Principals Corner – Incarnation

By Colleen Curlett – Principal of Incarnation Catholic School in Sarasota

Sarasota’s lively history radiates pride, love, and joy thanks in part to awe-inspiring attractions such as the Ringling Museum and College of Art and Design, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and Sailor Circus Academy. These creative havens have paved a community of collaboration, as does Incarnation Catholic School (ICS), a lesser known but much celebrated entity. ICS is small in stature but not in accomplishments, recognition and inspiration. In fact, Sarasota’s SRQ magazine voted Incarnation Catholic School the Best Private School in 2018.

Incarnation has retained a rich, caring history from the day it opened its doors in 1961.  Much has changed in nearly 60 years, and ICS has made great leaps forward thanks to the many faculty, alumni, parents, grandparents and volunteers who for decades have invested enormous sums of time, talent and resources into the school and parish community.

Former parents and students continue to forge their legacy across the county. Danny Strzempka, a father of an involved ICS family, is celebrated as the creator of the prosthetic tail for Winter, an injured dolphin. The best-selling book, “Dolphin Tale,” and its award-winning feature film that recall Winter’s miraculous recovery has inspired millions to use their God-given talent to benefit all of His creatures. Strzempka, who has a prosthetic himself, often returns to Incarnation as a motivational speaker to address faith, charity and ingenuity.

I attribute the success of Incarnation Catholic school to our stellar staff and faculty and their collaboration with our students, parents, and community. As an aspiring STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) school, we have seamlessly integrated technology within our traditional curriculum and our Catholic faith. Many creative activities are an off-shoot of our STREAM initiatives. Our middle school students pushed their technological and artistic talents to new heights when they hosted a dinner theater extravaganza that enticed guests to solve a family-friendly mystery with a variety of hands-on forensics labs.

The love shared among our ICS family members also extends throughout Sarasota county. Our quarterly service project, “Keeping Sarasota Beautiful,” helps us bond with the community as we work together to clean our adopted roads.

ICS students can choose from a variety of extracurricular clubs and activities. The Incarnation Cheer team won the division title during the 2018-2019 All Out competition in Orlando. Middle school students have the options to take digital photography and guitar lessons offered by Florida Virtual School.

The Pre K-3 class is in its first year and is already a huge success. We are blessed to have these young, bright children join our ever-expanding family. Each and every addition to the ICS community offers another, unique perspective that inspires us to enhance our knowledge, embrace our faith, and empower our community to teach, love, and lead our disciples of the 21st Century.

Learn more about how you and your child can strengthen our foundation of faith at

You can reach Principal Colleen Curlett at

Dorian reminds faithful to pray and be aware

A watchful eye is kept on developing storms that can form and potentially threaten Florida in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico from June through November during Hurricane Season. During Labor Day Weekend Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas before going on to lash the east coast of the U.S. with winds and rain while spreading fear from Florida to the Carolinas and beyond.

In preparation for Hurricane Dorian, the Diocese of Venice Hurricane Committee met daily as the monster storm loomed in the Caribbean Sea and menaced Florida with some early forecasts ominously aiming directly at Southwest Florida with impacts as early as Sunday, Sept. 1. This committee included leaders of Catholic Charities, which would have led the post-disaster humanitarian response.

The Catholic Center, as well as parishes and schools and other entities, took appropriate measures to secure facilities should the storm approach. Everything that could be done to prepare was done. At the Catholic Center, as a precaution, the hurricane shutters were put up and sensitive electronic devices were covered.

In anticipation of the storm, and out the abundance of caution, parishes were forced to cancel many Labor Day Weekend activities and most delayed the start of religious education programs by one week. While these were an inconvenience, the need for caution and vigilance outweighed all else.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane, who also closely monitored the storm throughout, remained in contact with pastors and administrators throughout the Diocese addressing individual needs as required.

Dr. Ben Moore, Diocesan Superintendent of Schools, was the main contact for the schools in the Diocese, while Philomena Pereira, CEO of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc., helped to coordinate storm preparations for Catholic Charities entities and set up a plan to respond immediately following the storm with emergency supplies to designated areas.

The challenge in Dorian was that there were many unknowns, and each notification in the forecast changed the potential impacts to different parts of the region. At certain points the storm was expected to cross Florida on top of the Diocese. Such a path would have been crippling, so preparations and plans had to be put in place.

Thankfully, prayers were answered, and the Diocese was spared. The last area to have any type of impacts from Dorian was Highlands County which was under a Tropical Storm Warning for two days. There St. Catherine School in Sebring was closed on Sept. 3 and 4 and parish activities and hours were limited. Schools in Collier County were also closed Sept. 3, while other schools remained open.

Because of the storm, Bishop Dewane postponed Masses for students at St. Ann Catholic School and St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples on Sept. 3, as well as a Mass on Labor Day for the students and faculty of Ave Maria University. These are in the process of being rescheduled as quickly as possible.

Many still have fresh memories of Hurricane Irma from 2017. That storm struck Marco Island and went up the center of the state, leaving in its wake a trail of destruction.  Thousands of families were left with damaged homes and many without power for weeks and dozens of Diocesan buildings were damaged or destroyed. Similar impacts occurred after Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and Hurricane Charley in 2004.

With those memories in mind, as Dorian struck the Bahamas and the U.S. coastline, the focus of many switched for preparation to wanting to help. Residents of the area remember the generosity of outsiders following Hurricane Irma, so the faithful were quick to ask for somewhere to send donations in support of those impacted by Dorian. A Hurricane Dorian fund was created and can be found on the Diocese of Venice website at Financial donations will be given to organizations assisting the victims of the storm. No Diocesan collections of goods was established given the difficulty in logistics.

While Hurricane Dorian ultimately only inconvenienced the region, it served as a stark reminder for all to remain vigilant throughout the remainder of the Hurricane Season and always have plenty of emergency supplies on hand ahead of time before supplies run out. We all must be vigilant and take action should a storm threaten.

Cardinal Mooney now offering AP Capstone Diploma

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota is now offering the prestigious Advanced Placement® (AP®) Capstone Diploma for the 2019-2020 school year.

AP Capstone™ is a diploma program from the College Board based on two yearlong AP courses: AP Seminar and AP Research. Both courses prepare students for college and career success through the development of critical thinking, academic research, collaboration, presentation, and time management skills.

“We are excited to launch this new program and proud to recognize the nine students who have chosen to participate in the inaugural offering of the AP Capstone Diploma program,” said Ben Hopper, principal of Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School. “We look forward to providing them with opportunities to explore their passions while building their research and collaboration skill needed for college and beyond.”

The AP Capstone program provides student-centered learning while incorporating performance-based assessments. Throughout the program, AP Seminar and AP Research students study a variety of topics across multiple disciplines and have the flexibility to choose topics of personal interest to show mastery of critical thinking, research, and presentation skills. Official AP Seminar and AP Research assessments also go beyond a single AP Exam to include academic papers, multimedia presentations, and defense of findings.

To receive the AP Capstone Diploma™, students must earn scores of 3 or higher in AP Seminar, AP Research, and on four additional AP Exams. To receive the AP Seminar and Research Certificate, students must earn scores of 3 or higher in AP Seminar and AP Research.

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School currently offers 16 different Advanced Placement classes, which provide students the opportunity to take challenging college-level courses while still in high school. A 3 or higher on an AP Exam has multiple benefits for students, including earning college credit, advanced placement, or both for successful performance on AP Exams, saving them time and money.

Principals Corner – St. Ann

Principal’s Corner

By Mr. Michael Buskirk, St. Ann Catholic School, Naples

My name is Michael Buskirk, and I am the new Principal of St. Ann Catholic School in Naples. After spending the past four years as the Principal of St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri, I feel truly blessed to have this opportunity to return to Florida and serve the St. Ann Community. Located in the heart of downtown Naples, St. Ann has offered thousands of students and their families throughout Collier County a high quality, faith-based educational experience since 1956.

On Aug. 12, we started the school year by welcoming 266 students to our spiritually enriching community. This diverse student body, representing a variety of backgrounds and cultures, has emboldened our excellent reputation as the most prestigious Catholic School in Naples. Our class sizes help us meet the individual needs of every child in an academically challenging environment that incorporates a strong sense of community by embodying our Catholic teachings to create disciples of Christ.

Our students are taught the skills they need to fulfill their life’s work on Earth and to prepare them for everlasting life in the kingdom of God within a disciplined, caring, loving, and safe environment. Our promise to maintain high academic standards for all students is evident throughout the school’s modern, state-of-the-art campus and well-rounded, faith infused curriculum. We offer gifted, honors, and resource classes that seamlessly integrate the latest technology at every grade level.

The staff and faculty at St. Ann’s help students learn and appreciate the arts with interactive classes in band, choir, art, music, and drama. We also provide a comprehensive physical education and sports program including opportunities to compete in basketball, soccer, volleyball, golf, tennis, and track.

Extra-curricular activities and field trips round out every child’s educational experience. Most importantly, through the amazing dedication and commitment of our compassionate and professional teachers and staff, every child is nurtured to reach his/her potential.

Thanks to the generosity of our parents, parishioners, and community partners this summer we further enhanced the safety of our campus through the construction and reinforcement of walls and fences to offer an added layer of security by directing all campus visitors to a secure single point of entry. We also enhanced our STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math) initiatives by installing fiberoptic Internet throughout the campus, created an iMac Lab, and completed numerous upgrades to our Media Center to include two state-of-the-art 3D printers. St. Ann is also the first school in Collier County to boast an autonomous lawnmower to help keep our playing fields in pristine condition.

We would love to welcome you and your family to our school community. For more information or to schedule a tour of St. Ann Catholic School, please contact Tracy Farley at 239-262-4110 or visit

News briefs from the Diocese Sept. 13-27

Ordination to the priesthood Oct. 5

All are encouraged to attend the celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Orders at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 5, Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Ave. W., Venice. Transitional Deacon Carlos Encina will be Ordained to the Priesthood by Bishop Frank J. Dewane. This in an important celebration for the entire Diocese as ordinations help to ensure the continued availability of the Sacraments. A reception will follow.




Bishop interviewed for series “The Chair”

Representatives of DeSales Media visited Epiphany Cathedral in Venice Aug. 25-26 to produce a segment for a series about U.S. Cathedrals and their Bishops called “The Chair.” which will air on NET TV, a channel of the Diocese of Brooklyn. In addition to filming the Cathedral and learning about its history, the team interviewed Bishop Frank J. Dewane.




Summer reading program a big success

The students enrolled in the Summer Reading Program at Casa San Juan Bosco of Catholic Charities farm worker community in Arcadia took part in the Summer Reading Challenge. The program is funded through the generosity of The Patterson Foundation and is part of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. The reading challenge takes place for nine weeks and 26 kindergarten to fifth grade students signed up for the program this summer at the farm worker community. The campers receive a wristband for the number of books completed and activities are coordinated to go with the reading materials for each day. Research shows that children who do not read during the summer can lose up to three months of reading progress and that the loss has a cumulative, long-term effect on them. But reading just six books, at the appropriate reading level, over the summer can prevent that “summer slide” and keep a struggling reader from regressing.

Anti-Human Trafficking Assistance Program challenge

Join the fight to end human trafficking. Today more than ever, victims of human trafficking need your support. To combat this serious issue, a concerned donor has pledged to match all contributions given to the Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. Anti-Human Trafficking Assistance Program up to $100,000. Double your donation through our benefactor’s match to Catholic Charities. Survivors have vast needs. They begin with the basics of food, housing and clothing then move on to referrals to medical, legal and mental health providers and finish with life and job skills training to reach self-sufficiency. The goal is to end this modern-day slavery. Your gift will offer survivors the hope and help required to overcome their obstacles and achieve a healthy life. To make a donation, please visit

Support Venice Diocesan CCW Seminarian Fund

The Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women invite all to join them in celebrating Priesthood Sunday, September 29, in a special and lasting way – by sending priests of your parish a Seminarian Fund “IN HONOR OF” card. Please remember that this is a gift that keeps on giving. The Diocese of Venice is currently educating 18 men in various seminaries. A donation of any amount will be a great help. The donation amount will not be revealed to the recipient. To take part, please send $1.00 plus your donation (made out to the VDCCW Seminarian Fund) to Cornelia Zanetti, 5808 Gulf Drive, #204, Holmes Beach, FL 34217. If you have any questions, please email Cornelia at

Verot seniors perfect on college pre exams

Two Bishop Verot Catholic High School seniors, Connor Shovlin and Madison Tilton, have achieved perfection on the SAT and ACT. Connor received a perfect 36 on his ACT and a perfect 800 on the Math portion of the SAT. Madison received a perfect 800 on the Reading & Writing section of the SAT. Congratulations!

Naples School Fall Festival Oct. 12

St. Ann Catholic School is hosting a Fall Festival from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Oct. 12 at the St. Ann Jubilee Center and School Field at 525 Ninth Ave. S., Naples. There will be fun for all, including: a chili contest, games, face painting, bounce house, bake sale, snow cones, food, line dancing and much more. The Festival will benefit the St. Ann Home and School Association. For more details, please call 239-262-4110.

Kids Helping Kids

St. Andrew Catholic School students began the school year in Cape Coral by helping other students in their community.

On the first Friday of the new school year (Aug. 16), students participated in a dress down (no uniforms) day to benefit the Cape Coral Safe Zone Park Bench Project, sponsored through the Rotary Foundation. As an extension of the Rotary Club, St. Andrew Catholic School hosts a RotaKids club.

Student mentors and club advisors decided the Cape Coral Safe Zone Park Bench Project was a perfect way to assist the community. The one-day collection of donations from the dress-down day was enough to sponsor a bench which was installed at the corner of the St. Andrew Catholic Church property.

RotaKids is a club for children up to 12 years and is an initiative created from the Rotary Club principles of helping ​​others. The children enjoy a boost of confidence and self-esteem at a key age and develop an understanding of how their actions can impact on others.

On Aug. 23, St. Andrew RotaKids, members of the Cape Coral Rotary Club, and other community leaders assembled for a special dedication of the bench.

After placing balloons on the bench, students joined hands in prayer and sang “Amazing Grace.”

A plaque now adorns the bench thanking the RotaKids for their support of the Safe Zone Bench Project, a community wide project that began to help students remain safe at their bus stops.

Diocese welcomes two new principals

The start of the 2019-2020 School Year brings new leadership to two Diocesan Catholic School.

St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral welcomes David Nelson, and St. Ann Catholic School in Naples welcomes Michael Buskirk.

Diocese of Venice Superintendent of Catholic Education Dr. Ben Moore said a comprehensive selection process brought the best candidates to the two schools. That process included a dedicated search committee at each school which consisted of Diocesan, Parish and school leadership. Each new principal comes with the unique skills needed to lead their respective school into the future.

Nelson is a familiar face in the Diocese, having most recently served as Assistant Principal for Student Life at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers. Born in Kalamazoo, Mich., he attended Carthage College in Wisconsin, where he played baseball and earned an undergraduate degree in elementary education and later earned an advanced degree in educational leadership from St. Leo University in St. Leo, Fla. Nelson is also a graduate of the Diocese of Venice Principal Discernment Program and is on the Diocesan STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math) Committee and is a member of the Florida Catholic Conference School Accreditation Team. He taught at two elementary schools in Fort Myers and at the same was varsity baseball coach at a high school in Lehigh Acres.

While still teaching in elementary school, Nelson became as an assistant baseball coach at Bishop Verot and was part of the staff for the 2011 4A baseball state championship team. In 2012, he joined Bishop Verot as a teacher in theology, world history and world geography while also taking head baseball coaching duties. In 2014, he was named Dean of Students, then Assistant Principal for Student Affairs and finally as Assistant Principal for Student Life. He attends St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers with is family, where he is an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

“As a leader of a Parish school, I plan to work with (the priests) and will aim to create a professional ongoing Catholic learning environment, providing development opportunities for staff and teachable moments for our students,” Nelson said. “It will be my mission to instill a sense of purpose, vision, optimism, and a Gospel message for success in those I lead.”

St. Ann’s new principal, Michael Buskirk is originally from Philadelphia, Pa. and holds an undergraduate degree in biology, with an education certification, from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, as well as graduate degree in educational leadership, with a principal certification, and an education specialist degree in leadership, with superintendent certification, all from the University of Missouri.

His first 11 years of teaching experience was in Florida at schools in Broward, Duvall (Catholic high school), and Clay counties, before taking a position with a Catholic School in the Diocese of Jefferson City. In 2015 Buskirk was appointed principal at a Catholic elementary school and in 2018 he has also took on the position as Administrator of Diocese Athletics for the Diocese of Jefferson City.

“I have found that giving people a voice and allowing their opinion creates an aura of ownership, which is extremely important in current times to keep private schools thriving,” Buskirk stated. “My belief is that it takes everyone, parents, students, and parishioners to be successful. We are not just a school; we are a Diocese.”

To learn more about St. Andrew Catholic School, please visit; and for St. Ann Catholic School please visit


For information about all Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools, please visit

Diocese Principal’s Corner

Dr. Benjamin H. Moore, Ed.D. – Superintendent of Catholic Education

Every family has the fundamental right to choose the best school for their child. I am thrilled and humbled to welcome over 4,500 students whose families have made Catholic education their choice when the 2019-2020 school year begins on August 12.

The start of the school year is a time of excitement, hope, perhaps some anxiety, and always an opportunity for new beginnings. This school year we are introducing the “Principal’s Corner” to highlight the wonderful things happening in all our schools.

Each issue of the “Principal’s Corner” will focus on the unique attributes and accomplishments of one of our schools and offer readers the opportunity to learn more about how our schools pursue our mission of educating the whole child – mind, body, and spirit. The fifteen schools of the Diocese of Venice are vibrant faith communities where academic rigor is infused with Catholic values, teachings, and traditions.

Our goal is to prepare our students for a life of service to family, community, and Christ. Beyond academic excellence, athletic and extra-curricular success, accreditation and accolades Catholic schools continue traditions of discipline and reverence. The school’s partner with parents, as the primary educators of their children, to instill character and promote respect for oneself and others. Through the support of generous donors, multiple state scholarship programs, and a variety of financial resources a Catholic education remains an accessible and affordable option.

Throughout this school year, I invite you to continue to check on the “Principal’s Corner,” or take the opportunity to schedule a visit at one of schools and learn more about the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Venice. I wish all of our students, parents, administrators, faculty and staff a blessed and successful 2019-2020 school year.

From the Principal’s Corner:

Mr. Michael Buskirk – St. Ann Catholic School, Naples

Mrs. Coleen Curlett – Incarnation Catholic School, Sarasota

Dr. Denny Denison – Bishop Verot High School, Fort Myers

Dr. Dan Guernsey – Rhodora J. Donahue Academy, Ave Maria

Mr. John Gulley – St. Francis Xavier Catholic School, Fort Myers

Mrs. M.C. Heffner – Epiphany Cathedral School, Venice

Mr. Ben Hopper – Cardinal Mooney High School, Sarasota

Mrs. Nicole Loseto – St. Catherine Catholic School, Sebring

Mr. David Nelson – St. Andrew Catholic School, Coral Gables

Mrs. Maria Niebuhr – St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School, Naples

Mrs. Tonya Peters – St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School, Port Charlotte

Mrs. Rebecca Reynolds – St. Mary Academy, Sarasota

Sister Patricia Roche, Salesian Sister of St. John Bosco – St. John Neumann High School, Naples

Ms. Deborah Suddarth – St. Joseph Catholic School, Bradenton

Mrs. Siobhan Young – St. Martha Catholic School, Sarasota


New Curriculum Specialist hired

Staff Report

Jennifer Falestiny has joined the Diocese of Venice Education Department as a Curriculum Specialist.

Falestiny has spent most of her career in School Instruction and Curriculum Development, most recently holding the position of STEM lab and Robotic Coordinator/ Instructor at Saint Gregory Catholic School in Plantation.

“It is very exciting to be part of the Diocese of Venice,” Falestiny said.

Diocese of Venice Superintendent of Catholic Education Dr. Ben Moore said Falestiny will be supporting teachers through a variety of professional development offerings in the areas of curriculum mapping and the vertical alignment of newly developed academic standards.

“She will provide leadership for the schools’ accreditation efforts including the pursuit of STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) designation from the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops,” Moore added. “Falestiny’s education and background utilizing instructional technology will enrich the students’ experience as she promotes innovative strategies.”

During her first month on the job, she visited most of the Catholic Schools in the Diocese to do an initial needs assessment.

“The plan is to work on creating a standardized curriculum that meets the academic and spiritual needs of each student,” Falestiny said. “This will be a lengthy process as the strengths of each school is evaluated.”

She earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary Education from University of Central Florida with a focus on special education, and a Master of Science Degree STEM Education from the University of San Diego. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Instructional Design and Technology at Keiser University. She is married with three young children and they live in Sarasota.

Jennifer Falestiny can be reach at or 941-484-9543,

Neumann football team bonds through service

Staff Report

Team bonding at St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples occurs both on and off the field. Through service to their community, student athletes at Neumann grow both individually and as a team.

This summer, the Celtic football team in particular focused not only on preparing for their upcoming season but on giving back to their community. Several members of the team joined their classmates in June for a week-long service trip to Immokalee. While there, the Celtics delivered food, sorted goods at the Salvation Army, painted houses, and tutored children. Later, the 2018 Regional Finalists took a break from summer workouts to join Habitat for Humanity at a worksite in Naples.

In July, the players held a two-day project with Friends of Foster Children Forever on campus to pack 500 backpacks with donated school supplies and uniforms for local foster children. Over the course of the three months of summer vacation, the Celtic Football Team together completed more than 500 hours of community service.