Public celebration of Mass resumes May 18

The following is a letter from Bishop Dewane to the faithful, dated May 12, 2020: 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Bishop Frank J. Dewane raises the host during the Mass at St. Ann Parish in Naples in January, 2020. The public celebration of the Mass in the Diocese resumes May 18, 2020.

As we rejoice in our Easter Faith, my prayer is that the new life we have in Christ will bring you and your family hope and comfort. The Coronavirus has brought numerous challenges. Our common efforts to mitigate the disease have asked us to sacrifice and adjust to new realities for the good of all. United in Christ, we continue to face the present difficulties with courage and compassion. So many have persevered in faith and charity and our Parishes have remained beacons of God’s love and grace. For this, I am profoundly grateful to God and to the Priests and Faithful of the Diocese of Venice.

After much prayer and discernment, and having consulted with the priests on the Presbyteral Council, it has been determined that public celebration of the Mass in the Diocese of Venice can resume. Therefore, I am announcing that the celebration of Holy Mass with a congregation present, will begin on May 18, 2020 and moving forward.  All other non-liturgical activities at Parishes remain suspended until it is determined that these activities can safely resume; thank you for your understanding on this point.

Out of concern for the safety of all involved, our Pastors have been asked to follow established directives and guidelines. These limit the size of the congregation to 25% of occupancy, maintain social distancing guidance, and ask the Faithful’s cooperation to wear facemasks and bring with them hand sanitizer for their use. The Faithful are also asked to receive communion in the hand. These are extraordinary times and I ask for your patience and good will as Parishes reopen for public celebrations. Further, schedules may need to be adjusted and some Priests or liturgical ministers may not be able to participate publicly because of age or health conditions.

As Parish churches reopen for Mass, I remind those who are at greater risk or anxious about returning at this time, that the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains in effect until June 28, 2020. Parishes have been asked to continue livestreaming until the dispensation is lifted. The Faithful ought not to worry about remaining home if they are concerned for their wellbeing or that of other parishioners. Of course, those who are sick or have symptoms associated with COVID-19 are to stay home.

The Faithful of the Diocese of Venice have remained resolute in their faith during these unprecedented times, vibrantly expressing their Spiritual Communion with Christ and His Church. Still, I am aware that there is a hunger for the Eucharist. My prayerful hope is that, strengthened by the Bread come down from Heaven, you will emerge from these times with stronger faith. As we return to Holy Mass, let us with the psalmist, raise our voices in praise of God: I rejoiced when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+ Frank J. Dewane

Bishop of the Diocese of

Venice in Florida


Clewiston Parish reaches into community

The Parish Hall at St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston is always a bustling place, filled with people celebrating events or taking religious education classes. In recent weeks, the building has been converted into a makeshift storage and packing area.

The Parish Hall is where donated food is stored and bagged in preparation for distribution into the community to the growing number of needy families who would normally be in the fields as migrant farm workers. The food is mostly courtesy of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc., as well as from St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs. Donations from the parishioners of St. Margaret are also a big help.

Father Jiobani Batista, Pastor of St. Margaret Parish and Santa Rosa de Lima Mission serving nearby Montura Ranch Estates, is overseeing the work. Father Batista has the help of two religious sisters and a few volunteers, all systematically sorting through what food they have and then deciding what goes in the bags for distribution.

On April 25, 2020, Sister Maria Mercedes Rodríguez-Gomes, Missionary Sister of Our Lady of the Light, and Roxana Paniagua loaded several vans and went into the neighborhoods to distribute bags of food. The families assisted in this manner do not have access to transportation and most have been out of work for several weeks.

The bags were filled with rice, beans and pasta, FEMA supplied Meals Ready to Eat, maseca (corn meal to make tortillas), and whatever canned food they might have. Cereal, dried milk and snacks are added for the children. When fresh vegetables and fruits are available, they are included in the distribution. The food is selected to offer families staples that can be stretched to feed families for an extended period of time.

At each stop, families receiving the food shared stories about how they had no warning before losing their work as pickers in nearby vegetable fields. Several families said they were running out of money and rent was due.

Most of the recipients wanted to give hugs to Paniagua and Sister Mercedes but, while wearing a mask and gloves, they explained that the smiling faces and words of gratitude offered were enough thanks.

One mother said she is heartbroken having to accept the offered food, something she has never done. She is worried about her young children who don’t understand what is happening and ask why they cannot have treats from the store.

Meanwhile, some refused the offered food. One mother said her husband was still working in the sugar fields so they had money and the food should go elsewhere. Sister Mercedes was grateful for their honesty but told each of these families to reach out if things changed as the field work was scheduled to end in the coming weeks.

Father Batista explained that most of the community consists of migrant farm workers who toil in vegetable and sugar fields. Nearly all the vegetable farms shut down operations by late April while the sugar field would be closed by mid-May as happens every year.

However, because of the pandemic, the migrant farm workers have nowhere to go. Most would travel north to work in fields in New England or the Midwest. Travel restrictions are preventing them from going. Another group of workers, who are in Clewiston on temporary work visas, normally would return to their home country after the growing season, but this year, there is no international travel allowed, leaving them with an uncertain future.

“All of these workers have to stay here, without jobs, paying rent and buying food, consuming what they earned this season,” Father Batista explained, noting that migrant farm workers do not qualify for any of the assistance being offered by the state or federal governments. “This is going to be very tough on the families. I’m not sure what is going to happen.”

Catholic Charities, which has a small office at St. Margaret Parish, has been offering a Thursday morning outdoor food distribution. Staff and volunteers load vehicles and in just a few weeks Father Batista said the number of people seeking help has quadrupled.

“I have never seen it this bad,” Father Batista said. “The number of people impacted is so high and growing. There is no relief in sight until these farm workers can find work somewhere else and that might not be until the next growing season here in Clewiston in the fall. If that happens, it would be devastating.”

If you would like to help St. Margaret Parish, the Diocese of Venice is providing an online platform. Please visit and select St. Margaret Parish in the drop-down box (please disable you pop-up blockers).

News briefs for the week of May 4, 2020

Neumann delivers cheer to seniors

The leadership of St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples spent two days on “Operations: Celebrate Our Seniors” delivering cheer from the school van to the homes of graduating seniors. Each student received their cap and gown, yard sign, a t-shirt and personalized cookie. If the seniors can’t come to school, the goal was to bring the school to them. Each senior was asked to sign a graduation poster as they received words of encouragement from the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco who run the school.


Online Bible Study LIVE beginning May 12

A Bible Study will be offered online through the Diocese of Venice Facebook Live on Tuesdays May 12 through July 28 using the program “Genesis to Jesus” from the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. Each session will begin at 2:00 p.m. Join by going to and simply watch the live-stream video on the page. You will also be able to type in your questions and comments in real-time to participate from your own home (you do not need to have a Facebook account to watch the video but you do need to have an account to comment and ask questions)!  With so much great Catholic content out there now, here is something you can participate in yourself!

Scam Alert targeting parishioners

It has once again been brought to the attention of the Diocese of Venice that parishioners have received text/email messages from people pretending to be priests and requesting donations in the form of gift cards and/or wire transfers. The messages often greet the person by name and have the priests name in the closing signature of the message; this is a well-crafted and targeted attack on the Church across the country which has hit our Diocese again. These text/email messages are ‘spoofed’ fakes that should not be responded to or taken seriously by anyone. The best defense against this sort of scam is to raise awareness in the community and not respond or open any worrying attachments. It is Diocesan policy that no priest or staff within the Diocese request donations in the form of gift cards, PayPal, MoneyGram, etc

There is already an established process in place on how parishioners can make donations and participate in the life of the Parish. Whenever a parishioner is worried about any request for money from the parish or a priest, they should immediately call their parish and under no circumstances should they respond to these scam requests.

Year of St. Joseph resources online

On the Solemnity of St. Joseph, March 19, Bishop Frank J. Dewane consecrated the Diocese of Venice to the care and protection of Saint Joseph in the context of the Coronavirus and announced a “Year of St. Joseph” beginning March 19, 2020 through March 19, 2021.  St. Joseph is the Patron Saint of the Universal Church, fathers, workers and the sick and dying. A number of resources, including a Novena to St. Joseph, have been made available on the Diocesan website –

Bradenton Food Pantry

The St. Joseph Parish Food Pantry, 2704 33rd Ave. W., Bradenton, is open and distributing food from 9 a.m. to noon Monday-Friday, 5-7 p.m. Wednesdays, following all social distancing protocols. Cars will be directed through the parking lot and trunks will be loaded by volunteers in protective gloves and masks. Call 941-756-3732 if you have any questions. You do not need to be a regular client to receive food. To make a donation of money or food, please visit

Music lessons continue

St. Francis Xavier Catholic School first grade student learns to play an instrument with the virtual assistance of Music Teacher Jeffery Jodice using ‘Google Meet’ in Fort Myers.

Long serving religious priest dies

Father Onorio Benacchio, Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Charles (Scalabrinians), who was a priest for nearly 70 years and served in the Diocese of Venice for 25 years, died April 23, 2020, in Kingston, Rhode Island. He was 95.

Father Benacchio served as Pastor of St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston from 1994 to 1996 and then as a Parochial Vicar at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee from 1996 to 2019.

Born April 15, 1925 in South Nazario, Vicenza, Italy, to Gaetano and Caterina Benacchio, it was at the age of 12 when he entered the Scalabrinian Seminary in his hometown. Father Benacchio took his first religious vows on Sept. 4, 1943, and was ordained to the priesthood, June 18, 1950 in Piacenza, Italy, when he was 25.

Following his ordination, Father was appointed to serve the poor in missions in South America in accordance with the Scalabrinian Charism. He spent 36 years attending to the needs of the missions in Brazil and then eight years in Venezuela.

He came to the United States and the Diocese of Venice in 1994. He was 69 at the time. He served as Pastor of St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston before being transferred for the final time in his long ministry to Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee. There he celebrated Mass is English, Spanish and Creole, while also celebrating Mass for the Portuguese-language Catholic community each weekend in Fort Myers.

During a Mass marking the occasion of his 65th anniversary of his Ordination to the Priesthood, Father Benacchio estimated he had celebrated Mass more than 25,000 times. “But celebrating Mass today, after so many years, still feels like it is the first time… It is what I do, what I always do and what I will always do. It is at the heart of what a priest is all about, that moment when you are closest to Jesus Christ.”

His favorite memories included his extensive time and travels in South America. To help relax, he liked to write poetry.

A memorial Mass will be held at a later date while the public celebration of Mass has been suspended in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

April 17, 2020 letter from Bishop Dewane to the Faithful

April 17, 2020

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

During Easter Season, as the Church rejoices in Our Lord’s Resurrection, my prayer is that you and your family are safe and strengthened by God’s grace in these uncertain times. You will recall that I promised to give an update regarding the Coronavirus and our efforts in the Diocese of Venice to ensure the health, safety, and the spiritual wellbeing of all our Catholic Faithful.

The decision to suspend public celebrations of the Liturgy was among the most difficult I have had to make as your Bishop. The decision required the Diocese to weigh the needs of public health in a time of pandemic against the great sacrifices that a suspension would require of the Christian Faithful and our Priests. Knowing it would be difficult for you not to fully participate in the Holy Mass or gather with your fellow Parishioners for other activities, was something I sincerely understood. It was also on my mind that your Priests would need to labor strenuously and find innovative ways to compassionately care for Parishioners.

It has been edifying to see how the Catholic Faithful, led by their Priests, have embraced these challenges and found creative ways to give witness to our spiritual communion in Christ. Throughout these days, I have been privileged to hear many stories from Parishioners about how they have, in their homes, remained Faithful to their life of prayer and worship of God. The efforts of parents, caregivers, Catholic School teachers, catechists, Parish staff and so many of our people, have made the difficulties being experienced an opportunity for heroic acts of Christian Charity and love. Priests are to be acknowledged for the pastoral ways in which the Holy Mass and the Sacraments have been offered to the Faithful; at the same time, placing themselves at risk to attend the sick and dying. Likewise, I am grateful to the Parishioners who have continued their generous stewardship towards the Parishes and Schools of the Diocese which face financial challenges in these present circumstances.

In a particular way, let me express my appreciation to the many families who, from home, united in their Parish Holy Week and Easter Liturgies. All the Faithful can be proud of the efforts made during these difficult days to maintain spiritual communion and practice their Catholic Faith. Trusting in Our Lord who abides with us, we have found hope and strength to weather the hardships.

No matter how difficult this time has been for many of us, I ask you to prayerfully intercede for those who have died from the Coronavirus and for their family and loved ones who grieve. Likewise, please lift-up in prayer healthcare workers and others, who, with dedication, are combating this disease and compassionately caring for the sick and dying. Pray also for wisdom for our public officials that they may guide us with competence and concern.

Please know that the Diocese appreciates the sacrifices you have made and is looking forward to the time when public celebrations of Holy Mass can resume. With me, Diocesan Officials are monitoring public health data as a process of planning begins. It is necessary to determine how and when your Parish can resume normal operations safely, while maintaining careful vigilance to protect those at greater risk of serious illness. The upcoming weeks will indeed require patience. Only after necessary steps are taken, can there be certainty regarding when to begin a phased return to normal Parish activities and public gatherings.

Likely, the present circumstances regarding public Masses will last for the near future. Celebrations of Confirmation, First Communion, and reception into the Church for Catechumens and Candidates will continue to be postponed until it is feasible to reschedule them with some certainty. Parishes will keep the Faithful updated as greater clarity regarding Diocesan plans is possible.

Let us remember that with Faith, our sufferings and sacrifices can be a source of redeeming grace. If we offer our sufferings to God and unite them with the Passion of Our Lord, we will be made stronger in Faith and greater witnesses to the hope that is ours in the Risen Christ.

As we commemorate Divine Mercy Sunday, let each one of us put aside our doubts and united as a believing people, express with new resolve: “Jesus, I trust in You!”

Sincerely Yours in Christ,

+ Frank J. Dewane

Bishop the Diocese of

Venice in Florida

Distance learning off to strong start in Diocese

The terms virtual instruction and distance learning are becoming part of the lexicon of everyday language as the Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools joined the growing number of education institutions offering learning online.

Ben Hopper, Diocesan Interim Superintendent of Catholic Education, sent a letter to families of Catholic School students describing the exhilarating experience of getting both the teachers and the students prepared for the new learning experience which began on March 31, 2020.

“The enthusiasm and spirit of engagement was palpable,” Hopper wrote. “I am sure that there will need to be some adjustments along the way, but our teachers and students are resilient and willing to adapt as needed. Thank you for the love and support that you have given to our schools during this challenging time. Please be assured of our prayers and support in the coming weeks.”

Hopper expressed his gratitude to the students and families who were eager to learn in some new and exciting ways and to the talented people working in our schools.

He also thanked the students for waiting patiently to get back to learning; the teachers, who demonstrated incredible creativity, collegiality, and compassion as they have prepared for the resumption on instruction and for the weeks ahead; the school counselors and student support staff, for remaining positive source of support, love, and concern for our students, their families, and our teachers; the technology teachers and coordinators, who jumped right in to find resources, offer tech support, and be available; and finally to the administrators and their support staff, who worked day and night to ensure that the schools and teams were prepared to launch eLearning.

In the same letter, Hopper announced that in the wake of Gov. DeSantis’ March 30 announcement about public schools, all activities and classes on the campuses of the Catholic schools throughout the Diocese will remain suspended through May 1, 2020. Diocesan schools will continue to deliver instruction through distance learning through this date.

The new distance learning provided the students and teachers an opportunity to be creative as everyone adapted to the new educational experience.

Computer screens were filled with smiling faces as students logged onto virtual classroom links. Teachers were creative in setting up their at-home classroom, some with backgrounds that were familiar, bulletin boards with calendars and announcements. Teachers of the youngest students were the most imaginative with colorful props to brighten and personalize the learning experience.

To include a reassuring component to the new experience, many of the schools provide a daily morning prayer service which includes the Pledge of Allegiance and announcements. The days are also structured just like a school day with breaks between classes, lunch and even time for exercise. Gym teachers have become inventive in encouraging their students to stay active from the confines of their home.

Before the classes began at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota, several of the teachers did a drive-by tour of student homes, waving from the car while students held up “We Miss You!” signs. This was a fun way to stay personally connected while remaining responsible.

Retreat Center offering online Preached Retreats

On March 25, 1811, Venerable Bruno Lanteri, the founder of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, was placed under house arrest by Napoleon in the Italian countryside.  During this time of persecution of the Church, he was to remain imprisoned and under surveillance for three years until the fall of Napoleon in 1814.

These three years were a time of almost complete solitude for Father Lanteri. Rather than lamenting his house arrest, Lanteri used this time to pray, attaining the highest levels of contemplation.  Ironically, he would later say that the favor of his house arrest by Napoleon was “one of the most beautiful of my life.”

During the current health crisis, many people who would like to make a retreat must remain at home for an extended period of time. As long as the crisis lasts, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice will offer online 3-day, 5-day, and 8-day retreats based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Like Father Lanteri, we can all use this time for our spiritual growth.

In these online retreats. Father Mark Yavarone, OMV, a trained spiritual director, will meet with you for an hour each day via a link provided to you, to help you to pray and to recognize how God is speaking.  You should already have a Bible and journal available for your use.  Participants will be emailed any additional materials needed as the retreat unfolds.

The cost will be as follows: 3-day online retreat, $132.23; 5-day online retreat, $203.98; and 8-day online retreat, $306.48.

Participants must have the ability to communicate by a computer, phone or laptop equipped with audio and camera.  Your home should be quiet enough to allow for prayer. You are also responsible for making sure that your sessions are in a place in your home where you will not be overheard if you do not wish to be.

All information will be confidential, and password protected. If you would like to make an online retreat, please email Denise Riley at and a code will be provided for your online registration.  You will need to fill out an application for approval. Please allow 7 days to arrange from your completed application until the beginning of your retreat.

Religious sister, former principal of school principal, dies

Sister Christine Patrick, Sister of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, former principal of St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton, died on March 18, 2020, at St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 89 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 70 years.

Sister Christine Patrick was born Feb. 5, 1931 in Indianapolis, Indiana, to Walter and Anna Scheidegger Patrick. She was baptized Eleanor Mae.

Sister Christine entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence on Feb. 2, 1950, and professed her final vows on Aug. 15, 1957. She earned a degree from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and an advanced degree from Indiana University.

In her 70 years as a Sister of Providence, Sister Christine ministered as a teacher and principal for 44 years in schools in Indiana, Illinois, Oklahoma, Washington, D.C., and Florida. Within the Diocese of Venice, she served as Principal of St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton from 1995-2004. Upon her retirement she volunteered for Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto and Sarasota, as well as serving at St. Joseph Parish as a minister for the homebound and volunteering with the senior outreach program.

Sister Christine is survived by a sister, and was preceded in death by two brothers and four sisters, two of whom were Sisters of Providence. A private Mass of Christian Burial was March 27 with burial in the cemetery of the Sisters of Providence in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Celtic Ball supports St. John Neumann

There was a Bourbon Street for the annual Celtic Ball which was held on Feb. 21 at Club Pelican Bay in Naples benefiting St. John Neumann Catholic High School.

The event included a Mardis Gras theme and décor which added to the festive atmosphere. There were live and silent auctions, an elegant dinner and live music.

Neumann Senior Rhea Hussey spoke on behalf of her fellow Celtics. She shared her journey of overcoming obstacles from being seriously ill and bed ridden as a freshman, to now being one of four House Captains, a leader of not just the senior class, but the entire school.

“I have been given the chance to participate in numerous service activities, to learn in an environment of unparalleled academics and thrive in a place where I formed irreplaceable friendships; there is no place I would rather be,” Rhea said. ”I will always be grateful to the Neumann family for allowing me to learn, grow and truly shape myself into the person I always wanted to be.”

The Celtic Ball Honorary Chairs were Jo and Tom O’Reilly. Tom O’Reilly praised the school for forming students not just academically, but spiritually, noting that his children and now grandchildren are students at Neumann.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane applauded the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco who serve at St. John Neumann for their unfailing commitment to education and for the example they are for their students and the entire school community.

“Neumann is a bright star in Naples,” Bishop Dewane said. “To the parents and benefactors of St. John Neumann; I thank you for recognizing the good work that is happening here. A Catholic School is more than its faculty and staff, it is about coming together and supporting a program that helps to grow the next generation of leaders in the community and in the faith.”

School Gala recognizes legacy of Sister Frances

For the past 25 years Sister Frances Lolar, Religious Sister of Mercy, has been a steady and commanding presence at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. The Cathedral Director of Religious Education (DRE) since 1994, Sister Frances will be retiring in the coming months leaving behind a lasting legacy.

That legacy was recognized with her being bestowed as the 2020 Shining Star Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient during the Feb. 15 Epiphany Gala at Plantation Golf and Country Club. The event benefited Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School; a place held dear to the heart of Sister Frances.

In announcing the award, it was noted that Sister Frances is a tireless presence within Epiphany Parish while helping it live out its mission to be the heart and hands of Christ. She has deeply influenced and significantly contributed to the mission and vision of Catholic education – even serving for a time as acting-Principal. “She has faithfully demonstrated a lifetime of servant leadership through the giving of her time, talent and treasure.”

Born and raised in the farming country of County Laois, Ireland, it was appropriate that a bagpiper escorted her into the Gala.  Hearing the call to a religious life while still in high school, Sister Frances professed her vows on September 8, 1957 in Bally Mahon, as a Sister of Mercy.

In 1960, she moved to the U.S. to become a Catholic school teacher in Columbia, Mo., then later she went on to a position as a Catholic principal in Lake Worth, Fla. It was in 1994 when she was appointed DRE at the Cathedral, a position that covers a wide range of responsibilities. Her work includes coordinating the teaching of the Sacraments, especially Confirmation, First Confession and First Communion, thus providing her opportunities to get to know the parents as well as students, dozens each year. Beyond this, she also coordinates the Parish Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) formation classes, which bring new Catholics into the Church. Adults, she says, never finish learning about their faith.

Everyone attending the Gala knew that Sister Frances, a quiet, humble and unassuming woman was a deserving recipient of the Shining Star award. They also know she is much more than a DRE; she is someone who lives her life of faith to its fullest in all her words and actions, an example for all to follow. Congratulations Sister Frances!