Catechists commissioned to share Faith

Catechists throughout the country were united and recognized on Catechetical Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, for the important role they play in the mission of the Catholic Church.

These catechists impart the Faith on people of all ages, whether it is in Parish religious education programs or in Catholic schools. The fact is all faithful Catholics are called to be catechists, Father Ricky Varner, Administrator of St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Cape Coral, stressed this point during Mass.

Father Varner, like priests across the Diocese and country, commissioned those who are designated as Parish religious education teachers with a special blessing. In addition, recognizing the role of the entire Catholic community, in particular families, in handing on the Faith and being a witness to the Gospel, Father Varner imparted an additional blessing on everyone present.

“Part of our call is to serve as magnifying the message of the Gospel,” Father Varner said. “Live in a way that we know God is always present but not always apparent.”

The commissioning and blessing ceremony were powerful for Kristin Puzder, a catechist at St. Katharine Drexel for many years who teaches first grade and helps with the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program. She started teaching religious education classes to young children when her son was in first grade.

The focus in teaching the first graders is to show that God is good, the Creator, and He loves everyone. She also helps her students learn the basic prayers and to find wonder in God’s creation while she tries to be an example for them in her own life.

“I feel blessed to be able to do what I do because I get more out of it than the children,” Puzder explained. “It is a privilege to teach children about God and the Faith.”

The theme for Catechetical Sunday is taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.” The theme focuses on the primary substance of catechesis, which is an invitation to a whole new life given by Christ Himself. It emphasizes that living Faith necessitates movement, inspiring all those who hear the Word to share it as witnesses of the true and living God.

Rose Talbot-Babey, St. Katharine Drexel Director of Religious Education, said the blessing of the catechists and all the faithful took place at two Masses to accommodate the need for social distancing.

Religious education programs across the Diocese are either already running or starting by mid-October for the faithful of all ages. Some classes are working on requirements necessary to receive the various Sacraments, while others are continuing their religious education, which never formally concludes.

Because of the pandemic, there are limited class sizes where in-person instruction is taking place. To accommodate families who prefer distance learning, that option is also available. In such cases, relevant materials are sent home and the classes meet virtually.

Talbot-Babey said everything is being done to ensure each family and student is comfortable in the process while at the same time being confident that all religious education requirements are met.

Sacrament of Confirmation resumes for Diocesan youth

Frida Castillo and Maria Ramos are close friends who were among nearly 70 to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation on Sept. 5, 2020 at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish in LaBelle.

Frida said she felt a weight had been lifted from her shoulders when Bishop Frank J. Dewane made the sign of the cross on her forehead with Sacred Chrism while saying: “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Maria felt serene after the Rite. “I am at peace, and so happy to now be a full member of the Church.”

The Sacrament was originally scheduled to be conferred on the Our Lady Queen of Heaven youth by Bishop Dewane shortly after Easter, but the global COVID-19 Pandemic caused a frustrating delay for this group and many others.

“We were so ready,” Frida said. “We worked for two years to get to this point and then we had to wait with no idea how long.”

The final preparation was completed virtually in the spring, and then refresher classes and a mini retreat took place in August. There were two Masses to accommodate the large group. Only the confirmandi and their sponsors were permitted in the Church while family watched from the Parish Hall with everyone wearing face coverings.

The Confirmation Rite at Our Lady of Queen of Heaven was the first in what will be a series of such occasions to be celebrated by Bishop Dewane throughout the Diocese in the coming months. These will include all rescheduled Confirmations from the spring and ones already planned for the fall.

This Sacrament imbues the recipient with the Holy Spirit, making the person an advocate for the Lord, Bishop Dewane said. “This becomes a permanent part of who you are. Live your faith to the fullest. Use these Gifts of the Holy Spirit every day. They must become part of who you are. The more you use them, the closer you will grow to the Lord.”

The Sacrament should not be viewed as the end of the journey, but the continuation of the journey of faith with the new dimension of the Holy Spirit.

“This is the time that you give witness to who you are as followers of Jesus Christ,” Bishop Dewane said. “It is part of your faith journey to live the commitment of believers, a beginning of a new life in the Holy Spirit and to become more the man or woman of God you are called to be.”

Before the Sacred Chrism was administered, the Bishop asked the candidates to renew their baptismal promises as a sign of their personal assent to the faith. This is the candidates assent to their belief in Christ and His Church. The Bishop also extended his hands over the candidates during the Rite. This action is called, “The Laying on of Hands.” In this action, the Bishop imparts the Holy Spirit upon the candidates, completing the grace of their baptism.

After each Mass, the Bishop posed for pictures with each of newly confirmed and family in the Parish Hall.

Faithful enter Church through RCIA

It was on March 1, 2020, the First Sunday of Lent, when Bishop Frank J. Dewane presided over the annual Rite of Election at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. This annual tradition is a formal Rite in which catechumens are presented and their names are entered into the Book of Elect.

The 170 catechumens, individuals who are unbaptized but willing to join the Catholic Faith, with an additional 209 candidates, those previously baptized, who also participated in the formal ceremony and were welcomed during the celebration for answering the call to continuing conversion.

At the time, the 379 were expecting to be welcomed at the respective Parishes during the Easter Vigil on April 11, 2020. The COVID-19 Pandemic put those plans on hold when Churches closed to the public celebration of Mass, and then until protocols and guidelines were established to ensure the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and First Holy Communion could be done safely and properly for all.

By early September 2020, nearly all 170 catechumens had formally entered the Church at their home Parishes. The catechumens are part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). These individuals are unbaptized and unchurched and inquired about becoming part of the Roman Catholic Faith. Often catechumens have begun to seek and understand God in their lives and have been led by the Holy Spirit to become Catholic. RCIA is not simply a course on Catholicism; it is a journey of discovery and Faith.

At St. Agnes Parish in Naples, a group of 20 catechumens fully entered the Church on Aug. 23, 2020. Wearing a mask, Father Bob Kantor used separate cotton swabs to apply the Sacred Chrism for each Confirmation. For the Baptisms, he applied the Holy Water from the far side of the font so as to maintain social distancing.

“It was a happy and joyful Sunday night,” Father Kantor said afterwards. “It was important to have other people there to witness as they entered fully into the Catholic Faith. It was also good for those present at Mass to be inspired by the new people coming into the Church and to give their support.”

In the front row are the members of the St. Cecilia Parish RCIA program who entered into the Catholic Church in Fort Myers July 5, 2020 with the spansors behind. The Sacraments were delayed from the Easter Vigil. Also seen are Oblates of St. Frances de Sales Fathers Paul Dechant and Stan Dombrowski.

When RCIA classes were paused, religious educators across the Diocese adapted and met virtually to continue the education and faith formation of their charges. This was done by reviewing the Sacraments and closely examining the Sunday Scriptures. Regular phone calls to catechumens and candidates were made to offer support during the intervening period, to serve as a comfort and to provide updates as to when the Sacraments would be available.

For candidates, those who have been baptized with the Trinitarian formula, the Catholic Church does not require re-Baptism. Candidates have already experienced a journey of Faith and hold a basic understanding of how Jesus leads us to the Father through the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, many have been attending Mass with their families for years but may have never received the Sacrament of Holy Communion or the Sacrament of Confirmation.

To accommodate candidates who expected to receive the Sacraments at the Easter Vigil, it was deemed appropriate that they receive these from Bishop Dewane in the fall as he resumes Confirmations at the Parishes. Therefore, these Sacraments will be conferred on the date the Bishop is already scheduled to visit a Parish for Confirmations.

News briefs for week of Aug. 24, 2020

New Parish DREs attend training session

Anne Chrzan, Diocese of Venice Director of Religious Education hosted a training session on Aug. 21, 2020 for new Parish directors at the Catholic Center in Venice. The seven new DRE’s have been with the Diocese for varying lengths of time, but the restrictions mandated by the COVID-19 Pandemic made meeting in person challenging. Previous sessions occurred through virtual meetings.  The meetings were intended to inform each of the new employees what is expected of them as they serve as part of their Parish, Diocese and Universal Church.

Neumann senior garners Key Club honor

Congratulations to Hector Fernandez, a senior at St. John Neumann Catholic High School, for being recognized by the Florida District of Key Club International with the “Leader of Leaders” award! Hector will serve as the Division 22 Lieutenant Governor for the 2020-21 school year and oversee the 11 Key Clubs in Collier County. He was chosen amongst the 72 other Lieutenant Governors from around the state to receive this award during their first Board Meeting with the Florida District.

VDCCW fundraiser supports seminarians

The Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women invites you to join them in celebrating Priesthood Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in a special and lasting way. Do this by sending the priests of your Parish a Vocation Fund “IN HONOR OF” card as proceeds will go toward the VDCCW Seminarian Fund. Please remember that this is a gift that keeps on giving! The Diocese of Venice is educating 16 men in various seminaries. A donation of any amount will be a great help. The donation amount will not be revealed to the recipient. To take part, please send $1.00, plus your donation, payable to “VDCCW Vocation Fund,“ to: Cornelia Zanetti, 5808 Gulf Drive, #204, Holmes Beach, FL 34217. Questions? Please email corniez@aol.com.

Virtual Laps For Life

The Sarasota Laps For Life is going Virtual for 2020! Join the Knights of Columbus of the Sarasota and Bradenton area for this special cause by completing a timed distance of 5K (3.1 miles) in your neighborhood, park, or other favorite outdoor location, anytime between Sept. 12 and Oct. 3, 2020. Proceeds from Laps For Life benefit My Choice Pregnancy Center, a women’s health support center. Sign up and submit your results at ww.srqLapsForLife.net then tag us in your pictures at #SarasotaLapsForLife on Facebook and Instagram. Life is NOT cancelled: Be Safe, Go Virtual!

Night in Havana Gala Auction

The St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School “Night in Havana” Gala scheduled for Sept. 26, 2020 is now a Streamlined Virtual Event! You can place bids on auction items remotely to win beautiful gift baskets, gift certificates, and other fabulous items in a week-long bidding fun Sept. 21-26. Please join us for this exciting event as together we overcome the challenges of the pandemic while supporting our great school. For more information, please contact Dr. Dianne Fabii at 239-455-2262 or fabii@seseton.org. Mobile bidding registration can be found at www.qtego.net/qlink/celebrateseton2020.

Online Directed Retreats at OLPH

During the current health crisis, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice offers online 3-day, 5-day, and 8-day retreats based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. In these online retreats, Father Mark Yavarone, OMV, or Father Lino Estadilla, OMV, trained spiritual directors, will meet with you for an hour each day via a link provided to help you to pray and to recognize how God is speaking to you. A Bible and journal should be available for your use. Participants will be emailed any additional materials needed as the retreat unfolds. The cost is: 3-day online retreat, $132.23; 5-day online retreat, $203.98; and 8-day online retreat, $306.48. All information will be confidential, and password protected. If you would like to participate in an online retreat, please email Denise Riley at riley@olph-retreat.org and a code will be provided for your online registration as well as an application. For planning purposes, please allow 7 days from your completed application until the beginning of your retreat.

St. Jude Food Pantry

The St. Jude Parish Food Pantry, 3930 17th St., Sarasota, is open and distributing food Wednesdays from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., following all social distancing protocols. Please bring an ID and do not exit your vehicle. Volunteers will load cars. Please call 941-955-3934 if you have any questions or visit: https://www.stjudesarasota.com/info/st-jude-food-pantry-schedule.

Wauchula Food Pantry

St. Michael Parish in Wauchula is home to a food pantry located at 408 Heard Bridge Road, Wauchula. The pantry has been at the forefront of the COVID-19 Pandemic response. To accommodate those who work, the food pantry is open Saturdays from 7:00 a.m. to 8:45 a.m.  If you need food at a different time or would like to support the efforts to assist the community, please call the Parish at 863-773-4089.

Faith Formation in Spanish completes third cycle

The final phase of an intensive three-year Spanish-language Faith Formation Program concluded in June 2020 with 358 earning a Diocesan certificate of completion. In the three years of the program a total of more than 1,300 earned certificates.

A faith formation class in Spanish takes place Jan. 28, 2020 at Sacred Heart Parish in Bradenton.

With the support of Bishop Frank J. Dewane and Diocese Hispanic Ministries Director Father Claudio Stewart, the Spanish Faith Formation Program sessions were developed immediately following the local consultation process of the V Encuentro in 2016 and 2017.

The results were overwhelmingly positive as the program has shown there is a real desire for Hispanic Catholics to be formed in their Faith. The 2019-2020 sessions, which covered the “History and Tradition of the Church,” were interrupted by the COVID-19 Pandemic. However, thanks to technology, the final sessions of instruction were available and completed online.

The V Encuentro was a multi-year outreach initiated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, with a goal of discerning ways for the Church in the U.S. to better respond to the needs of the ever-growing Hispanic presence. The process involved consultations at the Parish, Diocesan, regional and national levels. A final report was submitted to the Vatican in September 2019 with recommendations for inclusive action at all levels of the Church in the U.S. and are in the process of being implemented.

The idea behind the initial three-step Spanish Faith Formation Program within the Diocese was to quickly help bridge the gap in formation for Hispanics in the Diocese for whom English is not their first language. This gap had created an isolation among some, and the program became empowering to Hispanic Catholics who often felt they were outsiders in the Catholic Church within the U.S., primarily due to the language difference.

Father Carlos Reyes, Scalabrinian, Pastor of Our Lady Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee, leads a faith formation class in Spanish on Feb. 24, 2020 in Immokalee.

The benefit of having the formation program in Spanish was to allow the participants the opportunity to better absorb the complexities of the Faith without the extra work of translating the information. This also helped streamline the instruction and allowed a more open discussion.

The formation program provided a structured and ongoing formation of the lay people with the goal of allowing people to be in contact with the Deposit of Faith (Depositum Fidei) – Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. At the conclusion of the processes, those who earned the certificates are encouraged to use their new-found knowledge to evangelize in their Parish community.

The Faith Formation classes were divided into four geographic regions of the Diocese to allow easier access to the courses. Instructors included 10 priests and two women religious. Each level became increasingly sophisticated, challenging the participants to take a fresh look at the Catholic Church.

The first phase in 2017-18 focused on the “Magisterium,” with a thorough explanation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The second course in 2018-19 was dedicated to the “Revelation and Introduction to the Sacred Scriptures.” The third course, which was completed in June, covered the “History and Tradition of the Church.”

Father Stewart has reaffirmed that while the initial three-part program is completed, there is more in the planning process for expanding Hispanic Faith Formation within the Diocese. However, the ongoing pandemic has caused delays in implementing those plans.

Other actions taken since the local V Encuentro sessions have encouraged a broader outreach and inclusion in existing Parish and Diocesan events. This means having sessions in Spanish at conferences, bilingual programs, and other steps that will help unify the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Venice. As this is the focus of Dioceses across the country, the goal is to create a stronger Catholic Church in the U.S.

“There is not supposed to be a separate Faith for English speakers versus Spanish speakers,’ Father Stewart explained. “We are all part of the same Universal Church – founded by Jesus Christ.”

To learn more about other Diocese of Venice initiative through the Hispanic Ministries Office, please email pastoralhispana@dioceseofvenice.org, or visit www.dioceseofvenice.org/offices/offices-departments/hispanic-apostolate.

News briefs for week of July 28 2020

VDCCW presents Bishop with check

Bishop Frank J. Dewane was honored at a special gathering of the Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women on July 25, 2020 at Epiphany Cathedral Parish Hall in Venice. The meeting coincided with the 14th anniversary of Bishop Dewane’s Episcopal Ordination as Bishop of the Diocese of Venice in Florida in 2006. The VDCCW leadership presented the Bishop with a check for $9,000 to be used to support the Diocesan seminarians.

Ordination to the Permanent Diaconate Aug. 15

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

Online master’s degrees offered through Ave Maria University

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, but one thing is clear: an online master’s degree from Ave Maria University will distinguish you from the competition when companies start hiring again. Online degrees available include a Master of Business Administration. For more information, contact Elizabeth.ODonnell@avemaria.edu or visit https://avemariauniversity.lpages.co/gradprograms-r2/.

Virtual Vacation Bible School a success

St. Joseph Church completed their virtual Vacation Bible School July 23, 2020 with a special Zoom celebration. The online sessions provided inspiration for the children who participated and performed different activities related to inspirational Bible messages. Parish Administrator Father Rafal Ligenza provided a lesson on the Eucharist and lead everyone in prayer for the final celebration.

First Communion face masks donated by sewing group

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

3D face shield project update

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

Dispensation

While the celebration of public Mass resumed May 18, 2020, Bishop Frank J. Dewane announced that the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains in effect through Sept. 1, 2020 for those who are at greater risk or anxious about returning at this time. The Faithful ought not to worry about remaining home if they are concerned for their wellbeing or that of other parishioners. Of course, those who are sick or have symptoms associated with COVID-19 are to stay home. Please check the Diocese of Venice website for any updates.

Livestreaming

The Diocese of Venice will continue live-streaming the Mass through the Diocese website (www.dioceseofvenice.org) and Facebook pages from the Catholic Center in Venice 9:15 a.m. daily as the dispensation to attend Mass remains.

Sunday Televised Mass

The Televised Mass for the Homebound is available throughout the Diocese each Sunday. In northern parts of the Diocese (Manatee, Highlands, Hardee, Sarasota, DeSoto and Charlotte counties) the Mass airs on television at 9:30 a.m. on the CW Network. In the southern portions of the Diocese (Collier, Lee, Glades, Hendry, Charlotte counties) the Mass airs at 10:30 a.m., on WFTX-TV (FOX-4). This same Mass can be found on the Diocese of Venice website at any time during the week, www.dioceseofvenice.org/tvmass. Please check local listings for channel information.

Parish donations

During this challenging time in the life and mission of the Diocese of Venice, our Parishes face increased risk of financial shortfalls due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and its effects on everyday life. Parishes depend on weekly financial gifts to continue their ministries, especially in this critical time of crisis. The Diocese of Venice is providing an online platform and encourages the Faithful to support their Parish. Please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/ways-to-give/parish-donations-online/ to donate to your Parish. The Faithful may also contribute through usual channels (e.g., envelopes, and through the Parish online giving option). Together we will navigate through this crisis, provide assistance to those in need, and secure the road ahead for the Parishes within the Diocese of Venice.

Online Resources

A special coronavirus webpage is located on the Diocese of Venice website at www.dioceseofvenice.org. Resources include links to the Mass, the prayer for an Act of the Spiritual Communion, videos of the Stations of the Cross, Divine Mercy Chaplet and Pray the Rosary. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website, www.usccb.org, also posts the daily Mass readings.

Act of Spiritual Communion

It has long been a Catholic understanding that when circumstances prevent one from receiving Holy Communion, it is possible to make an Act of Spiritual Communion which is a source of grace. Spiritual Communion means uniting one’s self in prayer with Christ’s sacrifice and worshiping Him in His Body and Blood.

The most common reason for making an Act of Spiritual Communion is when a person cannot attend Mass, as is the case during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Acts of Spiritual Communion increase our desire to receive sacramental Communion and help us avoid the sins that would make us unable to receive Holy Communion worthily.

For all who will not be able to receive the Holy Eucharist in person, consider this special prayer, an Act of Spiritual Communion:

My Jesus,
I believe that You
are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things,

and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace You as if You were already there

and unite myself wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You.
Amen.

 

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!”

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