Kris Piotrowski, as well as retired twins Fathers Richard and Robert Beligotti. The twin priests offered the closing praying for the gathering.

Several supporters told the pilgrims how impressed they were to hear about their experiences, and were enthralled how the young people conveyed not just the stories but the true emotional impact of the journey to Portugal.

Msgr. Patrick Dubois, Cathedral Rector, concluded the presentation by thanking the supporters for their willingness to understand the benefit of sending so many to World Youth Day from the Cathedral as possible.

To the pilgrims, he said, “Treasure your experience and share this with your friends. And take what you gained and continue growing in your faith.”

Vocational Retreat draws dozens of men and women

Priesthood, religious life, sacramental marriage, and consecrated single life are the four vocational options for young people today. This was the core message of a one-day Vocational Retreat “Encounter with Christ” on Aug. 26, 2023, at St. Paul Parish in Arcadia.

Father Luis Pacheco, Administrator of St. Paul, organized the retreat as a way to encourage the youth to start thinking about a vocation, regardless of which one, but in all cases, in service to the Lord.

The response was overwhelmingly positive as 52 young men and women attended the retreat representing four different regional Parishes. During the day, the youth heard from Bishop Frank J. Dewane, priests, religious women, a married couple and a single woman; all shared how they are living their response to the call of the Lord in their lives.

Bishop Dewane, who spoke to the group and celebrated Mass at the close of the retreat, said “We are each called to open our hearts and our ears to hear the call of the Lord in our own life. That call will be different for each one of you. It is how you respond to that call, by the life you live, where you will find the joy that happens as you give yourself to the Lord.”

Sharing his own vocation story, Bishop Dewane explained how he first thought about the priesthood in his early teens, but kept putting it off to do other things, before finally realizing it was time.

“There was angst over the decision, but once I decided to go for it, I never looked back. I even reflect that I should have done this (discerned the priesthood) years earlier. The Lord has been good to me. You are called to do what the Lord asks,” the Bishop said.

Answering a call to a vocation is not about what anyone wants, it is about surrendering yourself to the Lord because He knows what you need, Bishop Dewane continued.

“Society tells you that you have to decide. Don’t let anybody tell you what to do and the Lord gets lumped into that. Don’t let that happen. When you leave this retreat, it’s my prayer that you will pray about what you are going to do, and about what you learned today. Know that you will forever be in my prayers,” the Bishop concluded.

The retreat began with an opening prayer and then a presentation by Father Pacheco themed “Jesus the Great Doctor.” There were then group discussions followed by a short vocational video. The second talk was by Father Nathan Marzonie, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, and Parochial Vicar at San Pedro Parish in North Port, on discernment and his journey to becoming a priest with a religious order.

Following lunch, there were games and songs before a vocational film and time for personal reflection on the following questions: What vocation do you think God could be calling you to? What questions should I ask myself to find out what vocation I am being called to? What is the difference between a vocation and a profession? Prior to Mass, the youth had the opportunity to go to confession while the group took part in a Holy Hour with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

A key moment of the day was when the youth heard from a panel of presenters, with representatives of each vocation. On the panel were Father Alex Pince, Parochial Vicar at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, Sister Martha Flores, Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Light (MHML), Director of Religious Education at St. Paul, Mr. and Mrs. Dixon, and Lupita Galaviz.

The Dixon’s shared how they entered their marriage as the pure sacrament it is meant to be, keeping God first in everything they do. The couple has been blessed with 12 children and one on the way. “We have been blessed in so many ways. Sacramental marriage is a beautiful vocation when you live it with the support of God to help you through any challenges,” Mrs. Dixon said.

Galaviz, 23, explained how she chose to remain single for now because it is how the Lord has guided her through her life. While she does have a boyfriend, the two live a pure life; she is taking the time to grow deeper in her relationship with the Lord, through prayer and by living her life as an example for others to follow. This has allowed her to mentor and support others while sharing what she has learned from the Lord.

Father Pince spoke about how he also delayed his vocation to the priesthood for several years until he finally heard the call of the Lord clearly while on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. “I was overpowered with God’s incredible love. I had a sense God would never abandon me if I said ‘Yes!’ I knew I wouldn’t be afraid in my life because He would be with me every day.”

By saying “Yes!” Father Pince said he finds great joy in the priesthood each day. “It is not like my life is over. God has surpassed any expectations because God had a plan for me from the beginning.”

Offering advice to the youth, Father Pince said they need to attend Mass regularly and to receive the Blessed Sacrament at Communion, using this time to be close to the Lord, in His Church. They must also go to the confessional regularly to receive the Lord’s loving mercy, and to be in a state of grace, the vessel that can clearly hear the Lord’s voice. Finally, the youth must trust God — this comes from His unwavering love, which, when accepted, will lead them to ultimate happiness.

Sister Martha took a different approach to her talk to the youth as many in the group have known her for many years.

“It’s exciting to be a religious,” she said. “It is not a boring life; it is an extreme life. It is fun, always fun. I entered the convent at 18 so I could go out and share the Love of God with others, announcing Him and to be passionate for His Kingdom, all to make sure everyone can hear the Good News of the Lord.”

A religious for 40 years, Sister Martha said it seems like she entered the convent and made her vows of chastity, poverty and obedience yesterday.

“I have the same love of God, and I am here to share it with all of you. I gave myself freely, and it is the best experience to give all of yourself in what you are doing and thinking and sharing it with so many people. A vocation is a gift from the Lord. You say, ‘Here I am Lord’ and you answer that call every day.”

Sister Martha concluded by adding, “Don’t be afraid. When you answer your vocation, it will be the most joyful and happy life. But you must listen because He is always talking to you, and He wants you to be happy and enjoy life and be able to share His life with others. A vocation is always in motion,” she said with a laugh and big smile.

Each panelist shared what it was like to live their vocation and then responded to anonymous but poignant questions from the retreatants.

If you are interested in a vocation to the priesthood, or religious life (men or women), please contact Father Shawn Roser, Diocesan Director of Vocations, at 941-484-9543 or roser@dioceseofvenice.org, or visit www.venicevocation.org.

Mission celebrates Bishop visit, Feast Day

A joyful celebration of faith and culture took place Aug. 27, 2023, at Santa Rosa de Lima Mission in Montura Ranch Estates, a small farming community in Hendry County, some 15 miles south of Clewiston.

The occasion, the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass by Bishop Frank J. Dewane. Add a Feast Day of Santa Rosa de Lima and nothing could quell the excitement of the small community. The day also included a banquet featuring food from many different cultures.

Bishop Dewane was grateful for the kind welcome and praised the faithful for their strong faith in making Santa Rosa de Lima Mission such a vibrant Catholic community, shown in how they respond to the call of the Lord in their lives.

“Your presence here each Sunday is a testament to that,” Bishop Dewane said. “But it cannot just be on Sundays. You must declare that you are a follower of Jesus Christ. Choose to say who Jesus is in your life, in the way you live each day.”

Following the Mass, Bishop Dewane praised the pastoral work of Father Jean Woady Louis, Administrator of the Mission and St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston, and the two women religious from the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Light (MHML) who serve in numerous roles.

Father Woady, as well as a parishioner representing the community, thanked Bishop Dewane publicly for his support of the people of Santa Rosa de Lima Mission and of Hendry County. They both noted how it was an honor and blessing to have the Bishop celebrate the Mass for the community.

In honor of the Feast Day aspect of the celebration, a temporary shrine of roses with a statue of Santa Rosa de Lima was on display in front of the chapel, which Bishop Dewane incensed during the Mass.

Many in the community sought special blessings from Bishop Dewane following the Mass as he took time to greet as many people as was possible. One woman said she could not remember ever meeting a Bishop in person and was honored Bishop Dewane took the time to speak with her and even bless her mother.

While there was a driving rainstorm after Mass, this did not deter a lavish potluck banquet which took place under tents and other shelter, and included cuisine from Mexico, Peru, Cuba and elsewhere.

Also present for the celebration was concelebrating Father Marcial Garcia, Pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Moore Haven. He previously served the Mission, as did Father Jiobani Batista, Pastor of Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish in LaBelle, who joined the group for the banquet.

Hurricane spares Diocese

The threat of Hurricane Idalia caused some disruptions within the Diocese of Venice, but overall there was little damage as the storm delivered only a glancing blow to the area on Aug. 29 and 30, 2023.

Idalia reached Category 4 status before landfall in the Big Bend area of Florida, just as the catastrophic Hurricanes Ian (2022) and Irma (2017) did. However, this time the Diocese of Venice was blessed as the storm track kept the most extreme parts of the storm – hurricane force winds and severe storm surge – stayed west of the Diocese, sparing the region from the worst of the impacts.

The only reported damage was to a roof at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Port Charlotte, which is currently in the process of being replaced, as well as water seepage from a window into Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School, which is still going through recovery from Hurricane Ian.

As Hurricane Idalia approached, Bishop Frank J. Dewane met with members of the Diocesan Emergency Response Team on Monday, Aug. 28, and then again on Tuesday, Aug. 29. The first of these meetings was to review and then implement existing emergency plans for all Parishes, Schools and other entities within the Diocese.

These emergency plans were established to create policies to ensure an ease of preparation when tropical weather threatens. This includes checklists and basic guidance to ensure that the people and the buildings within the Diocese are secured and rendered as safe as possible before a storm arrives.

As Idalia roared into the Gulf of Mexico, the hurricane caused Parishes to suspend activities, including the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass by the end of the day on Tuesday, Aug. 29, all before the worst of the storm arrived. In addition, all Diocesan Catholic Schools were closed Aug. 29 and 30, and all reopened by Aug. 31.

“Thanks be to God, the Diocese was blessed to be spared the wrath of Hurricane Idalia,” Bishop Dewane said. “We are all too familiar with the catastrophic destruction these storms can cause as many in our own Diocese are still recovering from Hurricane Ian. Please pray for those who are recovering from Idalia and that our Diocese is spared from future storms.”

News Briefs for the Week of September 1, 2023

Students recognized for summer work

Students at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton were recognized for taking part in two summer learning programs during an awards ceremony on Aug. 25, 2023. First was the recognition of students who participated in the IXL Summer Reading Challenge. IXL (from “I excel”) is a math and language arts practice website for K-12 (subscription based). Students in grades one through eight used the IXL online individualized learning program to complete problems in math, language arts, social studies, science, and Spanish. IXL participants completed a total of 182,624 problems. Throughout the summer, the competition was very intense. The over-all top winner was Monica, who completed 16,560 problems, while 58 students were recognized for their participation. In addition, 72 students received recognition for their participation in a summer reading program.

Youth event held in Fort Myers

The St. John XXIII Parish Youth Council hosted a family event Aug. 27, 2023, in Fort Myers. Nearly 200 took part in this event which took place in Marian Hall and included a live performance by The Camp Veritas Band, dynamic speakers, and Adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist.

Students marked for leadership

As is the tradition at St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral, the eighth-grade students are brought forward during a ceremony where they take an oath of leadership. This ceremony took place following Mass on Aug. 24, 2023. Principal David Nelson administered the oath and then presented each student with a pin to mark them as St. Andrew Catholic School Leaders.

Police make fun visit to Naples school

Members of the Naples Police Department stopped by to speak to pre-kindergarten students at St. Ann Catholic School on Aug. 25, 2023. Officers read to the students and answered questions as the students learned about how the police are there to serve the community as everyday heroes.

Students use physics during experiment

A physics class at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers used an experiment that would measure and interpret the forces acting on an object in equilibrium. The experiment: How do rope tensions relate to their weights and the weight of an object, such as scaffolding? The students worked on this exact question on Aug. 24, 2023, and their focus and comprehension were impressive.

Confirmation class begins in Fort Myers

A Sacrament of Confirmation class at Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers began on Aug. 27, 2023. During the opening session, participants took part in an open discussion on key questions of the faith, including: Do you view the Holy Spirit as more of a “who” or a “what”? Does this distinction change how you approach the Holy Spirit? Who or what is the Holy Spirit to you? These questions and more are the focus of the sacramental preparation during the coming months. The goal of the religious education program is to help the faithful grow in their knowledge and understanding of the Catholic faith and their part in the Universal Church.

Parish to host Oktoberfest

San Pedro Parish, 14380 Tamiami Trail, North Port, is hosting an Oktoberfest celebration on Oct. 13 and 14, 2023. On Oct. 13, the evening begins at 5 p.m. and concludes at 11 p.m., and will include an opening ceremony and music by The Boogiemen, and hourly races, as well as a beverage garden, and food favorites such as brats, burgers, hotdogs, perogies, Bavarian and hand-rolled pretzels, ice cream and homemade desserts. On Oct. 14, the doors are open 11 a.m.-11 p.m., and this is a Family Day; the event is free and open to all. Music includes performances by Beth Travers and Trop Rock, Bud Buckley, The Flashbacks, Shari Fink and the Mission Band, as well as an open mic. There will also be a Foam Party with inflatables, balloons, face painting, rock climbing, trivia, dunk tank, raffles, giveaways and more. Proceeds will support the Parish Restoration Fund. Sponsorship and vendor exhibits are available by calling 941-426-2500, or email events@sanpedrorcc.org.

Answering the call of the Lord – Young lady begins postulancy with religious order

When Stephanie Dowell met her first woman religious, she thought it was just another job that someone did, not realizing at the time that it was a whole other way of life.

The first encounter occurred when Dowell was in 5th grade at Incarnation Catholic School. The next encounter took place after eighth grade when she attended a summer Steubenville youth conference in Orlando. There were religious women from many different communities, and Stephanie was able to see them and be surrounded by them during that weekend.

“During the Saturday night Adoration – where they have the monstrance with the Holy Eucharist go around to every person there – it was such a powerful experience for me, and I really felt God talking to me… That this was what He was calling me to do. He wanted to call me deeper into a relationship with Him.”

Once the seed was planted, Dowell began to research various religious communities and went on several retreats, including with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist community in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

It was during those weekends with the Dominican sisters that Dowell realized she had found a home, fully understanding the order’s mission which is to seek to share God’s message of faith and the joy of religious life with the modern world through various outreaches including education, vocations, and culture.

The rest is history, as Dowell, 18, is now becoming a postulant with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist community in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She travelled to Michigan on Aug. 22, 2023, the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, and was welcomed by the order alongside five other young ladies for a pre-postulancy week. The order stated on the occasion: “As we recall our Lady’s ‘fiat’ in response to God’s call to her, we praise God for the ‘yes’ each of these young ladies has given to the Father’s invitation.”

Stephanie’s formal entrance will take place on Aug. 28, with her parents and siblings (an older sister and two younger brothers) present.

Prior to her departure, she spoke during Mass at Incarnation Parish the weekend of Aug. 12-13, sharing her vocation story and thanking the parishioners for their support and prayer through years.

“Everyone was congratulating me and asking for prayers. Everyone was so excited. (A woman answering a call to a religious life) is not something super common anymore and they were glad that it is still alive. I just hope I don’t let them down,” Dowell said. “A lot of people are very happy for me and I feel very blessed.”

Father Eric Scanlan, Incarnation Pastor, expressed his joy about a vocation coming from the Parish, from a graduate of the Catholic school and altar server through the years.

“Every vocation is a gift from God, whether to marriage, religious life, priesthood, or serving the Lord as a single man or woman,” Father Scanlan wrote in a note to the faithful about Dowell’s choice of vocation. “Yet, it is always a special joy to see someone respond to the call to give their life in service to God… We are so very excited and proud to support you with our prayers in the years to come, that God willing, you may complete your time of preparation and formation, and so give your life completely to Him. May God bless you, guide you, and lead you more deeply into greater union with Him.”

Dowell said she first attended Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota for two years before transferring to the State College of Florida Collegiate School in Venice. Due to scheduling, it allowed her more time to work on her prayer life.

When she first told her parents about a possible vocation to a religious life while still in middle school, Dowell said they initially thought she was joking but realized quickly how serious she was. Then, when her parents saw her upon a return from a retreat with the Dominicans in Ann Arbor, “they saw how peaceful and joyful I felt. I think that kind of eased them into thinking ‘This is okay for our daughter to do.’ God bless them, they are very accepting of this.”

Her older sister and two younger brothers are also each accepting, having been very supportive through her discernment process.

The retreats included joining in prayer with the sisters, learning about what community life was like, talks on the charism of the community, studying saints of the community, as well as a visit to the Blessed Solanus Casey Center in Detroit, which served as an added inspiration.

Officially entering as a postulant, Dowell will wear a blue vest and blue skirt with a white button-down shirt for the first year. During this time, the postulant will learn community life, the rules of the community, what’s expected of a sister and begin her formal education. This is followed by two years of novitiate, in which she will wear a habit with a white veil. This two-year period consists of learning more about the community and themselves, as well as what God is calling for them in their vows. Then, she will take first vows and receive a black veil. These first vows are renewed after three years. It is approximately two years later when she would take her final vows. The entire process before final vows takes about eight years.

While a postulant, Dowell’s contact with the outside will be limited as her life will be structured within the framework of the community. For example, she will be able to write letters to her family twice a month, and one letter to two friends once a month. Then she will have four visiting days a year and will be able to come home for a week in the spring.

Fully aware of the commitment, Dowell read some books ahead of her entering religious life, such as about the lives of the saints, specifically on Dominican saints, Church history, and key Church documents. “I am a little nervous, but feel my heart is filled with the love of God.”

When asked about what advice she would give to other young women or men about how to be open to the Lord, she said: “The Lord will come to you, whether you are ready or not. It’s just you have to be willing to listen, even if you are not ready at that time. He’s going to always want the best for you, and what you are called to, what He has planned for you, is what you will have the most joy and peace in.”

Please pray for Stephanie Dowell as she begins her journey with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist community in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Silver Rose completes journey through Diocese

Escorted by a member of the Knights of Columbus Knights on Bikes, a white-gloved man, wearing a biker vest, solemnly lead the opening procession at a prayer service. In his hands was a small object, a silver rose.

When the procession reached the front of the church, the rose was then displayed on a table in front of the altar.

Each year, since 1960, from early March through mid-December, eight Silver Roses are stewarded by Knights of Columbus councils along routes in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Every stop the Silver Rose makes throughout the pilgrimage is a rosary-centered occasion for Knights, parishioners and community members to pray for respect for life, for the spiritual renewal of each nation, and for the advancement of the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The Silver Rose Program demonstrates the unity between Knights of Columbus in Canada, the United States and Mexico, and reaffirms their dedication to the sanctity of human life.

The Silver Rose was transferred from the Diocese of Orlando Aug. 6, 2023, when members of the Knights on Bikes met with their counterparts in Davenport. It was put on public display at six Parishes in the Diocese of Venice. The first stop was Aug. 7, at St. Martha Parish in Sarasota, and was followed by St. Catherine Parish in Sebring on Aug. 8, St. Katharine Drexel Parish and St. Andrew Parish, both in Cape Coral and both on Aug. 9, Ave Maria Parish in Ave Maria on Aug. 10, and St. Ann Parish in Naples on Aug. 11. The Silver Rose was then transferred by members of the Knights on Bikes to their counterparts in the Archdiocese of Miami at exit 50 on Interstate 75, which is the border of Collier and Broward counties and the two Dioceses.

While at Ave Maria, the Silver Rose was on display in the church on a table in front of a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, for 24 hours. During the 24 hours, the rosary was prayed 75 times (3 rosaries per hour), each led by Ave Maria Grand Knight John Lanham, who stayed with the Silver Rose from 8 a.m. Aug. 10, to 6 a.m. Aug. 11.

During each of the prayer services, the faithful joined in praying the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary (the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven, and the Coronation of Mary as Queen), and an Act of Consecration, as well as hearing select readings, including the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary from the Gospel of Luke (1:26-38).

Afterward, many came forward to have a closer look at the Silver Rose, which is only 6-inches tall. Still others remained behind to continue to pray.

Before each prayer service, an escorting Knight shared the history of the Silver Rose, which dates to 1960. It was in Mexico where Columbian Squires, a youth organization of the Knights, wanted to give something back to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas. It was decided that a rose would travel from Knights Council to Knights Council on a path from Canada to the Old Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Monterrey, Mexico.

Our Lady of Guadalupe has a long history in Mexico dating to 1531 when the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Indian peasant, St. Juan Diego, near the present-day Mexico City. To help convince the local Ordinary of the message of Our Lady, St. Juan Diego was able to present his garments which contained live roses in winter and an emblazoned image of Our Lady on the fabric, in what is known as the “Miracle of the Roses.” The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is Dec. 12, the day each of the Silver Roses concludes its nine-month journey.

While six of the eight travelling Silver Roses will arrive at the Old Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the others will conclude their journey at key locations in the U.S. which honor Our Lady. One of these will complete its journey at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., while the other will end at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Friary in Griswold, Connecticut.

The Silver Rose, which visited the Diocese of Venice previously, made stops in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. In Florida since July 23, the tour will continue throughout the state until Sept. 2, before moving on to Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and finally Mexico.

The Knights of Columbus expansive pro-life initiative includes taking part in prayer vigils at abortion facilities, supporting the National March for Life in Washington, D.C., and placing more than 1,000 ultrasounds in pregnancy resource centers throughout the world, including many within the Diocese of Venice.