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 https://dioceseofvenice.regfox.com/2024-st-paul-street-evangelization. For additional questions, please contact Jim Gontis at gontis@dioceseofvenice.org.

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 convergingroads.com/venice. For information, contact Carrie Harkey at harkey@dioceseofvenice.org 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 https://www.grantinterface.com/Home/Logon?urlkey=ccfsf.

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 https://www.avemariakofc.org/.

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 www.nationalnightofprayerforlife.org, or contact Jeanne Berdeaux at Berdeaux@dioceseofvenice.org 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 https://ctscentral.rezmagic.com/Booking/Reservation/Start?tripID=5394&CategoryId=52540. Questions? Contact Carrie Harkey, harkey@dioceseofvenice.org.

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 https://www.venicevocations.org/, or email Father Shawn Roser, Diocesan Director of Vocations at roser@dioceseofvenice.org 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 https://www.40daysforlife.com/en/, or contact Diocesan Respect Life Director Jeanne Berdeaux at Berdeaux@dioceseofvenice.org 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.

 

 

 

 

Affordable housing community blessed in Zolfo Spring

The recently completed Casa San Alfonso affordable housing community with 21 single-family homes in Zolfo Springs was blessed by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on Sept. 28, 2023.

“Housing continues to be a vital concern and need for people throughout Florida,” Bishop Dewane said. “We’re pleased to support Zolfo Springs with affordable rental housing that will provide comfort and a sense of belonging for local residents.”

The Diocese of Venice partnered on the project with National Development of America, Inc., and supported by Zolfo Springs and Hardee County.

“We’re very grateful for our partnership with the Diocese of Venice and the strong support from county and city officials to help bring this project to fruition,” said John Raymond, director of real estate for National Development of America. “Casa San Alfonso is the perfect example of how a community can come together to achieve something impactful.”

Zolfo Springs Mayor Rod Cannon was overjoyed by the project and complimented the quality of the work noting that there were nearby tracts of land available if the Diocese was interested in expanding the project.

“This is beautiful. I am really overwhelmed by it,” Cannon said. “I have been excited about this whole project from the moment I learned about it to this day. We are blessed to have it, especially as it is available to families who might not have any other housing options in our community.”

Justin Smith, with the Development Group in Hardee County, said the county initially did not have a policy in place to support affordable housing but was able to back the housing project through grants to help make the finances work.

During the ceremony, Bishop Dewane offered a special thank you to the faithful of St. Michael Parish in Wauchula for their support of the project. Casa San Alfonso is located on repurposed land that was once used as a Mission of St. Michael.

Representing the Parish at the ceremony were Father Wilner Durosier, CS, Father Juan Lorenzo, women religious of the Servant Sisters of the Blessed Virgin of Matara, as well as many of the faithful.

Father Durosier said he was excited about the project and promised to promote the housing opportunities to the faithful.

The Diocese of Venice and National Development embarked on Casa San Alfonso in 2020 to address the growing demand for affordable rental housing in Hardee County. Additional affordable housing projects within Hardee County are already in the development process.

National Development of America will manage Casa San Alfonso which will provide affordable housing for qualified residents – those who make 50-60% of the Average Median Income. Monthly rents range from $673 to $976.

The community features 17 – 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom homes, and 4 – 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom homes, complete with new appliances. Amenities include an onsite clubhouse with a computer lab, and charming walking trails throughout the neighborhood, which is situated on a large outdoor greenspace of 12 total acres.

Casa San Alfonso is now leasing. Interested applicants should submit a leasing form at form.jotform.com/231163616210140 or email alfonso@ndcassetmanagement.com for more information.

 

OLPH reopens with celebration

It is fitting that the formal reopening of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center (OLPH) in Venice was a Mass, with a blessing of the new Chapel altar.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane presided over the Mass on Oct. 1, 2023, marking the official recovery of the retreat center after Hurricane Ian caused extensive flooding damage a year earlier.

“When the hurricane passed through, we knew there was much to be done,” Bishop Dewane said. “This had to be a priority to be fixed up, opened up, and functioning again, because of what this holy ground represents.”

“OLPH is a positive experience for so many people, where they have come to discover or receive God’s Mercy,” the Bishop continued. “This retreat center is a blessing to the Diocese and it has had struggles and highlights. We are now going through a new highlight.”

During the Mass, Bishop Dewane formally blessed the new altar first with a prayer of blessing and then with Holy Water and incense. Following the blessing, the altar was formally dressed, and the Mass proceeded.

OLPH Director Father Mark Yavarone, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, thanked the many present for their support in the recovery process. Father Yavarone pointed out the leadership of Bishop Dewane and Diocesan Chancellor Volodymyr Smeryk as the impetus to getting the retreat center open so quickly. The retreat center has been hosting retreats since late August and is very busy. In fact, a men’s Cursillo group was at OLPH for the weekend of the reopening celebration.

Large portions of the clean up after the hurricane and the rebuilding was made possible thanks to the help of many benefactors and volunteers. The financial support helped a great deal, but it was the volunteers whose expertise and love was put into helping with landscaping clearing and replanting, as well as the construction of the new furniture, saving OLPH tens of thousands in added expenses.

“We could not have survived without you,” Father Yavarone said to those gathered. He also praised his small staff for overcoming the many obstacles and logistics to get OLPH back to functioning fully in less than a year.

Father also reflected upon his first visit to the property by kayak a few days after Ian, witnessing the destruction up close, with all seven of the major buildings flooded. This included the Chapel, conference center, dining hall and four residential buildings. It was not until 10 days after the storm when the damage could be surveyed by foot.

“When I first came back on property on foot and saw all of the mold and destruction, I had an unsettling thought – ‘I wonder if the Bishop and Chancellor are going to pull the plug?’ But, I never heard a discouraging word. The question was ‘How can we rebuild to make the retreat center better than it was?’ and the focus has been on achieving that goal to where we are today,” Father said.

Bishop Dewane lauded Father Yavarone for his own leadership in guiding OLPH in its recovery process, doing off-site retreats at Epiphany Cathedral and Our Lady of Lourdes in Venice and San Pedro in North Port, all to ensure the ministry of the retreat center still reached many people, even if the physical buildings could not be used.

“Father never lost heart, because as we all know, OLPH has been a positive experience for so many people through the years and will continue to do so for many more to come,” Bishop Dewane said. “Thank you, Father Mark, for all you have done.”

Those gathered gave Father a standing ovation.

In addition to benefactors and volunteers, also present for the reopening were Carmelite Father J.J. McCarthy, former director of OLPH, and Sister Carmella Decosty, Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, who helped establish OLPH with Redemptorist Father Charlie Mallen in 1995.

A reception was held in the conference center and guests were offered a tour of the rebuilt facilities. At the reception, the faithful were also introduced to Father Greg Cleveland, the new OLPH assistant director.

OLPH offers a variety of individual and group retreats as well as Ignatian Spiritual Exercises.

For more information about OLPH, or if you would like to offer financial support, please visit www.olph-retreat.org or call 941-486-0233.

Boots and Bandanas helps support Ian recovery

Nearly a year ago the winds and flooding rains of Hurricane Ian displaced many families in DeSoto, Hardee and Highlands counties. Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., was on the front lines helping desperate people get the basics necessary for survival.

Today, the recovery is ongoing but the need to support families in the region remains. Large swaths of these counties had severe wind damage compounded by river flooding that washed away homes and displaced thousands of families.

In support of the ongoing recovery efforts in the region, the Boots and Bandanas Gala took place on Sept. 23, 2024, at Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch. On hiatus for the past few years, the event has a country-western theme which reflects the rural communities.

Catholic Charities programs is this region includes food pantries, farmworker housing, financial assistance, after school programming, and much more.

“Your support will go a long way to helping these needy families get the help they need,” said Eddie Gloria, CEO of Catholic Charities. “There continues to be a tremendous need in this area even a year after Ian.”

Gloria said that Catholic Charities helped more than 100,000 in the first months following the hurricane on Sept. 28, 2022, but that the demand for continued assistance in the rural communities of DeSoto, Hardee, and Highlands counties remains high.

After Ian, St. Paul Parish in Arcadia and St. Michael Parish in Wauchula served as distribution points for food and water and other emergency supplies, even while floodwaters surrounded the communities.

In fact, at both Parishes, people rallied to bring fresh food and hot meals to help feed their neighbor in need. In Wauchula, the religious sisters hosted an evening barbeque for two weeks after the storm passed. In addition, at both Parishes, donated clothing was also made available for those families who lost everything to flooding. Later, donated furniture and other necessities for rebuilding lives were donated and distributed. That work continues one year later.

In addition, Catholic Charities, helped by volunteers, organized a point of distribution of food, water, tarps, cleaning supplies and more, with the assistance of the National Guard and FEMA.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane was one of many who volunteered his time at both locations in the days following Ian and saw the need in the area. While Bishop Dewane was unable to be at the Boots and Bandanas Gala due to a prior commitment, a message of gratitude for the ongoing support of Catholic Charities was shared.

The Boots and Bandanas event was on hiatus because of Hurricane Ian and other logistical issues, before Father Sebastian Szczawínski, Pastor of Our Lady of the Angels, enthusiastically offered to host the gala for the first time.

The evening included a live auction item of dinner with Father Szczawínski, which two bidders won, as well as a wide assortment of silent auction items. The meal was provided by Mission BBQ, while the music was from Arcadia native Andy Pursell and his band.

“We’re happy that all these people came out, and we’re loving the fact that we can wear these boots and bandanas and make it a fun night for everyone,” Gloria said.

If you would like to support Catholic Charities in its mission to help those in need, please visit https://catholiccharitiesdov.org/.

“Wow!” School retreat unites Diocesan educators

Starting the new school year with a focus on the spirituality of the faculty and staff, as well as developing a strong Catholic school culture, served as the focus of a special “Back-to-School Retreat” on Sept. 11, 2023.

The goal of the day was to start the school year with a spiritual message by incorporating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Then the retreat pivoted to focus on creating a daily prayer life for the faculty and staff, before then looking at ways to build a stronger Catholic culture into each of the 15 Diocesan Catholic schools.

Jesuit Father John Belmonte, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education, said at its heart, the retreat was a professional learning day with the rare opportunity for all faculty and staff to be together.

“We wanted to create an environment where everyone had time to reflect on the faith that we teach and to be inspired by our Bishop while ultimately perfecting our teaching craft,” Father Belmonte said.

A spiritual message was delivered by Bishop Frank J. Dewane during Mass, when he thanked the educators for following their vocation to impart their knowledge and faith upon their students.

Bishop Dewane told the educators that by following the example of Christ, they are helping their students “to live a better life. You are helping them to hear who the Lord is calling them to be. You help them to become more than they think they can. You are their inspiration.”

While each Diocesan Catholic school has experienced tremendous growth in the past three years (up 30% with more than 6,200 enrolled), the quality of the education and the spiritual aspect has also grown stronger, the Bishop noted.

“It is that spiritual aspect that I am most concerned about,” Bishop Dewane continued. “No matter whether you teach theology, science – or whatever subject – you are their introduction to Christ. It all comes down to virtues and values as you are called to live your life responsibly because your students follow your example. It is through how you teach, how you act, and how you live your lives that they find Jesus Christ. Take that role seriously. I know that you do this, and I am grateful for your choosing to serve, enhancing the Catholic schools here in the Diocese of Venice.”

Father Belmonte spoke to the educators about how they need to focus on the Mission of the Catholic schools, introducing the students to the Lord.

“This is what we are about, every day in every classroom in the Diocese of Venice, we introduce the world to our Savior,” Father continued. “Aside from the administration of the Sacraments of the Church, this is the greatest thing, in my opinion, the Church does every day. If you go into any one of our Catholic schools, you will see the mission of the Church in living color. That is why we are here.”

Father also introduced the faculty and staff to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, something they are encouraged to incorporate into their daily lives. Father Belmonte provided a handout which included the daily reflections covering 25 weeks, encompassing the remainder of the school year. The goal was to enable the staff and faculty to promote their daily prayer life in an easy and straightforward way.

During the presentation, Father included responses from students at the different schools to a homework assignment he gave them: What advice do you have for your teacher as he or she goes on retreat? And the responses were entertaining and insightful. The message Father found most profound was the simplest: “Do good,” something he said all educators are called to do each day. “If they can do that, they will be able to impact students in a meaningful and overwhelmingly positive way.”

The day concluded with a presentation by Elisabeth Sullivan, Executive Director of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education. The institute inspires and equips Catholic educators to renew today’s Catholic schools by drawing on the Church’s tradition of education, which allows teachers and students the joyful pursuit of faith, wisdom, and virtue.

Sullivan shared the success of 225 different schools who have incorporated a Catholic classical liberal arts education when “Catholic identity” is not just added on, but is instead woven through the school culture, curriculum, content, and pedagogy.

Schools which have incorporated this approach are emerging as engines for evangelization in the Church, by integrating faith, culture, and life.

Beginning with the 2023-2024 Academic Year, Incarnation Catholic School in Sarasota began to implement this program. In a letter to parents, it was explained that this new classical approach will educate students in a way that combines Catholic faith with academic excellence and help students become more aware of the transcendent realities of Truth, Beauty and Goodness. This begins a new chapter to better prepare the students to pursue excellence while growing in faith, knowledge, and love. Donahue Academy of Ave Maria Catholic School in Ave Maria has used this classical approach since its founding.

The retreat also included a special recognition of Mike Gill, a teacher at Bishop Verot Catholic High School for the past 52 years. Bishop Dewane presented Gill with a special legacy award for his commitment to Catholic schools.

Also recognized were the teachers who are new to education and new to teaching in Catholic schools.

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