Sister Frances retires leaving advice: ‘Stay close to Jesus’

Susan Laielli – Special to the Florida Catholic

With a smile and her famous Irish twinkle shared with Parishioners of Epiphany Cathedral in Venice for the last 26 years, Sister Frances Lalor, RSM, announces her retirement effective June 30.

Religious Sister of Mercy Frances Lalor, longtime Director of Religious Education at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, is retiring June 30, 2020.

Sister Frances, 81, professed her vows as a Religious Sister of Mercy (RSM) on September 8, 1957 in Ireland, and completed her studies in Columbia, Missouri in the 1960’s, eventually serving as principal of a Catholic School in Lake Worth, Fla., before coming to Southwest Florida.

“When we first came to America, we had the most beautiful habits made for us in Ireland, but oh boy, were they hot,” laughs Sister Frances. “We had to make lighter weight habits on the hurry.”

Since 1994, Sister has been a leader in Catholic Education working as Epiphany Cathedral’s Director of Religious Education, a position that is extremely crucial with respect to teaching and preparing young minds and hearts for the Sacraments of Confirmation, First Confession and First Holy Communion, as well as overseeing the annual Vacation Bible School and weekly Religious Education classes. She also coordinated the Parish’s RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) Faith Formation classes, which brings new Catholics into the Church. In addition, she served as acting Principal of Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School for several months a few years ago.

Over two-and-a-half decades of teaching in Venice, one can only imagine the impact Sister has had on several generations of growing Catholics. The advice she always offered was to always “stay close to Jesus.”

“Well, I hope I have. You never know for sure if you have made a difference,” said Sister Frances. “In fact, I met a little girl just last Sunday who went through a very difficult time in her life when she was growing up here. Now, a nurse in Texas, she came back to visit. When someone says to you, ‘You saved my life’ – you know…”

With teary eyes, Sister recalls the little girl’s father died by suicide and she spent time working with the family through that rough time, including helping her to get through the Christmas pageant that year.

Religious Sister of Mercy Frances Lalor, center, seen in Ireland with her brother Tom, a newly ordained priest, and cousin Sarah Ryan in this photo from 1968. The longtime Parish Director of Religious Education is retiring on June 30, 2020.

Born in County Laois, Ireland, Sister Frances grew up in a “very” Catholic Family, one of seven children, who never missed Mass, and whom as a family prayed the Holy Rosary each night on their knees, as she says, “not in cushy chairs.”

“No matter who came to the door the Rosary didn’t stop. They just walked in and got down on their knees – whether it was a workman, or someone else, because we lived on a farm,” said Sister Frances.

The visitors would finish the Rosary with the family, then work would go on, she recalls.

With a memory of seven Popes in her lifetime, she says if she had to choose a favorite, it would be Pope (St.) John XXIII, who served from 1958-1963.

“I like Pope John XXIII because before he became Pope, he helped the Jews quite a bit, but when he became Pope, he was just natural and human,” said Sister.

Retirement is one of the unavoidable stages in a life well-lived and is bittersweet.

On June 1, 2020, Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School teachers honor retiring Religious Sister of Mercy Frances Lalor, a one-time principal at the Venice school. The longtime Parish Director of Religious Education is retiring on June 30, 2020.

As Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School celebrates 60 years of Premier Education for a Life of Purpose this year, the school recently honored Sister Frances with its 2020 Shining Star Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Epiphany Gala, held in February.

Before the effects of COVID-19 took hold, Sister Frances had big retirement plans to visit a religious order in San Antonio, Texas. But for now, those plans are on hold, so she’ll remain local with a few good meals until the Pandemic subsides.

“A favorite would be eggplant parmigiana with a glass of white wine – not red!” smiles Sister Frances.

Athletes return to high school fields

Other summer programs open with precautions in place

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School football players participate in a conditioning program in Sarasota on June 11, 2020, the first on campus program since March.

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School welcomed back about 40 student-athletes for summer conditioning June 10, 2020, while following the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Guidelines and procedures set forth by the National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS) in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic.

The Cardinal Mooney conditioning program included both football and basketball players and will gradually expand to include more athletes and other sports. Similar summer conditioning programs also began at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers and St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples.

This drone shot is of Bishop Verot Catholic High School athletes participating in a conditioning program in Fort Myers on June 10, 2020, the first on campus program since March.

Ben Hopper, Diocese of Venice Interim Superintendent of Education, said the move to allow athletes and some summer programming at schools comes after extensive planning and coordination with the various schools, consultation with the Diocesan School Board.

“The health and safety of our students is, and will always be, of paramount concern,” Hopper said. “Following guidance from health experts, and in some cases even going beyond those recommendations, the Diocese is confident that the protocols set forth provide the necessary balance to ensure everyone is safe.”

A Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School football player participates in a conditioning program in Sarasota on June 11, 2020, the first on campus program since March.

To participate in the summer conditioning program, student-athletes were sent a packet of information about Phase One and the new procedures put in place to protect the student-athletes as well as the numerous guidelines they must follow, some of which include:

  • Temperature screening taken daily upon arrival;
  • Athletic clearance with a physical by a doctor;
  • Have a personal water bottle;
  • A COVID-19 liability form signed by parents;
  • Self-screening form signed and dated daily by a parent;
  • Social distance by remaining six-feet apart at all times;
  • Arrive and leave with a face mask.

New head coaches Jared Clark, football, and Clayton Slentz, basketball, were on hand to facilitate the workouts on the Cardinal Mooney Athletic Field. Summer conditioning started at 8 a.m. and lasted about an hour. Workouts are done without masks as health officials note that doing so could cause serious health issues unrelated to COVID-19.

“It feels good to have our student-athletes back on campus and I believe they were happy to be here too, even with the new procedures,” said Assistant Athletic Director Julie Santiago. “We are constantly assessing the situation to make sure we are following all the new guidelines.”

“It felt good to be with the team again and with the new coaches,” said Beau Christensen, a rising Cardinal Mooney Junior. “The energy out on the field was great and since we were outside, no one came in contact with each other, so I felt safe with the changes in place.”

The st. John Neumann Catholic High School Lady Celtic Volleyball Team returned to the Naples campus June 16, 2020, starting summer workouts and some conditioning.

Each sport will have its own guidelines to follow. Basics include no sharing of equipment, no contact with each other and extra sanitizing between usage of any equipment. As noted in the paperwork provided to parents, the guidelines are subject to change and will be reevaluated and adjusted accordingly so as to remain compliant with CDC, federal, state and local regulations. Daily temperature screenings will be done. In the event a student-athlete or coach tests positive for COVID-19 that individual will be required to remain off campus and quarantined for 14 days.

Bishop Verot Catholic High School incoming freshman participate in a summer reading program in Fort Myers on June 9, 2020, the first on campus learning program since March.

In addition to athletes, Bishop Verot welcomed incoming freshman for a summer reading program. The students were placed in the cafeteria and seated at least six-feet apart.

This young girl participates in a Summer Art Program at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers on June 10, 2020, the first on campus activity since March.

At St. Francis Xavier Catholic School, a summer art program started on June 8, 2020. Each blooming artist had their own table to work from and individual sets of supplies so as to draw, paint and build.

Having athletes back and a few summer camps going on are just the first step in the process of working toward opening for in-class instruction in August.

“Each step in this process will require extensive planning and flexibility from our faculty and staff as well as from our students and parents,” Hopper said. “This is all new for everyone, so prayers and patience are needed as everyone works together toward that common goal in just a few months.”

Prison Outreach adds new religious education component

A huge challenge faced the Diocese of Venice Prison Outreach when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) to limit outside contact with prisoners.

This limited contact to restriction of group gatherings in the prisons themselves for fear of the spread of virus. This left the men and women with no access to religious education programs or materials.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane speaks during a recorded Mass from the Santa Maria Chapel at Epiphan Cathedral in Venice on May 13, 2020, to be made available to inmates in state prisons.

Thanks to a cooperative effort between the Diocese of Venice and the FDOC, work has been done to facilitate a new virtual religious education program focused in support of the prisoners. This was facilitated by Diocesan Prison Outreach Co-Coordinators Bob Hiniker and Joe Mallof with the full support of Bishop Frank J. Dewane.

With no prisoner access to religious programs, Hiniker and Mallof reached out to Anne Chrzan, Diocese Director of Religious Education, seeking materials or courses that are in a format which can be uploaded onto individual tablets. Each state inmate is provided with a tablet through a program called JPAY which provides controlled access for content such as emails, video visitation and other services without wireless services.

This meant that any effort would have to be developed and uploads to the tablets through the FDOC. This religious education programming is part of a larger effort to increase access to Catholic content for prisoners in the state facilities during the pandemic and beyond.

Chzran explained that offering courses on the Catechism of the Catholic Church are a good first step in providing a strong foundation for growing in the Faith while the inmates have many hours of free time while confined in their cells.

“Each of the four pillars of the Catechism are being developed into short minicourses and uploaded onto the JPAY tablets for all Catholic inmates,” Chzran said. “These courses will provide the inmates with reading and reflection on scripture and prayer, sacraments, the Creed and morality. The first pillar of the Catechism, ‘Scripture and Prayer,’ has been developed over the past month and will be uploaded onto the JPAY tablets soon. “

An effort is being made to ensure these programs will also be made available in Spanish.

When the prisons are open to Prison Outreach, about 150 volunteers, including 25 priests and 10 deacons, are providing a variety of religious programs, such as Bible study, religious education and assistance with formation before receiving the Sacraments such as Baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation, as well as the Mass. Bishop Dewane regularly celebrates more than a dozen Masses in state correctional facilities each year also conferring the Sacraments on numerous inmates.

When Hiniker and Mallof realized the access to the prisoners was not going to be a temporary issue, they approached Bishop Dewane to propose an new outreach program for inmates. This effort was made with the encouragement and support of Father Severyn Kovalyshin, Region 3 Chaplain, and the State Chaplain Johnny Frambo.

The first part of the outreach included a donation of televisions, made possible with private support. These TVs were installed in state prison dormitories with the agreement that they would air the Diocesan-produced TV Sunday Mass for the Homebound.

Mallof said FDOC officials were so grateful for the donation that they were willing to allow the Diocese to provide content through the JPAY system, including the religious education courses.

The other content includes the Mass. This came about because even with the televisions, not everyone would be able to see the Mass in ideal conditions. The FDOC agreed to allow the Diocese to also produce the Mass for upload to the JPAY tablets at the start of each month. Hiniker and Mallof reasoned that this would allow the inmates viewing and reference access to the Mass at any time, making it an ideal situation.

Because Bishop Dewane is known to the inmates at many of the state correctional facilities, he agreed to be the celebrant for the first four Masses which will be available for viewing in June. Going forward, the Masses will be identical to what will air each Sunday for the homebound.

Adapting to the changing nature of access to the state prisons has allowed the Diocesan Prison Outreach to be at the forefront in ensuring that this important program reaches the people in need.

“The relationship we have and continue to build with the chaplains, by strengthening their position within the FDOC, will bear additional future fruits in ways yet to be seen,” Mallof said.

If you are interested in learning more about the Diocesan Prison Outreach, or perhaps becoming a volunteer, please contact Bob Hiniker at hinbob5@hotmail.com or Joe Mallof at mallofjt@comcast.net.

Online Bible Study series begins

Due to the restrictions people have been going through, the Diocese of Venice Office of Evangelization has sought to offer easy and effective ways to reach out to the faithful in their homes.

Joshua Mazrin, Diocesan Director of Evangelization, recently began offering a 12-part online Bible Study series from 2-3 p.m., Tuesdays through the Diocese of Venice Facebook page. The weekly offering is live, and participants can ask questions of Mazrin and other experts. For those unable to watch live, the videos will remain on the Diocese Facebook page

“There is no reason we cannot still bring about the beautiful teachings of the Faith to everyone and create an opportunity for people to still interact,” Mazrin explained. “Since our relationship with God is both communal and individual, the Bible Study offered aims to provide a resource to those who participate and aid them in their personal understanding of Scripture, by placing it in the context of the whole Church. The element of participation is also integral here; it allows those taking part from home the ability to interact with one another as the Church normally does in gatherings.”

The Bible Study is built upon the “Genesis to Jesus” video series from the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, which has been previously offered in the Diocese. The video series is hosted by Matthew Leonard and was created by Scott Hahn and Franciscan University of Steubenville.

“’Genesis to Jesus’ is a great streamlined program that outlines the ‘big picture’ of the Bible,” Mazrin said. “It is a quick walkthrough of all of Scripture, hitting on the major figures and events, and then connecting the dots. This study provides a sort-of framework for people to follow – especially if they desire to pick up the Bible themselves later  It will give them a context to understand what they are reading and at which point in the story of Salvation History it occurred.”

Joining Mazrin in the interactive Bible Study are Father Shawn Roser, Diocese of Venice Vocations Director and Parochial Vicar of St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton; Natalie Campbell, Director of Religious Education at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples; Aileen Vasquez, Director of Religious Education at St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Cape Coral;  and Spence McSorley, Director of Religious Education at Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch.

The structure of the Bible Study offers a weekly introduction, prayer and then jumps into the weekly video. After the video is concluded, the viewers are challenged to answer thought-provoking questions related to what they learned.

For example, questions included “Can you think of a time in your life when you experienced a “burning heart” encountering Jesus in a personal way?”

The response has been very positive, the first Bible Study had 115 live viewers and nearly 1,800 people have viewed the session since it was posted.

Comments included: “Thank you God for giving us this technology to stay connected and keep discovering how much You love us.” “Wonderful summary… discussion and panel very helpful. Faith sharing builds up the Body… again thank you.” “The blessing of this pandemic is that we have been given the time to turn to God. He again has come to us on our level through technology.”

Mazrin said he is very pleased with the turn out from the first live-stream and the interaction of those who participated live or viewed later.

“The Bible often feels like a difficult text to approach, which it may be without help,” Mazrin continued. “But it is also the inspired living written Word of God, and we are a religion of the Word! This Bible Study is an easy and straightforward way to become more comfortable with Scripture in a way that is stress-free, informative, and entertaining. The personal reading of Scripture will bring great blessings to your life, but the personal reading of Scripture understood through the Church’s interpretation will entirely transform your life!”

Fort Myers Parish gives “Words of Encouragement”

Fort Myers Parish gives “Words of Encouragement”

The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down social gatherings within Parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice, but through the initiative of staff and the faithful, with a little help from technology (social media and Parish websites), alternative ways of reaching out have been developed.

One example of this can be found at St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers, which began an online video series called “Words of Encouragement.” This series of short videos – one minute or less – include reflections from leaders of various Parish outreach programs as well as everyday parishioners who wanted to share their thoughts about staying strong in the Faith during the pandemic.

Jennifer Engelman, Coordinator of Parish Engagement, who compiles and edits the videos for length, said the first “Words of Encouragement” video was posted in mid-April, and the response has been great.

“We sent out a request for videos asking parishioners to share a prayer that strikes them; what they are doing when anxious or concerned; how they shelter in place with Faith,” Engelman explained. “We based it on how people were coping while staying at home. It is a whole new life away from Church, but also away from each other.”

The video series content generated a great deal of interest among the parishioners. Some videos include prayers, others offer music or information about a devotion to find comfort in difficult times, such as to Our Lady, Christ or a specific saint.

Judy Siegel of St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers speaks during a segment of the “Words of Encouragement” video series online.

One video message was from Judy Siegel, a sacristan and member of the Crafty Ladies. She encouraged everyone to focus on the Light of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who will help everyone get through these dark times. “He will do it. He will never leave us. He chose each and every one of us, and His love is eternal.” Siegel concluded her video by reminding everyone to wash their hands and wear a mask when they go out.

“We are thrilled with those who stepped forward,” Engelman said. “They range in age from 8 ½-years-old to 90. We’ve had such a good response that some days we’ve posted videos in the morning and afternoon. Much of what is being shared is relevant and timely. Initially the comments were people recognizing friends, but it really has opened an avenue to comment. It’s a nice way to keep the parishioners engaged when we are not coming to Mass or being together and socializing.”

The idea of the video series came out of the regular Parish strategic planning committee and is a spin-off of the regular spiritual reflections from Pastor Father Bob Tabbert.

“The response to the Father Tabbert videos made people feel good about the Church and gave comfort in knowing that the priests were praying for them,” Engelman said. “People felt very good seeing their Pastor and from that the idea of having others share their ideas was born.”

To view the “Words of Encouragement” video messages, go to Facebook and search for St. John XXII Catholic Church in Fort Myers.

This is just another example of the many ongoing outreach efforts from Parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice as they try to keep the faithful engaged while most Parish activities are indefinitely suspended.

Religious Education continues meeting virtually

Every weekday (except Tuesdays) the Directors of Religious Education (DRE) across the Diocese of Venice gather virtually to stay connected amongst themselves while also receiving direction on how to continue their work of sharing the Good News of the Lord for students of all ages.

Since mid-March, Anne Chrzan, Diocesan Director of Religious Education, has been leading these virtual meetings on Zoom (online video conferencing), in the wake of the indefinite suspension of in-room Religious Education classes within the Diocese.

Each virtual meeting begins with prayer and includes check-ins, learning how everyone is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, both within their own family and among the parishioners and their students, Chrzan said. The group is learning about effective virtual teaching and sharing best practices.

Chrzan said everyone on the call shares ideas on topics such as creating fun virtual lesson plans, engaging parishioners and hosting virtual retreats.

The DREs from across the Diocese report that parents and children enjoy staying connected to Religious Education classes and are loving the break from “schoolwork” and taking the time to pause and pray during the day.

One initiative from Chrzan is the offering of weekly lessons online for each Sunday during the Easter Season. These lessons are accessible to parents and students who are enrolled in the Catholic schools and in the religious education programs.

Since all learning is now virtual, every Wednesday, Chrzan sends out instructions in English and in Spanish with a new Sunday lesson code to the DREs and Catholic school principals. The lessons are being created weekly by using an online platform named Nearpod. These lessons are coded so each week the family receives a new, age-appropriate lesson, geared for ages ranging from two-years-old to adult.

In the lessons, families can watch the live stream of their Parish Mass or Mass presided by Bishop Frank J. Dewane (9:15 a.m. 7-days-a-week) which is found on the Diocese of Venice website. Following the livestream of the Mass, the families are instructed to participate in an activity centered around the Gospel message. The lessons are in English and in Spanish. There are also Catholic videos embedded in the lesson for the family to watch throughout the week. This gives families the opportunity to live the Gospel throughout the week by choosing an activity each day.

For example, during the week of the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the families had an opportunity to watch a “virtual May Crowning” as well as creating a May Crowning for their home.

Feedback from the families has been very positive, Chrzan said. “Many families have sent the lesson to friends in other Dioceses who can benefit from the family-centered lessons.”

This initiative will continue through Pentecost (May 31, 2020). Additional initiatives are under development and will be made available to DREs at the appropriate time.

For further information about Diocese of Venice Religious Education initiatives, please contact Anne Chrzan at 941-484-9543 or chrzan@dioceseofvenice.org.

Online classes on matter of faith becoming more common

Buoyed by the success of online daily and Sunday Mass, and while there is no physical location to attend a religious education class, several Parishes across the Diocese have turned to online courses.

These courses offer a broad opportunity for the faithful to continue to grow closer to the Lord through the shared experience of learning.

For example, Dr. David Glasow, of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish and Theology teacher at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, used Facebook Live to provide six nights of commentary for the online Bible study program “Genesis to Jesus” from the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.

Meanwhile, Father Shawn Monahan, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, and Parochial Vicar at Epiphany Cathedral, lead a three-part series called “Rejoice in the Resurrection – How we can live more the Risen Life Jesus invites us to live.” The sessions, also available on Facebook, followed the Divine Mercy Chaplet from the Cathedral Adoration Chapel in Venice.

At Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish in Sarasota, Parochial Vicar, Third Order Franciscan Father Timothy Harris, leads a regular online reflection, as does Father Joseph Gates, Administrator at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish in Parrish.

These are just a few of the examples of how Parishes and priests are working to stay connected with the Faithful. To find these, and more, online presentations, either visit your parish website, or go to the associated Facebook pages. Most of the talks will remain online indefinitely.

Religious Education and School news briefs from the week of April 6

Religious Education resources online

Anne Chrzan, Diocesan Director of Religious Education, offers hope and comfort to those who feel cut off from teaching and practicing our Faith. She reminds us that no one is alone. Through phone, email, live streaming and social media, we can reconnect with the faithful and remain committed to serve others by serving our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For a detailed list of free and highly discounted online resources for catechetical leaders and families, visit www.dioceseofvenice.org and click on the link to the Coronavirus response page, where a link to a Schools & Coronavirus page is located.

Homemade cards for religious sisters

The Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco run St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples and use the teachings of St. John Bosco as the core basis for learning. Students are selected each year to attend retreats and leadership programs to help them learn the Salesian way.

Neumann Key Club students used their extended Spring Break to make homemade cards for the Salesian Sisters at the Provincial House in New Jersey. Hundreds of cards were created and were sent as a sign of gratitude and love during this time of uncertainty in the world. Many of the cards included key Salesian messages and Bible quotes, as well as many smiles and notes that the students in Naples were thinking of the religious sisters in New Jersey.

Tree planting going on

As with every Diocese of Venice Catholic School, the Donahue Academy of Ave Maria began distance learning in March. While there are no students on campus it was decided that this is the perfect time to install some big trees. The installation of the new trees planned months ago and they will provide needed shade for the students in the play area and be something for them to enjoy when in-school classes resume.

 

 

 

Students helping out at home

At St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota Teacher Sheila Coffey had her Math Class complete a survey about how they were helping at home during their extended Spring Break and now distance learning from home. The top responses included washing dishes, making their beds, helping to take care of pets, dusting, mopping and cleaning. “We’re very proud of them for helping their parents and doing their schoolwork!”

Bishop responds to pandemic crisis

Bishop Frank J. Dewane has been at the forefront in responding to the ever-evolving coronavirus pandemic within the 10-county Diocese of Venice.

The announcement to suspend all Masses and Parish activities effective March 20, and continuing through at least Easter, was the culmination of a series of meetings, conference calls and consultation from the priests of the Diocese and other advisors, while also following guidance from local, state and federal officials. The dramatic limitations of all public gatherings ultimately affected the decision to suspend Mass.

In a March 18 letter to the faithful, Bishop Dewane explained his decision noting that it “was made after prayer and discernment, as well as hearing from the priests and the Faithful.” The decision to suspend the Mass came several days after Bishop Dewane dispensed all of the obligation to attend Mass during the same period.

“This is acknowledged as a sacrifice for the Catholic Faithful, who have a great love for the Holy Eucharist and depend on the Most Blessed Sacrament for their spiritual lives,” the Bishop wrote in his letter. “Do recall that Faithful Catholics, throughout the history of the Church, have kept the faith alive through trying times. By prayer and devotion, as well as spiritual solidarity with each other, the life of faith continued to be a source of strength and perseverance during persecutions and other times of public crisis.  Tomorrow, on the Feast of St. Joseph, I will dedicate the Diocese of Venice to the care of the Foster Father of Jesus. Let us be united in prayer to St. Joseph for his intercession and protection.”

In the same March 18 letter, Bishop Dewane announced the suspension of all activities in Parishes, including events and religious education programs. Parish offices will have limited staff and it is requested that, when possible, business be conducted by phone or email. Funerals will be limited to immediate family only, weddings – if they cannot be postponed – are to have limited participation, and baptisms will only be celebrated in cases of emergency. Priests are required to take all necessary precautions, so the Anointing of the Sick is being limited to a genuine need for the dying. Diocesan Catholic Schools were placed on an extended Spring Break, returning to virtual learning beginning March 31 for the foreseeable future.

Bishop Dewane has called upon the priests to draw upon the Church’s rich tradition of prayer and devotion to ensure that the spiritual life of parishioners is nourished and remains vibrant through means which are prudently adapted to the current circumstances.

Leading the way, Bishop Dewane recorded a video message to the Faithful encouraging everyone to turn toward prayer. In addition, Mass has aired daily at 9:15 a.m., live from the Catholic Center in Venice, with the Bishop as the celebrant. This Mass in available through Facebook and links to this and many other resources are available through the Diocesan website.

Encouraged by the leadership of Bishop Dewane, most Parishes within the Diocese have begun to live stream the daily Mass on their websites and social media accounts. Many also responded to suggestions to begin offering the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation by car beginning March 21, and then late in the week of March 23, outdoor Communion was being offered at some Parishes.

Bishop Dewane also reassured the Faithful that the Diocese will continue to function and serve the community through the outreach of Catholic Charities and other ministries.

“Through prayer and trust be confident in the belief that God does not abandon us in times of peril, in fact, the Lord will draw us close and protect us,” Bishop Dewane said.

“Please continue to pray for everyone impacted by this pandemic – the sick, their caregivers, courageous medical personnel, and those reaching out in charity to help our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

“Seeking the intercessions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in particular, her spouse, St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, pray for protection and guidance through these troubling times,” the Bishop continued. “Through the Word of the Lord, that is Sacred Scripture, it is possible to overcome fear and courageously face the challenging days ahead.”

Religious Education goes online

Religious Education classes across the Diocese of Venice were put on hold with the suspension of all Parish activities through at least Easter.

This does not mean that religious education teachers are not staying connected to their pupils. Through an agreement with the Augustine Institute, both religious educators and students have been granted free access to FORMED, an online religious education resource with thousands of movies, programs, classes and books made available.

Diocese of Venice Director of Religious Education, Anne Chrzan, provided catechists across the Diocese with a resource guide for religious education classes that are now online.

A note was sent to parents to inform them of the opportunity to continue the exploration of the Catholic Faith through the Augustine Institute for free. “FORMED is a great way to help you and your entire family understand, live and share the Catholic faith… (allowing) instant access to faith-fueling, inspiring and informative stories, teaching and more. Feel free to share this link and information with your friends and family.

Additional outreach from the Diocese and Parishes to parents and students will continue as long as in-person classroom instruction is not an option.

Periodic pertinent updates will be forthcoming as soon as possible with regard to those in Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) programs, as well as the status of confirmation classes and others seeking First Holy Communion.

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