News Briefs for the week of April 26, 2024

Vocations talk inspires young women

Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers hosted a visit on April 16, 2024, from Sister Maria Nikipoia, a perpetually professed Sister of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará (SSVM). Sister Nikipoia recently came to Florida after ministering in Guyana for 5 years and currently she ministers at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula. Sister spoke to the students about how to discern God’s will for our lives, specifically our vocation. Students were able to ask questions of Sister Nikipoia regarding religious life and the work of her Religious Order.

Charities fun day includes special visit

The Remake Learning Days Family Fun Day for residents of Casa San Juan Bosco, a farmworker housing community in Arcadia run by Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., took place April 20, 2024. There were games, food and information booths. There was also the surprise arrival of a Florida Department of Forestry helicopter landing in the soccer field. The two pilots answered many questions and allowed the children to climb up and into the helicopter.

New playground equipment wows students

If the pre-school and kindergarten students at St. Catherine Catholic School in Sebring are any judge, the newly installed playground equipment is a hit. The playground for pre-school and kindergarten students received an upgrade in early April 2024 with woodchips serving as a soft surface and interactive equipment with a combination slide and educational portal. The equipment was made possible thanks to the PTO (Parent Teacher Organization), as well as individual donors.

Vocation Discernment Retreat May 11 in Cape Coral

A Vocations Discernment Retreat is taking place beginning at 10:30 a.m., May 11, 2024, at St. Katherine Drexel Parish, 1922 SW 20th Avenue, Cape Coral.  If you are of high school or college age, or a young adult, and wish to discover more about different vocations, plan to attend this one-day Retreat. The day will include breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and presentations regarding the different Vocations. Priests, as well as religious men and women will be present throughout the day. This retreat is co-sponsored by the Diocese of Venice Vocations Office and St. Katharine Drexel Parish. The cost for the day is $25. To register, please following the link at, or for additional information, please contact or

Theology on Tap continues

Fun, faith and fellowship were part of the monthly Theology on Tap outreach to young adults on April 18, 2024, at the Mandeville Beer Garden in Sarasota. The featured speaker in April was Father Rafal Ligenza, Pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton. The relaxed atmosphere takes place in the garden for food and refreshments, presentations, and discussions about the Catholic Faith. Theology on Tap takes place at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month. The next gathering will be May 16. For more information, please contact Jim Gontis at

Calling all Pro-Life Advocates! 

If you’d like to volunteer to help educate people on the truth about the pro-abortion amendment on the November ballot, plan to attend a training opportunity within the Diocese of Venice in May (one of two). The first training is Monday, May 13, 2024, from 11:45 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Leadership Institute, 2163 Main Street (downtown), Sarasota.  The second session is also from 11:45 a.m., Wednesday, May 15, at St. John XXIII Parish Center, 13060 Palomino Lane, Fort Myers. Lunch will be included at both sessions.  Register online at for either session by May 8. If you have questions, please contact Jeanne Berdeaux at 941-374-1068 or

Eucharistic Adoration for Life

You are invited to spend time with Our Lord in Eucharistic Adoration anytime between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (abortion days at Planned Parenthood) at Mary’s House (next to Community Pregnancy Clinic, 1419 7th Street, Sarasota) to pray for an end to abortion. Questions?  Contact Ginger at or 941-224-0662.

Marian Eucharistic Conference in May

All are invited to the 13th Annual Ave Maria University Marian Eucharistic Conference May 10-12, 2024, “My Soul Proclaims the Greatness of Our Lord.” Featured speakers will include Fox News and EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo, Father Robert Sirico co-founder of the Acton Institute, “Women of Grace” Founder Johnnette B. Williams, President and Co-Founder of “Foundation of Prayer for Priests” Kathleen Beckman. In addition to these great talks special Spanish sessions will also be offered including talks by Sister Maria Jose of Servants of the Pierced Heart of Jesus, Father Rafael Capo, Director of the US Bishops’ Regional Office in Miami, and Father David Vidal, Pastor of Ave Maria Parish.  Music ministry will be provided by Jon Nevin. The cost is $190 per person, which includes lodging, meals, and conference fee for the weekend. For more information about our speakers or to register for this event visit, call 239-348-4725, or email

Chrism Mass – Symbol of Unity – Renewal of Priestly Promises; Consecration and Blessing of Holy Oils

Bishop Frank J. Dewane was joined by more than 150 priests from across the Diocese for the annual Chrism Mass March 26, 2024, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

The Chrism Mass, which the Bishop concelebrates with priests from throughout the Diocese and during which he consecrates the sacred Chrism and blesses the other oils, is among the principal manifestations of the fullness of the Bishop’s Priesthood and is considered to be a sign of the close bond between the Priests and their Bishop. For it is with the sacred Chrism consecrated by the Bishop that the priests are ordained, the newly baptized are anointed, and those to be confirmed are signed. It is with the Oil of Catechumens that catechumens are prepared and disposed for Baptism. Finally, it is with the Oil of the Sick that those who are ill are comforted in their infirmity.

This celebration, which was witnessed by more than 1,000 of the faithful, including 350 students from Diocesan Catholic schools, is an expression of unity of the priests with their Shepherd, the Bishop of the Diocese.

The celebration not only brings into focus the historical context of the priesthood by the renewal of Priestly Promises, but also presents an opportunity for the priests to recall their ordination and to reflect upon their ongoing priestly vocation. Having all the priests of the Diocese come together at the Chrism Mass, united with their Bishop, on the eve of the Easter Triduum, reminds priests of their calling to act in the person of Christ – in persona Christi. This is the largest annual gathering of the clergy for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

During the Renewal of Priestly Promises the gathered priests stood as one, and spoke with one voice responding, “I am,” three times to a series of questions asked by Bishop Dewane. These same questions were asked of them at the time of their Ordination to the Priesthood.

Bishop Dewane publicly thanked the priests for their continued service to the People of God throughout the Diocese of Venice. He also called upon the faithful to continue to support the priests who bring the Sacraments into their lives.

“The Chrism Mass highlights the role and responsibility of the ordained in relationship with their Bishop, but primarily in their relationship to God and to Jesus Christ in offering that eternal sacrifice at the table of the Lord,” Bishop Dewane said. “My brothers, our hands were and remain anointed with the oil of Chrism, the same Chrism that will be instituted today; may Jesus always preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and in the Holy Office, in sacrifice to God.”

The anointed hands of a priest are sacramental instruments that baptize, confirm, bless, absolve sin, consecrate, offer the Bread of Life, the Chalice of Salvation; they are sacramental instruments that touch heads who ask for a blessing and at the end of life, open the door to eternity for many.

“Those are the instruments the Lord gives us,” Bishop Dewane said. “St. Teresa of Avila emphasized this point, saying, ‘Christ has no hands on earth but yours.’ Your hands are important in that role. They pray, they labor, they offer compassion and peace to those you meet. The anointed hands have been further consecrated, use them carefully for what God wants.”

While the priesthood can be challenging, the Bishop said that the heart of the priest “pulsates the lifeblood of the Body of Christ, the Church, keeping Her alive, active and sacred. Let it be part of who you are. That beating heart; let it be for Christ in every way.”

Pope Francis said the grace of the priesthood is for service, not for glory, as there is no recompense greater for a priest than the friendship with Jesus Christ. Seeking one’s own glory robs the priest, and ultimately the faithful, of the presence of Christ.

“We must all be careful of not letting our hearts and hands get numb to the repeated exercise of our service, but recognize them as a blessing and grace for those whom we serve,” Bishop Dewane said. “Be men of a priestly heart, so the faithful can approach and listen to you, as they yearn to be faithful themselves. Let them feel the presence of the Lord, through you as a priest, while they seek your companionship on their spiritual journey.”

During the Chrism Mass, Bishop Dewane recognized the seven Priests and four Permanent Deacons who are celebrating the 25th and 50th anniversaries of their ordination for their years of service to Christ and Holy Mother Church. Bishop Dewane also recognized Father Celestino Gutierrez, who is marking his 60th anniversary as a priest in 2024 and recently retired as founding Pastor of St. Jude Parish in Sarasota.


In attendance for this special occasion were religious men and women; Diocesan seminarians; Knights and Dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem; Knights and Dames of the Sovereign Order of Malta; the Knights of Columbus, including those of the Color Corps; members of the Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women; students from Diocesan Catholic schools; as well as the faithful of the Diocese of Venice.

Sacred Chrism Oil

The Chrism Mass takes its name from the sacred Chrism oil, the most eminent of the three holy oils, which the Bishop consecrates and blesses for use by Parishes of the Diocese. Bishop Dewane referred to the Gospel message which described the oils as being the oil of gladness, which represent the indelible mark each bestows.

The Oil of the Sick, used for those who seek anointing, and the Oil of the Catechumens, which is imposed on those preparing for baptism, are blessed, by the Bishop at different times during the Chrism Mass. The sacred Chrism is both blessed and consecrated. The verb “consecrate” is applied to the action of making holy the chrism and indicates its use to spiritually separate, sanctify and purify its recipients.

For the blessing and consecration of the sacred Chrism oil, the initial motion is to pour balsam into the oil, and then this is mixed. The balsam is added so that it gives the oil a sweet smell intended to remind those who encounter it of the “odor of sanctity.” All of the Faithful are called to strive for sanctity. Next, the Bishop breathes on the Sacred Chrism “to symbolize the Holy Spirit coming down.” At a particular point in the consecratory prayer for the Sacred Chrism, all the priests join the Bishop in extending their right hand toward the Chrism, as the Bishop concludes the prayer.

After Mass, the oils were given to each Pastor to use in their Parish throughout the Liturgical Year.

Priest and Deacon Jubilarians

A reception was held in the Parish Hall following the Mass to honor Priests and Deacons celebrating their jubilee in 2024.

Reverend Mark Svarczkopf spoke for the golden jubilarians. Father Svarczkopf is originally from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and currently assists in the Eastern Deanery of the Diocese of Venice, primarily at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, but also at St. Catherine in Sebring, Our Lady of Grace in Avon Park and St. James in Lake Placid. Father said a key part of being a priest is having the grace to soften the hardest of hearts.

Father Anthony Hewitt spoke on behalf of the silver jubilarians. Father Hewitt spoke about the importance of Holy Week to priests. “The totality and the very reason we exist on this planet – Jesus Christ – that Holy Hour where He goes to glorify His Heavenly Father; where He goes to die and rise on Easter Sunday.” Father prayed that the faithful find the beauty of the Paschal Triduum, because many “don’t see the joy of Holy Thursday; the magnificent beauty and the glory that is Good Friday; and they never ever come to Easter Vigil.” Father Hewitt is currently Pastor at Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Boca Grande.

Also celebrating 50 years were Father Richard Bondi, who assists at Ave Maria Parish and University in Ave Maria; and Father Brian Manning, who assists at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples. Additional priest silver jubilarians were Father Victor Caviedes, who is Parochial Vicar at St. Jude Parish in Sarasota; Father Anthonio Jean, who is Parochial Vicar at Sacred Heart Parish in Bradenton; and Father Jayabalan (Jay) Raju, Administrator of St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers.

Deacon Michael Leahy, a golden jubilarian, is retired. Celebrating their silver jubilees are Deacon Edward Gwiazda, who assists at St. Raphael Parish in Lehigh Acres; Deacon William Hickey, who assists at Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch; and Deacon Alfred Mauriello, who assists at St. Finbarr Parish in Naples.

News briefs for the week on March 8, 2024

Bishop Frank J. Dewane, in consultation with the Priest Personnel Board, announces the following:

Father Celestino Gutierrez, retired as Pastor of St. Jude Parish, Sarasota, effective February 19, 2024, and thus, is relieved of his duties as Pastor of St. Jude Parish, Sarasota.

Father Jiobani Batista, as Pastor of St. Jude Parish, Sarasota, effective March 11, 2024, and thus is relieved of his duties as Pastor of Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish, LaBelle.

Father Marcial Garcia, as Pastor of Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish, LaBelle, effective March 11, 2024, and thus relieved of his duties as Pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Moore Haven.

Father Remigious Ssekiranda, as Administrator of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Moore Haven, effective March 11, 2024, and thus relieved of his duties as Parochial Vicar of St. Paul Parish in Arcadia.

Father Pawel Kawalec, as Parochial Vicar of St. Paul Parish in Arcadia, effective March 11, 2024, and thus relieved of his duties as Parochial Vicar of St. Catherine Parish in Sebring.

Father Anthonio Jean, as Parochial Vicar of Sacred Heart Parish, Bradenton, effective February 26, 2024, and thus, is relieved of his duties as Parochial Vicar at St. Katharine Drexel Parish, Cape Coral.

Father Shawn Roser, as Parochial Vicar of Resurrection of Our Lord Parish, Fort Myers, effective March 11, 2024, and thus is relieved of his duties as Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Lakewood Ranch and as Director of Vocations and Seminarian Formation for the Diocese of Venice.

Father Alexander Pince, as Director of Vocations and Seminarian Formation for the Diocese of Venice, effective March 11, 2024, while retaining half time duties as Parochial Vicar of Epiphany Cathedral, Venice.

Father Alan Baldarelli, as Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Lakewood Ranch, effective March 11, 2024.

Last chance to register for Diocesan Eucharistic Conference

March 12, 2024, is the deadline to register for the Diocese of Venice Eucharistic Conference on March 16 at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers. This effort, in support of the Church’s National Eucharistic Revival, is to place an emphasis on the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist, will be an all-day event of faith and fellowship, featuring inspirational Catholic speakers, including nationally acclaimed Catholic speaker and author Steven Ray, Crystalina Evert, Kathia Aranga, Father Elvis Gonzalez, and Tim Glemkowski. English and Spanish sessions will be offered. All are welcome. The day will include Mass, as well as adoration, and confessions. For more information, and a video invitation from Bishop Frank J. Dewane, please visit

Cheer team wins competition

Congratulations to the Incarnation Catholic School Elementary Cheer Team for winning first place in the East Coast Championships – The Takeover 2024 Cheerleading Competition March 2-3, 2024, in Wesley Chapel. Great job girls, coaches and parents for all your hard work and dedication!

Arcadia youth take part in Stations of the Cross

Youth from St. Paul Parish in Arcadia learned about and took part in the Stations of the Cross on March 1, 2024. Led by Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Light, the youth dedicated their prayer for peace in the world.

Naples high school hosts eighth graders

St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples was overrun by more than 120 enthusiastic 8th graders who were at the school to experience a day in the life of a Celtic student. From hitting the weights in the gym to finding solace in the chapel, the future Celtics explored every corner of the vibrant campus. But the excitement didn’t stop there! The young guests were hands-on with a chemistry experiment, embarked on a scavenger hunt, and put their knowledge to the test in a lively trivia session with some of Nuemann’s amazing teachers. The students were from nearby St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School and St. Ann Catholic School and many are discerning whether to attend St. John Neumann in the fall.

Walk for the Poor in Punta Gorda March 16

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s 15th annual Walk for the Poor is set for March 16, 2024 at Gilchrist Park. The yearly event raises money to help Charlotte County’s four St. Vincent de Paul conferences Sacred Heart, St. Charles Borromeo, St. Maximillian Kolbe and San Antonio, which provide assistance to those in need, including clothing, linens, housewares, furniture and limited financial assistance.  Registration is at 8 a.m., followed by the walk at 9 a.m.  You can register and donate at  For more information, call 917-549-0555 or

Patriot’s Plaza marks 10th anniversary

Diocese of Venice Chancellor Dr. Volodymyr Smeryk is seen with Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School students on March 2, 2024, at the 10th anniversary celebration of the opening of Patriot’s Plaza at Sarasota National Cemetery in Sarasota.

New affordable housing community marks new beginning for many in Fort Myers

With praise from local and state officials, the first phase of the St. Peter Claver Place affordable housing community, with 136-units, was blessed by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on Feb. 27, 2024.

The Diocese of Venice partnered on the project with National Development of America, Inc. (NDA), and was supported by the City of Fort Myers, the Fort Myers Community Redevelopment Agency, and the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.

During the blessing and ribbon-cutting ceremony, Bishop Dewane thanked each of the officials and NDA for their support in getting the much-needed project built. A second phase of 78 units is already in the works.

“We had this property and believed this was the perfect place to build quality housing that is affordable for families,” Bishop Dewane said. “By creating this housing, families with children will stay together, and they can remain in Fort Myers and be great contributors to the community.”

Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson said events, like the ribbon-cutting for St. Peter Claver Place, make the struggles and challenges of governing a city like ours all worthwhile. “Bishop, thank you for pulling this all together.  This shows how government can work to address housing needs working with great community partners.”

City Council member Johnny W. Streets Jr. said he has been on the Council long enough to remember when the project was first proposed more than eight years ago and the results were spectacularly better than he ever imagined.

“This is probably one of my brightest moments since I have been on the Council,” Streets said. “It started with a dream, a vision and now to fruition. Thank you!”

Humbled by the collaborative spirit that has brought St. Peter Claver Place into existence, Michelle Hylton-Terry, Executive Director, Fort Myers Community Redevelopment Agency, said the project is the culmination of a shared mission that has strengthened the community by addressing a critical need.

“The buildings of St. Peter Claver are not merely structures, but they are cornerstones of hope,” Hylton-Terry said. “They provide a foundation for families to build their lives, nurture their dreams, and contribute to the vibrant tapestry of Fort Myers. This development not only fills a crucial need, but serves as a catalyst for growth, fostering a more inclusive and prosperous city.”

Ryan Benson, Chair of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation Board of Directors, said he was proud his agency could facilitate the project and was impressed by the quality of the development and promised support for future projects.

Although the project faced numerous delays and massive price increases since its first proposal in 2016, National Development’s Rick Miller said the time and effort has been worth every moment.

“Not everyone can afford decent housing,” Miller said. “But these apartments are offered at prices families can actually afford. That is the most rewarding part of this.”

The 136 apartments are two- and three-bedroom units, built to hurricane standards and complete with new appliances. There is an on-site playground and clubhouse. An added amenity is the proximity to AFCAAM of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. This program, on the adjacent property, offers after-school care and tutoring, as well as summer programs for children and teens.

Monthly rent ranges from $630 to $1,300, less than half the market rate. Without promotion or advertising, Miller said there is already a waitlist of more than 1,500 for the 136 apartments that will be available in mid-March. Phase 2 is in the planning stages, and total build out would reach 214 units.

Previously, the Diocese and NDA worked together in Arcadia to build San Pedro at Meadow Park affordable housing, Casa San Juan Bosco I & II, 97 duplex homes used for farmworker housing, and later the adjoining St. John Paul II Villas, a 64-unit senior housing complex. Other projects include the recently completed Casa San Alfonso, an affordable housing community in Zolfo Springs. Additional affordable housing projects are currently in development for Lehigh Acres and Immokalee.

In addition, the Diocese has built several low-income elderly housing communities in Sarasota (2), Fort Myers (4), Port Charlotte (2), and Palmetto (2), as well as creating transitional emergency housing for individuals or families in need in partnership with Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. in North Port and Englewood.

Bishop Dewane concluded a blessing prayer service by saying, “May Christ always be here among the residents, nurturing in love, sharing in joy, and comforting in sorrow. Inspired by His teaching, His graces, and His example, may the residents seek to make each home a dwelling place to be shared with God.”

News Briefs for the week of January 19, 2024

Naples Catholic Street Evangelization training Jan. 23

Anyone interested in learning about Catholic Street Evangelization needs to register now for the Jan. 27, 2024, Saint Paul Street Evangelization (SPSE) training at St. John the Evangelist Parish, 625 111th Ave N, Naples. Registration deadline is January 23. SPSE is a response to the mandate of Jesus Christ to “preach the Gospel to all nations…” taking the Catholic Faith to the streets. The organization seeks to train the faithful to witness effectively to the truth, beauty, and goodness of Jesus and His Church in the public square in a non-confrontational way. Saint Paul Street Evangelization is supported and encouraged by Bishop Frank J. Dewane. All Catholics who are 18 years of age and older are cordially invited to participate. The daily Mass is at 8 a.m., and the workshops are from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. A “Live Lab” will follow. The cost is $15 per person and includes continental breakfast and lunch. To register, please visit For additional questions, please contact Jim Gontis at

Health Care Ethics Conference Feb. 17

Medical professionals, students, and interested laypeople are invited to the first annual Converging Roads health care ethics conference on Feb. 17, 2024, at St. Leo the Great Parish, 28290 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs! This one-day conference will offer continuing education credits for health care professionals with presentations centered on the theme of Catholic Medicine in a Secular Society. For more information or to register, visit For information, contact Carrie Harkey at or call 941-484-9543.

Migrant Care Grants application period open

Grant requests for funding of projects in 2024 are available from the Foundation for the Care of the Migrant Poor Fund and need to be submitted no later than Monday, April 1, 2024. To be considered a grant, the project must clearly be seen as a service to the migrant poor or new immigrants. Preference will be given to those projects under Catholic auspices. Applications can be submitted by visiting

Religious sisters complete half marathon

Two Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco, Sister Nicole Daly and Sister Juliana Alfonso, completed the BCC Naples Half Marathon on Jan. 14, 2024. The St. John Neumann Catholic High School teachers completed the 13 miles run while wearing their religious habits. Congratulations to Sisters Nicole and Juliana for their dedication, strength, endurance, and inspiration for all.

Blue Mass in Naples on Jan. 27

St. Agnes Parish, 7775 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples, is hosting the annual Blue Mass for Law Enforcement, Firefighters, and First Responders at 11 a.m., Jan. 27, 2024. The guest is Msgr. Steven P. Hurley, Pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Wilmington, Delaware. Before entering the seminary, Msgr. Hurley served a policeman and eventually detective for eight years in Ocean City, Maryland. This Mass is dedicated to honoring the sacrifice and service of all law enforcement, firefighters and first responders in the community. Hospitality will follow in the Parish Hall.

“Three Kings” Mass brings students together

Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers hosted a “Three Kings” Mass for first graders from St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers and St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral on Jan. 9, 2024. The Feast of the Three Kings, or the Epiphany (Jan. 7), represents the arrival of the three kings in Bethlehem to praise and honor the Baby Jesus. The Mass was celebrated by Jesuit Father John Belmonte, Diocese of Venice Superintendent of Catholic Education. The first graders serenaded everyone with numerous songs. Father Belmonte queried the young children about what they got for Christmas (and what they would give Jesus for Christmas), and made everyone smile the entire time. Following Mass, representatives from both schools were selected as the three “Kings” for this year.


Christmas celebrated across Diocese

The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:10-14

Passed through generations, the retelling of the coming of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in such a humble way, born in a manger to reign over the world, should cause everyone to pause and reflect on the gifts of grace that have come to each one of us through His birth.

This pause and time of reflection is at the heart of what Christmas is all about. This moment was celebrated throughout the Diocese of Venice in a variety of ways, most significantly through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated a pre-recorded TV Mass for the Homebound from St. Bernard Parish in Holmes Beach. This hour-long Christmas Mass reaches thousands of those who are unable to attend Mass for a variety of reasons.

Bishop Dewane also celebrated Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Mass at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. At the Midnight Mass, the Bishop brought forth the Child Jesus and placed Him in the manger as “O Come All Ye Faithful” was sung.

During the Midnight Mass, Bishop Dewane reminded the faithful that we are all part of Salvation History, and as such, we are called to a life within the Church, a Church not like the Roman Empire of Jesus’ time, but the new Kingdom built for us all.

“We are part of a new Kingdom, which started in a humble manger, with the Baby Jesus dressed in swaddling clothes,” Bishop Dewane said. “It is a different type of Kingdom from the time of Caesar Augustus when the individual meant little. The new Kingdom was built for us all. Jesus Christ does care about each one of us.”

Because of this new Kingdom, which is the Church on earth, led by the successors of Peter, we each have an obligation and responsibility to stand and speak up for the Church, the Bishop said.

“Jesus Christ has built for us a Church, a home for you and for me, and for many of our brothers and sisters. We are blessed to receive the goodness of the Lord by the love we express to Him, by our presence and active participation as we live our lives within the Church; being a full member; going to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass each week; and praying to the Lord. This is who we are all called to be,” Bishop Dewane said.

The manger, or Nativity scene, is a celebratory focus of the Christmas Season. Several Diocesan Parishes and each Catholic school took time to have a retelling of the birth of Jesus with young children and in some cases with live animals.

For example, St. Michael Parish in Wauchula held a living Nativity play on Dec. 17, 2024, included a donkey, horses and many angels and shepherds. This community celebration is organized by the religious sisters who serve the Parish, the Sister Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, and includes a festival and the distribution of gifts for the children in the area.

Epiphany Cathedral Parish in Venice and St. William Parish in Naples hosted meals for those in need, the homeless, and the lonely. Epiphany hosted a Christmas Day dinner in the Parish Hall. The St. William luncheon took place at the Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., on Dec. 26, and was coordinated with nearby St. Peter the Apostle Parish and Catholic Charities. Many volunteers supported each effort, including Bishop Dewane who worked the serving line at the Cathedral dinner, bringing smiles to the faces of those who came for a hot meal.

Christmas is also a time to help others so donations for the needy were piled high and distributed. The most common form of collecting items for needy children is through an Angel Tree, where the ornaments are a wish list item for a child or family.

The Angel Tree at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish in Parrish brought in a massive number of toys of all types, as well as more than $4,000 in gift card donations.

In Naples, at St. Ann Parish, the annual Council of Catholic Women Family 2 Family Christmas Gift Giving Program was a huge success, as it is each year. The effort collected more than 600 gift bags filled with needed items and then were distributed to several local charities.

As was the case at each Parish, many gave from their heart and brought bags of items well beyond what was sought. Naturally, no donated item was turned away and it just meant more people were granted a Merry Christmas.

Catholic schools spent much of the month in preparation for Christmas with pageants, recitals, concerts, parties, and other fun, such as creating handmade presents for family members or building and decorating gingerbread houses. At the same time, the schools teach students the true meaning of Christmas, including needing to spread the love of Christ, that is in their hearts, out to the world.

Young carolers from schools throughout the Diocese visited nearby assisted living facilities to spread holiday cheer by singing Christmas carols.

In addition, each school has a service component where students do work, volunteer or obtain funds or gifts to give back to the community. This effort goes into high gear during the Christmas Season.

At St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton, the students collected canned goods for the St. Joseph Food Pantry, and toys and other goodies for needy children in the area.

The Knights on Bikes, a motorcycle club of the Knights of Columbus, donated more than 300 unwrapped Christmas presents for the more than 100 children at the Golisano Childrens Hospital in Fort Myers. Following their drop-off, the Knights gathered around the flagpole in front of the hospital and prayed a rosary for the children.

The “Good News of great joy” was widely celebrated throughout the Diocese of Venice during the Christmas Season, which continues through Jan. 8, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This year, many of the Diocesan faithful thought not only of their own family and friends but also of others, especially those most in need.

Our Lady of Guadalupe feast celebrated throughout Diocese

Prayer, reverence, and music marked the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, throughout the Diocese of Venice.

Celebrated on Dec. 12, the Feast is often linked to the Dec. 9 Feast of St. Juan Diego, the day in 1531 when Our Lady first appeared to the saint near modern day Mexico City.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Feast Day celebrations are a longstanding tradition in the Diocese of Venice. Parishes throughout the Diocese celebrated this special day with Masses. In addition, there were a variety of other events, including overnight vigils, large processions, early morning prayer celebrations, as well as outdoor festivities. Many of these celebrations included a variety of dancers dressed in elaborate costumes or traditional garb.

“Our Lady of Guadalupe means so much to me and for so many others,” said Isabella Cruz of St. Paul Parish in Arcadia who brought a large image of Our Lady to be blessed after Mass on Dec. 10, 2023. “It is a devotion I grew up with and learned about from my grandparents and parents. My mother prayed to the Blessed Virgin when I was sick as a child, and she told me to do so every day. I do pray to her all the time. Our Lady gives me great comfort. On this Feast Day, in a special way, we all join together to give thanks to Her and to honor Her.”

For Diego Reyes, of St. Peter the Apostles Parish in Naples, the celebration is “every holiday wrapped into one. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the acceptance of the Hispanic people into the Universal Catholic Church. We were welcomed by the Blessed Virgin Mary with open arms. What an honor and important moment that deserves our prayerful thanks and a true celebration.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated Mass in a field behind the religious education building at St. Paul Parish in Arcadia on Dec. 10. Concelebrating the Mass were Parish Administrator Father Luis Pacheco and Parochial Vicar Remigious Ssekiranda. The Mass was celebrated ahead of the Feast Day to accommodate the maximum number of families. As a result, more than 1,500 took part in the St. Paul Mass and celebration.

At the conclusion of the Mass, Bishop Dewane blessed a large number of religious articles which were placed before a rose-laden statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  A festival followed the Mass with a wide variety of food as well as dancers. Many of the young girls were dressed as Our Lady, while the young boys dressed as St. Juan Diego, the peasant who saw the apparitions of Our Lady in Mexico City.

A large gathering of the faithful from St. Michael Parish in Wauchula and Holy Child Mission in Bowling Green also took place Dec. 10 at Pioneer Park in Zolfo Springs. The Mass was in three languages, Spanish, English, and Creole, representing the diversity of the Parish. Before Mass, a procession with a statue of Our Lady followed by children carrying flowers led to the park pavilion. A large cultural celebration followed.

Similar scenes were repeated at Parishes throughout the Diocese. Many Parishes held vigils, some lasting until dawn. These included a retelling of the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, mariachi bands, the singing of songs to Our Lady as well as prayer and contemplation before the image of Our Lady.

Our Lady appeared, dressed like an Aztec princess, to St. Juan Diego, a poor widower who was on his way to Mass. She asked, in his native language, to have the Bishop of Mexico build a church in Her honor. Skeptical, the Bishop asked for a sign. Our Lady again appeared to St. Juan Diego who shared the request of the Bishop. So, in the middle of winter Our Lady provided beautiful roses to wrap in St. Juan Diego’s tilma, a cloak made of cactus fibers. When he opened the tilma for the Bishop, the roses fell to the floor and an impression of Our Lady appeared on the tilma in the form an indigenous woman.

This apparition led to the conversion of Mexico almost overnight, when up to that time Catholic missionaries from Europe had made very little headway. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City was built on the site of the apparitions and is one of the most visited religious shrines in the world. It is also home of the actual tilma of St. Juan Diego, which can still be seen, with the image clearly visible, nearly 500 years later.

Our Lady of Guadalupe was first declared “Patroness of the Americas” by Pope Pius XII in 1946, a title later reaffirmed by Saint John Paul II in 1999.

News Briefs for the week of November 3, 2023

Seminarian Admitted to Candidacy

Diocese of Venice Seminarian Joseph Bao Quoc Nguyen took a significant step in his vocation journey with his Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders. He was one of four men to be admitted to candidacy on Oct. 25, 2023, at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts. The Rite was presided over by Most Rev. Earl K. Fernandes, Bishop of the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio. During the Rite, each man expressed his intention to complete his preparation for Holy Orders and his resolve to dedicate himself to that goal. To be admitted to candidacy, Seminarian Nguyen had to have been first approved by Bishop Frank J. Dewane, and will continue his studies to become a Catholic priest.

Bishop celebrates Mass for students on All Saints’ Day

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated Mass for students at both St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers and St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral on All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1, 2023. In his message to the students, Bishop Dewane said it is important to learn about these Saints who are described as ordinary people of faith who lived extraordinary lives. They lived their lives in response to a call to holiness from the Lord. The Bishop asked the students at both Masses to respond to a call to holiness in their own lives.

Decline to Sign Petition for Dangerous Pro-Abortion Ballot Initiative

An extremely grave initiative is underway in Florida that seeks to erase pro-life protections by inserting language into the Florida State Constitution banning regulation of abortion. Abortion activists are working to gather petition signatures to place a pro-abortion constitutional amendment, titled “Amendment to Limit Government Interference with Abortion” on the November 2024 ballot. This amendment would allow abortion up until birth, including when the baby is capable of feeling pain, and would eliminate laws requiring parental consent and safety protocols for women. Floridians should not sign the petition. Please spread the word to your spheres of influence and continue to pray for the protection of the unborn.

All Saints’ Day Party held in Wauchula

Saints of all ages participated in the annual All Saints’ Day Party at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula on Oct. 28, 2023. Children dressed as the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Michael the Archangel were the most common costumes. Others dressed as St. Joseph, angels, popes, bishops and even superheroes. The evening included food, games and lots of candy. Prior to the party, there was an All Saints’ Day procession, led by a statue of St. Michael the Archangel and directed by the Servant Sisters of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará who serve the Parish.

Veteran’s Day Ball in Ave Maria

The Knights of Columbus of Ave Maria invite all to a Veteran’s Day Grand Ball, on Saturday, November 11, in the del Webb Grand Hall. The keynote speaker is Most Rev. Joseph L. Coffey, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, USA. The evening begins with a 6:00 p.m. cocktail hour/cash bar, with a 7:00 p.m. program, dinner and dancing. Black tie is optional for civilians, active duty military and veterans are asked to wear dinner dress or Class A Uniform. Tickets are $125 per person and seating is limited. For tickets, go to

National Night of Prayer for Life

The 2023 Annual National Night of Prayer for Life marks its 34th anniversary of people across the country praying to convert America’s heart to cherish life and encourage living the Gospel of Life.  It unites the Feast of the Immaculate Conception with the Feast of St. Juan Diego from Friday, December 8, at 9:00 p.m. to Saturday, December 9, at 1:00 a.m., with a national hour of unity across all time zones from midnight to 1:00 a.m.  People are invited to join in unity of prayer to restore the protection of life, the family, and the church, establish peace and inspire courage in our nation.  For more information, see, or contact Jeanne Berdeaux at or 941-374-1068.

Gloria Concert in Naples

St. Peter the Apostle Parish, 5130 Rattlesnake Hammock Road, Naples, is hosting a free Gloria Concert at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, December 14. The concert will include all the Parish choirs of various languages (English, Spanish and Creole) as well as a children’s pageant. For further details, please contact Nancy Spolsino at 239-774-3037.

Marian Devotional Project begins in schools

Each year, one of the initiatives of the Diocese of Venice Department of Education is the development of the devotional and prayer lives of its students through a Diocesan-wide devotional project.

For 2023-2024 the project is, “Cause of Our Joy: Marian Devotional Project” which focuses on teaching the more than 6,200 Diocesan Catholic school students about Our Lady, and the importance of praying the Most Holy Rosary, all in a continued effort to grow closer to Jesus Christ.

The focus on the devotion to the Blessed Mother through the Most Holy Rosary was supported by Bishop Frank J. Dewane who has frequently cited the importance of praying the Rosary to grow closer to Jesus Christ.

Jesuit Father John Belmonte, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education, conducted a Junior Catechist Training session on Oct. 13, 2023, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. This brought together selected eighth grade leaders from each of the Diocese’s 12 elementary schools, who will in turn go into the classroom to teach their schoolmates about Our Lady, the Most Holy Rosary and how to grow closer to the Lord.

“We are all called to answer the invitation of the Lord in our hearts,” Father Belmonte told the Junior Catechists. “When Our Lord and Our Lady come and knock on the door to your heart, you should open the door. Your task as Junior Catechists is to knock on the doors of the hearts of your classmates, classroom-to-classroom, teaching them about Our Lady. This will help them answer the question: Are you committed to dedicating your life to God?”

The training stressed the importance for the Junior Catechists to be leaders in the faith, evangelization, and discipleship. The group met in Epiphany Cathedral for a prayer service in honor of Our Blessed Mother.

The student training session was led by Diocesan Curriculum Director, Jennifer Falestiny, while Father Belmonte spoke to the parents who brought their children to the meeting in a separate presentation on the devotional project.

Falestiny explained to the Junior Catechists what is expected of them and how a lesson was created for them to follow. This plan is a guideline for the students as there is a differentiation in learning based on the age of the student.

“We created two lessons. One geared toward the older students and the other toward the little kiddos,” Falestiny said. “The resources provided will help bring the students through learning about the Rosary and the individual prayers, as well as the decades and the Mysteries of the Rosary. This was set up so that it can be interactive and engaging for students of all ages.”

Several teachers were present for the Junior Catechist Training and each school was also provided additional digital resources, including suggested devotional projects and lesson plans to reinforce what the Junior Catechists will teach. The students were also provided prayer cards with The Memorare prayer to Our Lady. This prayer will be said to open each lesson.

The introduction of the devotional project at each school will depend on the available schedule. The Junior Catechists will work closely with teacher advisors to make sure each classroom is visited and that all necessary resources are available to ensure success. The goal is to begin the in-classroom lessons as soon as possible and continuing the project and its supporting elements throughout the balance of the academic year.

In addition, Falestiny said there is a Digital Rosary Prayer Tracker, a website where teachers can track each time the children pray the Rosary in class, as well as if they pray it at home. The school with the most prayed Rosaries will be recognized at the end of the devotional project.

Finally, there is an art competition. As in previous years, students will be encouraged to produce artwork based on our Catholic artistic tradition around the Most Holy Rosary. The Junior Catechists and art contest winners will gather at Epiphany Cathedral in the spring for a Mass with Bishop Dewane.

The Junior Catechist Training was timed to coincide with the final apparition of Our Lady of Fatima. Our Lady of Fatima first appeared to three shepherd children – Venerable Lucia, and Ss. Jacinta and Francisco – on May 13, 1917, as a radiant light in a bush. Our Lady told the children to do penance and to make sacrifices to save sinners. Our Lady also stressed the importance of praying the Most Holy Rosary to bring peace to the world.

Many refused to believe the children, but Our Lady promised to perform a miracle on Oct. 13, 1917. On that day, during Our Lady’s sixth and final appearance, more than 70,000 witnessed the “Miracle of the Sun,” as the sun danced in the sky and changed colors. The Blessed Virgin then identified herself as “Our Lady of the Rosary.”

This is the fourth year Diocesan Catholic schools have had a devotional project, with 2022-2023 focused on the Most Holy Eucharist, 2021-2022 on the Saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Saints, and 2020-2021 on St. Joseph.

News Briefs for the week of November 20, 2023

Students encouraged to be “Servants of Christ”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated a Mass of the Holy Spirit for students at two Naples Catholic schools on Oct. 9, 2023. St. Elizabeth Seton and St. Ann hosted Bishop Dewane who spoke to students about how the Apostle Paul was called to live his life in a manner worthy of the call he received from Jesus Christ. While St. Paul struggled with the call, he ultimately gave himself over to the Lord to become His servant. Bishop Dewane asked the students at both schools, “How are you going to live as a servant of Jesus Christ?” Following each Mass, the Bishop took time to speak to the eighth graders, encouraging them to be leaders at their school, while also answering questions. Further, the Bishop encouraged the eighth graders to consider going to nearby St. John Neumann Catholic High School.

Students pray for peace

This is homecoming week at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers, but the students took time out from the festivities to join in praying for peace in the Holy Land on Oct. 17, 2023, as called for by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and Pope Francis. A morning prayer service was held for the victims and families affected by the recent tragic events in Israel and Gaza. The students at Bishop Verot vowed that every day, they stand united in hope for peace in the world.

“Faith Over Fear” STREAM Day

The students at St. Mary Academy in Sarasota took part in a STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, art and math) Day on Oct. 13, 2023. The theme was “Faith Over Fear,” as students learned the story of David and Goliath. The Biblical account of David and Goliath is one of the most popular stories from Scripture. It is a lesson of courage, faith, and overcoming what seems impossible! The students made catapults to take down Goliath! The creativity was impressive, and the students had a great time working together.

Teachers receive grants

St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School teachers in Naples were recipients of 12 Champions for Learning grants from The Education Foundation of Collier County. For the school, these grants will fund a range of needs from class field trips to books, STREAM projects, enrichment activities, and even sewing machines for art class. The teachers awarded were: Megan Schuchman (grade 1), Susan Boga (grade 1), Natalie Donahue (middle school – language arts), Nichole Eastman (grade 5), Christina Grun (art), Michele McFee (pre-kindergarten-3), Charity Winter (resource), and Fabiola Galarraga-Cole (Spanish). Congratulations all!

National Eucharistic Congress pilgrimage with Bishop Dewane

Bishop Frank J. Dewane invites the Faithful of the Diocese of Venice to join him on a Pilgrimage to the 10th National Eucharistic Congress. This historic 5-day gathering will take place in Indianapolis July 17 – 21, 2024. The National Eucharistic Congress represents the culmination of the Church’s three-year effort to put an emphasis on the Real Presence of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the Holy Eucharistic.  It is a pivotal moment in the Church, and a unique opportunity for participants to draw into a deeper, more intimate relationship with Our Lord. The cost of the Diocese of Venice pilgrimage package is $1,049. With the package, pilgrims receive the National Eucharistic Congress 5-day pass, which provides access to all speakers and events, as well as four nights’ accommodations in a 4-star hotel within walking distance of the convention center. Please note, the pilgrimage package does not include transportation or meals. Space is limited! Register today using Questions? Contact Carrie Harkey,

Vocations Weekend Oct. 27-29

If you are a young man (high school age or above) and sense that the Lord is calling you to the priesthood, St. John Vianney College Seminary is hosting a free Vocations Weekend. The event begins with pizza and night prayer on Friday evening, Oct. 27, 2023, and ends with Holy Mass and brunch on Sunday, Oct. 29. Join with other discerners from around the state of Florida to experience a glimpse of seminary life, meet the young men who are already studying for the priesthood as seminarians, and join with them in prayer and fraternity during this profound weekend retreat. (The typical schedule for the weekend includes adoration, spiritual talks, daily Mass, personal testimonies from seminarians, meet and greet with the professors, a campus tour, games and sports.) For more information and to RSVP, please visit, or email Father Shawn Roser, Diocesan Director of Vocations at or call 941-486-4720.

40 Days for Life continues

The 40 Days for Life fall campaign is ongoing and runs through Nov. 5, 2023, seeking a peaceful end to abortion in the U.S. and around the world through the power of prayer. It is the presence of more than one million prayer warriors in 681 cities worldwide – including Fort Myers, Naples, and Sarasota – that will make a difference in this important battle to save the unborn. The prayer vigil in Fort Myers is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Mon. – Sat.), at 6418 Commerce Park Drive. In Sarasota, the vigil is daily, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (7 days a week), at 736 Central Ave. The Naples prayer vigil is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (Mon. – Sat.), at 1425 Creech Road. For more information, please visit, or contact Diocesan Respect Life Director Jeanne Berdeaux at or 941-374-1068.

Students take part in leadership retreat

A group of select students from St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples recently participated in a transformative Salesian Leadership Retreat the weekend of Oct. 6-8, 2023, in New York City. During this enriching experience, the students had the opportunity to cultivate their leadership skills, deepen their spirituality, and forge lasting bonds with their peers. Through various workshops, activities, and reflections, they explored the values of St. John Bosco and St. Mary Mazzarello, learning how to become compassionate and effective leaders in our community.

Equestrian Club trots for fun

The Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School Equestrian Club is going strong as it is in its second year. This is a group for horse lovers to learn more about the equestrian sport in a safe and Christian environment. This year the club has partnered with Wolfe’s Born to Ride, a Christian stable in Parrish. On Oct. 7, 2023, two groups of students took part in two-hour rides through Little Myakka State Park. The Wolfes met the students at the park with 10 gentle horses. The group got to walk, trot, canter, go through water, ditches and through and over obstacles. They are planning to do rides like this monthly and even hope to do a moonlight trail ride with parents.