Faith – Excellence – Service Catholic schools celebrated across Diocese

Mass, proclamations, service, and fun are just a few elements of Catholic Schools Week 2023 across the Diocese of Venice.

The week (Jan. 29 to Feb. 4) kicked off with Catholic school students speaking at weekend Masses. There, they spoke about the benefits of a Catholic education and the continuing need to support Diocesan schools to ensure the Church of tomorrow has leaders who are well formed. Many of the 15 Diocesan Catholic schools held open houses for prospective students and their families on Jan. 29, kicking off the annual enrollment period.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated a Mass for Catholic school students in Collier County at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naples on Jan. 31. The Mass, which included several concelebrating priests from Parishes throughout Collier County, involved the eighth graders from St. Elizabeth Seton and St. Ann Catholic schools in Naples, Donahue Academy of Ave Maria Catholic School in Ave Maria, and affiliated Royal Palm Academy in Naples. In addition, the entire student body of St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples participated, having walked from their nearby campus to the Mass, and afterward escorted the younger students back for a day of food and fun.

The Mass fell on the Memorial of St. John Bosco, priest, founder of a religious order and supporter of youth and Catholic education. The students at St. John Neumann are very familiar with St. John Bosco, as the school is led by religious women who are Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco.

One of the readings was from the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus is asked what is the greatest Commandment? “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Bishop Dewane said the reading was appropriate for Catholic Schools Week as it notes the keys of faith, excellence and service.

“Faith is about knowing who God is,” Bishop Dewane said. “It’s about loving God; obeying the Commandments God has given to us. Loving the neighbor is certainly about loving God and obeying God. From this we are called to serve others as we see the image and likeness of God in all. Each of you (students) are old enough to understand this and take on that responsibility. That begins at home, and the environment in Catholic school helps that idea grow within you. It is by following these two great Commandments that you can achieve excellence in your life by continuing to grow closer in your relationship with the Lord.”

Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice opened Catholic Schools Week with a blessing of new benches for the playground by Father John Belmonte, SJ., Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education, and Msgr. Patrick Dubois. This was followed by the reading of a Proclamation about Catholic Schools Week by Venice Mayor Nick Pachota, an Epiphany graduate.

St. Joseph Catholic School students in Bradenton celebrated their neighbors on Jan. 31, by having second and fifth graders prepare “Thank You” cards, while third graders created special potted plants. The plants and cards were delivered to the 26 homes which border the school as a thank you to show gratitude for being a part of this neighborhood. Many of the neighbors commented that they love living by the school and hearing the sounds of joy each day.

Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers held their annual Quiz Bowl on Jan. 31. Five brave souls from both the student body and faculty, bravely put their trivia knowledge on display for the entire school. While the game went back and forth, the faculty ended up winning – much to the students’ displeasure. A shot of redemption was given, in the form of a 1-on-1 match, which came down to the final question, and faculty trivia extraordinare, English teacher Clayton Atkins, sealed the deal again for the faculty.

St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers started their first day of the week with Mass. The day was also “Twin Day” and included a teacher swap for one class period. Finally, there was a school assembly which included a variety of fun games.

The above is just a small sample of the wide variety of activities the 15 Diocesan Catholic schools took part in throughout Catholic Schools Week.

Sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), the week provides an annual opportunity to share the good news about Catholic Schools. The theme, “Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service.” focuses on the important spiritual, academic, and societal contributions provided by a Catholic education firmly rooted in the Truth of the Gospel.

Diocesan Schools have a unique kindergarten through 12 STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and mathematics) curriculum using robotics as a catalyst for success. This program, an initiative started and supported by Bishop Dewane, prepares students for today and the future, providing a core set of essential skills needed for success and leadership in the challenging world.

The 15 Diocesan Catholic Schools, serving 5,837 students, is an investment in the future and they serve as the heart of the Diocese, building the Catholic leadership of tomorrow. Schools are in Bradenton, Sarasota, Venice, Port Charlotte, Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples, Ave Maria and Sebring.

To learn more about Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools, please visit

Standing for Life – Hundreds participate in local and national walks

Pro-Life prayer warriors, many of them youth, went to St. Augustine, Washington, D.C., and Ave Maria, in mid-January 2023 to be witnesses for life marking the tragic 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision which cleared the way for legalized abortion in the U.S.

The difference in 2023 is that on June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization effectively overturned five decades of unlimited access to abortion.

This allowed the three Marches for Life to be celebratory in nature but tempered with the political reality that now each state has different laws regarding abortion ranging from outright bans to allowing an abortion up until birth. This means the Catholic Church’s fight to protect life from conception until natural death continues.

Several groups from the Diocese participated in the State March for Life in St. Augustine on Jan. 14, 2023, while some 200 from the Diocese were in D.C. for the National March for Life on Jan. 20. The next day, nearly 1,000 took part in the second annual March for Life organized by Ave Maria Parish.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane, who was in DC and Ave Maria, said he was impressed by the signs in DC carried by the young people which proclaimed, “Our Generation Is Pro-Life.”

“There was a determination and excitement – it electrified the whole crowd,” Bishop Dewane said when speaking at the Ave Maria March. “The message I gave those young pilgrims, and for all of us, is to take on in their life the message of Jesus Christ and live it always, that is understanding the absolute value that life must have as we live as men and women of God.”

Living one’s life this way comes with certain challenges, Bishop Dewane admitted.

“Let us be the radical witness that is called for in today’s society,” Bishop continued. “Let us be that voice in the wilderness that cries out repeatedly about the value of life – just like what happened to Christ when he was among his neighbors in Nazareth – and as we heard in today’s Gospel (Mk 3:20-21), you are going to get bullied. Someone is going to yell back and respond. That’s fine. Address them – remember it is personal for you and we must work to change the heart of that person, so they value life, and come to know the truth of Christ.”

Annabella Augustine, a pilgrim to DC from Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, is taking up the call to spread the word of life.

“This is my first time coming to the March for Life and I can say this was such an exhilarating experience that I will never forget. My goal is to be a voice for the younger generations and help them see the truth in a world of chaos.”

Mooney schoolmate James Rowan described the March less as a peaceful protest and more as a “celebration of life and recognition for the families who are going through or have gone through an abortion.”

In the 50 years since the Roe decision more than 63 million unborn children were deprived of their right to life.

The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a Jan. 22 statement, the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children, that the Dobbs decision “is a fruit of prayer, born of a commitment to justice.”

However, subsequent Florida legislation still allows abortion to the first 15 weeks of pregnancy. “Our advocacy for the legal protection of life in the womb must continue to make the most of the opportunities presented by Dobbs. The legislature must enact further limits on abortion,” the Florida Bishops stated.

Sharon Levesque, who is President of the Respect Life Outreach at Ave Maria Parish and helped organize the community march, was pleased with the large turnout, but said it would return in 2024.

There will be a third annual March for Life on Jan. 20, 2024, because “we will continue to march so long as the life of any unborn child is threatened in the world.”

At Ave Maria, the gathering began at the university football field, where various dignitaries, including Bishop Dewane, spoke. Then everyone marched through the Ave Maria University campus more than a mile to the steps of the Parish Church, all while praying the rosary and singing along the way.

Among the larger groups in DC were representatives from Cardinal Mooney, Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers, St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, Ave Maria University and the Ave Maria School of Law. Several smaller groups from a variety of Parishes also took part.

Two Diocesan priests, Father Eric Scanlan, Chaplain at Cardinal Mooney as well Pastor of Incarnation Parish in Sarasota, and Father Mark Yavarone, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, Director of Spirituality at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice, were part of the March.

Participants from the Diocese attended the Vigil Mass on Jan. 20 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, and a Mass on the day of the March for all Florida pilgrims at St. Peter Parish on Capitol Hill where the main celebrant was Bishop Dewane.

Diocesan seminarians from St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach and Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, participated with their respective schools.

Bishop Dewane gave the group in DC and Ave Maria direction to go forward and be agents of change in society.

“We must act because being in a personal relationship with the Lord does not allow us to permit abortion at any time,” Bishop Dewane said. “Let us speak out! Be the strength! Be the message of the Lord that you are called to be! Let us stand up next to Jesus Christ and proudly be Pro-Life!”

If you would like to learn more about the Respect Life issues and how you can be a witness for life, please visit

Bishop Dewane reflects on Pope Benedict XVI

The passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has brought a time of mourning and reflection among the Catholics of the world.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane issued a statement within hours of the passing of Pope Benedict to the faithful of the Diocese of Venice: “The Catholic Church throughout the world mourns the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who died today, December 31, 2022. We are saddened by the loss of such a renowned, humble scholar and Shepherd, who gave his life to the service of the Universal Church. The longest living Pope, he was a giant of faith and reason.”

Bishop Dewane celebrated a Mass for the repose of the soul of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice on January 4, 2023.

The Bishop noted how he was blessed to know then-Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and later Pope Benedict XVI. The two first met when Bishop Dewane was a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. This encounter took place while Cardinal Ratzinger was crossing St. Peter’s Square and paused to speak to a group of four U.S. seminarians, with the future Bishop Dewane among them. Cardinal Ratzinger recognized the group as Americans and took the time to speak with them.

The two also met while then-Msgr. Dewane was working at the Vatican and then during several brief meetings since being ordained as Bishop of the Diocese of Venice in 2006.

“I had the opportunity to speak with him on a number of occasions and was particularly touched by his kindness and humility as well as the warmth and encouragement he imparted to all,” Bishop Dewane said. “Appointed by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI as Bishop of the Diocese of Venice, I have always had a special place for him in prayer and indeed will continue to remember him.”

Bishop Dewane worked at the Vatican starting in 1995 at the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” and was later appointed Under Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, a time when Cardinal Ratzinger was Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and through his election to the Papacy in April 2005, for which then-Msgr. Dewane was present in St. Peter’s Square for the announcement of the new Pope, Benedict XVI.

The pair met for Vatican related matters but were engaged in very different matters and at different levels. “He always recognized me as an American saying, ‘I know you, you work here,’ and we would share comments on that.”

Following his appointment as Co-Adjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Venice in 2006, the meetings became less frequent, but still impactful. Such encounters included Bishop Dewane during his tenure as a member of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” as well as other working visits to the Vatican through the years. Other interactions occurred during the 2008 visit to the U.S. by the Holy Father as well as World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney and World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid.

In what would be their final meeting, Bishop Dewane was part of a group of Bishops from Florida who were at the Vatican in May 2012 as part of their Ad Lumina visit. During that gathering, the Bishops presented their quinquennial reports on the status of their respective Dioceses, which included an audience with the Holy Father.

Bishop Dewane described the encounter at the time: “It is an exciting and moving experience. The Successor of Peter is a profoundly holy man and you see that in him. Each personal audience is a special occasion.”

During the visit, Pope Benedict presented each Bishop with a gift of a pectoral cross, known as a Benedictine cross. The gold-plated cross is a replica of a 14th Century crucifix that hangs in the Benedictine mother-church at St. Anselm in Rome. On the reverse side of the cross is the Papal Coat of Arms. It is a gift Bishop Dewane treasures to this day and wears during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

“It was an unusual gift and something that came from the heart of the Pontiff to the Bishops of the world,” Bishop Dewane said.

In his statement following the death of Benedict XVI, the Bishop concluded: “While we mourn the death of this holy man, we continue to pray: ‘Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.’”

Celebrating independence and fraternity

On the 219th Anniversary of Haiti as the first Independent Republic in the Caribbean, the Diocese of Venice, in conjunction with the Haitian Catholic Community, a Mass was celebrated at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs on Jan. 1, 2023, Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.

The faithful from throughout the Diocese of Venice attended the Mass which was celebrated by Most Rev. Jacques Fabre-Jeune, CS, Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, with Bishop Frank J. Dewane concelebrating. In addition, there were numerous priests from the Diocese who also concelebrated.

Bishop Fabre was appointed to Charleston in May 2022, having been ordained to the priesthood in 1986 as a Missionary of St. Charles, Scalabrinian. The Mass was a homecoming for Bishop Fabre, as his first priestly assignment upon ordination was as Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee from 1986 to 1990. “I remember this area well. It is where I learned to become a priest.”

Bishop Fabre offered a powerful message of community, stressing how each individual is important to the foundation of Holy Mother Church, and should be celebrated each day. During his homily, the Bishop encouraged everyone to greet each other and express this importance to one another.

The Bishop also spoke about the celebration of the independence of Haiti and how it importantly falls upon a major celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the World Day of Peace. He encouraged everyone to remember their roots in Haiti but also accept that they are part of the Universal Church, united in Christ.

Bishop Dewane thanked Bishop Fabre for accepting his invitation to be a guest of the Diocese and for sharing his time, wisdom and faith with the Haitian Catholic Community in their native language. He also said it was an honor and privilege to participate in such an important cultural and religious celebration for the growing Haitian Catholic Community in the Diocese of Venice.

Impressed by Bishop Fabre’s positive message, Bishop Dewane stressed how important the Haitian Catholic Community is to the very fabric of the Diocese of Venice.

“You are important not only because you are here today; but because you come from the Diocese of Venice; you represent the various Parishes; because of the richness you bring from your culture and share with us. We are grateful for that,” Bishop Dewane said. “Our Church here in the Diocese is all the more blessed to have you here as the richness of your Faith is evident to all.”

Crediting the priests who serve the Haitian Catholic Community in the Diocese, many from Haiti, Bishop Dewane thanked them for the dedication to the Church, to the Diocese and to the people of God. “They are a richness for also our larger clergy. Thank you.”

Father Jean-Marie Fritz Ligonde, Diocesan Haitian Ministry Director and Parochial Vicar at St. Columbkille Parish, thanked Bishop Dewane for his unyielding support of the Haitian Catholic Community including for the annual New Year’s Day celebration. At the conclusion of the Mass, and following the lead of Bishop Fabre, Father Ligonde led everyone in singing the Haitian National Anthem.

There are currently Masses celebrated each weekend in Haitian Creole at the following Parishes: St. Charles Borromeo in Port Charlotte; St. Francis Xavier in Fort Myers; St. Michael in Wauchula; Sacred Heart in Bradenton; Our Lady of Guadalupe in Immokalee; and St. Peter the Apostle in Naples. The New Year’s Day celebration is one of the few times the entire community can gather in one place.

For the Haitian community, Jan. 1 is both a spiritual day, and an emotional day commemorating such an important day in their homeland. The Haitians defeated the largest and most powerful army at the time, the army of Napoleon, in Cap-Haitien, and Haiti became the second country in the Americas to declare its Independence on Jan. 1, 1804.

A cultural celebration and dinner took place in the Parish Hall.

News Briefs for the Week of Dec. 23, 2022

Televised Christmas Mass for the Homebound

The televised Christmas Day Mass for the Homebound, with Celebrant Bishop Frank J. Dewane, will air for a full hour on Christmas Day. For viewers in the northern portions of the Diocese (DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Manatee, and Sarasota counties), the Mass will air at 9 a.m. on the CW Network. In the southern portions of the Diocese (Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee counties), the Mass will air at 10 a.m. on WFTX-TV (FOX-4). Please check your cable provider for channel listings. The Mass will also be available at For more information email

Students use food to create stable

Fifth and second grade students at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers collaborated on Dec. 19, 2022, to complete a “Chopped” style challenge. Each team was given a kit with many different types of food and supplies to build a stable and unique 3D Shape. The students had a fun and messy time working together on this STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, art, math) project! The students were lucky enough to have teachers and administrators come around to give feedback on their choices for the most creative.

Science and inventors recognized in Cape Coral

Middle school students at St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral took part in their annual Science and Inventors Fair with judging taking place on Dec. 16, 2022. Projects included answering age-old questions such as “Is organic better than non-organic?” “Can plants grow with other liquids?” “How strong are dogs senses?” “Do horses sense weather changes?” “Are hamster balls humane?” “Which light is better for plant growth?” Or coming up with creations such as “Solar “S’Mores,” “The ultimate mosquito trap,” “The chipgrabber,” “Putting the grip back in grip tape,” “Toddler safety stool,” “Fishing rod holster 2.0,” and much more. This type of science fair helps students learn about the world around them as well as allowing them to perhaps invent something to make the world a better place. That is what a balanced STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, art, math) education is all about.

Former Diocesan Judicial Vicar dies

Father Arthur J. Espelage, OFM, former Judicial Vicar of the Diocese of Venice, died Dec. 9, 2022, in Columbus, Ohio at the age of 78. Born in Cincinnati, Father Espelage attended St. Francis Seminary in Cincinnati before entering the Franciscan novitiate on Aug. 15, 1962, and then entered Duns Scotus College in Southfield, Michigan, where he made his solemn vows on Aug. 16, 1966. He was ordained to the priesthood on June 12, 1971, at St. Leonard College in Centerville. He later earned a JCB, then JCD in canon law from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. As a priest, Father Espelage served in New Mexico, Ohio, and Palm Beach. In 2008, Father Espelage was named Judicial Vicar for the Diocese of Venice, a position he held until 2014. He then served at St. Meinrad School of Theology before taking a position as Adjutant Judicial Vicar for the Diocese of Tucson. A Mass of Christian Burial Friars is at the St. Anthony Friary and Shrine in Cincinnati on 11 a.m., Jan. 16, 2023.

Two Mooney graduates recognized for academic prowess

Two Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School graduates have been recognized for earning perfect scores on their college-level Advanced Placement® Exams in spring 2022, an achievement announced in December. Hallie Monserez and Madalyn Shuck are among an elite group of students, two of the only 306 in the world, to earn every point possible on an AP Research Exam and receive the maximum score on each portion of the exam. AP Exams are scored on a scale of 1 to 5 and they received the top score of 5. Furthermore, both Hallie and Madalyn received their Mooney AP Capstone Diploma, along with six other Mooney seniors, upon graduation in Sarasota in May 2022. AP Capstone is a diploma program from the College Board based on two yearlong AP courses: AP Seminar and AP Research. Both courses prepare students for college and career success through the development of critical thinking, academic research, collaboration, presentation, and time management skills.

Charlotte County Society of St. Vincent de Paul receives special donation

The St. Vincent de Paul Charlotte District Council recently received a donation of $12,000 from Florida State District 75 Rep. Michael Grant, which includes Charlotte County. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul provides services for those who are struggling with poverty, homelessness and hunger, and has been actively involved in the community and has met the increased demands since Hurricane Ian.

“The volunteer work of St. Vincent is critical to the health and welfare of our community,” Rep. Grant said. “I am honored to assist them in their endeavors to help those in need as they deal with the aftermath of Hurricanes Ian and Nicole.”

“Being residents of Charlotte County ourselves, we at SVdP know what it’s like to have your life turned upside down by a disaster,” said Joe-Ann Pierre, Charlotte District Council President. “We are so grateful for this donation to help those affected by these hurricanes.”

To learn about volunteer opportunities or to make a donation, stay up to date with the latest news, see, call 941-575-0767 or follow the organization on Facebook at

Benefactor of Catholic education dies

Rhodora J. Donahue, a strong supporter of Catholic education, died Dec. 12, 2022, in Naples at the age of 97. The matriarch of a large family (13 children, 84 grandchildren and 168 great-grandchildren), was married to the late John F. Donahue. Rhodora lived in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area (Ligonier) for many years before settling in Naples in 1986. In Naples, the couple was a strong supporter of St. Ann Catholic School, St. John Neumann Catholic High School, St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School and later the Royal Palm Academy (a school affiliated with the Diocese in Naples), and finally the Rhodora J. Donahue Academy of Ave Maria Catholic School in Ave Maria was established and named in her honor. A Mass of Christian Burial took place Dec. 21, 2022, at St. Paul Cathedral, Pittsburgh.

Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal continues

The 21st Annual Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal is continuing through January 2023. A donation to the Appeal strengthens Catholic Charities ability to provide much-needed support, for those recovering from Hurricane Ian, or who need any type of assistance in the region. This outreach is accomplished through more than 35 programs in locations throughout the 10-county Diocese. These programs annually support more than 100,000 individuals and families in ways both large and small. To support the Christmas Appeal, please visit or mail a contribution to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285.

St. Ann Catholic School Foundation supporter dies

Mary Alice (Manning) Wasmer, co-founder of the St. Ann School Foundation Fashion Show, died Dec. 12, 2022, in Naples at the age of 98. Born and raised in Ohio, she married John “Jack” C. Wasmer, Jr., and they had seven children. Wasmer was active in the arts in the Cleveland area and transferred that passion to Florida, moving to Naples permanently in 1986. A patron of the arts, a gallery at Florida Gulf Coast University in Estero is dedicated to the family. Mary was dedicated to the support of children and Catholic education, championing events for inner city schools in Cleveland. In Naples, she continued her work with St. Ann Parish and the St. Ann School Foundation for several decades. Wasmer co-founded the Foundation fundraising fashion shows and was an honorary chair of the Foundation galas. A Mass of Christian Burial took place Dec. 17, 2022, at St. Ann Parish.

Welcome Home! Mass returns to Sanibel

The Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday or Joyful Sunday, was an appropriate time for the Catholic Mass to return to St. Isabel Parish on Sanibel, after it was forced to close due to damage from Hurricane Ian

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated the Mass at 10 a.m., Dec. 11, 2022, expressing his prayers that all continue to recover with the grace of the Lord giving them strength. The Bishop added that since the hurricane passed, “Sanibel, and all in Southwest Florida, have been in my prayers. The church is a building, you are the Church, all of you. What is strong is the people who make up the Church.”

The barrier island and the Parish were overwhelmed by storm surge and wind damage from Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28, 2022. During the intervening 74 days it was impossible for the Mass to be celebrated, but due to perseverance as the mitigation and recovery proceeded, the “All Clear” was given to open.

Father Edward Martin, Pastor of St. Isabel, concelebrated and was outside of the church as the faithful arrived, greeting many with a heartfelt, “Welcome Home!”

Bishop Dewane cited the “desert experience” which is a theme of the readings for the day, recounting saints and prophets who lived in parched lands, with everyday things stripped away. This “desert experience” is being lived daily at the Parish and throughout the island as every building has some form of damage and is in different stages of recovery and/or repair while the landscape is only now slowly returning to its glorious splendor. Simple conveniences are sparse with little open and access to the barrier island still restricted.

“This bleak and dry period will end,” Bishop Dewane said. “Though we will all struggle for a time and our energy will be sapped, we have to allow ourselves to know that the Lord will have us bloom once again.  The joy, the energy; all of it will return. It’s an experience that is very Scriptural.”

It is during these difficult times, the Bishop added, that the faithful come to understand and appreciate a radical dependence on God, who gives us the good things in life; the very life we have.

“In that radical dependence, we pay attention, we might get angry, no doubt, but are we grateful for who is still with us and what we still have,” Bishop Dewane said. “Sometimes the healing that takes place following the desert experience takes time. It takes patience to have the desert bloom again around us. It’s only yourselves who can make that happen as instruments of the Lord. It is through the strength I see by your being here this morning as we journey through this desert experience and rely upon the Lord for His goodness and His Grace.”

The smiles on the faces were genuine as many were relieved to have the important faith component as part of the Sanibel recovery.

“It’s so wonderful to be back,” one woman told Father Martin after Mass. “Every part of the world at this latitude is a desert. We are the blooming desert. It was so moving to be here!”

While the parish property is mostly free of debris, evidence of the damage caused by Ian was clear once people entered the church. Mats cover a floor which was stripped bare to the concrete base. The drywall is cut at about the 4-foot level throughout. All the damaged pews were removed, and folding chairs were in their place.

That aesthetic didn’t matter to Phil and Laurie Jansen who were among the several dozen to attend the first Mass.

“We are so pleased to be back,” Laurie Jansen said. “It is a big first step in the recovery for everyone.”

The Jansens, and nearly everyone at the Mass on Dec. 11, had visited the Parish in the intervening weeks, monitoring the progress of the mitigation and cleanup, ever confident the Parish would reopen for Mass in a timely manner. “This is a great day. It means so much,” Laurie Jansen said.

While the number of people present for the first Mass was not large, a large number of islanders lost their homes and are living on the mainland or had not heard of the reopening. Father Martin is confident word will spread quickly and the people will come back.

Weekly updates have been sent to parishioners with photos to show the progress of the mitigation as well as prayers and words of encouragement as each person deals with their own recovery.

“Knowing we all face a long recovery ahead, it is important for our wonderful community to have a place of worship on the island once again,” a Dec. 6 announcement about the reopening stated.

Weekend Masses will continue while work at the Parish moves forward.

News Briefs for the week of Nov. 11, 2022


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

Father Kristian Villafaña is relieved of his duties as Temporary Administrator of Holy Cross Parish, Palmetto, effective October 18, 2022.

Father Nicholas Thompson, as Parochial Vicar at St. John the Evangelist Parish, Naples, effective November 1, 2022.

Father Binu Joseph, as Parochial Vicar at Sacred Heart Parish, Bradenton, effective November 3, 2022.

Catholic Mass to Honor Veterans Moved Due to Weather

The Diocese of Venice in Florida will celebrate its 13th annual Veterans Day Catholic Mass to honor veterans on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022. The Mass, originally scheduled to be held at The Sarasota National Cemetery, has been moved due to weather constraints. The Mass will now be celebrated at the nearby St. Patrick Parish, 7900 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota. The Mass will begin at 3:30 p.m., with opening ceremonies at 3:15 p.m. All are encouraged to arrive early. Bishop Frank J. Dewane will be the principal celebrant of the Mass.

Mooney runner finishes second in States

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School junior Addison Dempsey took the silver medal in the Class 2A girls Florida High School Athletic Association Cross Country State Championship on Nov. 5, 2022, in Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee. Dempsey crossed the 5,000-meter (or 3.1 mile) race in 17:54, just 11 seconds behind the winner. The Mooney girls’ team came in 25th overall, with Kate Ruaona placing 11th. The Sarasota boys finished in 20th, with the top runner, Christian Kline placing 37th. At the same event, the Bishop Verot Catholic High School runners from Fort Myers also participated, with sophomore Mackenzie De Lisle placing fifth. The boy’s team took fifth place overall, with the top runner, Grayson Tubbs, placing 16th. Congratulations everyone!

Students learn to fold American Flag

The Veterans of Foreign War Golden Gate Post 7721 visited St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples on Nov. 4, 2022, to teach the eighth graders how to properly fold the American flag in advance of the school’s Veterans Day Tribute on Nov. 11.

Key Club members help neighboring school

More than 40 St. John Neumann Catholic High School students and Key Club members came together Nov. 7, 2022, to help with a beautification project at St. Elizabeth Seton. Students laid mulch on the playground and painted parking lot curbs and stops. Lots of fun was had amidst the hard work.

Tiger Trot a success

The annual Tiger Trot at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice was a huge success. Held on Nov. 4, 2022, the event raised funds and everyone had a great time. Msgr. Patrick Dubois was in attendance to observe and blessed the Tiger Trot and cheer everyone on.

Thermal energy class was HOT!

Fourth grade science students at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota learned all about Thermal Energy the week of Nov. 1, 2022. The students each constructed their own solar oven and placed the components for s’mores in them before bringing them outside to cook. The result: the ovens worked, and everyone had a delicious snack created in their own oven!

Parish holds food fest

Our Lady of Grace Parish in Avon Park held its annual International Food Festival on Nov. 6, 2022. Delectable cuisine from around the world was up for selection including from countries such as Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Ireland, Mexico, Italy and many more. Parish pastor Father Ronnie Sison, who is originally from the Philippines, took time to visit each table and sampled many selections.

 Fun day in Bradenton

A fun time was had during “Silly String” festivities at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton on Nov. 4, 2022. The fun was a follow-up celebration to the successful annual Eagle Run fundraiser held earlier in the month. The seventh-grade class, which had great success during the Eagle Run, also celebrated with a McDonald’s party.


Small Boca Grande church stands tall

The people of Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island are no stranger to hurricanes, so when Hurricane Ian approached, they prepared and prayed for the best.

Father Jerome Carosella, Pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Boca Grande, stayed at the rectory during Hurricane Charley in 2004 and thought about staying this time until a deputy Sheriff told him to leave. So, Father Carosella put the storm shutters in place and took the Blessed Sacrament, the consecrated Communion hosts, to St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Grove City for safekeeping. Then he went to stay with parishioner-friends in South Gulf Cove.

He returned to Boca Grande on Sept. 30, 2022, two days after the storm struck, having to wait until the waters on the island receded enough to allow passage of trucks.

Unsure what he would find, Father was saddened to see widespread damage on the island but was relieved the church made it through Ian okay.

“Not too bad,” Father Carosella said, recalling that day. “Lots of roof damage and some water, but we were blessed.”

The interior of the small church, built in 1950, is reminiscent of Spanish missions erected in the 17th Century with interior artwork dating to as early as the 15th Century. Nothing inside suffered irreparable damage, even though half of the roof was peeled back. Fortunately, part of the old roof, which was damaged during Hurricane Charley, was left on the building, and provided enough protection to avoid catastrophe. The howling winds of the storm forced water around the old wood doors at the front and rear of the church, but the damage was limited.

The hurricane winds of Ian did shred part of the rectory roof, along with three storm shutters, and water poured into three rooms there. In addition, a section of the roof of the Boca Grande Pre-School, operated by Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., had similar roof and water intrusion, while the newly built Parish Hall had only superficial damage.

Father Carosella said friends and strangers were quick to assist in cleaning up the property, putting temporary tarps on the damaged roofs, mitigating against further damage from the water intrusion.

“It’s hard work, but it has had a good benefit; I’ve lost 7 pounds,” Father Carosella said.

Father has celebrated Mass every day since Sept. 30, and the congregation has slowly increased from two the first day to several dozen by Oct. 16 as access to the barrier island improved and coincided with the restoration of power and water on Oct. 11.

A wedding, scheduled for Oct. 15, was relocated to a “distant second-option,” St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. “She was baptized here 30 years ago, and it would have been beautiful. I guess the back-up had to do in a pinch.”

Carol and Laurence Hall, who have been on Boca Grande for 60 years, had damage to their home, but nothing that cannot be fixed. When the couple returned to the town after evacuating, Carol Hall said Our Lady of Mercy “was one of the first things we checked up on. Not too bad. So blessed that it wasn’t worse, and we were able to be here for Mass this morning.”

Father Carosella knows the Parish was fortunate as no storm surge inundated the island. Others had severe damage with some losing homes. Within a block of Our Lady of Mercy, a cellular tower collapsed and cut a bakery in half, while a Baptist church had its roof, steeple and a wall blown out, and nearly every home in view had tarps or other obvious damage.

Father credits the lack of damage from Ian to the repairs done after Hurricane Charley and pointed out two olive trees which were trimmed way back not long before the storm.

“Who knows where they would have ended up or what damage that huge tree would have done. Unfortunately, we did lose the best mango tree on the island; it and its two companions are no more.”

While sorry to see the damage, Father Carosella pointed out that the leaves on the hibiscus were coming back fast, a sign that eventually, everything will come back, and the island paradise will be restored again.

Ascension Parish and monastery clean-up begins

With Hurricane Ian long gone, the cleanup is only just beginning on Fort Myers Beach at Ascension Parish and the Poor Clare Monastery of San Damiano.

Until Oct. 15, 2022, access to the property was by foot from Estero Boulevard, the main road which passes in front of the property. A parishioner who lives on Fort Myers Beach was able to clear a path onto the property, pushing debris and sand into piles, similar to how plows move snow.

This access will allow Diocesan contractors to come in and clear the larger debris, such as the wrecked contents of the Parish church, Parish Hall, rectory, and sheds, as well as the monastery offices, garages, and Chapel.

The debris removal includes nine homes, and their contents, that ended up on the property due to storm surge. Some of the debris lays scattered next to the church, in the driveway and in front of the monastery, as well as inside the 8-foot walls of the monastery compound.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane remarked on the plight of the priests and nuns on Fort Myers Beach who were stranded for three days before they were rescued.

“The Sisters and Father (William) Adams went through a harrowing time with Hurricane Ian and are now dealing with its aftermath, like so many in Southwest Florida and in the Diocese of Venice,” Bishop Dewane said.  “In the midst of total destruction, the Sisters are already worrying about how to get their next monthly shipment of hosts out! Their faith comes first, and they are thankful to God for their safety.”

Bishop Dewane went on to state that the safety and well-being of all in Southwest Florida is the first concern of the Diocese, and to address this issue Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. has established many Points of Distribution (PODS) throughout the region “to assist with basic human needs like food and water. The Diocese is working to assess the possibilities of repairing and rebuilding churches and schools, and we continue to ask for your prayers for all who have lost so much.”

Father Adams, Pastor of the Ascension Parish, first returned to the property on Oct. 10. Although he had been there for 72 hours following the destruction brought by Ian, the return was heartbreaking. He spoke about the property on Oct. 14.

“Everything is gone,” Father Adams said. “Seeing the destruction in person is nothing like seeing it on TV or in pictures. The Diocese had people out inspecting the damage… and my thought is that if they can get the Parish Hall fixed – that is the original church – we can have Mass for whoever is left on the island. That will be quicker to fix than the church because everything in the church needs to be repaired and replaced. We are starting from scratch.”

Father Adams said the monastery ground floor is gutted, and the Chapel is a mess. “But the building is three stories and sturdy. I know because when the surge breached the walls the building didn’t move and everything above the surge is fine. So as soon as we have power, we will be back.”

Abbess Sister Mary Frances and the three other nuns have also returned to the property several times as well to salvage a few personal items, do some minor cleaning and take inventory of what needs to be replaced.

“Everyone is being so helpful but there is only so much we can do right now,” Sister Mary Frances said on Oct. 15. “We’ll pick up the pieces.”

Ever with a positive outlook, Sister said, the nuns “want to go back. We have to go back and clean it up and go on… We will take it one day at a time. It’ll be okay.”

Members of the Knights of Columbus trekked to the property on Oct. 19 to retrieve missing monastery items from under some of the debris before the heavy equipment arrives. This included a large statue of Mary which stayed in place but was surrounded by several feet of metal, wood, glass, and other items from two homes.

Father Adams is currently staying at his sister’s home in Lee County, while Parochial Vicar Father Grzegorz Klich is staying at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Port Charlotte. The Poor Clare nuns are temporarily staying at a home in Ave Maria and are looking for a place to stay closer to their monastery to save time as they go back each day to clean up a little bit more.

With the prayers of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi, and to the Blessed Virgin Mary and Her Son, Jesus Christ, there is no doubt the Parish and monastery will return to their former glory as a beacon of faith for an island community that is working to rise from the ruins of destruction wrought by Hurricane Ian.

A Go Fund Me page has been set up on behalf of the Poor Clare Nuns on Fort Myers Beach.

To read the previous story about Ascension Parish and the Poor Clare Nuns, please visit

Total devastation – Parish Church and Monastery on Fort Myers Beach a shambles

“We were blessed. God took care of us.”

This is what Sister Mary Frances of Jesus Fortin, Franciscan Poor Clare Abbess of the San Damiano Monastery on Fort Myers Beach said a week after Hurricane Ian left ruin in its wake.

The storm surge toppled the 8-foot monastery walls, blasted through Ascension Parish Church, Parish Hall and rectory, and left those seeking shelter feeling blessed to be alive, in shock at what they witnessed, and saddened by the loss of lives of their neighbors and friends.

The experience of the four Poor Clare nuns and two Parish priests was harrowing, with images that will stay in their minds forever. They are inspiring in their determination as they look forward to rebuilding.

“God is good,” Sister Mary Frances said. This resilience comes from the life the Poor Clares choose to live. They are cloistered, a secluded life to foster intense prayer. The nuns do not minister outside their residence but dedicate their lives to contemplation and prayer for others.

“We will rebuild and be back,” Sister Mary Frances said. “Every day we realize how fortunate we are. We have been on Fort Myers Beach since 1988 and we are anxious to, ideally, stay on the property once power and water are restored and be there during the reconstruction. We will go on.”

That strength in the Holy Spirit is unwavering and amazing considering they watched the angry waters of the Gulf of Mexico come 8-10 feet higher than ever before as their three-story monastery became a lonely island in the middle of a maelstrom.

Father Adams spoke with Bishop Frank J. Dewane shortly after the worst of the storm passed to explain the damage and the plan for everyone to evacuate. Unfortunately, cell service failed and getting off the island became impossible for the group. Therefore, having survived that traumatic experience, it took until Saturday, Oct. 1, 72 hours after the storm, before they were able to get off the now-decimated Fort Myers Beach.

Ian approaches

When Hurricane Ian formed and threatened Fort Myers Beach, there was a call for an evacuation, but as with the big hurricanes in the past, Charley (2004) and Irma (2017), everyone at Ascension huddled on the second floor of the monastery. Present were Ascension Pastor Father William Adams, Parochial Vicar Grzegorz Klich, and the Poor Clares, Abbess Sister Mary Frances, Sister Maria Marra Miltitante Rosales, Sister Maria Ella de Nuestra Senora del Pilar Alindogan, and Sister Maria Imelda de Nuestra Senora de la Esperanza Agrabante.

During the storm, the nuns continually prayed the rosary, and everyone was in high spirits, comforted in the knowledge that knowledge that the wall had never breached, a generator with enough fuel to operate for four weeks, and enough food for everyone to last a long time.

It was about 11 a.m. when the water started flowing into the parking lot and rising quickly. That was normal in comparison to other hurricanes, but what was strange was when debris started flowing through the parking lot. That was new, but they knew they were “safe.”

“You just didn’t believe the water could ever get that high,” Sister Mary Frances said. “During Charley and Irma the water only ever came up to our grass.”

As the wind whipped outside, the normally tranquil Gulf of Mexico churned and boiled murky water, carrying debris of all sorts and leaving behind total devastation hidden by blinding rain and fierce winds, as the storm surge rose.

“We saw everything floating, including this big piece of wood; it went into the garage, and it didn’t ever come out. We then we realized that the garage was gone,” Sister Mary Frances said. “To see what was happening, you just couldn’t comprehend. There was no reference to match what we were seeing.”

Relentlessly, the surge did top, then breach, the 8-foot monastery walls, allowing a torrent of water to enter the ground floor and also knock out the generator.

“That’s when it got scary,” Father Adams explained. “Without the generator and the water continuing to rise, we were stuck. We didn’t want to go to the top floor, just in case the roof blew off. So we went to the concrete stairway, a little sheltered from the wind and rain, and just watched until the water topped out inches from the second floor.”

The water crested and stayed high for what seemed like hours, but it was only about 30 minutes before it began slowly receding starting about 4 p.m., five hours after the first water entered the parking lot. The storm was not over, but the worst had passed and they prayed and thanked God for their safety and prayed for everyone who continued to suffer from Ian’s wrath.

They were safe, but they had been through a traumatizing experience. “It was hard to grasp what we went through,” Sister said.

What the next day brought

When the sun rose on Thursday, Sept. 29, the storm had passed, so the two priests and four nuns ventured out to survey the damage on what was a crystal-clear day. What they found was incomprehensible.

Alligators and snakes were roaming in the water and across the property and in the parking lot outside of the monastery walls were the remains of at least four complete houses piled 15-feet high. The ground floor, which included the garage, offices, apartments for visiting priests, and the Chapel, were all a mess with everything tossed into a jumble and covered in a slimy muck.

In the Chapel, that is a replica of the one built by St. Francis of Assisi in Italy, the surge tossed the organ upside-down and the altar on its side with other contents pushed everywhere. Amazingly, the statue of St. Francis of Assisi floated across the chapel and wedged itself, undamaged, against the gate which separates the sisters from the public. In addition, the credence table was found in its usual spot and all the stained glass, which included etched Stations of the Cross, was unharmed. In front of the monastery the large statue of St. Clare of Assisi, with the inscription above “I Will Always Protect You,” was surrounded by a pile of debris from four houses but was also undamaged.

“Just amazing power,” Sister Mary Frances said. “It was unrecognizable. The vestments in the Parish church were wrapped around the railing and in the trees. Everything in my office was gone. I had to peel a contact list that was plastered to the wall because I needed the phone numbers of people to let them know we were okay.”

One of the ways the Poor Clare nuns earn money is by making communion hosts for Parishes across the state, so Sister Mary Frances was upset because the hosts that were set to be mailed on Sept. 30 were scattered into mush.

“Sister Pilar had to call the Parishes to say that the October delivery will not be made,” Sister Mary Frances said. “We will start again, and I think we can make the November delivery. We will take it day by day.”

Before reaching the monastery, the water first blasted through the Parish church, pushing in the front doors, tossing aside pews like matchsticks and flowing over the altar, then blowing out stained-glass windows, Father Adams explained.

“The only thing recognizable were the statues of St. Joseph and Our Lady of Guadalupe. Everything else was gone,” Father explained. “One of my favorite albs was high up in a tree. And in the rectory, everything is destroyed and ruined. The same with the Parish Hall.”

The ground was covered in inches of muck, a combination of sand, mud and debris that had a concrete-like look to it but was very slippery. All the vehicles were destroyed. They were stranded.

“We went out to the beach and found golf clubs strewn everywhere,” Sister Mary Frances explained. “We used those to shoo away the snakes and to lean on as we walked around. What was left of a house was across Estero Boulevard and there were empty slabs where other houses once stood. Everything was so bad.”

Father Adams has been at Ascension Parish since 2000 and could never see the Gulf from the church because homes and vegetation blocked the view, until the day after Ian. “I have an unobstructed view of the Gulf for the first time, but at what cost? The loss is incredible. One of the daily Mass attendees in the Chapel was found in the bay not far from the Chapel. I called the daughter in Cape Coral. Many of the parishioners are dead. There are four walls of the church, the hall, the rectory and the monastery, but nothing is recognizable. It might be repairable, but we lost everything.”

In the two days following the storm, the priests and nuns cleaned up and salvaged what they could from the muck and debris. They saw many first responders, and even waved to helicopter pilots as they flew overhead, but inexplicably no one stopped.

“That was hard,” Father Adams said. “I guess they didn’t think we needed help, or they were rushing to help people in more distress.”

Unsure what to do, they remained in the monastery awaiting a miracle.

Help from the east coast heroes

That miracle came in the name of Joseph Garagozzo and Alex Carrasco, from the Church of the Nativity in Hollywood, Fla.

Garagozzo explained why he went to Fort Myers Beach, “Thursday afternoon, the 29th, the nuns from the Monastery came to my mind and I felt that I needed to go see them. I came out of my office and I told my wife. She said if you feel that, then you need to do it.”

Through the years, Garagozzo visited and attended Mass in the monastery chapel when he vacationed on Fort Myers Beach. Believing the monastery survived the storm unscathed, he and Carrasco decided to leave for Fort Myers beach early on Oct. 1 to bring them gasoline for their generator and water, and then attend 8 a.m. Mass and then help clean up where they could.

“We knew there might be a possibility we would be turned away at a checkpoint, so we decided to wear our Church of the Nativity Men’s Club shirts and bring a bulletin and everything I could print out on the monastery, including a picture of the nuns,” Garagozzo explained.

They left Hollywood at 6 a.m. and tried to enter Fort Myers Beach from the south end near Bonita Springs, but that bridge had been compromised so the only other option was to cross at the northern Matanzas bridge.

“We waited in a car line and there we saw car after car make U-turns in front of us, having been turned away by the deputies not allowing people to go in,” Garagozzo said. “When we got to the car just before us we both prayed to the Blessed Mother. The car just before us was also turned away.

I drove up and told the deputy, ‘We are here from Nativity church, and we were sent to see the nuns at the monastery. They are still there.’”

The deputy did not understand and first said no but decided to call over a supervisor. The information was repeated and Garagozzo showed the paperwork from the monastery.

“There was a long pause that ‘seemed forever’ and he said, ‘Go ahead!’ He let us through,” Garagozzo said. “As we drove over the bridge, we knew that it was a divine intervention and both of us thanked God for that. But it did not take long to realize that things were really bad on the island. We seemed to be the only people in a truck that weren’t police or rescue workers.”


As they headed south on Estero Boulevard, the beautiful community Garagozzo was familiar with was unrecognizable. What they saw were a few big backhoes plowing the sand, like snow, to clear a path. The duo stayed quiet.

“It was a sunny day with not a cloud in the sky and we didn’t hear one generator running. The quietness was eerie. We could see that water caused mass destruction, like a tsunami,” Garagozzo said.

When they arrived at the Ascension Parish and monastery property, they were in shock at what they saw. Debris everywhere, the doors of the church gone, nothing moving.

“This was a place that I came to many times with my family as we vacationed there once or twice a year,” Garagozzo said. “This is where I prayed to God and hoped that the nuns did leave.”

The pair parked in the street because there was no way to get in and after some effort forged a path onto the property before seeing a few windows open on the third floor of the monastery.

“We yelled ‘Hello!’ The nuns popped their heads out and yelled ‘Hello!’ back,” he explained. Father Adams and Klich came down to greet them and asked who sent them. They explained that they were from a Parish in Hollywood but no one sent them. The priests and sisters thought they were firefighters. After hearing their harrowing story of survival, Garagozzo and Carrasco tried to make a plan for getting the priests and sisters off the island.

Since their pickup truck could not carry eight people, they decided to take Father Adams to his sister’s house on the mainland and then he got help from parishioners at St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers to return to the island and retrieve the Poor Clares.

Father Adams returned to Fort Myers Beach and was initially denied entry but told the deputy that he was going to save some religious nuns and that they would have to run him down if they wanted to stop him. Of course, they didn’t, and the Poor Clares were brought to the home of the Stahlman family in Naples, longtime supporters of the nuns.

From there, the Stahlman family connected the nuns with a friend who offered a winter home in Ave Maria for their use until the end of the year.

Sister Mary Francis and Father Adams called the pair heroes for what they did, but Garagozzo said anyone would have done the same thing.

“All kinds of lovely people have been trying to help us,” Sister Mary Frances said. “It has been so heartwarming and meaningful. We left with the clothes on our backs and then they took us shopping to replace some of the things we lost.”

A return visit

It wasn’t until Oct. 10, 12 days after Hurricane Ian tore through their peaceful island home, that Father Adams and the Poor Clare nuns could return to the property.

“We walked around and tried to find personal items, and things we needed but there is nothing there,” Father Adams explained. “It’s all destroyed. The mold is everywhere. Everything is just falling apart. Nothing can prepare you. We were here during and after Ian, but it is worse now. The totality of the destruction is devastating; it’s surreal.”

But as Sister Mary Frances said, “We are going to rebuild. That is where God placed us, and it is where we will stay.”