News briefs for the week of Jan. 26, 2021

Children’s Festival held in Wauchula

The annual Children’s Festival was held at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula on Jan. 23, 2021. The Festival brings children from kindergarten through fifth grade to the Parish for a day of prayer and fun.

The day included Mass, a Eucharistic Procession, as well as presentations about how they can grow in their Faith. In addition, there were various games, many of which had a faith-based theme. The women religious who serve the Parish, Sisters Servant of Lord and the Virgin of Matara, organized the festival.

“A Seminarian Story” sixth installment available

The Diocese of Venice in Florida Office of Vocations launched a video series titled, “A Seminarian Story,” to celebrate the 16 Seminarians currently in formation. The first four videos have been released and more will follow approximately every few weeks. The most recent video is about Seminarian David Portorreal who is doing formation at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach.

Developed with the assistance of the Diocese Communications Department, the goal of the series is to inspire others to follow in the path to the priesthood or religious life, as well as encourage the faithful to continue to support the seminarians as they continue their formation process at different seminaries. “A Seminarian Story” featuring David Portorreal can be found at

Men’s & Women’s Conferences 2021

Registration is now open for the 2021 Men’s & Women’s Conferences! The Men’s Conference will feature speakers Patrick Madrid and Joel Stepanek on Saturday February 20th.

The Women’s Conference will feature speakers Kimberly Hahn and Mary Ann Weisinger-Puig on Saturday March 13. Both conferences will be held at Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (doors open at 8:00 a.m.) with Mass celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane and Confession available all day. To register, please visit

Anniversary Masses

All couples celebrating 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, or more than 50 years of marriage are invited by Bishop Frank J. Dewane to an Anniversary Mass in their honor to be celebrated in two locations. This year, considering the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, each location will have two Masses to allow for appropriate social distancing. The Masses are 10 a.m. and noon on Feb. 6, 2021, Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Ave. W., Venice, and 10 a.m. and noon, March 6, 2021, St. Leo the Great Parish, 28290 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs. All registration is being handled through your local Parish. Please reserve seats at least one week before the Mass you wish to attend.

Begin your year with Jesus in the Eucharist

What better way to begin 2021 than in the presence of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament? The Office of Evangelization will be hosting several evenings of Eucharistic Adoration with Confession available, music, reflection, and time for silent prayer. Jesus, who makes “All Things New” will bring a newness to your faith in this new year. Locations include Our Lady of Light Parish, Fort Myers, Feb. 2; Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Lakewood Ranch, Feb. 3; St. John the Evangelist Parish, Naples, Feb. 4; Incarnation Parish, Sarasota, Feb. 11; and St. Joseph Parish, Bradenton, Feb. 16. Adoration begins at 7 p.m. and goes until 8:30 p.m.

Bibles presented to Bradenton students

Father Rafal Ligenza, Administrator of St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton, presented bibles to each of the seventh and eighth graders at St. Joseph Catholic School on Jan. 21, 2021. Father Ligenza presented the bibles as gifts from the Parish and then prayed with the students.

Encountering God in Prayer: A Lenten Journey

Spend this Lent growing in prayer! “Encountering God in Prayer: A Lenten Journey” is a theological and practical online course offered by the Institute for Catholic Studies and Formation. The course will guide you through the rich and beautiful teaching on personal prayer found in part four of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Short video lectures, online discussions, prayer exercises and other learning activities will constitute the class content. Students log in each week at times most convenient to them. The instructor, Dr. John Gresham, Executive Director of the Institute, has extensive experience teaching on prayer in courses, workshops, and retreats. The course is $25 and runs from Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021 to April 5. For more information, visit, call 941-766-7334 or email

Water bottle stations make an impact

Each Diocesan Catholic school strives to be good steward of God’s creation, including making every effort to limit the amount of trash. At St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples, water bottle filling station were installed to cut down on the waste caused by plastic water bottles. On Jan. 22, 2021 Neumann Senior Tommy Anderson was recognized as the 10,000th water bottle filler at one of the stations on campus. Principal Sister Patricia Roche, Salesian Sister of St. John Bosco, presented Anderson with a certificate during morning prayers/announcements. The stations were installed thanks to the Home and School Association. Since the start of the Academic Year, 31,609 water bottles have been saved from entering the landfill.

Verot student to attend Congress of Future Medical Leaders

Eric Avin, a ninth grader at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers, will serve as a Delegate to the Congress of Future Medical Leaders this March. The Congress is an honors-only program for high school students striving for a career as a physician or in a medical research field. The event is designed to honor, inspire, motivate and direct some of the brightest students in the country and to provide a path, plan and resources to help them reach their goal. He was chosen based on the recommendations of a teacher and a Nobel laureate, and on his academic achievement, leadership potential and determination to serve humanity in the field of medicine. During the two-day virtual Congress, Eric will have the chance to hear Nobel Laureates and National Medal of Science Winners talk about leading medical research; learn about cutting-edge advances and the future in medicine and medical technology and much more.

Safe Haven Sunday

Pornography is one of the leading causes of addictions, abuse, adultery, divorce, and even human trafficking: it is, in short, a pervasive evil inflicting grave wounds on our families. Pornography creates unsafe environments for children and confuses others about attitudes towards sex and marriage. It is a moral issue. For this reason, March 7 has been designated as Safe Haven Sunday in the Diocese of Venice. This day for awareness will give an opportunity to address the harmfulness of pornography in marriages, families, and culture, while providing helpful resources for all. Detailed information about the implementation of this program will be shared in the coming weeks through your Parishes. If you have any questions, please contact Carrie Harkey, Diocesan Coordinator of Family Life at or 941-484-9543.

Faith and Wine Lee County Feb. 25

The next gathering of Faith and Wine Lee County will be a virtual Zoom event beginning at 7 p.m., Feb. 25, 2021. The speaker is Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, who will present “Small Things with Great Love: To Love like Mother Teresa.” To see the complete line-up of speakers, or to register, visit


News briefs for the week of Jan. 20, 2021

Students learn about St. Joseph

During this “Year of St. Joseph,” St. Ann Catholic School 8th grade Junior Catechists Mariana Franco and Jack McGovern taught 1st grade students to create a shrine for St. Joseph during the week dedicated to the Saint. This is part of the ongoing St. Joseph Devotional Project taking place at all Diocesan elementary schools. The “Year of St. Joseph” was established by Bishop Frank J. Dewane in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic on March 19, 2020 and will continue through Dec. 8, 2021 as directed by Pope Francis. St. Joseph is the Protector of the Universal Church.

Marriage Prep Retreats for 2021

The Diocese Office of Family Life is offering a “Day of Reflection” retreats for couples preparing for the Sacrament of Marriage. A specially prepared volunteer team of married couples and a priest will share their experiences and information with the intention of enabling couples to be more aware of the privileges and responsibilities of marriage. The retreats in English are from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., April 17, Aug. 7 and Nov. 13, 2021. Retreats in Spanish are at the same time and will be March 6, Aug. 7 and Oct. 30. To register for the English retreats, please visit and to register for the Spanish retreat, please contact St. Jude Parish in Sarasota at 941-955-3934. For more information or to inquire about a virtual option contact Carrie Harkey at 941-484-9543 ext. 3019.

St. Joseph student takes second place in state soccer competition

Emmanuel, a student at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton took second place in the state for his age division in the Knights of Columbus State Soccer Challenge held on Jan. 16, 2021, in Melbourne. Emmanuel, and classmate Connor, won at local, regional and district levels of the Knights Soccer Challenge qualifying for the state events. Well done!

Institute provides Lenten offering

Spend this Lent growing in prayer! “Encountering God in Prayer: A Lenten Journey” is a theological and practical online course offered by the Institute for Catholic Studies and Formation. The course will guide you through the rich and beautiful teaching on personal prayer found in part four of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Short video lectures, online discussions, prayer exercises and other learning activities which constitute the class content. Students log in each week at times most convenient to them. The instructor, Dr. John Gresham, Executive Director of the Institute, has extensive experience teaching on prayer in courses, workshops, and retreats. The course runs from Ash Wednesday Feb. 17, 2021 to April 5. For more information visit the Institute website, call 941-766-7334 or email

Updated times for Sunday Mass on radio in Spanish

St. Jude Parish in Sarasota broadcasts the Holy Mass in Spanish, celebrated by Father Celestino Gutierrez, every Sunday at 8 a.m. on radio station FM 99.1 and 10 a.m. on FM 105.3. We are grateful to the sponsors and SOLMART Media for their collaboration in this effort.

“Child’s Play” virtual fundraiser Feb. 25

Our Mother’s House, a program of Catholic Charities which provides housing and support for homeless mothers and their infant children, is having a virtual fundraiser titled “Child’s Play.” This night of interactive fun begins at 7 p.m., Feb. 25, 2021 with funds raised used to ensure that the mothers and their children receive the suport they need as they strive for self-sufficiency. For information about the event, contact Lisa Ventura at Lisa.Ventura@CatholicCharitiesDov.Org or 941-485-6264. A generous donor has offered to match all donations up to a total of $125,000. Please participate and help make a difference.

Projector installed in school Chapel

The Our Lady of the Angels Chapel at St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples has a new addition of a projector courtesy of the Salesian Sisters Education Fund. Installed on Jan. 11, 2021, the projector allows the text and music for the Mass to be seen by all, removing the need to print worship aids for each Mass or prayer service.

Surviving divorce program beginning in February

A 12-week program called “Surviving Divorce … Hope and Healing for the Catholic Family” will begin Feb. 16, 2021 at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Venice. There will be monthly group gatherings and weekly on-line Zoom meetings. Content includes internet access to a weekly video, group sharing and discussion. Participants will be provided assurance that they are not alone and a place to tell one’s story and be heard. The cost of the program is $25 and includes a Participant’s Workbook and access to all videos. For more information and to register, contact Bob and Chris Smialek at or 815-275-5305

Naples Catholic School Virtual Gala Feb. 3

The Saint Ann School Foundation is hosting its annual Heart for Education Gala, which will be a virtual event on Feb. 3, 2021. The Foundation is dedicated to ensuring a faith-based education remains accessible to all families desiring it for their children, regardless of income. Many of our families have experienced great hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The need is greater now as more families have asked for additional scholarship funds. To register to receive a link to the Virtual Gala, please visit or contact Pamela Macia at 239-262-4110 ext. 307 or or

Cathedral School Gala April 16

The Epiphany Gala is one of our most successful fundraisers for Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School and will take place April 16, 2021 at Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice. The Gala theme is the Amalfi Coast and features both live and silent auctions as well as a dinner and dancing. This year’s Shining Stars are Troy and Joyce Sacco. For more detail, please contact Leah Mihm at 941-615-0284 or Note, this event may become a Virtual Gala if conditions require.

Parish Outreach Center dedicated, blessed in Wauchula

The mission of the new St. Michael Outreach Center in Wauchula is to develop each person’s recognition of their individual dignity and worth through the cultivation of their emotional, spiritual, intellectual and social development. The Center’s supportive economic, therapeutic, and educational resources are designed to provide a healthy framework for personal and social growth within families and the community.

That mission was celebrated with a dedication and blessing ceremony of the Outreach Center by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on Nov. 21, 2020. Participating in the ceremony were staff, volunteers, supporters and local government officials (including Hardee County Manager Lawrence McNaul), as well as the Servant Sisters of the Virgin Matara, the religious sisters who serve at St. Michael Parish. Among the supporters’ present were members of the Our Lady of the Angels Knights of Columbus.

The Outreach Center, purchased and remodeled by the Diocese of Venice, is designed for community outreach to low-income individuals/families and the migrant community. This includes overseeing a food bank and thrift store as well as having afterschool programming, immigration services, mental health counseling from Catholic Charities, and other classes for both children and adults.

As part of the ceremony, a prayer service, which included Bishop Dewane first incensing the exterior and interior of the building as well as blessing the building with holy water. The was followed by comments for key people involved in the Outreach Center.

Bishop Dewane praised everyone for their hard work noting that they are making a real difference in reaching out and providing needed services in this poor economically challenged community.

The blessing was delayed because of the COVID-19 Pandemic and participants wore masks as a precaution. Programming at the Center began several months ago but are limited due to social distancing requirements as well as the ongoing urgent need for supplies.

The afterschool program for kindergarten through fifth grade is supplementing the student’s education by providing small group teacher-led instruction to bring them up to grade level. This is necessary because many are simultaneously learning a second language. Teen helpers assist with homework and provide other guidance for the younger children. Included in the afterschool effort is handwriting and cursive instruction, character formation, as well as outdoor developmental playtime.

Chantelle Garcia, who is an elementary school teacher, assists with the afterschool program as tutor and program coordinator. Garcia explained that in the first three weeks of the program the children made great strides. “It is amazing to see the difference that was made in such a short period of time. Imagine how they will be in three months or longer. There is a wait list because families are learning how well those in the program are doing.”

While the Outreach Center is making a positive impact, there are urgent needs. These include basic school supplies (construction paper, card stock, paints/pastels, crayons, educational games, books) for younger children (K-5). There is also a demand for children’s underwear, socks, shoes and sneakers to help the poorer families provide necessities. Another need is for metal supply cabinets with locks, as well as shelves for storage.

“We are just getting started and we don’t have a lot of money in the community, so our needs are great,” explained Erika Wood, Outreach Center Coordinator.

Another example of a need is that of musical instruments. Thanks to a donation of a grand piano, the Outreach Center does offer piano lessons. However, only a few children are learning to play, while other music lessons are limited to teaching basic notes and rhythm. The wish list includes Yamaha electric pianos (with headphones) as well as other instruments, so as more children can learn at the same time.

Sister Gema Ruiz, who is the Director of Religious Education at St. Michael Parish, said it is a blessing to have the Outreach Center and for Bishop Dewane to be present for a blessing and dedication.

“We are providing needed services in this community and it is good to have the Bishop here to see our work and to inform the Diocese of the blessed work we are doing here in Wauchula,” Sister Gema said.

To learn more about how you can help the St. Michael Outreach Center, you can reach Erika Wood at 863-832-6904,, or you can send donations to: St. Michael Outreach Center, 317 N. 6th Ave., Wauchula, FL 33873.

Online programming a blessing for Religious Education

Religious education programs in Parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice have been embracing the need for more online content. This content can be both exciting and accessible to a more modern generation of young learners.

When the COVID-19 Pandemic struck, causing religious education classes to be taught virtually, the Diocese of Venice was blessed to have temporary free access to, a product of the Augustine Institute which provides a trusted engaging entertainment alternative in support of a Catholic lifestyle so as to help users grow in understanding of their Faith. This is done through Catholic educational content, including Catholic movies, children’s programing, audio dramas and books. In addition, there are online Bible studies, sacramental prep materials, documentaries and talks from leading Catholic experts. All content is available through any electronic device, with much also available in Spanish.

Diocese of Venice Director of Religious Education Anne Chrzan explained that many Parishes already had subscriptions to the content, while others were excited about the new access.

“Many people view Formed as a Catholic “Netflix,” but it really is a lot more than an on-demand movie service,” Chrzan added. “Formed provides educational content for children and adults. The material can be used by Catholic schools and Religious Education programs, youth, parent or senior education groups.  It is relatively easy to watch or learn using your smartphone or computer.”

Liliana Ronderos, Director Religious Education at St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton, began using in April. “It was a God given opportunity that allowed us to continue to reach out to the families and parishioners, despite of the closing.”

Ronderos said the description of what Formed is and access/log in information was shared with parishioners through catechists. “As we were able to get familiarized with the content, we began to incorporate specific Formed materials into our programs.”

By June 2020, St. Joseph Parish was using the programming across the board in some way shape or form. The consistent positive feedback made the decision easy to get a permanent subscription.

The Augustine Institute made an offer to the Diocese to provide, at a discount, for continuing or renewed subscriptions. It was eventually negotiated that Parishes would receive a 50 percent reduction in cost for an annual subscription. This discount not only applied to a maximum of 20 Parishes with new subscriptions but offered a discount for those already registered.

“We were able to continue to enjoy Formed without interruption because of that,” Ronderos said. “We even have a fund towards next year’s subscription. “

At St. Joseph, the Formed content has been used to enhance existing religious education classes in a way that is fun and exciting for everyone. New classes for parishioners are being added. For example, in the coming weeks, the Parish will present an Advent series for adults and more content for children going through sacramental preparations.

One of the few challenges is helping older parishioners navigate the sign-in process and using the website to find desired content, Ronderos explained. Early in 2021, the Parish will be offering greater support for the seniors with the assistance of students in Confirmation classes.

Chrzan said the Diocese of Venice was blessed to come to this important agreement with the Augustine Institute for the benefit of all Parishes. Parishioners need only check with their home Parish to learn how to register and gain immediate access to the programming.

“In light of the Pandemic, this opportunity came about at a critical time, when the faithful needed to have continued, reliable access, to content about the Catholic Faith, all in a way that is safe for everyone,” Chrzan added.

Lee County Parish reaches out to help homeless

Coming together in service for others is a key component of living a faithful Catholic life.

The Lee County Homeless Coalition posted this image to social media on Oct. 1, 2020 of Blessing Bags donated by the faithful of Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers.

Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers offers a variety of programs throughout the year to help encourage parishioners to engage in service to help others in the community. One recent effort is the Blessing Bags Project, which collected items to be distributed to the homeless in Lee County.

Thanks to the generosity and caring of the faithful, more than 200 Blessing Bags were created and shared with the Lee County Homeless Coalition for distribution. The Coalition expressed their appreciation on social media on Oct. 1, 2020, posting photos of the donations received, commenting: “Thank you so much for your generosity!”

While successful, the Blessing Bag project was a challenge during the ongoing global pandemic, explained project lead Chelsea Plesko, Parish Coordinator of Faith Formation.

“With fewer people coming to church on the weekends, we got creative in spreading the word,” Plesko said. “It started as a project for our young parishioners in Faith Formation and grew from there.”

Email blasts, plus online bulletin announcements detailing the specific need and relevant deadlines, helped to spread the word. Key items needed included socks, lip balm, sunscreen, single-serving nuts and beef jerky, as well as toiletries.

A close up of a completed Blessing Bags filled with donated items for the homeless in Lee County created by the faithful of Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers in September 2020.

The response was impressive as most donations were dropped off in bins at the Parish on the weekend of Sept. 20, 2020. Others were creative and ordered what was needed online and had the items delivered directly to the Parish.

“Even though this year was harder than usual for many, it did not stop our parishioners from generously donating to our annual Blessing Bags project,” said Oblate of St. Francis de Sales Father Hugh McGuigan, Pastor of Our Lady of Light. “I’m proud of all those involved that helped us to create over 200 blessing bags for the homeless population in Lee County.”

Because of COVID-19 precautions, all donated items were untouched for 24 hours and before there were separate sorting and packing parties. Plesko explained that in past years these would be large social gathering with refreshments, but in 2020 alterations were made to ensure the work was completed while keeping everyone safe.

Plesko said more than 50 participated in the sorting on Sept. 23 and packing on Oct. 24 as all wore gloves and masks. Children in the Faith Formation program earned service hours for their work.

Once sorted, bag fillers went from station to station to have someone deposit items into gallon Ziploc bags versus just grabbing handfuls of what was needed. In addition to the donated items, each bag included a prayer card and notes of encouragement from the parishioners.

The Blessing Bags project at Our Lady of Light is just one of many the faithful participate in each year. While the pandemic has brought its challenges to these efforts, adjustments have been made to ensure continued success.

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

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 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 Mobile bidding registration can be found at

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 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:

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, or visit