Marriage conference draws rave reviews

The Diocese of Venice, “Together in Holiness” Marriage Conference, presented in partnership with the Diocese Office of Family Life and the St. John Paul II Foundation, took place Oct. 22, 2022, at St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers and was a huge success.

More than 100 couples took part in this event which was intended to allow couples to grow together in holiness, learn to form their children in the Catholic Faith, enjoy a day of quality time with their spouse, and witness dynamic presentations.

The day also included the Mass, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and the availability of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

One couple from Naples said they were impressed not only by the speakers, but by the supportive atmosphere the conference offered. “This was such a nourishing environment for us and a great boost for our marriage.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane addressed the couples, impressed by the numbers and encouraged by their enthusiasm in a society in which the very definition of marriage is under attack and calls for a modern form of spiritual battle as a response.

“Know that the Lord sees the good you have set out to do this day by being here as a couple, as spouses,” Bishop Dewane said. “You continue to do that spiritual battle – against everything that is around us in society that really attacks your very vocation – that concerns me a great deal. I do believe the vocation of marriage is under attack which is destroying the moral fabric of society. This conference is present so that you, together, can work on building this beautiful vocation back up.”

The first presenter was Father Shawn Monahan, OMV, Associate Director of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice, whose talk was titled, “The Holy Eucharist: The Source and Summit of Marriage and Family Life.”

Father Monahan explained how when a couple gets married, Christ also makes a promise to them to help live out that vocation and to empower them to mirror His love for His bride the Church profoundly through the Eucharistic embrace which is both at the heart of Christian life and the Sacrament of Marriage. “It takes three to get married, Father said. “And God is the third person.”

Christopher J. Stravitsch, Chair of the St. John Paul II Foundation, talked about “A Family that Prays Together.” Building upon what St. John Paul II taught, Strevitsh said families have a “priestly mission” that includes living a life of prayer together in the home – husband and wife together.

Damon and Melanie Owens, cofounders of Joyful Ever After, also spoke and their topic was “To Love and to Cherish: Deepening Love and Intimacy in Marriage.” Their presentation focused on the significance of cherishing the most important person in one’s life, their spouse, even in the face of the challenges and demands of daily family life.

What’s Next

Couldn’t make the conference? Looking for other opportunities for marriage enrichment? As a complement to the conference, the St. John Paul II Foundation and the Diocese of Venice invite all married couples to participate in the Together in Holiness Formation series: year-round marriage enrichment for small communities of spouses.

Highlights of the Formation series include short and beautifully-made videos with national speakers, themes that are based on the life, teaching, and witness of St. John Paul II, and Bring it Home activities that translate learning into living. The series is also available for Spanish-speaking couples through captioned videos and translated materials. Click here to view a trailer!

To get involved, please complete an interest form here. For questions, please email Program Coordinator Charlotte Sacco at



Diocese to expand support for couples and families

The Diocese of Venice recognizes the importance of forming all married couples, from newlyweds to empty nesters, to live out their call to holiness and joy in the Sacrament of Marriage! As St. John Paul II famously said, “As goes the family, so goes the nation, and so goes the entire world in which we live.”

To promote greater support and formation for couples, the Diocese of Venice Office of Family Life and the St. John Paul II Foundation are working jointly to bring “Together in Holiness” to the entire Diocese. “Together in Holiness” is a comprehensive marriage enrichment initiative that includes an annual, one-day Conference series for couples, as well as a year-round Formation series for couples in Parishes, schools, and small communities.

“The Diocese of Venice continues to value the ongoing collaboration with the St. John Paul II Foundation in support of marriage and family,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane. “It is precisely the fruits that flow from the “Together in Holiness” Conference and the ongoing follow up Formation series, that the Sacrament of Marriage is all about. Through its Office of Family Life, the Diocese invites all couples to participate in these life-enriching opportunities.  Married couples are a sacramental representation of love, joy, and commitment, so I am thankful that “Together in Holiness” assists our married couples to contribute to the renewal of the family, Church and society.”

The second annual “Together in Holiness” Marriage Enrichment Conference will take place on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, the Feast of St. John Paul II, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will be hosted at St. John XXIII Parish, 13060 Palomino Lane, Fort Myers. Couples will enjoy a day of quality time with their spouse accompanied by dynamic presentations! The day will include the Mass and the availability of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This special event is for all couples, engaged, newlywed or long married. Access to on-site childcare will be provided.

The inaugural “Together in Holiness” Marriage Enrichment Conferences on Oct. 2, 2021, in Sarasota and Naples drew some 120 couples.

Here are just a few of the positive comments from previous attendees:

  • “Incredible!” “Life-changing!” “Impactful!” “Educational!” “Just what we needed!”
  • “It was truly a great event, very inspiring and applicable to the everyday life. It helped me to take a fresh look at my marriage and the relationship with my husband.”
  • “We both got a lot out of the entire day. It was a day of connecting – with each other, with other couples, with own selves, and, most importantly, with God.”

Complementing the one-day conference, the “Together in Holiness” Formation series offers year-round marriage enrichment to small communities of spouses that equips them with the formation, encouragement, and practical tools to grow together in holiness and to form their children in the Catholic Faith.

The “Together in Holiness” Formation series is a 7-part series based on the life, witness, and teachings of St. John Paul II on marriage and family life. Highlights include short, compelling video presentations with national speakers, Host Couples who facilitate discussion, and a “Bring it Home” component that translates learning into living. The Formation series is also available for Spanish-speaking couples through translated materials and captioned videos.

To register, please visit A video message from Bishop Frank J. Dewane can be found at

For more information, please contact Carrie Harkey at 941-484-9543 or at

Sacrament of Confirmation – More Perfectly Bound to the Church as True Witnesses to Christ

Through the Sacrament of Confirmation the Christian initiation is completed as the recipients become more perfectly bound to the Church as true witnesses to Christ. This season almost 1,500 have been confirmed in the Diocese of Venice.

Pope Francis said Confirmation is a Sacrament which must be understood as a continuation of the faith journey, beginning with Baptism, along with the Eucharist, to constitute a single saving event – Christian initiation – “in which we are brought into Christ who died and rose again, and become new creatures and members of the Church.”

Throughout much of history, these three Sacraments were celebrated together, at the end of the catechumenal path – normally on Holy Saturday, Pope Francis continued. “This concluded the process of formation and gradual insertion into the Christian community that could take several years. It was a step-by-step process, first reaching Baptism, then Confirmation, and finally the Eucharist.”

The term ‘confirmation’ must remind one that this Sacrament involves growth from baptismal grace, Pope Francis said. “It unites us more firmly with Christ; it completes our bond with the Church; it accords to us the special strength of the Holy Spirit in order to spread and to defend the faith, to confess the name of Christ and never to be ashamed of His Cross.”

It should be noted that while the order of the Sacraments may have changed over time, Pope Francis said that “Confirmation, like every Sacrament, is not the work of men, but rather the work of God, Who takes care of our lives in order to mold us in the image of His Son, to make us able to love like Him. He infuses us with the Holy Spirit whose action pervades the whole person and all of life, as is shown by the Seven Gifts that Tradition, in the light of the Sacred Scriptures, has always made clear: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Knowledge, Fortitude, Piety and Fear of the Lord.”

When we welcome the Holy Spirit into our hearts and allow it to act, Christ Himself is made present in us and takes form in our lives; through us, it will be He Who prays, forgives, brings hope and consolation, serves our brothers, is close to the needy and the abandoned, Who creates communion and sows peace.”

Here in the Diocese of Venice, a group of young men and women recently completed their own final step of Christian initiation by being “sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit” during their Confirmation at Sacred Heart Parish in Bradenton on April 22, 2022. Bishop Frank J. Dewane used sacred Chrism oil to anoint the confirmandi in Bradenton. This has been repeated by Bishop Dewane, and delegated Parish priests, since the fall of 2021, with more than 1,411 young men and women receiving the Sacrament during that time. Among that number were 397 adults who received the Sacrament of Confirmation at their home Parishes on Holy Saturday at the Easter Vigil on April 16, 2022.

Bishop Dewane told the confirmandi at Sacred Heart Parish that their sacramental life is key to who they are becoming by growing in the “Grace of God.” In order to do that, they must carry the Gifts of the Holy Spirit with them beyond the four walls of their Church. They must be doers of their Faith because there is nothing passive about being Catholic. The Sacrament of Confirmation is not an ending to the faith journey, but a beginning.

“You are on a journey to become women and men of God,” the Bishop said. “We are each called to follow the lead Jesus gives us. You are old enough to do so freely in receiving this Sacrament,” Bishop Dewane added. “Allow this sacramental gift to enter into your life and carry the Holy Spirit with you from this point forward.”

“This Sacrament makes you more,” he explained. “Be filled with the Holy Spirit and let this conscious action you take be a sign of who you have become as Catholics, and who you are going to be going forward as women and men of God. Be an inspiration to others as you let the light and the gifts of the Holy Spirit shine forth in your words and your deeds.”

During the Sacrament of Confirmation, the candidates renew their baptismal promises, which Bishop Dewane said is done to publicly proclaim who they are as Catholics and to have the courage, hope, faith and perseverance to be true followers of Christ.

As the Rite continues, the Bishop, the attending priests, and all the faithful, pray in silence for the candidates and then the Bishop recites a prayer aloud. Finally, the candidates were presented with the sponsor placing their right hand on the candidates’ right shoulder. Then with his right thumb, the Bishop makes the sign of the cross on their forehead with the holy Chrism oil and says “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” It is at this point, the Bishop said, that their unity to the Church was complete.

Recently, the Holy Father repeatedly stressed how important of how important it is that all children receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. While there is a logical emphasis on the Sacrament of Baptism, there tends to be less of a focus on the Sacrament of Confirmation. Therefore, those who are baptized remain at a halfway point, and as Pope Francis said, they do not “receive the Holy Spirit that gives us the strength to go forward in Christian life.”

The Diocese of Venice has a religious education program which emphasizes the importance of the Sacrament of Confirmation with a two-year process. The young men and women go through a process where they complete one phase of their faith journey and prepare to begin the next phase as full Christians who are called to be more and reflect the love and goodness of Christ in their heart and soul. There is an additional program called the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, which not only assists adults in receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, but other Sacraments they might be missing, thus allowing them to be in full Communion with the Church.

Pentecost: the Holy Spirit descends upon all – Church celebrates its “Birthday”

The Solemnity of Pentecost, which is celebrated 50 days after Easter, marks the descent of the Holy Spirit.

The twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit are charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity.

Pope Francis addressed the faithful on Pentecost at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican saying that the Holy Spirit “rejuvenates the Church” and teaches the Church “to be an open house without walls of division.”

“Brothers and sisters, let us sit at the school of the Holy Spirit, so that he can teach us all things. Let us invoke him each day, so that he can remind us to make God’s gaze upon us our starting point, to make decisions by listening to his voice, and to journey together as Church, docile to him and open to the world,” the Holy Father said.

At Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, Rector Msgr. Patrick Dubois said the Holy Spirit was sent down with the power to proclaim the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

“Since then, the Church has spread throughout the world to include more than 1.2 billion Catholics,” Msgr. Dubois said. “The Holy Spirit accompanied the Disciples throughout the world as they began their journey on this birthday of the Church. This accompaniment by the Holy Spirit is not only exclusive to Bishops, priest, deacons and those in religious life – who each have a key role to fill – but to the lay faithful, who are called to spread the Gospel within society.”

“It is through the lay faithful that the Holy Spirit work to transform the affairs of this world according to God’s core values,” Msgr. Dubois continued. “This is done by giving witness to Christ wherever it is that you live. Wherever you are, be it in Venice, Fort Myers, Bradenton, you are the light of the world, you are called by the Lord Jesus to spread the Gospel and advance the Kingdom of God. May this day be a new birthday, that we may consecrate ourselves with renewed zeal to be God’s witness in this world.”

The latest generation of faithful who are guided by the Holy Spirit are those who have recently entered into full Communion with the Church, namely the recent recipients of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

On Pentecost, Msgr. Dubois bestowed the Sacrament of Confirmation upon 60 people from 17 different Parishes across the Diocese. The confirmandi were people who otherwise missed being confirmed either at the Easter Vigil or by the Bishop at the Parish.

The candidates were told that that they are called and equipped by Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit – a special strength to give witness to Christ and perform the acts of good Christians.

“Confirmation will make you a frontline fighter for the Faith of Christ,” Msgr. Dubois added. “With the Sacrament, the Holy Spirit will confirm you in your path and from there the Holy Spirit will give you the gifts and strength to sanctify your mission according to God’s Commandments.”

EASTER: The Summit of the Catholic Faith

For the Easter Season – Spread the Good News

Throughout the Universal Church the faithful gathered for a joyous celebration on Easter; that is the Resurrection of Our Lord, the Summit of the Catholic Faith. Easter is not simply one feast among others, but the “Feast of feasts,” the “Solemnity of solemnities.”

This celebration comes after the holiest of weeks which began with the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and included the institution of the Eucharist (Communion) during the Last Supper, Institution of the Sacrament of Holy Orders as well as the betrayal by Judas on Holy Thursday and the suffering and death of Our Lord on Good Friday. The Resurrection on Easter completes the journey for Jesus but it is just the beginning of a new journey of belief and hope for the Faithful, Bishop Frank J. Dewane explained during the Easter Vigil Mass on April 16, 2022, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

“For more than two thousand years humanity has never known a night so powerful as this night which represents the greatest noble night when the power of death was overcome – conquered that night by Jesus Christ,” Bishop Dewane said.

The Bishop noted the Gospel reading from the Vigil provides guidance to carry the message of Easter forward. The Gospel of Luke (24:1-12) tells the story of the women who were going to care for the body of Jesus, thought to be deceased, in the Jewish custom and found the stone rolled away from the tomb. The Gospel then reads: “but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were puzzling over this, behold, two men in dazzling garments appeared to them. They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. They said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day.’ And they remembered his words.'”

Bishop Dewane said we all need to look back to Scripture and recall those words, at that moment. “All of us need to ponder the power of the Resurrection in our life. We need to have hope. Yes, we can be afraid at times, but we cannot be deterred. The women who came to the tomb of Jesus were afraid, but they had hope. We must allow the same to happen to us, as with shouts of joy, proclaim the Risen Lord, whose power can roll back the stones – those obstacles to living out a true life of faith in Jesus Christ. This Risen Lord gives us the grace we need to go forward to be the messengers of Christ’s Word – the messenger of the Resurrection of the Lord – Alleluia! Christ is Risen!”

The Easter Vigil begins in darkness, the Easter fire is kindled and the Paschal (Passover) Candle lit. The Candle is brought into the darkened church with the proclamation that Christ is our Light as the flame is shared and the light spreads.

During this Vigil Mass, the faithful hear the story of Salvation proclaimed in numerous Scripture readings first from the Old Testament (Genesis and Exodus) and then from the New Testament. It is also at this time at the Vigil Mass that the Bishop and priests baptize and confirm Catechumens and Candidates. There were 397 women and men who entered fully into the Catholic Church at Parishes throughout the Diocese.

One of these candidates was Samantha Valerie Caballero who received the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and First Holy Communion from Bishop Dewane at Epiphany Cathedral. Caballero was emotional after becoming fully Catholic. “I feel blessed to have grown close to the Lord, Jesus Christ in my life,” she said afterwards.

The celebration of Easter is not confined to a single day; in fact, throughout the next 50 days the Easter Season is celebrated “in joyful exultation as one Feast Day, or better as one ‘great Sunday.’”

The first eight days after Easter make up what is called the Octave of Easter and is a festive time. On the 40th day of the Easter Season, Catholics celebrate the Ascension of the Lord (May 26 – the celebration is moved to the following Sunday, May 29). The days that follow are a time to prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday (June 5).

Universal Diocesan Confession times ahead of Holy Week

With Holy Week just days away, it is not too late to realize how well prepared we are for the Resurrection of the Lord on Easter Sunday.

One way to help in this effort is through participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Throughout the Lenten Season, Parishes have offered extended hours for the Sacrament, in addition to offering Penance Services, where multiple priests from the region are available to hear the confessions of a large number of people.

Realizing the need to have a universal opportunity for this important Sacrament of Mercy, all Parishes in the Diocese of Venice will offer Confessions from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., Friday, April 8, 2022, and then again from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, April 9.  These opportunities are made available so that the faithful may find ample opportunity to receive God’s Mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation during the Lenten Season.

Father Eric Scanlan, Pastor of Incarnation Parish in Sarasota, spoke during a March 31 Penance Service and explained how availing oneself of the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least once during Lent fulfills a specific obligation.

“Rules and obligations are not meant to burden us but to make room for good things to run wild and we need more of that – that holy wildness in our life,” Father Scanlan said.

Pope Francis often speaks about the healing benefits of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, saying that he goes about once every two weeks. “When I go to confession it is in order to be healed, to heal my soul, to heal my heart and to be healed of some wrongdoing.”

The Pope also reminds us that no one is free from sin and that feeling a little “ashamed before God is a grace… Going to confession is going to an encounter with the Lord who forgives us, who loves us and our shame is what we offer him… When one is in line to go to Confession, one feels all these things, even shame, but then when one finishes Confession one leaves free… forgiven, happy. This is the beauty of Confession! Jesus is there…and He receives you with so much love!”

As the Catechism teaches, the priest is acting in Persona Christi, the person of Christ, within the confessional. So, like presenting oneself at the altar to be nourished by Christ in the Eucharist, a person going to Confession, is not ultimately confessing to a priest, but confessing to and receiving forgiveness from Jesus Christ.

Father Scanlan said during the Penance Service that everyone comes to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a sinner, broken, wounded and in need of healing.

“As we reflect on these sins, it is easy to feel discouraged. Don’t listen to the voices of the evil one,” Father added. “God wants you to know that He loves you. He wants to pour His mercy and blessing out to you tonight. It is time to receive that freedom that Christ has for you. When we leave here, we have a new deliverance, a freedom, a holiness that is given to us from the mercy and blessing God pours forth in this Holy Sacrament.”

Please contact your local Parish for additional available confession times.

News Briefs for the week of March 25, 2022

Synod Listening Sessions ongoing

The Listening Sessions for the Diocesan Phase of “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” continues through May. At the invitation of Bishop Frank J. Dewane the faithful are encouraged to be prepared to answer the fundamental concept of what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church today. The in-person Listening Sessions are 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. The remaining Sessions are as follows:

Monday, March 28, St. John the Evangelist Parish, 625 111th Ave. N., Naples (Eng.);

Monday, May 9, St. Catherine Parish, 820 Hickory St., Sebring (Eng./Sp);

Monday, May 16, St. Agnes Parish, 7775 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples (Eng.);

Monday, May 23, Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish, 355 S. Bridge St., LaBelle (Eng./Sp);

(NEW) Virtual Session from 10:30 a.m. to noon, Wednesday, May 25.

To register for a Listening Session or the Virtual Session, please visit Email for any questions or comments regarding the Listening Sessions.

Diocesan-wide opportunity for Sacrament of Reconciliation coming soon

As the Lenten Season progresses, the precept of confessing grave sins and receiving Holy Communion at least once during the Lenten Season merits a reminder to all. To facilitate this requirement, every Parish in the Diocese of Venice will be open with a confessor present from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., on Friday, April 8, and from 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, April 9. Check with your local Parish for additional confession times or the availability of a Penance Service. These opportunities are made available so that the faithful may find ample opportunity to receive God’s Mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation during the Lenten Season.

Donated ultrasound blessed

A new ultrasound machine, donated by the Knights of Columbus Council 14202 of St. Agnes Parish in Naples, was blessed March 21, 2022, at the Community Pregnancy Clinics Inc. Father Bob Kantor, Pastor of St. Agnes, and Father Michael Orsi, Parochial Vicar of St. Agnes, presided over the blessing. It is noted that more than 90% of women who see their babies on an ultrasound choose life. The machine is the latest model and is courtesy of a nationwide initiative of the Knights of Columbus which matches the contributions of local Council in purchasing the latest machines for Pro-Life clinics.

Naples students do well at Model UN conference

The St. John Neumann Catholic High School Model UN students from Naples took part in the National High School Model United Nations Conference in New York City the week of March 18, 2022. Under the direction of their advisor, Cindy Brewer, the Neumann team placed 3rd for research and presentation out of 135 teams from around the world. In addition, Hunter Lund and Alessio Cirino’s committee placed third out of the 70 committees in their field. This immersive experience in the world of international affairs, problem solving, and diplomacy was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the students. Long recognized for having the best substantive program on the Model UN circuit, National High School Model UN is known for its diverse, talented attendees, its highly engaging debates, and its academically rigorous material. These SJN students were able to attend meetings with the diplomatic representatives of the countries they represented, as well as other UN and Non-Government Organization (NGO) leaders for dynamic question and answer sessions.

Hardee County group takes part in 40 Days for Life

Members of the St. Michael Parish Council of Catholic Woman and Faith Formation Group from Wauchula traveled March 15, 2022, to Sarasota to pray to end abortion at the Planned Parenthood facility as part of the 40 Days for Life spring prayer campaign. The group was present during on the day abortions are done were performed at the facility. This led to an emotional day, leaving the group with both sadness and hope. Sadness about what takes place in such facilities and hope that publicly standing for life made a difference. The group prayed for the mothers and babies that are victims of the lie that abortion is the only answer. The spring 40 Days for Life peaceful prayer campaign is taking place in the public right-of-way in both Sarasota and Fort Myers through April 10. All are encouraged to spend at least one hour in prayer for life during Lent. Contact your Parish Life Coordinator for specific information about your Parish’s commitment days. For additional information about the local 40 Days for Life, go to or

Holocaust survivor shares story

Heinz Wartski, a 93 year old Holocaust survivor and Korean War veteran, shared his story with Bishop Verot Catholic High School students on March 15, 2022, in Fort Myers. Heinz Wartski grew up in Danzig with his parents and two siblings. In 1939, Heinz and his family escaped to Italy and later joined the partisan resistance in the Appenine Mountains.  He stated: “We were a minority in every nation in which we lived, and we were therefore easy targets for any government in need of scapegoats.” His family survived until liberation in 1945. Heinz and his family immigrated to the United States in 1949.  He married Hella Wartski, a fellow Holocaust survivor, and had two children.  He currently resides in Naples, and volunteers with the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida.

Digestive system lesson

Thank you to Katy Wallis, professor at State College of Florida, for leading fifth-grade students from St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton through an interactive lesson on the digestive system on March 18, 2022. Students used plastic bags filled with various items to get a “feel” for how the digestive system, including the stomach, works.

Team GPA tops region

The St. John Neumann Catholic High School Celtic Boys Basketball Team in Naples finished the season with a team GPA of 3.74 which is #1 in the Florida High School Athletic Association 2A classification and the #3 team GPA in the entire state. Well done!

A Sign of Hope: 15,756 years of Sacramental Commitment

More than 300 couples celebrating 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50 and 50+ years of marriage were recognized and honored by Bishop Frank J. Dewane during a Mass Feb. 19, 2022, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, the second of two such Masses within the Diocese of Venice.

The combined years married for the couples present in Venice was well over 15,756, with 57 couples present celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, and five couples each celebrating 70 or more years.

Bishop Dewane called it a beautiful sight when he looked out upon so many couples who give a fantastic witness of their sacramental commitment.

“All of you represent love, joy and commitment to each other in a sacramental way, as a sign of hope,” Bishop Dewane said. “You were called to make a sacrifice, to live out the sacramental commitment, the important vocation that contributes greatly to the Church and to society as a whole. You are an example to others, not just to your children and grandchildren but to society that looks to you for guidance, inspiration and hope.”

The longest couple married present in Venice were Donald and Nonna Rassier of Epiphany Cathedral, who will be celebrating 74 years together on Oct. 2, 2022. Four additional couples, celebrating 70 or more years, were present for the Mass including: Carl and Natalie Pensak, Raymond and Gayle Bickowski, both 70 years; Thomas and Dolores Martorana, 71 years, and Leon and Ann Reser, 73 years.

The first Anniversary Mass was held Feb. 12, at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs and included 180 couples. The couples present for the two Masses combined for a staggering 24,570 years of marriage. The Anniversary Mass is held in two locations each year to accommodate the large and growing number of participating couples and in recognition of the difficulty for some couples to travel great distances.

Marriage: A beautiful vocation

Love was in the air when 180 couples celebrating milestone wedding anniversaries stood united as a testament to commitment through the Grace of God just a few days before Valentine’s Day.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated the first of two Masses on Feb. 12, 2022, at St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs, honoring the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and couples celebrating 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50 and 50+ years of marriage. A second Mass is scheduled for Feb. 19 at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

“Today is, for me, one of the most personally uplifting and humbling experiences throughout the year,” Bishop Frank J. Dewane said. “Couples coming together in the Sacrament of Marriage is such a powerful image of God’s love in the world for the rest of us. You continue to live that commitment as the living ministers of the Sacrament and that is humbling to see and important that we celebrate it!”

Alphonse and Lottie Kuznicki, of St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers, celebrating their 75th anniversary in October, were recognized as the longest married couple present for the Bonita Springs Mass. The high school sweethearts from Detroit, Michigan, waited until after his service in the U.S. Army during World War II, before getting married in 1947. Al gave Lottie an engagement ring before he departed for his service, and she happily waited. They were married within a few months of his returning from overseas and have not spent a day apart since.

Al Kuznicki said their strong faith created a lasting bond during their courtship, and held them together as they were married and later had children. “We had our ups and downs, but we had a strong faith to keep us going. This is very important.”

Also present at the Mass were Norman and Doris Brinkman of Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers, celebrating 72 years; Frank and Lucia Sylvester of St. Agnes Parish in Naples celebrating 61 years the day of the Mass; and 26 couples who are celebrating their 50th anniversary in 2022. In total, the couples present combined for an impressive 8,820 years of marriage.

The Holy Father calls married couples the “Icon of God’s image,” speaking about the love and witness they give as the years pass and their sacramental commitment to each other deepens.

Pope Francis also says marriage is a “silent homily” by the life lived, by the commitment the spouses share, and by the nice things they do, one for the other.

Bishop Dewane agrees, saying that in our society, the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is threatened and challenged in so many ways. Therefore, the daily action of each sacramentally married man and woman, whether large and small, “gives a witness to those around you, in the love and commitment you have, one to the other… God has given you husbands and wives the grace to live within the context of this challenging time as God’s icon of love. Know that and live it each day, whether married for one year, 25 years or 75 years. What you witness each day matters as you continue to be that icon, that image for others to follow and find God’s love in your own life.”

During the Masses, the married couples renewed their wedding vows. In addition, each couple was presented with commemorative certificates, signed by the Bishop, for their enduring commitment to marriage. A reception followed with lunch and the opportunity to have complimentary pictures taken with the Bishop.

At the reception, George and Paula Wright of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples and who will be celebrating their 56th anniversary in June, said being part of a Mass honoring the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony was inspiring.

“We have had a good run and there is no slowing down,” Paula explained, “but being among these couples together for 70 or more years is wonderful because you know it hasn’t been easy, but it is still possible if you chose the right partner and allow the Lord to accompany you on your journey.”

The Anniversary Mass in held in two locations each year to accommodate the large and growing number of participating couples and in recognition of the difficulty for some couples to travel great distances.

Two join Presbyterate – Ordination draws large crowd

In a public response to a “call to holiness,” Transitional Deacons Mark Harris and Alexander Pince were ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on July 31, 2021 at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice as more than 500 people rejoiced.

The newly ordained responded to a particular call in their life and evidenced their response in a profound way by coming forward for ordination. The two men reflected afterwards about the powerful emotion of the moment that brought about an inner calm. They also expressed the genuine joy and love for the Lord they each witness.

The poignant and emotional Rite places Fathers Harris and Pince in a new role as they are raised to the Order of the Presbyterate where they will now celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, confer the Sacraments and teach the Gospel.

Bishop Dewane congratulated the ordinandi for answering the call to holiness and advancing in their formation through prayer, discernment, guidance and direction. This helped them grow closer to the Lord while at the same time reminded each they are called to reflect and magnify Christ and bring others closer to the Lord.

Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, a priest is transformed and marked indelibly as an instrument through which others receive the Sacraments, Bishop Dewane added. It is through ordination that Harris and Pince have a new beginning, configured to Christ.

“Let the holiness of your life be an example to the People of God; to those you encounter,” Bishop added. “Let it be evident that you are a holy man – live the life the Lord calls you to be – to be holy.”

Bishop Dewane concluded his remarks explaining to Harris and Pince, “Holy Mother Church reminds you that you do this while united to the Body of Christ. Know that nobody can do this alone. It is not always easy. At some times you will be a bit fearful as was stated in our first reading from the Prophet Jeremiah. At other times you will feel a little bit imprisoned by this as our second reading from St. Paul noted. But pause and remember the Scriptures read on this day and know that it is the Lord who has chosen you. That you are living the life, the gift, the sacrament, that the Lord has given to you. May you be blessed always as you go forward.”

When the Rite of Ordination began, the elect were called forth by Father Shawn Roser, Diocesan Vocations Director, and upon hearing their names, each stood and answered “Present.” After the homily, individually, the ordinand knelt before the Bishop so as to promise respect and obedience to him and his successors. They then prostrated before the altar for the Litany of Supplication/Litany of Saints. The whole assembly joined in the prayer which invoked God’s Grace and the intercession of the Saints in heaven.

The Bishop then laid his hands on the head of each man and prayed silently. Next was the Prayer of Ordination. These combine to form an essential part of the Liturgy of the Sacrament of Holy Orders

Next, the newly ordained priests were vested in the stole and chasuble, vestments which are worn when celebrating the Eucharist and symbolize their responsibility and authority in service to Christ. Father Harris was vested by Father Jerry Kaywell, Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda. Father Pince was vested by Msgr. Roberto Garza, former Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami.

The palms of the new priests were then anointed with the Sacred Chrism by Bishop Dewane, the sign of the special anointing of the Holy Spirit who will make their ministry fruitful. Next, the Bishop presented each new priest with the chalice and paten which they are called to present to God in the Eucharistic sacrifice saying: “Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.” He repeated this commission, once each for the newly ordained priests.

The Rite of Ordination ended with the Bishop giving a fraternal kiss of peace to each newly ordained priest, welcoming them into the Diocesan Presbyterate or priesthood. The priests present then followed the Bishop’s example. The newly ordained then joined Bishop Dewane at the altar to the applause and joy of all present.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist then followed. The new priests joined all the priests for the first time in concelebrating the Eucharist with Bishop Dewane, reciting together the words of Consecration. For the first time, they offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, acting in the person of Christ. From this sacrifice their whole priestly ministry will draw its strength.

During the ordination, Deacons Harris and Pince freely presented themselves to serve God, the Church and the Bishop of the Diocese of Venice, and his successors. They also made a promise to celibacy and a promise to obedience. The reward for that choice is to have their life filled with the message of God.

In addition to family and friends, also present at the ordination were more than 50 priests, men and women religious, permanent deacons, the Knights and Dames of the Order of Malta and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.

The Ordination Mass was followed by a reception in the Cathedral Parish Hall where the newly ordained priests were available to greet the public and impart their priestly blessings on them.

Bios of the new priests

Father Harris, 54, was born in Miami and spent his childhood alternating between living in Florida and Connecticut. He earned degrees in Commercial Art and then Business Marketing and Management from Florida Metropolitan University, before earning a Master’s in Education from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., and worked at interior design, marketing, career development and teaching.

Becoming a seminarian in 2017, Father Harris studied at St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts where he graduated in May 2021. He previously served summer assignments at Epiphany Cathedral, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Venice and Resurrection Parish in Fort Myers. His first Mass was celebrated Aug. 1 at Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda and his first assignment is as Parochial Vicar of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples.

Father Pince, 30, was born in Concord, New Hampshire, to a large family and is the middle of seven children. He graduated from Ave Maria University in Ave Maria with majors in business and economics and worked for a few years before answering the call of service to the Lord.

During the summer of 2015, Deacon Pince started as a Diocesan seminarian with studies at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, earning a philosophy degree. He then studied in Rome, Italy, earning a Sacred Theology Bachelor’s Degree (STB) from the Gregorian University. He will soon be entering the second year of a two-year Licentiate program specializing in moral theology at the University of the Holy Cross in Rome. His summer assignments included Ss. Peter and Paul the Apostle Parish in Bradenton, Resurrection Parish in Fort Myers, St. William Parish in Naples, St. Thomas More Parish in Sarasota and St. Andrew Parish in Cape Coral. He will serve as Temporary Parochial Vicar at St. Andrew Parish before returning to Rome to complete his studies.