Catholic Schools Week showcases faith-based education

Behind all of the fun and games which take place during the celebration of Catholic Schools Week each year is faith, which shines forth in everything that is done at all 15 of the Diocesan Catholic schools.

Catholic Schools Week 2021 ran from Jan. 31- Feb. 6 with each day focused on different themes, including celebrating the students, faculty and staff, families, Parish, vocations, community and nation.

Using those broad topics as a springboard for different activities, the more than 4,600 students took part in fields days, STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math) activities, academic competitions, collections for the needy, chances for prayer and reflection as well as the celebration of Mass.

Father John Belmonte, SJ, Superintendent of Catholic Education for the Diocese of Venice, celebrated Mass at several Diocesan schools throughout the week. Father delivered the message of how Catholic schools are places of big dreams, bigger than academic or athletic success, but in fact they are where students will grow and deepen in their Faith.

“You are Catholic School students, born to follow your dreams, born to stand out, not stand back,” Father Belmonte told students at St. John Neumann Catholic High School on Feb. 2, 2021. Father stressed that Catholic school students must be known for their Faith. This obligation manifests itself in the way each student prays and believes; in how they make the world a better place; the service they render to the poor and needy; their intellect; and in the peace and love that they desire.

“Everyone should have evidence of the dreams that you have,” Father continued. “We long for Jesus Our Savior. We will meet Our Lord in this church right here at this altar. Let us receive Him into our hearts and souls, realizing this dream every time we celebrate the Most Holy Eucharist.”

In addition to participating in Mass during the week, schools also prayed the rosary. At St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton students wrote prayers for safety during the Pandemic, as well as prayers for their families, teachers, friends and country. The prayers were linked together to form a chain that circled the campus as a reminder that God is with them each day. At the Donahue Academy of Ave Maria, the entire student body participated in an outdoor Eucharistic Procession.

Each school had a day focused on celebrating vocations with most inviting a priest or religious to speak to students. This was done either in person or through a video chat. This time of sharing allowed the students to learn that these men and women have similar interests, but also how they chose to serve God by answering a call to a life in the priesthood or religious life. Some schools wrote letters to the priests and area religious, thanking them for the support of the faith-life at the school.

Throughout the week many schools also helped to give back to the community by collecting food, blankets or toiletries which were then presented to area charitable organizations.

This is only a small sample of what took place during Catholic Schools Week 2021 with the Diocese. Check with each school’s social media accounts to see descriptions and images from throughout the week.

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

Demand for food at Parishes remains strong

Wendy Shaver owns a small consulting agency, but her business has been closed since August when all of her clients went out of business due to impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“It has been a very difficult time,” Shaver said on Jan. 28, 2021 as she waited patiently for food that was being distributed  by members of the Sacred Heart Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the parking lot of Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda. “I never thought I would ever need food, but I was desperate as all of my savings are gone. This food will help me get by another few weeks.”

The food is part of the regional Harry Chapin Food Bank mobile food pantry distribution and organized through the Charlotte County COAD (Community Organizations Active in a Disaster) Food Task Force. Distribution take place four times a month, twice at Sacred Heart Parish, and includes a food kit, with about 5 days of meals.

Paul Kaiser, President of the Sacred Heart Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, explained that a core group of volunteers ensures the bi-monthly food distribution takes place without a hitch. The Conference has also kept its offices near the Punta Gorda Airport open three days a week. On these days, food is distributed to 40 to 80 individuals and families, or up to 240 a week beyond those helped through the mobile food pantry. That compares to 150 assisted per month before the Pandemic.

Meanwhile, at Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers, the small food pantry there is officially open each Tuesday morning, but for families in need of assistance during off-hours, help is available.

“We help up to 100 families a week, but we support several hundred households regularly since not every family comes weekly – some come biweekly, or monthly, or only occasionally in an emergency situation,” explained Father Patrick O’Connor, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, Pastor of Jesus the Worker Parish.

The pantry receives food from the Harry Chapin Food Bank, as well as from MidWest Food Bank, but the Parish staff and volunteers must pick up its own food. The Parish also relies upon donations from the faithful within the community and from surrounding Parishes.

“The food pantry is a defining ministry in the Christian life of our community,” Father O’Connor described. “Our people are proud of the work of our pantry and see it as an important part of our Catholic identity as a Church community, fulfilling one of the great mandates of love of Jesus – to feed the hungry. One might think that such a ministry would be a drain in the community, but quite the opposite, it draws people to our community, and it is life giving.”

The food pantry at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula also remains very busy. The weekly distribution early Saturday mornings begins before sunrise and is over by 9 a.m. The food comes from various sources, including parishioners, the All Faiths Food Bank in Sarasota, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., and other churches.

Sister Maria Madre de le Alborada Quizhpe, Sister Servant of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, who organizes the weekly distribution, said the number of families seeking help each week remains high at 200 or more. That is only slightly less than the peak immediately after the Pandemic began.

“There are many who are out or work or working less, so the need is there and they come to St. Michael’s for help,” Sister Alborada said, noting that the farming community has been impacted hard by the pandemic as crops are smaller because demand is less. Because of the different sources, the food distributed in Wauchula is a mix of fresh vegetables, frozen meat, bread and essentials, such as beans and rice. When possible, candy is added for the small children.

In Wauchula, as is the case in Punta Gorda and Fort Myers, the food distribution relies on a core group of volunteers who work during the distribution or in advance to help prepare the food. They also each rely on the generosity of those individuals who are not facing as much of an impact during the Pandemic as others.

“People have been generous, and it is making a big difference,” Sister Alborada said. “But the demand is still here.”

How to support or volunteer at a food pantry

Sacred Heart Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, visit, call 941-575-0767 or write to 25200 Airport Road, Punta Gorda, FL, 33950.

Jesus the Worker Parish food pantry, call 239-693-5333, or write to 881 Nuna Ave., Fort Myers, FL 33905.

St. Michael Parish, call 863-773-4089, or write to 408 Heard Bridge Road, Wauchula, FL 33873.

Another way to help

Walk for the Poor

The 12th annual Walk for The Poor to support the Charlotte County Conferences of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, is 9 a.m., Feb. 13, 2021, at the Laishley Park Pavilion in Punta Gorda (registration begins at 8 a.m.). Each year, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul hosts the Walk for the Poor to raise funds and to increase awareness of the needs of the less fortunate living in our Charlotte County community.

The walk will proceed along the Trabue Harbor Walk or the northbound U.S. 41 bridge, if preferred. For more information call: 917-549-0555; to register or donate visit our website at and click on Walk for the Poor.

Longtime Pastor of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs dies

Father Joseph F. Connolly, Third Order Regular Franciscan (TOR), Pastor of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish in Sarasota, died Jan. 16, 2021, at the age of 79.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said the death of Father Connolly was a loss for the Diocese and in particular Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish, where he served as Pastor for 24 years.

“Father Connolly was a priest who had a passion for his ministry,” Bishop Dewane said. “Please pray for the repose of the soul of Father Connolly, for the people of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs who found inspiration by his good work, and for his family for whom this loss is particularly personal.”

Born on Aug. 9, 1941, in Springfield, Mass., Father Joe, as most called him, entered the Third Order Regular community in September 1959. He professed first vows on July 1, 1962. Educated at St. Francis College (now university) and St. Francis Seminary in Loretto, Pa., Father Connolly was ordained May 18, 1968 in Loretto.

After ordination he was assigned to a teaching position in Fairless Hills, Pa., where he eventually became principal. While teacher and principal he served on weekends in parishes in the Diocese of Trenton, N.J., including in Willingboro, and for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at a parish in Fairless Hills. From there, Father Connolly served at a parish in Cinnaminson, N.J.

It was in 1994 when Father Connolly was assigned to the Diocese of Venice where he was Parochial Vicar at St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton from 1994-1996. Father was then appointed as Pastor of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish in Sarasota in late 1996 where he served until his death.

While at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, Father Connolly was instrumental in forming the Mission of what became Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch and was on the Fundraising Board for Bethesda House of Catholic Charities in Sarasota. A special Padre Pio Shrine was dedicated on parish property February 23, 2006, at the direction of Father Connolly and funded by the Saint Padre Pio Society. This Shrine has since become nationally recognized.

For the Diocese of Venice, Father served on the Presbyteral Council, the College of Consultors, and was the longtime Spiritual Advisor of the Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women.

Known for making fettucine alfredo for guests, something he said was the only dish his fellow seminarians liked while he was in formation. In a 2004 interview with the Florida Catholic, Father Connolly was asked what person, other than Christ, he admires most. His reply was, “St. Francis of Assisi, although I don’t measure up to him, either.”

He was honored as a Golden Jubilarian at the 2018 Chrism Mass and on that occasion, Father noted with time he had gained a renewed perspective on his sacramental ministry. Reflecting on his own years as priest, Father said that “after 50 years of faithful service we jubilarians come to realize just how much God loves us; how Jesus works through us; and how the Holy Spirit still inspires us.”

In his final months of ministry, Father Connolly had a serious illness and was unable to celebrate Mass publicly out of health concerns and he regularly posted video messages to the faithful about his progress in recovery and how his prayers were always focused on the faithful and their spiritual wellbeing.

The Funeral arrangements for Father Connolly T.O. R., are as follows:

Viewing – 4-7 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish, 833 Magellan Drive, Sarasota;

Mass of Christian Burial – 11 a.m., Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, at the Parish.

St. Clare Fraternity Welcomes Four New Members

By Beatrice T. Sanford, OFS, Special to the Florida Catholic

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, 2020, was a cause for celebration as the St. Clare Secular Franciscan Fraternity welcomed four candidates who made their permanent profession in a socially distanced ballroom on the campus of Ave Maria University in Ave Maria.

St. Francis of Assisi, who founded the Secular Franciscan Order in the 13th century, was known for his devotion to the Blessed Mother. Father Rick Martignetti, OFM, Ave Maria University Catholic Campus Minister, celebrated Mass which included the Rite of Profession.

The newly professed members of the St. Clare Secular Franciscan Fraternity are Mary Ellen Becker of St. Raphael Parish in Lehigh Acres, David Bowen of St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, and Richard Nozewski and Robert Schoenborn of Ave Maria Parish in Ave Maria.

The St. Clare Secular Franciscan Fraternity is a community of 25 men and women from various parishes in Southwest Florida called by God to follow the Gospel life after the example of St. Francis of Assisi, to share his charism, and to make it present in the world. Members pray daily and gather on the first Sunday of the month in Ave Maria Parish Hall. Secular Franciscans express the teachings of Jesus Christ through their daily lives, both in prayer and in action, going from the Gospel to life and from life to the Gospel.

To become a Secular Franciscan, there is a process that can last between 18 months to almost three years. It begins with orientation to determine the basic disposition to Franciscan Charism and life in fraternity. What follows next is the first phase of initial formation known as Inquiry or discernment where one determines if they truly are being called to this vocation.  Inquirers learn about lay spirituality, the life of St. Francis of Assisi, the history and structure of the Secular Franciscan Order as well as the Rule of the Order written by St. Francis.

If the person is ready to embrace the consecrated life there is a period of Candidacy with focus on the Pauline Rule and Prologue, Sacred Scripture, Franciscan Spirituality, Franciscan Apostolic Life and the Ritual of the Secular Franciscan Order. The Rite of Profession is the final step and lasts a lifetime. As you may surmise, the key word is commitment and guidance by the Holy Spirit.

The hallmarks of the Order’s spirituality are simplicity, poverty, humility, a sense of minority, a complete and active abandonment to God, conversion, transformation, and peacemaking.

For more information, contact Carol Bart OFS at

News briefs for the week of Dec. 7, 2020

Retired priest dies

Father Arthur Schute, a retired priest who served as Director of Pastoral Care at Bon Secours – St. Joseph Hospital in Port Charlotte from 1997-2005, died Dec. 5, 2020 at the age of 78. Father Schute was ordained to the priesthood on Dec. 21, 1967 to the Archdiocese of Newark. He was a graduate of Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Following his retirement in 2005, he continued to assist at Parishes in Charlotte County and was living in the area at the time of his death. Funeral services will be 11 a.m., Dec. 12, 2020, St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, Port Charlotte. Please pray for the repose of the soul of Father Schute and for consolation of his family.

Christmas Day Television Mass for the Homebound

The televised Christmas Day Mass for the Homebound with Celebrant Bishop Frank J. Dewane will air for a full hour on Christmas Day. For viewers in the northern portions of the Diocese (DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Manatee, and Sarasota counties), the Mass will air at 9:30 a.m. on the CW Network. In the southern portions of the Diocese (Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee counties), the Mass will air at 8:00 a.m. on WFTX-TV (FOX-4). Please check your cable provider for channel listings. Leaflet missals are available upon request by calling Gail Ardy at 941-486-4714 or by writing: TV Mass, Diocese of Venice, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285. For more information email

“A Seminarian Story” third installment available

The Diocese of Venice in Florida Office of Vocations recently launched a video series titled, “A Seminarian Story,” to celebrate the 16 Seminarians currently in formation. The first three videos have been released and more will follow approximately every two weeks. The most recent video is about Seminarian James Gates who is discerning his vocation at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami. 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 James Gates can be found at

Prayer vigil held to halt executions

Members of all five Charlotte County parishes participated in a prayer service on Nov. 30, 2020, outside Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda. The event commemorated the worldwide “Cities for Life, Cities Against the Death Penalty” annual observance. Special prayers and a rosary were offered for an end to the use of the death penalty, for all those on death row and for victims of violent crime.

Students help serve meals

Some 20 Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School students helped set up, serve, and breakdown the 20th Annual Sarasota Ministerial Association Feed the Homeless Thanksgiving Lunch on Nov. 25, 2020. This was the ninth year during which students from Cardinal Mooney volunteered.

Parish helps spread Christmas cheer

Our Lady of Light Parish hosted its annual Service Morning on Nov. 22, 2020 with families and children gathering to make Christmas cards to send overseas for our military as well as Christmas candy jars for local foster children.

Door decorating contest

Sister April Hoffman, a Salesian Sister of St. John Bosco, is seen with a student in front of a decorated door at St. John Neumann Catholic School in Naples on Dec. 3, 2020. The door are decorated for the holidays and part of a school-wide competition.

Mass at Dawn (Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo)

The Mass at Dawn will take place at 6:00 a.m., December 15 – 23, and at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, December 20 at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, 1441 Spear St., Port Charlotte. All are welcome to attend each day or when you are able. This Mass comes from the Catholic custom of gathering for celebration of the Eucharist in predawn hours in the nine days before Christmas. Masks are required. Please call 941-661-8335 for further information.

“What is Catholic Theology?”

The Institute for Catholic Studies and Formation is offering a 16-week online course starting Jan. 11, 2020 that introduces students to the principles, practices, and sources of Catholic Theology. The course “What is Catholic Theology? [Ecclesial Nature and Mission of Theology]” counts as a pre-requisite for those beginning the online MA Program in Theology and Christian Ministry at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Anyone interested in a graduate-level introduction to Catholic Theology is welcome to attend for a discounted price. The course is taught by Dr. John Gresham, Executive Director of the Institute, who brings 20 years of experience teaching at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, and Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. For more information, or to register for the course, visit the website of the Institute for Catholic Studies and Formation and click on the link to COURSES. For other information, contact Dr. Gresham by email or phone (941) 766-7334.

Help Your Parish

Parishes face increased risk of financial shortfalls due to the Coronavirus Pandemic and its effects on everyday life. Parishes depend on weekly financial gifts to continue their ministries, especially in this critical time of crisis. Please prayerfully consider an online donation to your parish by visiting You may also contribute through your usual channels (e.g., envelopes, and through the Parish online giving option). Together we will navigate through this Pandemic, aid those in need, and secure the road ahead for the Parishes within the Diocese of Venice. Please continue to pray for the repose of the souls of those who have died from Coronavirus, for the recovery of the sick, for the strength of healthcare workers and caregivers, as well as for an end to this health crisis. Thank you for your generosity.

Do You Need Help?

If you need assistance from Catholic Charities for food, financial assistance, or tele-mental health counseling, please call the number for your area listed below between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday to Friday:

*  Sarasota/Manatee/DeSoto/Hardee/Highlands counties: 844-385-2407

*  Charlotte/Lee/Hendry/Glades counties: 844-385-2423

*  Collier County: 844-385-2404.

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.

Support After Abortion Virtual Conference Oct. 28-30

It comes as no surprise that in its purest sense, the Pro-Life movement seeks to end abortion. But how to go about doing that is a topic of much discussion with a wide range of programs and approaches — all with varying levels of effectiveness.

God planted the seeds for the formation of a new, innovative and unconventional approach with Support After Abortion’s Board President, Janine Marrone, in 2016 at a Luncheons for Life event she sponsors in the Diocese of Venice. Hearing first-hand the emotional devastation, shame and pain that nearly always follows an abortion, while recognizing the stark fact that 50 percent of women will have a repeat abortion, Marrone started a grassroots effort to heal those who are hurting.

Since its founding in 2017, Support After Abortion (SAA) is on a mission to strengthen healing from the impacts of abortion worldwide. Through its network, the organization fosters collaboration and connections between those impacted by abortion and experts in healing. SAA is a center of excellence that strengthens and elevates programs using innovative approaches, methods, education and research.  Ultimately, we build new perspectives rooted in real-life stories; stories that truly change the way the world views abortion.

To expands its reach, the first SAA Healing Network Virtual Conference in July 2020 was designed to unite and connect advocates for abortion healing and reached 5,600 advocates and leaders in abortion healing in 22 countries and 6 continents. It was so successful that an even bigger event is set to take place Oct. 28-30, 2020.

The conference provides educators, program leaders, counselors, therapists, and clergy with access to meaningful, research-based educational resources to make their organizations, staff and individual roles highly effective. Educational and inspirational sessions will be a mix of live and recorded presentations from 60+ leading abortion healing experts globally.

In fact, you’ll find these familiar faces among the keynote presenters: Bishop Frank J. Dewane; Father Joe Gates, Administrator of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish in Parrish; Father Shawn Monahan, Oblate of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Parochial Vicar at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

In addition, Abby Johnson, the author of the best-selling book and subsequent movie, “Unplanned.” Abby had an eight-year career with Planned Parenthood; one that caused her to ultimately flee the organization and become an outspoken advocate for the pro-life movement.  Abby travels across the globe sharing her harrowing story of her career with Planned Parenthood before becoming an outspoken opponent of abortion. She is the founder of And Then There Were None, a ministry designed to assist abortion clinic workers in transitioning out of the industry.

Registration for the Healing Network Virtual Conference is FREE at  For more information about the Healing Network Virtual Conference or Support After Abortion, please contact Lisa Rowe at 941-468-6148 or

Poor Clare feast celebration muted

The Poor Clare Sisters, living a secluded life in a monastery on Fort Myers Beach, are examples for all to follow, shaking off their worldly burdens to live as St. Clare of Assisi called, in cloister, devoting their life to serve as the Lord called.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane expressed his profound gratitude to the Poor Clare Sisters for their response to God while remarking how the ongoing global pandemic has forced many into isolation, which he prays has encouraged the faithful to use that time growing closer to the Lord.

The Bishop celebrated Mass on Aug. 11, 2020, the Feast of St. Clare, for the religious sisters at the San Damiano Monastery of St. Clare on Fort Myers Beach.

Abbess Sister Mary Frances Fortin and the other religious sisters at the Monastery, expressed their appreciation for the Bishop’s presence, particularly on the Feast Day of their Founder, which is an annual occasion.

“We are deeply grateful to have Bishop here with us every year, but his presence has a greater meaning to us during this pandemic,” Sister Mary Frances said. “The continued support we receive from the Bishop and Diocese is overwhelming.”

The Mass was celebrated without the normal standing-room-only congregation as the Chapel is too small to accommodate the faithful and still maintain social distancing.

“We miss the people who come to visit,” Sister Mary Frances said of those who would attend the daily Mass or come to pray in the Chapel. “Our prayers are with everyone who is suffering through these difficult times and we turn to the Lord in joyful hope that will we be able to open our doors again soon.”

Bishop Dewane said the good work of Poor Clare Sisters, “through your prayers and your example that should inspire all to devote one’s life in service to the Lord.”

The Poor Clare religious community of women was begun 800 years ago when Chiara Offreduccio, a young noble woman of Assisi, Italy, cast off her rich garments and donned the simple garb of St. Francis of Assisi to live, as he did, the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Poor Clare Sisters have called Fort Myers Beach their home since 1988. The Monastery became independent in 2009. Although the Sisters never solicit donations, many parishioners bring them groceries and send them money each month.

The daily life of the Poor Clare Sisters is set into a traditional monastic framework of prayer and work. Holy Mass and Liturgy of the Hours are the anchor of their day. Outside these times, the sisters engage in all the ordinary tasks of life in a spirit of sisterly sharing, joy and peace. A sister might be found packing up an order of hosts for one of the local parishes, taking care of the altar, sweeping the cloister walk or doing some laundry. Or you may find a sister at a desk, doing bookkeeping, answering mail, preparing spiritual cards or planning the liturgy.

While the Chapel is currently closed to the public due to the pandemic, you can contact the Poor Clare Sisters by calling 239-463-5599, emailing prayer requests to, or by visiting

Donations in support of the Poor Clare Sisters can be sent to: San Damiano Monastery of St. Clare, 6029 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931.

Prayer to St. Clare
“O glorious Saint Clare, God has given you the power of working miracles and the favor of answering the prayers of those who invoke your assistance in misfortune, anxiety and distress; we beseech you, obtain for us from Jesus, through Mary, what we beg of you so fervently and hopefully if it be for the greater honor and glory of God and for the good of our souls. Amen.”

News briefs for week of Aug. 10, 2020

Ordination to the Transitional Diaconate Aug. 29

Diocese of Venice Seminarian Alex Pince will be ordained to the Transitional Diaconate by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on Aug. 29, 2020, at Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Ave. W., Venice. The Transitional Diaconate Ordination Mass will begin at 11 a.m., with a reception to follow. All are invited to attend.   

Diocesan Prayer Campaign begins Aug. 15

A Diocese of Venice Fall Prayer Campaign for Peace and Conversion in our country begins on Aug. 15, 2020 (the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) and includes a 54-day Rosary Novena. These daily prayers and devotions are designed to help each of us truly encounter Christ and be transformed by His love. This transformation is that of true holiness. Each one of us is called to continuously offer ourselves to God, growing in holiness day by day. To learn more, please visit

Voter Guides available

Please be advised that the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops Candidate Questionnaire is available at Candidate responses are posted on the website and appear in two formats: 1) lists of all candidates on the primary and general election ballots; and 2) primary election candidates in table format by Diocese. If you have any questions, please contact Jeanne Berdeaux at or 941-374-1068.

Religious sisters renew vows

Congratulations to Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco Katie Flanagan (Immaculata La Salle Catholic High School, Miami), April Cabaccang (St. John Neumann Catholic High School, Naples), April Hoffman (St. John Neumann) and  Maria Fe Tansioco (Immaculata La Salle) on the renewal of their vows on Aug. 4, 2020 at Our Lady of the Angels Chapel of St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples. Father Bob Kantor, Pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Naples presided over the renewal of vows. The ceremony was witnessed by members of the student government. The temporary professed sisters usually renew their vows in Haledon, N.J., at their Mother House, but because of pandemic travel restrictions, the Salesian Sisters who minister in Florida renewed their vows in Our Lady of the Angels Chapel at Neumann.

1,800 books devoured in summer reading program

Congratulations to St. Joseph Catholic School summer readers who participated in the Patterson Summer Reading Challenge! These students read more than 1,800 books, completed Accelerated Reader goals, shared books weekly via Zoom, and completed book activities. Because of our new start date, our readers still have until Aug. 14, 2020, to achieve their High Points goals, and some are very close! Great work! Each student earned a wristband for completing books and achieving goals.

New windows being installed

The installation of stained-glass windows at Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch is making excellent progress. The newly constructed Church was dedicated in 2019 but the stained-glass windows were not ready at the time. Since mid-June 2020, the new windows are being installed and adding greater beauty to the interior of the worship space.

Sarasota priest joins reading campaign

Pallottine Father Patrick Wilson, Parochial Vicar of St. Martha Parish in Sarasota recently took part in a webcast series of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading “This Book is Cool!” hosted by Director Beth Duda. The featured book on the July 12, 2020 episode, was “The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders” written by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Petra Mathers. The project is generously funded by The Patterson Foundation, is designed to encourage children, PreK- Gr. 3, to read, and includes a selected book, a special guest, new vocabulary words for the Word Bank, and a suggested activity that goes with the book.

Bradenton food pantry benefits from postal drive

The National Association of Letter Carriers headed up an employee food drive at all five post offices in Bradenton all to benefit the St. Joseph Parish Food Pantry, the largest such pantry in Manatee County.  The postal carriers.  collected food throughout the month of July 2020 and brought it, along with a monetary check in the amount of $1,000, to the food pantry on July 29, 2020.  This action took the place of a national food drive which was cancelled, impacting food banks through the country. Thank you, Bradenton letter carriers, for your generosity.

New Superintendent meets Principals

Shares vision about building Catholic School Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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