Looking ahead to 2022 in the Diocese of Venice

Opportunities abound for the faithful of the Diocese of Venice to grow closer to the Lord as the new year begins while continuing to deal with the impacts of the global COVID-19 Pandemic. A variety of Diocesan events are scheduled or in the planning stages while at the same time numerous Parishes are in the process of either completing or beginning major construction work. Therefore, 2021 is sure to be an exciting year for Catholics across Southwest Florida.

In the coming months there will be the Ordination to the Priesthood of three men, the Diocesan Phase of the Synod on Synodality, Masses for couples celebrating significant wedding anniversaries, a first-time joint Men’s and Women’s Conference, a continuing initiative to curb the impacts of pornography on society, opportunities to promote the sanctity of life, and learning experiences of various types.

During the first half of 2022, taking center stage will be the Diocesan Phase of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” Specifically, there will be a series of listening sessions which will take place in each part of the Diocese and to be announced in the next few weeks. The goal of these sessions is to discern the Word of God in Scripture, what those Words are saying to us while remembering the living Mission of the Church. This Diocesan Phase was inaugurated with an opening Mass celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on Oct. 17, 2021, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

Coming in March is one of the most valuable opportunities to grow in the Faith, a first-ever joint Women’s and Men’s Conference. This year, the Conference agenda has been supercharged with dynamic speakers addressing relevant topics within the Church for Catholic men, women and their families. The 2022 Diocese of Venice Men’s & Women’s Conference is Saturday, March 5, at the Charlotte Harbor Event Center, 75 Taylor Street, Punta Gorda. Speakers include Trent Horn, Matthew Leonard, Emily Wilson, Dr. Michael Dauphinais, and Nicole Caruso with several breakout sessions geared specifically toward men or women. The large venue is ideal for allowing all participants to grow closer to the Lord. In addition, there will opportunities to participate in the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Confession all day. Bishop Dewane will conclude the day by celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Doors open at 8 a.m. with the day beginning at 9 a.m. and concluding with the closing Mass at 4 p.m. To register, visit https://dioceseofvenice.regfox.com/2022-menswomens-conference. If you have any questions, contact the Diocesan Evangelization Office at 941-484-9543 or evangelization@dioceseofvenice.org.

For all couples celebrating a significant wedding anniversary (25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, or more than 50 years of marriage) in 2022, Bishop Dewane will be the celebrant of two Masses in your honor. The Masses will be celebrated at 11 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 12 at St. Leo the Great Parish, 28290 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs, and at 11 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 19 at Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Avenue, Venice. The Masses will be followed with a lunch and include the opportunity for complimentary anniversary photos taken with Bishop Dewane. To register, please contact your local parish office for reservations no later than a week prior to the event you choose to attend.

The Office of Respect Life will be busy throughout 2022 with a variety of activities, all to raise awareness about important issues regarding the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. First up is the 24th annual Sarasota Prayer Walk for Life on Tuesday, Jan. 18, outside of the Planned Parenthood in downtown Sarasota. Bishop Dewane will celebrate Mass at 8:30 a.m. at St. Martha Parish, 200 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota. A bus will shuttle participants to the abortion center on Central Avenue to circle the block in prayer as many times as desired. The walk coincides with the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade court decision which paved the way for legalized abortion in the U.S.

In addition, there are two Parish-based prayer walks Saturday, Jan. 22. Members of the Ave Maria Parish Respect Life Outreach, along with Ave Maria University and Community Pregnancy Clinics Inc., will be hosting a March for Life from the Ave Maria University football field 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Special guests include Bishop Dewane and Pro-Life speaker Pam Stenzel. The same day, the St. Leo the Great Parish Respect Life Outreach in Bonita Springs is hosting its 3rd Annual Walk for Life on U.S. 41 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Participants are asked to park in the Parish parking lot at 28290 Beaumont Road and everyone will meet on nearby U.S. 41.

Later in the year, there will be an opportunity to participate in the national 40 Days for Life Spring Campaign during Lent in Fort Myers and Sarasota, then the Fall Campaign (October) at multiple locations in the Diocese.

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., will be hosting several events to support its more 30 than programs throughout the Diocese. First up on Wednesday, Jan. 19, is the “Celebration of Hope Luncheon” to benefit the programs in Lee, Hendry and Glades counties, The Luncheon begins at 11:30 a.m., at the Lexington Country Club, 16257 Willowcrest Way, Fort Myers. For tickets to this event, please contact Victoria Guevara at victoria.guevaranunez@catholiccharitiesdov.org or call 239-334-4007 ext. 2100.

In the beginning of February, make plans for an elegant evening at the “Together Again” Catholic Charities Ball, which supports the programs of Catholic Charities in Sarasota, Manatee, Highlands, Glades, DeSoto and Hardee counties. The Ball is 6 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 5, at the Ritz-Carlton, 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Sarasota. For tickets or to sponsor the event, please visit https://catholiccharitiesdov.org/event-on/ or call 941-909-7817.

Coming later in February is the Our Mother’s House Annual Wine Tasting, Auction & Dinner Dance at 6 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 24, at the Venice Community Center, 326 Nokomis Ave. S., Venice. Funds raised by this event will ensure that Our Mother’s House is able to offer the support needed to the mothers and their children as they journey towards self-sufficiency. For more information, please contact Lisa Ventura at 941-485-6264 ext. 1500 at lisa.ventura@catholiccharitiesdov.org. For tickets, please visit https://catholiccharitiesdov.org/event-on/.

Next among the Catholic Charities events in early 2022 is the Emerald Ball 2022. This evening supports the Catholic Charities programs in Collier County and will take place at 6 p.m., Thursday, March 10, at the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort, 280 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples. For more information or to sponsor the event, please contact Rosa Aspilcueta 239-455-2655 ext. 3100 or emeraldball@catholiccharitiesdov.org, or visit https://catholiccharitiesdov.org/event-on/.

Continuing on the success of the first Safe Haven Sunday in 2021, the Diocesan Office of Family Life is working on developing the second phase of the initiative for the fall of 2022. This phase help to raise awareness about the harmfulness of pornography in the family and society. Pornography creates unsafe environments for children and confuses others about attitudes towards sex and marriage. This day of awareness describes the impacts pornography can have on marriages, families, and culture, while providing helpful resources for all. Detailed information will be shared with the faithful about how to combat this scourge in the weeks leading up to Safe Haven Sunday.

In the coming months, Bishop Dewane will preside over a variety of celebrations which occur each year, including the Rite of Election on the first Sunday of Lent, March 6, when Bishop Dewane welcomes those in Parish RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) programs from throughout the Diocese who will be fully entering the Church at the Easter Vigil; a Mass for Victims of Abuse will take place in April – National Child Abuse Awareness Month; later in the year a Veterans Day Mass at Sarasota National Cemetery, a Red Mass for legal professionals and more. As earlier mentioned, three men will be Ordained to the Priesthood by the Bishop this summer at Epiphany Cathedral.

Throughout 2021 there will be a variety of Parish-based celebrations coming in 20211. Among those is the 40th Anniversary of the founding of St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples, which is also going through an expansion project slated to begin in 2022. The dedication of new Parish Life Centers for Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Boca Grande and St. William Parish in Naples will be happening in the first half of the year; and renovations to existing buildings as new Parish Life Centers at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Immokalee and Our Lady of the Angels Parish Lakewood Ranch are nearing completion. The coming year will be a big one at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Sarasota which is nearing the completion of a major Church renovation and ground will be broken on a new Ministry Center. There will also be a renovation of the baseball fields at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers as well as the expansion of the religious education building at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula. Additional smaller, but no less important, projects are slated throughout the Diocese in an effort to benefit current and future generations.

As 2022 moves forward, check the Diocesan website (www.dioceseofvenice.org) frequently for information about these and other upcoming events. As always, check the weekly Florida Catholic e-Edition to read stories and view photos from these and other happenings across the Diocese. If you would like to read the story looking back at life in the Diocese during 2021, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/looking-back-on-2021/.

News Briefs for the Week of January 14, 2022

Appointments

After consultation, Bishop Frank J. Dewane announced the following appointments:

Father Alphonse Tri Vu, C.R.M., relieved of his duties as Parochial Vicar and Chaplain of Our Lady of Lavang Community at St. Martha Parish in Sarasota, effective December 19, 2021, and thus, has returned to his Religious Community.

Father Joseph Toan Duc Vu, C.R.M., as Parochial Vicar and Chaplain of Our Lady of Lavang Community, as well as hospital ministries, at St. Martha Parish in Sarasota, effective December 22, 2021.

Youth mural represents Beatitudes

If you have a chance to stop by the St. Joseph Parish Center in Bradenton, you will notice a new mural hanging on the wall in the hallway leading from the gymnasium. It represents the Beatitudes and was created by both the high school and middle school youth groups. The mural includes 10 panels with elegant script of the words which are attributed to Jesus as recounted in the Sermon on the Mount. The panels also include various religious symbols that either represent the specific words of Christ on the panel or that of the Sacraments of the Church. The Parish maintenance team installed the mural the week of Jan. 3, 2022.The eighth-grade students at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota will soon be reading the book “Animal Farm” by Kurt Vonnegut. On Jan. 6, 2022, the students had the chance to build wind turbines using LEGO “Spike” to represent the windmill created by the animals in the novel. This is an example of how the school integrates many of its studies across different classrooms, using the STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Art and Math) curriculum to present students a more well-round education that fosters increased creative thinkers while developing skills which will be useful later in life.

Donated lockers make debut

Lockers for students at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples made their debut when students returned from Christmas Break on Jan. 4, 2022. Those lockers are the first at the school and are courtesy of the Donahue Catholic Academy of Ave Maria. The Academy replaced some of their school lockers with larger ones in the fall. The used lockers were then donated to the Naples school and were only recently installed.

STREAM fun with LEGOs

Epiphany Feast recognized at schools

The Feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 6, 2022, is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah, Son of God and Savior of the world. The great Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the wise men from the East and was celebrated at different Diocesan Catholic Schools. Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice, the eighth graders led a procession and brief play retelling the story for the entire student body. At St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral, the Feast Day, was taught in second grade Spanish class, where students learned about how traditions are celebrated differently in Spain and Latin America. Both schools held celebrations which included food and the wearing of crowns.

Student get lesson in mosquitoes

St. Francis Xavier Catholic School seventh graders were visited on Jan. 10, 2022, by a representative of Lee County Mosquito Control who brought samples of the different bugs and types of mosquitoes found throughout the area and explained how some bugs are good for the environment while others can carry disease. Further, it was explained what the county does to control the mosquito population, including spraying, and what each student can do on a daily basis to help keep the mosquito population under control.

Respect Life opportunities for 2022

The Office of Respect Life will be busy throughout 2022 with a variety of activities, all to raise awareness about important issues regarding the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.

First up is the 24th annual Sarasota Prayer Walk for Life on Tuesday, Jan. 18, outside of the Planned Parenthood in downtown Sarasota. Bishop Dewane will celebrate Mass at 8:30 a.m. at St. Martha Parish, 200 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota. A bus will shuttle participants to the abortion center on Central Avenue to circle the block in prayer as many times as desired. The walk coincides with the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade court decision which paved the way for legalized abortion in the U.S.

 

Catholics nationwide are preparing to pray 9 Days for Life, the annual pro-life novena beginning this year on January 19. In the Catholic Church, a ‘novena’ consists of prayers or actions over nine successive days. This pro-life novena is an opportunity for recollection and reparation in observation of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade—the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal throughout the United States.

Sponsored by the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 9 Days for Life began in 2013 in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. This is the tenth year the novena is taking place. The overarching intention of the novena is the end to abortion. Each daily intention highlights a related topic and is accompanied by a reflection, educational information, and suggested daily actions. The novena encompasses the annual Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children on January 22. All are invited to sign up at 9daysforlife.com. Participants can receive the novena in English or Spanish via email or text message or access it online. Participants can share their pro-life witness and invite their social networks to pray on social media with the hashtag #9DaysforLife.

In addition, there are two Parish-based prayer walks Saturday, Jan. 22. Members of the Ave Maria Parish Respect Life Outreach, along with Ave Maria University and Community Pregnancy Clinics Inc., will be hosting a March for Life from the Ave Maria University football field 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Special guests include Bishop Dewane and Pro-Life speaker Pam Stenzel. The same day, the St. Leo the Great Parish Respect Life Outreach in Bonita Springs is hosting its 3rd Annual Walk for Life on U.S. 41 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Participants are asked to park in the Parish parking lot at 28290 Beaumont Road and everyone will meet on nearby U.S. 41.

Later in the year, there will be an opportunity to participate in the national 40 Days for Life Spring Campaign during Lent in Fort Myers and Sarasota, then the Fall Campaign (October) at multiple locations in the Diocese.

 

Looking back on 2021

The continuing global pandemic did little to curb the important work of spreading the Good News of the Lord to the faithful throughout the Diocese of Venice in 2021.

While some events were modified, delayed or even postponed, the Diocese was blessed to have two men Ordained to the Priesthood; welcome hundreds into the Church at the Easter Vigil; start a massive robotics program in its Catholic schools; host a successful Youth Rally, as well as Women’s and Men’s Conferences; honor the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony; continue to pray for victims of abuse; honor our veterans; prayer walks for an end to abortion; assist tens of thousands with food and other support; evidence major enrollment gains in its Catholic schools; dedicate a new Parish Church and Retreat Center Shrine; continue to expand the outreach to the Hispanic Catholic community; inaugurate the Diocesan Phase of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” and conclude the “Year of St. Joseph.”

This list is just a small sample of what took place across the Diocese of Venice in 2021, all while the Diocese as well as the Parishes and Catholic schools modified operations to ensure that everyone remained safe. Each activity during the year was carefully planned to ensure participants would benefit from participating and ultimately working to the goal of helping the faithful grow ever closer to the Lord.

While taking time to look back covers many pivotal events in the life of the Diocese, the following is by no means a comprehensive listing of the initiatives and events which take place throughout the Diocese.

Priestly Ordination and Vocations

One of the most important building blocks of the Catholic Church is the ordination of men to the priesthood. The Diocese of Venice was blessed to have two men ordained in 2021 presided over by Bishop Frank J. Dewane at Epiphany Cathedral. Three other seminarians were ordained to the Transitional Diaconate in 2021 and are expected to be ordained to the priesthood in 2022.

Also encouraging is that there are currently 16 active seminarians in the Diocese, including the transitional deacons. The Vocation’s Office hosts several informational trips to the seminaries in Florida for prospective young men.

Chrism Mass and Celebration of Jubilarians

During Holy Week the priests of the Diocese gathered for the annual Chrism Mass; a powerful sign of unity with more than 100 priests on the altar with Bishop Dewane at the Cathedral. This annual Mass is one of the most critical and unifying moments for the Diocese during Holy Week. At the Chrism Mass, priests and deacons who celebrate milestone anniversaries were honored. To accommodate the latest guidance on social distancing and limiting the size of gatherings at the time, only priests and Permanent Deacons and their wives were present for the Mass. The public was able to view this Mass via livestream.

Catholic schools

The Diocese of Venice uniformly strengthened STREAM education in 15 Diocesan Catholics Schools through an investment in a partnership with FIRST®, a global robotics community, “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” placing students ahead of the curve in primary fields while continuing to promote core Catholic virtues. A gift of 500 robots and curricular resources were presented by Bishop Dewane to Diocesan Catholic Schools on March 10, 2021. Since that announcement Catholic schools throughout the Diocese have been enhancing STREAM-based learning and taking the time to continuously engage students through playful learning activities to think critically and solve complex problems, regardless of their learning level.

Also of good news, a report from the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops (FCC) has revealed that the Diocese of Venice leads all other Arch/diocese in enrollment gains in the past year. This trend also wipes out enrollment losses that occurred due to the pandemic. The Diocesan numbers – a 15.2% enrollment increase in elementary schools and 8.9% percent increase in secondary schools – compare favorably to the rest of the state.

Throughout the year, many schools implemented programs to improve sustainability through water conservation and energy reduction effort all in the spirit of Laudato Si, an encyclical from Pope Francis on the care for our common home.

Respect Life Outreach

The Diocese of Venice had huge numbers participate in prayer vigils at abortion facilities throughout the Diocese of Venice. With this topic gaining national attention due to laws restricting access to abortion in Texas and Mississippi and pending decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court, the vigils took a renewed sense of urgency. A focused prayer walk takes place each January in Sarasota to coincide with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, while two 40 Days for Life campaigns take place at multiple locations each Lent and again in the fall to coincide with October, National Respect Life Month.

Honoring the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony

As the sanctity of marriage continues to be attacked from many different levels, Bishop Dewane takes time out each year to honor the men and women who have dedicated their lives to living the Sacrament of Marriage. Two Mass are held during the year which the Bishop celebrates for couples enjoying significant wedding anniversaries; many celebrating more than 50 years of marriage and some more than 70 years. These couples represent a shining example of this important Sacrament in the face of many attacks on this vital institution. In addition, the Diocese hosted the inaugural Marriage Enrichment Conference in October in Sarasota and Naples. The goal was to help form married couples to live out their vocation in holiness and joy.

Safe Haven Sunday

To help bolster the family, the Diocese also participated in the first ever Safe Haven Sunday in March 2021. Safe Haven Sunday was set aside so as to give focused time and resources to address the harmful effects of pornography on youth, marriages, and families. Resources to protect individuals, marriages and families were given to families attending Masses that weekend. This was followed up by a series of Cyber Safety workshops for parents, religious educators, and principals.

Catholic Charities

Each year the programs of Catholic Charities within the Diocese of Venice assists thousands of individuals and families and through the pandemic the numbers remained high as inflation has caused housing and food prices to skyrocket further impacting families. More than a million pounds of food was served to some 150,000 individuals at food pantries throughout the Diocese. Catholic Charities also hosted several volunteer vaccinations sites in rural communities with great success. An additional 2,000 received mental health counseling through in-person and tele-mental health programs. Nearly as many received some sort of emergency financial assistance. This support was in addition to the 30 other programs Catholic Charities has at locations throughout the region and ranges from afterschool tutoring to senior care.

Year of St. Joseph

Because St. Joseph is Protector of the Universal Church, Bishop Dewane consecrated the Diocese of Venice to a “Year of St. Joseph” in the context of the COVID-19 Pandemic beginning March 19, 2020. The Diocesan dedication to a “Year of Saint Joseph” was extended to continue until Dec. 8, 2021. This was in direct support of Pope Francis creating a Universal “Year of Saint Joseph” from Dec. 8, 2020 to Dec. 8, 2021. Among the activities which took place to honor St. Joseph, the Diocesan Office of Family Life introduced a 30-day St. Joseph Devotional for the month of September 2021, as a way to continue to mark the ongoing “Year of St. Joseph,” as well as the celebration of the Year of Amoris Laetitia Family.

Synod on Synodality

Bishop Dewane inaugurated the beginning of the Diocesan Phase of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” with an afternoon Mass on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, at Epiphany Cathedral. Participating in the Mass were Diocesan priests, as well as some 300 people representing many Parishes, various movements, and many other groups. During the Diocesan Phase there will be a series of listening sessions which will take place in each part of the Diocese in the coming months. The goal of these sessions is to discern the Word of God in Scripture, what those Words are saying to us while remembering the living Mission of the Church. Two episodes of the Bishop radio show, “Witnessing Faith with Bishop Dewane,” were dedicated to covering the intricacies of the Synod.

Dedications

Two major dedications took place in the first half of 2021. First was the Dedication and Blessing of a new Parish Church for St. Paul Parish in Arcadia on March 21, 2021. The building more than quadrupled the capacity of the previous church and offers room for future Parish offices, classrooms and a Parish Hall. The project followed strict guidelines to ensure the building is energy efficient is the context of Laudato Si. A centerpiece feature of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice was dedicated and blessed by Bishop Dewane before an enthusiastic crowd on June 6, 2021. The Shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a fitting memorial to the Blessed Virgin who serves as the exemplar for all to follow.

Other items of note

  • For the 14th consecutive year, during Child Abuse Awareness Prevention Month – April, the Diocese of Venice offered a Mass to pray for the victims of abuse at Epiphany Cathedral. Normally there are two Mass, but the pandemic necessitated only one Mass in 2021. So as to accommodate a larger audience, the Mass was live-streamed. The Diocese of Venice, and its entities, take very seriously the safety of all young people and vulnerable adults. To this end, the Diocese, with a zero-tolerance policy, works to prevent any instances of abuse, particularly against minors and vulnerable adults.
  • The 12th Annual Veterans Day Catholic Mass made a successful return to Sarasota National Cemetery as Bishop Dewane prayed for those currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, those who have died, and their families. More than 500 people attended the Mass which was celebrated in 2020 at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice out of caution because of the pandemic and the threat of a hurricane.
  • For the past four years the Hispanic Ministries outreach of the Diocese of Venice has strived to meet the needs of those desiring to be better formed in their Faith. The Spanish-language Faith Formation Program recently distributed certificates of completion to 219 students who have completed an educational program to better understand the teachings of the Catholic Faith, bringing the four-year total to more than 1,500. Spanish Faith Formation Program sessions were developed following the local consultation process of the V Encuentro in 2016 and 2017.
  • The Diocese also hosted successful Women’s and Men’s Conferences as well as a full-scale Youth Rally with some 1,000 attendees. Each of these events was necessarily scaled back in 2020.
  • A Catechetical Conference, hosted by Diocese of Venice Department of Education and spearheaded by the Office of Religious Education, provided an understanding as to how to bring Jesus Christ into the classroom as a catechist according to Church teachings. The bilingual Conference was Sept. 25, 2021, and offered catechetical leaders, catechists, religion coordinators and religion teachers a training day aimed at helping them to grow spiritually and professionally.

While 2021 brought great challenges to many, including to the Diocese of Venice, the Catholic Church remains strong and 2022 looks to be a time of celebration and hope.

Stay tuned to learn about the events of 2022 coming in the Jan. 14, 2022 e-Edition of The Florida Catholic.

Generosity and seasonal cheer found in Diocesan Schools

The first weeks of Advent proved quite busy for the students at Catholic Schools throughout the Diocese of Venice as they lived the call of the Season by committing to making a daily sacrifice for the good of others while also getting into the Christmas spirit with lots of fun activities.

The lesson of Advent, making a sacrifice for others, was found in so many different ways at each of the 15 Catholic Schools. Toy, gift and food drives were held with thousands of items given with love and the joy of the Season to those less fortunate in the region.

December was a busy time at St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples. The amazing YACHT (Youth And Christ Helping Together) Club gathered weeks ago to make homemade Christmas cards for military men and women serving overseas that will not make it home for the holidays. The YACHT Club also sponsored a Neumann Fun Night and gave some of the hard-working students a chance to take in the Victoria Park Christmas Lights via the “Neumann Express,” driven by one of the teachers. The night also included adoration in the chapel and a visit to the convent for a cookie decorating competition, a festive holiday wear contest, and Christmas Jeopardy with the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco who serve at the school.

A spirited group of Neumann students also showed off their Christmas enthusiasm at the Collier County Sheriff’s Office’s Winterfest Holiday Walk at the Fairgrounds. The Neumann band performed Christmas songs while another group of students participated in a living nativity and several young alumni hosted games for participants of the Holiday Fest!

Of course, the Neumann generosity has been on display with collections for toys which were distributed to several different charities. The baseball team focused their attention on collecting gifts for 38 children who are assisted through Catholic Charities in Collier County.

Proverbs 22:9 states: “The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share with the poor.” In Fort Myers, the National Junior Honor Society members from St. Francis Xavier Catholic School took that verse from Proverbs to heart by organizing a “Spread Your Christmas Joy” gift drive to benefit local migrant children served by Catholic Charities. In just more than two weeks, they collected more than 1,500 presents.

Throughout December the students continued to learn the lessons of Advent, preparing for the arrival of Jesus at Christmas.

Pre-kindergarten students at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota took part in a Christmas Novena. Each morning they prayed and heard the different stories that lead up to the Nativity and sang various Christmas songs. The final day included hearing the story of Baby Jesus and Mary and Joseph. Afterwards they had a giant marshmallow treat.

Part of the holiday fun often includes the making of gingerbread houses as the students at St. Andrew Catholic School did on Dec. 14 in Cape Coral. Meanwhile, at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples, the students celebrated the Feast of St. Nicholas by finding treats inside their shoes. This which harkens back to the original story when children left their shoes out in hope of finding small gifts and treats on the Feast Day of this historical Saint.

Of course, the Season also brings about pageants, assemblies, and musical celebrations. Many such observances included a retelling of the Nativity and Epiphany in their performances of children of all ages. Some schools took their talents on the road such as the children’s choir of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Port Charlotte who did great job singing for the residents of Parkside Assisted Living and Memory Cottage. The Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School band also performed for shoppers at the University Town Center sharing the sounds of the season with earnest shoppers.

News Briefs for the Week of December 24, 2021

2021 Christmas Mass times

The 2021 Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Mass times for Parishes throughout the Diocese of Venice can be found on the Diocese of Venice homepage at https://dioceseofvenice.org/2021-diocesan-parish-christmas-mass-times/. The listings are in alphabetical order by the city the Parish is located. For details on youth choirs or musical accompaniment, please contact the Parish via the phone number or website listed for further information.

As a reminder, the televised Christmas Day Mass for the Homebound with Celebrant Bishop Frank J. Dewane will air for a full hour on Christmas Day. For viewers in the northern portions of the Diocese (DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Manatee, and Sarasota counties), the Mass will air at 10 a.m. on the CW Network. In the southern portions of the Diocese (Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee counties), the Mass will air at 6 a.m. on WFTX-TV (FOX-4). Please check your cable provider for channel listings.

The Mass will also be available on the Diocesan website at www.dioceseofvenice.org/televisedmass. Leaflet missals are available upon request by calling Gail Ardy at 941-486-4714 or by writing: TV Mass, Diocese of Venice, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285. For more information email ardy@dioceseofvenice.org.

Mass Celebrating Haitian Independence

Bishop Frank J. Dewane invites everyone to participate in the Annual Mass celebrating the 218th Anniversary of Haitian Independence on Saturday, January 1, 2022, at St. Leo the Great Parish, 28290 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs. The 10:30 a.m. Mass, which takes place on the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, brings together the various Haitian communities within the Diocese of Venice for one celebration. Bishop Frank J. Dewane and priests serving the Haitian Catholic community of the Diocese welcome Most Rev. Pierre-Andre Dumas, Bishop of the Diocese of d’Anse-a-Veaux and Miragoane, who will be the Principal Celebrant and Homilist. There is a reception after the Mass in the Parish Hall.

Naples school helps tornado victims

St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples is known for its generosity to local charities through the years. Having been the recipient of outside help following Hurricane Irma in 2017, the students and faculty are cognizant of the need to give back when other communities are ravaged by storms. This is why the students chose to split a collection with a local charity and to Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky, for disaster relief in one of the worst areas impacted by recent tornadoes.

Science experiments equal fun

The students at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers are blessed to have many opportunities to test their science and engineering skills in unique and fun ways through a comprehensive STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) curriculum. On Dec. 14, 2021, the fourth-grade science students used the skills they have been learning about potential and kinetic energy to the test by making a roller coaster using pool noodles and marbles. This is engineering excitement mixed with teamwork at its best. Meanwhile, the sixth-grade students wrapped up their Space Unit in their curriculum on Dec. 17. The went outside onto the soccer field and put their unique designs to the test, by launching homemade water bottle rockets. The added benefit was that the “exhaust” from the “engines” was nice cool water on the hot and muggy day which is why the students didn’t mind getting wet.

School “news crew” preparing to go livestream in 2022

The Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School Tiger Talk News Crew is in final preparations to go live starting in early 2022. The Venice-based crew performed a test run the week of Dec. 13, 2021, for the newly formed Tiger Talk. The goal is to have the morning school announcements made available via a livestream to the school and parents from the Tiger Talk newsroom. As part of the test, the students prepared their equipment and lighting and made sure the sound was working and that the image going out was in focus and clear. The news crew is learning valuable lessons on the use of technology, public speaking skills, as well as the proper use of social media.

Boosterthon fun day in Port Charlotte

The students at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Port Charlotte took part in a Boosterthon on Dec. 13, 2021. The Boosterthon included a variety of fun games and competitions. One of the highlights of the entire event was when students had the opportunity to put pies in the face of Principal Tonya Peters and Vice Principal Chris Mullins. As pies were being put in their faces, some of the older students would release colored powder making for an exciting mix of colors on the two school leaders and on many of the students.

Pets help students relax for exams

Taking exams at a prestigious school such as Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers can be very stressful for students. Staff members know this, so to help alleviate some of the stress, they brought their pet dogs to the school to help the students cope on Dec. 15, 2021. Judging by the reaction of the students, and the dogs, the mission was accomplished. Smiles abounded as the students appreciated a few minutes or furry stress relief and the canines enjoyed the attention of petting and belly rubs.

Diocese Catholic School enrollment increase tops state

A report from the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops (FCC) has revealed that the Diocese of Venice leads all other Arch/diocese in enrollment gains in the past year. This trend also wipes out enrollment losses that occurred due to the pandemic.

Jesuit Father John Belmonte, Diocese of Venice Superintendent of Catholic Education, said the numbers – a 15.2% enrollment increase in elementary schools and an 8.9% percent increase in secondary schools – compare favorably to the rest of the state. The FCC reported a statewide 4% enrollment increase in elementary schools and 2.4% in secondary schools.

“There was a focused effort to let the community in on the secret that Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools provide a top-notch education at all grade levels,” Father Belmonte said. “There are exciting things happening in our schools and families are taking notice.”

In a letter of congratulations to the 15 Diocesan Catholic School principals, Father Belmonte said the enrollment success in the Diocese is impressive compared to the rest of the state but should come as no surprise to them.

Father credited the hard work of the principals and their admission teams, adding that “the addition of Father Jeff Putthoff, SJ, to our team (for support in promoting a state scholarship initiative), your efforts to respond to new families, and the increased scholarship opportunities all played a part in our success. I am also grateful for the leadership and support of Bishop Frank J. Dewane and the Chancellor. Dr. Volodymyr Smeryk, without whom our new initiatives would not have happened.”

The excitement about what is happening in Diocesan schools comes in no small part from the expansion of the STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math) model in all classrooms. This is part of a larger partnership with FIRST® (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), the leading robotics competition in the world.

This project, fully supported through the generosity of Bishop Dewane, will be place students ahead of the curve in primary fields while continuing to promote core Catholic virtues by helping students to develop cognitive thought processes and gain skills such as leadership, communication, complex problem solving, teamwork and creativity.

The earlier cited growth in enrollment has been in part related to the robot initiative. Parents of newly enrolled students cited the visionary aspect of the program – with its vital Faith component – as a key factor in their decision to choose a Diocese Catholic school.

Not one to rest on the laurels brought about from the FCC report, Father Belmonte told the principals, “Success builds on success. I look forward to working with you and your teams to continue to build on our successes this year!”

News Briefs for the Week of Dec 17 2021

School Pro-Life club prays in front of abortion facility

On the Solemnity of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, 2021, the Pro-Life Club of the Donahue Catholic Academy of Ave Maria Parish, prayed in front of the Planned Parenthood abortion facility in Fort Myers. The students visit the site regularly and the Solemnity was a ideal time to come forward to be seen standing up for life as the voice of the voiceless – the unborn.

Naples high school hosts retreat

St. John Neumann Catholic High School hosted a DEC – Day Everyone Connects Retreat in Naples the weekend of Dec. 4-5, 2021. They welcomed Cristo Rey Catholic High School of Tampa and Immaculata LaSalle Catholic High School from Miami. Each school is led by Salesian Sister of St. John Bosco. The theme of this retreat was Renewal and New Life, and what better way to celebrate that than with birthday cake! Students took part in Mass, prayed together, and participated in a variety of spiritual exercises as well as team building activities while having lots of fun. It was also the first chance that many students were able to try the newly built and installed low ropes course that Neumann student Hunter Lund built on campus as his Eagle Scout project!

Mooney students spread Christmas spirit with hundreds of toys

The Cardinal Mooney chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society collected new toys to support Andrew’s Toybox in partnership with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. The donated toys by Cardinal Mooney students will benefit the 12th Judicial Circuit of Florida Guardian ad Litem Program. Donations were picked up by the Sheriff’s Department, Dec. 13, 2021. That’s not all, the Sunshine Meadows Nursing Home in Sarasota will be receiving Christmas gifts that are purchased by the Cardinal Mooney staff and families. The 38 residents will be receiving the needed items on their Christmas list. Mooney students also volunteered to assist the Longboat Key Kiwanis fundraiser for the Children’s Charity Scholarship Luncheon on Dec. 4 by assisting guests and serving food to attendees. The Cardinal Mooney band performed for shoppers at the University Town Center on Dec. 6 to showcase members of the band and experience the sounds of the season.

Police escort students – students enjoy lights and sirens

St. Francis Xavier Catholic School reached out to the Fort Myers Police Department Dec. 9, 2021, for a simple request to help their students cross a busy intersection so they could attend an event. Of course, FMPD had to make sure they crossed in style with lights and sirens. The kids were ecstatic to have the officers there escorting them and they officers enjoyed it just as much.

Older students teach about saints to schoolmates

The eighth graders at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice took time out of their busy schedule to teach what they know about the saints to students in other classrooms. On Dec. 7, 2021, the students visited the fifth graders, asking questions such as “What do you know about saints?” or “What qualities do saints possess?” This opened up a lively discussion where it was learned that many saints are known for doing the small things in service to Christ well, something they should learn to emulate in their own lives.

Students organize food and toy drives

The St. Ann Catholic School Student Council sponsored a food drive for St. Matthews House in Naples to help fight hunger and poverty in Southwest Florida collecting all of their items on Dec. 7, 2021. At the same time, the S.O.S. Colombia Christmas Campaign gathered boxes of clothes and toys for Christmas, while collecting money for needy children in Bogota, Colombia.

Thanksgiving a time to give back

Throughout the Diocese of Venice, Thanksgiving 2021 was a time to reflect and be grateful for all of the bountiful blessings God has bestowed upon the world as uncertainty and turmoil continues to be ever present.

For many, expressing their gratitude was achieved by going to Mass, giving back to the community through donations of food or money, and by cooking Thanksgiving Day dinners for those who were in need of a hot meal or might otherwise be alone this holiday.

On Thanksgiving morning, Bishop Dewane celebrated Mass at Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch, something he has done for nearly a decade. Bishop Dewane spoke of how we all have so much for which to be thankful for, even during the continuing pandemic. “We gather together to be thankful for the graces God bestows upon us; for our presence here and for those around us. We must use that grace to express our gratitude to the Lord by being the leaven; going out into the world as the voice to change things through bringing Christ into the lives of all. Be the example to the world. Tell others where it is you find gratitude – in the Lord.”

Food distribution took place in the days leading up to Thanksgiving at multiple locations.

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., distributed food and turkey at each of its food pantries and even delivered food to homes in Naples, Arcadia and Immokalee.

A partnership between St. Elizabeth Seton Parish and St. Matthew’s House in Naples meant that for two days vehicles lined up to receive food, including a frozen turkey. Bishop Dewane helped load turkeys on the first day, and over the two days some 700 turkeys and food for meals were distributed.

Meanwhile, at the St. Joseph Food Pantry in Bradenton, some 900 turkeys and bags of food were distributed in two days. This effort is an outreach of the Parish and takes place throughout the year. However, Thanksgiving week a special bag of food and a turkey are offered for all. Countless volunteers on the car line and in the background made the distribution a success.

Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers distributed extra food from its pantry and provided gift cards to families for the purchase of a turkey or other food that was appropriate for the large Hispanic community.

The Knights of St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers went above and beyond the call of duty when they delivered 204 turkeys and all the trimmings to a local food pantry and then gave 129 turkeys to St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston and 380 turkeys to St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Moore Haven.

The Sarasota Ministerial Association and St. Martha’s Church held the 21st Annual Thanksgiving Wednesday Community Luncheon Nov. 24, 2021, in the Father Fausto Parish Hall. Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School students were among the volunteers who assisted in making the event a success. The luncheon is the combined effort of many different groups in the area by providing hot food for the local homeless population.

On Thanksgiving Day, several groups hosted hot meals for the community.

One of the largest was the Knights of Columbus Our Lady of Victory Council 3358, which hosted its annual Thanksgiving Dinner at their Hall on Fruitville Road in Sarasota. This was open to anyone including those who are alone or in need a hot meal. Bishop Dewane helped plate the mashed potatoes and corn. Bishop Dewane frequently assists at this meal.

Before the meal, the Bishop blessed the Knights and all of the volunteers who made the meal possible. Some 250 boxed meals were delivered throughout the area to elder housing and low-income housing facilities, while at the same time there was a steady stream of grateful people arriving throughout the afternoon for a meal with all the trimmings, including pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top. The leftovers were donated to help feed the homeless. The Knights in Sarasota have been hosting this annual meal with all of the trimmings since the late 1980s.

The Knights of Columbus of Epiphany Cathedral in Venice hosted their own Thanksgiving Dinner for the community with Msgr. Patrick Dubois, Rector of the Cathedral, helping to serve apple and pumpkin pie.

St. Peter the Apostles Parish in Naples also hosted its annual Thanksgiving Dinner for those who might otherwise be alone for the holiday, a tradition that goes back a number of years.

These were just a few of the ways the faithful of the Diocese lived their faith in celebration of Thanksgiving.

Two local students earn top Christmas art honors

Two St. Martha Catholic School students are 2020-2021 Missionary Childhood Association (MCA) Christmas Artwork Contest winners.

Eighth grader Paulina Wilk and fourth grader Chloe Smith were among 24 winners of this year’s contest who represent Dioceses across the country. All winners are featured as MCA eGreetings, which launched on the First Sunday of Advent at egreetings.missio.org. Their artwork will be displayed at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. through the Advent and Christmas Seasons this year.

An annual MCA awards ceremony was held Dec. 3, 2021, at the National Shrine for winners and their families. Mass followed and was celebrated by Msgr. Kieran E. Harrington, National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies (TPMS) in the United States, which include MCA.

“These young people are missionaries through their art, as their drawings proclaim the Good News of Jesus’ birth,” said Msgr. Harrington. “The Mission Church is blessed by the enthusiasm shown by these young artists – and by their commitment to mission, in prayer and sacrifice.”

Hundreds of submissions were received, both through the mail and online, for this annual competition which dates back to 1933. Back then, MCA used children’s artwork on Christmas seals. Christmas cards were introduced in 2005, and in 2007 eGreetings were launched with these drawings depicting scenes of the Christmas story: shepherds and angels, the Three Kings and the Holy Family, the animals present by the manger, and the Infant Jesus.

Paulina Wilk attended the awards ceremony with her parents. Mom, Dorothy Wilk, said Paulina has always enjoyed being an artist and has excelled ever since she was a little girl. “This was such an honor for her,” Dorothy Wilk said. “The ceremony was wonderful and to see her artwork on display at the Basilica was special.”

This was not the first time St. Martha Catholic School students have been recognized in the MCA Christmas Artwork Contest. Students from the school have been recognized multiple times through the years.

Mary Jo Salomone, Art Director at St. Marth, said Paulina and Chloe, along with each of her students, are amazing artists. Throughout the years Salomone takes time to ensure her students take part in the different art competitions and they have been honored to receive numerous awards.

“They never lose sight that each award is a gift from God which should be shared with others,” Salomone said. “Sharing God’s gifts with others every day of the year is the true meaning of Christmas.”

Father Bob Kantor, Director of the Diocese Office of the Propagation of the Faith (Missions Office), coordinates Diocesan mission work was very happy when he was notified. “Great news not only for the student winners and their families, but for St. Martha’s School and our Mission Office!”

An agency of the Pontifical Mission Societies, the MCA asks children in the nation’s elementary schools and parish religious education programs and those who are home-schooled to submit their artwork to illustrate “The Nativity & Mission.”

The MCA was founded in France in 1843 by Bishop Charles de Forbin Jansen. Its purpose is to encourage all children to be aware of the needs of children living in mission Dioceses throughout the world and support them both spiritually and sacrificially. Today it is in 110 countries and helps make Jesus known to children all over the world. Under its banner “children helping children”, monies raised through schools are directed towards self-help programs involving the building of schools, the provision of health and nutrition programs and medications, school fees, as well as teaching and learning resources.

For more information, please contact the Diocesan Office of the Propagation of the Faith (Missions Office) at 239-592-1949 or email missionoffice@dioceseofvenice.org.

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