Principals named to schools in Sarasota and Ave Maria

Bishop Frank J. Dewane and the Diocese of Venice Office of Catholic Education has announced the naming of new principals at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota and Donahue Catholic Academy of Ave Maria Parish in Ave Maria.

Mari Jo Hanson has been named as the new principal of St. Martha, while Dr. Marc Snyder assumed the same position at Donahue Academy, both effective July 1, 2023. Hanson and Snyder had been serving as assistant principals prior to their appointments.

“We are fortunate to have two new principals of such high caliber join us in our Catholic school mission in the Diocese of Venice,” said Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education. “Both Dr. Synder and Mrs. Hanson come to us with deep faith, extensive educational experiences and considerable administrative skills. Their previous service as assistant principals at their respective schools will help make the transition to new leadership seamless.”

A national search was conducted for these key positions and applications were received from around the state and across the country. Father Belmonte explained how fortunate the Diocese is to have two candidates with exceptional leadership, exemplary educational experience and strong Catholic values and vision already here. “We were delighted to find that, after a nationwide search, the perfect candidates were already within our Catholic school system.”

Hanson’s distinguished career includes more than 11 years of experience as a principal or assistant principal in both public and Catholic school settings. She served as the principal of St. Clement School in Chicago, Illinois where she led the school to its first National Blue-Ribbon School award in the school’s 100-year history. She is an award-winning teacher with experience in middle school math, science, and language arts. Hanson holds a B.S. in Finance and a Master of Education in Teaching and Learning from DePaul University, and has completed doctoral level coursework in educational policy, organization and leadership at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.

“St. Martha’s has such a proud tradition providing the highest quality in Catholic education in Sarasota. I look forward to this exciting opportunity,” said Hanson.

Snyder spent his early career teaching middle and high school science and became one of the founding faculty members of Donahue, where he taught and was Assistant Head of School from 2007 to 2013. “I loved that Donahue was a Catholic, classical school. You don’t find that combination very often.”

Snyder went on to become the founding Upper School Principal of Aquinas American School in Madrid, Spain. He returned to the United States in 2015 to accept a role as founding Headmaster of True North Classical Academy in Miami, where he helped grow the school from 180 students to more than 1,700. He returned to Donahue in 2021 as assistant principal. Snyder has several degrees including a B.S. in Biology from Florida Atlantic University, a B.S. of Philosophy from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, a master’s degree in K-12 Educational Leadership, and a Doctorate in Higher Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University. He is currently pursuing a second Master’s in Character Education from the University of Birmingham’s Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues in London, England.

“Living and working in Ave is very much a vocational calling for me and my family,” Snyder said. “I really want Donahue to be the beacon that other Catholic, classical schools turn to as the model.”

About St. Martha

St. Martha School, established in 1950, was the first school to offer a Catholic school education in Sarasota. St. Martha Catholic School is one of the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Venice, and is under the direction of Father George Suszko, SAC, Pastor of St. Martha Parish. For more information about St. Martha Catholic School, please visit

About the Donahue Academy

Founded in 2007 as an independent private school in Ave Maria, Donahue Academy is a Pre-K-12 classical, Catholic school and is under the direction of Father David Vidal, Pastor of Ave Maria Parish. The school has been part of Diocese of Venice since 2017. For more information about Donahue Academy, please visit

Catholic culture key to successful school year

The excitement is building as the faculty and staff at the 15 Diocese of Venice Catholic schools prepare lesson plans and decorate classrooms for the start of the 2023-2024 Academic Year on Aug. 9, 2023.

More than 100 new teachers were welcomed during a July 31 orientation session at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice presented by the Diocesan Office of Catholic Education, with Superintendent Father John Belmonte, SJ, and Jennifer Falestiny, Director of Curriculum. The large number of new teachers is due to increased enrollment at every Diocesan Catholic school.

Father Belmonte stressed the need for the new employees to be “Catholic School Culture” advocates in whatever role they may have in the different schools. A “Catholic School Culture” is the vision, values, systems, language, expectations, behaviors, and beliefs that increase a school’s and Diocese’s chances of accomplishing the strategy of fulfilling its mission: to introduce the world to its Savior.

Throughout the day, the new teachers learned about the Diocese and the crucial role they will play in helping to build up the faith-life of the students and families with whom they will interact. The group comes to the Diocese of Venice Catholic schools with a wide variety of personal and professional experiences and skills. A few in the group are new to teaching and were joyfully welcomed. Still others have many years of experience.

Being a Catholic educator is no easy task in a culture where there are countless messages that are contrary to the Faith; that anything goes, and nothing matters. This, Father continued, makes it increasingly difficult to get out the message of our Catholic traditions, values and faith into the world.

“In your classroom, in your school, in your heart; everything is sacred. Everything is given to us by God. It all has value. “That is what we believe. That is what we teach our children. We teach them customs and boundaries because we know that is what is needed to make the classroom and world function,” Father said “You are the solution to the bigger cultural problem. You may not be aware of that but by teaching and giving the children the order, discipline and love that they need, it is going to eliminate the understanding in the culture that anything goes, and nothing matters.”

Falestiny explained that the Diocesan Catholic schools “do things better than other school systems. We have lots of programs and procedures in place that might seem overwhelming but is actually great and you will get it eventually.”

The new teachers join the Diocese at a time of record enrollment at each school, with extensive waitlists at several with final numbers expected to exceed 5,100.

In preparation for the new school year, there was also a gathering of the Diocesan Catholic school principals which took place July 28, at St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers. There the leaders shared their successes and challenges in the categories of enrollment, “Catholic School Culture,” budgeting, hiring, facilities and student achievement.

The enrollment numbers and other improvement projects taking place at many of the schools were a focus of much of the discussion.

Father Belmonte also updated the principals on the upcoming Diocesan-wide devotional project which will kick off in the fall. This year the devotional project will focus on the Blessed Virgin Mary. This project helps develop the devotional lives of the students in the classroom and by extension in their family.

This is done through lessons from 8th grade leaders in the elementary schools and in the high schools there will be a broader dive into the role of Our Lady in the Church and the various apparitions which have occurred throughout the world. In addition, there is an art competition for the devotional project, where students will be encouraged to produce artwork based on our Catholic artistic tradition around Our Lady.

“The 15-week project is intended to bring to our students a deeper awareness and more ardent love of Our Lady,” Father Belmonte said.

The 15 Diocesan Catholic schools work conscientiously to provide Christ-centered learning experiences that are transportable to the real world and provide the opportunity for children to develop life-long learning skills and to be successful beyond the classroom.

During the orientation, the new teachers also took part in Diocesan Safe Environment training and learned about their employee benefits, risk management, workplace safety, certification process, as well as about standard and ethical conduct.

All Diocesan Catholic schools will open the week of Aug. 8. For more information about Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools, please visit

Diocesan principals gather

Principals from the 15 Catholic schools of the Diocese of Venice gathered for a Principal’s Institute on Aug. 26, 2022, at St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers.

During this gathering, which was led by Jesuit Father John Belmonte, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education, and included presentations by Jennifer Falestiny, Diocesan Curriculum Specialist, a broad spectrum of topics was covered.

Among items discussed were presenting a vision for excellence in Catholic schools, updates on enrollment efforts, curriculum standards and additional initiatives and updates on devotional projects that will be unveiled in the coming weeks.

The day began with prayer, followed by an exercise called “Sword-of-Excited.” This was when the principals had the opportunity to share/brag to their colleagues about all of the new and exciting things taking place at their respective schools.

Chief among the excitement was the increased enrollment, with some schools seeing record numbers. Schools have been creative in accommodating the larger numbers through the renovation of classrooms and open spaces or by rethinking the usage of what exists to accommodate a new, more progressive and engaging learning environment while remaining centered in Christ. As a result of the higher enrollment, several schools expanded existing bus service, while one school started a new service as a way to better serve the needs of the students as well as the parents.

In areas where a classroom or area was getting worn down after years of use, upgrades were made, often allowing for a greater use of technology and installation of new desks and study areas. Several principals reported aesthetic improvements as well, including new exterior paint and upgrades to outdoor areas used for play, dining and other activities. Other improvements included new interior or exterior paint jobs.

A key focus of the meeting was to review with the principals the vision of Catholic education in the Diocese. The principals will then pass along that knowledge to school faculty and staff.

As part of the vision for excellence the principals were called to continue efforts to promote a vibrant Catholic culture, cultivate leadership, create and implement a strategic plan, support unity in mission, enhance communication, make data-driven decisions, place Gospel focus on greatest needs and most vulnerable, and much more.

Falestiny spoke about curricular standards, improving structural methodology, as well as developing Catholic culture, academic, and professional goals at each school.

Another focus was on the STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math) curriculum. This curriculum, guided by “The Gifts of Christ: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Affability, Fortitude, Humility, and Prudence,” grew out of a robotics program, and has expanded to enhance the spiritual and academic opportunities for all Diocese of Venice Catholic school students.

This STREAM approach, fully supported through the generosity of Bishop Frank J. Dewane, places students ahead of the curve in primary fields while continuing to promote core Catholic virtues by helping students to develop cognitive thought processes and gain skills such as leadership, communication, complex problem solving, teamwork and creativity. Falestiny stressed the need for all teachers to be implementing parts of the core curriculum with STREAM-based projects and lessons.

Father Belmonte celebrated Mass for the group and later introduced the idea of a new devotional project which will center on the Holy Eucharist. The goal of this project, which will be starting by October, will help students learn about the Blessed Sacrament in an age-appropriate way and help them understand why this Real Presence is the source and summit of the Catholic Faith. This is undertaken in keeping with the National Eucharistic Revival, a three-year grassroots effort of the U.S. Bishops to increase a devotion and belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Several Diocesan events are in the planning stages as part of this national effort.

New Superintendent meets Principals

Shares vision about building Catholic School Culture

The mission of the Catholic Church, and by extension its Catholic Schools, is to introduce the world to its Savior.

This mission concept favorite declaration of Cardinal Francis George, the late Archbishop of Chicago and shared by Father John Belmonte, a Jesuit and new Diocesan Superintendent of Schools.

Father Belmonte shared the message at a meeting with principals on July 8, 2020 at Epiphany Cathedral Parish Hall in Venice. “That is what we do,” he explained. “That is our mission.”

He added that the world happens to be the school for the principal, the classroom for the teachers, and the family for those who are parents.

“We get to do that as Catholic School educators every day; which in my view is the greatest mission that anyone could have the privilege of serving and why I certainly get up in the morning and what I want to have happen in all Catholic schools – to introduce the world to its Savior! There is nothing better!”

As Superintendent, Father Belmonte said he sees his job – and by extension the entire Office of Education – as helping each principal, and by association each Diocesan Catholic school, to be wildly successful.

“If you are already wildly successful, congratulations, we will continue to facilitate that,” Father continued. “If you’re not quite wildly successful, we will work on that… because if we are, then we are introducing our students, families, teachers, everyone that we are serving, to our Lord, through the Church. Nothing is more important than that.”

Father Belmonte did warn the principals that he obsesses about developing Catholic School culture and its deeper and richer meaning in comparison to Catholic identity. “It is much more than that.”

The gathering began with the Liturgy of the Hours, a daily prayer of the Church, followed by a welcome by Bishop Frank J. Dewane.

The Bishop welcome Father Belmonte and said he was humbled that Father accepted the position with the Diocese, having a strong background in education which is also the Charism of the Jesuit religious order.

Bishop Dewane opened his comments by first thanking the gathered principals for their hard work during the last few months and managing the challenges caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“Know that I am very proud of how you handled it, and how we were perceived out in the public arena in handling the online teaching during the spring semester and as we approach reopening in August,” said Bishop Dewane while specifically thanking Interim Superintendent of Schools Ben Hopper for stepping up while also doing double duty as principal at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School.

Father Belmonte has a long connection to the Diocese of Venice having visited the area with family, specifically Anna Maria Island in Manatee County, for the past 50 years. He has an extensive background in education as a teacher and administrator, most recently as superintendent of the Diocese of Joliet.