Food drives support needy during holidays

Throughout November, students at the 15 Diocesan Catholic schools rallied to collect thousands of food items which were donated to local food pantries just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.

At St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers, the Junior National Honor Society organized the food drive with more than 4,000 items collected in during a two-week period. Meanwhile, at St. Andrew Catholic School students in Cape Coral donated 1,540 pounds of food. A similar food drive at St. Catherine Catholic School in Sebring garnered some 2,000 canned goods. These are just some of the impressive responses to a call for need in the area.

The Diocesan high schools were not to be outdone by their younger counterparts. Huge deliveries of food from Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School went out on Nov. 17, 2023, to four local food pantries. In addition, the school donated more than $1,200 in gift cards for use at area grocery stores. Similar scenes played out at St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples, and Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers. Donahue Academy of Ave Maria Catholic School includes all grades and held a similar food drive.

Beneficiaries of the food collected by the students throughout the Diocese included the regional Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., food pantries, the Harry Chapin Food Bank in Fort Myers, All Faiths Food Bank in Sarasota, as well as individual Parish food pantries.

For example, one of the beneficiaries of the items collected at Cardinal Mooney was the St. Joseph Food Pantry, which distributes needed food to more than 1,800 families each month in Manatee County, or about 6,500 individuals.

Pantry Director Dan Friedrich said the demand from needy families for food has increased in the past year as the cost of items has skyrocketed. While donations go up during the holidays, the demand is there year-round.

The generosity of the families at the Diocesan Catholic schools will go a long way in helping those in need this holiday season.

While dry food donations are accepted at all food pantries, monetary donations are greatly appreciated as this money can be leveraged to purchase more items from regional food banks. To support Catholic Charities, please visit To support the St. Joseph Food Pantry, please visit

Diocesan cross country athletes excel at State

Diocesan Catholic high school teams and individuals excelled at the recent Florida State High School Athletic Association Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee.

Individually, Mackenzie de Lisle, a junior at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers, took home the Girls Class 2A silver with a 5K time of 17:52.2. In the same race, Allsion Dempsey, a senior at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, took the bronze with a time of 18:01.9.

Overall, in the team competitions, the Bishop Verot girls finished fourth, while the Cardinal Mooney girls placed 25th overall. The Verot boys also placed fourth overall. In the Class 1A race, the girls from St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples placed 22nd overall.

The athletes competing for the Verot girls team were Mackenzie de Lisle, Gianna Gyurich, Caroline Ward, Caroline Muddell, Erika Romero, Jocelyn Sweeney, and McKinley Parker. The Mooney girls team included Allsion Dempsey, Rosemary Selke, Ellie Runnels, Hailey Fritschle, Kyla Logan, Samantha Petrill, and Karel Dib. The Neumann girls team included Kailyn Albright Merkel, Elisabeth Le Quere, Virginia Kate Chachere, Emma Collins, Ava Murtack, Chelsea Perez, and Mylee Van de Wouw. The Verot boys team included Andrew Marino, Dennis Olsen, Zachary Zielke, Thomas Eichten, Zachary Engel, Rafael Casillas, and Cael Horton.

Congratulations to all these athletes for qualifying for the State Championships and their overall performance this season!


News Briefs for the week of November 24, 2023

Bishop to speak at Theology on Tap in December

Each month, on the third Thursday, young adults gather for faith, fellowship and fun at the Mandeville Beer Garden in Sarasota. Theology on Tap is presented by the Diocese Office of Evangelization, and the Dec. 21, 2023, guest speaker will be Bishop Frank J. Dewane. The Mandeville Beer Garden is located at 428 N. Lemon, Ave., and the gathering begins at 7 p.m. The Nov. 16, presentation was led by Father Anthony Armstrong, O. Carm., Pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Osprey. Father Armstrong spoke to the group of young adults about “Prayer and Practicing the Presence of God.”

Families clean up neighborhood road

Incarnation Catholic School families from Sarasota took to the streets as part of an Adopt-A-Road cleanup crew on Nov. 18, 2023. The team helped clear the streets of garbage between Tuttle Avenue and Bahia Vista Street, just north of the school. This was a great way to give back to the community and help keep Sarasota clean.

Junior Thespians compete regionally

Junior Thespians from St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton competed in nine performance events and one technical event at the District Jr. Thespians Competition at Blake High School in Tampa on Nov. 18, 2023. The St. Joseph students received seven “Superiors” and three “Excellents.” This is outstanding! What an amazing accomplishment. A special thanks goes to Paul Mahoney who coaches these young artists.

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is Holy Day of Obligation

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, observed Friday, Dec. 8, 2023, is the patronal feast day of the United States and is a Holy Day of Obligation. The Solemnity celebrates the Immaculate Conception of Mary in her mother, St. Anne. The Immaculate Conception does not refer to the original conception and birth of Christ, as is often thought, but rather to the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was conceived without inheriting original sin. Note that Holy Days of Obligation are feast days on which Catholics are required to attend Mass and to avoid (to the extent that they are able) servile work. The observance of Holy Days of Obligation is part of the Sunday Duty, the first of the Precepts of the Church. To accommodate this obligation, many Parishes throughout the Diocese will offer vigils or extra Masses on the Solemnity.

Bereavement Outreach and Training coming in December

The Diocese of Venice Office of Family Life is holding two bereavement events in early December. One is a bereavement outreach, and the second is a training session for individuals or Parishes wishing to form bereavement volunteers.

The outreach is from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Dec. 4 at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, 5265 Placida Road, Grove City; and again from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Dec. 5 at St. William Parish, 601 Seagate Drive, Naples. Entitled, “There is Hope”, these workshops focus on surviving the holidays after the loss of a loved one. There is no cost to attend, and registration is not required. Deacon Henry DeMena will facilitate the workshops.

The training is focused on forming and educating Parish bereavement volunteers and those who speak with the bereaved. This training takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Dec. 6 and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 7 at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, 1301 Center Road, Venice. The cost is $35.00 and includes lunch and materials. Registration is required at Bereavement Training ( For further information please contact Carrie Harkey at or call 941-484-9543.

Diocesan schools honor our veterans

Catholic schools in the Diocese of Venice honored those in the military (active and retired) in a variety of ways to commemorate Veterans Day.

A Veterans Day tradition at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples continued, with a Mass and reception on Nov. 8, 2023. The Mass was celebrated by Father Alejandro Giraldo-Roldan, the Parochial Vicar, and all students participated by processing in with handmade patriotic artwork.

The Seton tribute to veterans was led by eighth graders and included a salute to branches of the military, a flag folding ceremony, presentation of bravery pins, and remembrance of veterans not present. The first graders displayed handmade letters spelling out the profound truth that “We are the Land of the Free Because of the Brave!” The second graders closed out the program by singing “God Bless America.” A reception followed in the Parish Center.

At St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton, students and faculty gathered on Nov. 10 in the courtyard to recognize those who have served our country. The school community joined in, listening to patriotic songs and watching as fourth graders processed with flags to represent the branches of the military. Everyone then reflected on how grateful they are for those who have fought for our freedoms and the individuals who continue to serve. The assembly concluded with the Pledge of Allegiance, prayer, and a parade with the pre-kindergarten-4 students.

Tradition at Incarnation Catholic School in Sarasota continued with a formal ceremony which included the reciting of poems, and the singing of patriotic songs in thanks to all veterans for their service. In addition, the Knights of Columbus led a formal flag raising ceremony.

Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers held a school assembly with speakers and a presentation by the American Legion Honor Guard.

St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral had a school Mass honoring veterans and then afterwards the veterans lined up and greeted each student with a fist bump as they returned to class.

St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Academy in Sarasota joined together for a Veterans Day program that included a parade. In addition, the second graders in Mrs. Ravazzoli’s class wrote thank you cards to a friend who is one of 5,000 sailors currently serving on the USS Eisenhower, an aircraft carrier now stationed in the Gulf of Oman. Included in the care package are pictures, cards, and a snack basket.

These were just a few examples of how Diocesan Catholic schools honored the service and sacrifice of those in the military.

Veterans Day began as an informal celebration to mark the conclusion of World War I (Nov. 11, 1918), before being designated as a national holiday in 1954 to honor all military men and women who have sacrificed so much in their service to this country.

News Briefs for the Week of Nov. 17, 2023

Students learn about election process

It is never too early to learn about one of the cornerstones of a democracy, the opportunity for a free and open election. At St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral, the first graders learned all about the election process and the importance of voting on Nov. 7, 2023. Students then conducted their own classroom vote, complete with election booths and banners promoting the two “candidates.” On the ballot was which cookie is best, chocolate chip or Oreo? The winner was the chocolate chip cookie with a vote of 13-8.

Students donate blood

More than 60 Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School students from Sarasota took part in a blood drive on Nov. 7, 2023, in support of the SunCoast Blood Centers. This opportunity to serve the community reinforced the goal of each student at Cardinal Mooney, which is to make a difference. Together, the students’ collective efforts can transform lives.

Athletes sign with colleges

There were 10 different student athletes from three Diocesan Catholic high schools who signed their letter of intent to pursue athletics at the collegiate level. Most of the signings took place on Nov. 8, 2023. From Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, Madison Duncan has signed with Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana, to pursue her passion for softball. At St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples, two girls’ basketball stars have made their commitments. Sophia McCartney has accepted an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, while Sydney Martin will continue her career at Belmont Abbey College, Belmont, N.C. Meanwhile, Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers had seven athletes make commitments. They are, Jason Bello, baseball, University of South Florida, Tampa; Morgan Franklin, golf, Samford University, Homewood, Alabama; Maddix Simpson, baseball, Ohio State University; Owen Rodriguez, lacrosse, Wingate (N.C.) University; Zoe Vadas, rowing, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts; Curtis Couillard, baseball, Union College, Schenectady, N.Y.; and Marissa Peck, beach volleyball, Spring Hill College, Mobile, Alabama. Congratulations to all these athletes and prayers and best of luck in your college careers.


40 Days for Life fall campaign: A peaceful protest

All life is sacred! For this reason, each fall and spring hundreds gather in front of abortion facilities in the Diocese of Venice praying that unborn children can be saved from the scourge that is abortion.

The 40 Days for Life fall campaign concluded on Nov. 5, 2023, with local efforts taking place in Naples, Sarasota and Fort Myers. The campaign began Sept. 27.

Prayer warriors from Parishes and Diocesan Catholic schools stood faithfully in front of the three Planned Parenthood abortion facilities. One participant in Naples from St. John the Evangelist Parish said she participated in the prayer vigil “because we want to save lives.”

A peaceful, rather than confrontational effort the fall 40 Days for Life prayer campaign took place in more than 681 cities worldwide. The Diocese of Venice has participated since 2007, the year of the first national campaign. To date, 23,664 babies have been saved (277 during the 2023 fall campaign) and 145 abortion centers have been closed.

Many of the moms seeking help are directed to nearby pregnancy help centers. In the case of Sarasota and Naples, there are Community Pregnancy Clinics (CPCI), pro-life, free clinics that provide ultrasounds and extensive support for pregnant mothers. CPCI has medical offices in Naples, Fort Myers and Sarasota. Its mobile van was present at Fort Myers for many of the 40 days, but in particular on days when surgical abortions were scheduled.

In addition, the Diocese of Venice is also a proud partner in the “Walking with Moms in Need” initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This program educates the Parish staff and ultimately the faithful on where to send a pregnant woman for assistance and is available in both English and Spanish.

Jeanne Berdeaux, Diocese of Venice Respect Life Director, said “Walking with Moms in Need” lets the mother know she is not alone in her journey. With the support she needs, more women will decide to parent or make an adoption plan rather than think that abortion is her only option.

“With the ‘Walking with Moms in Need’ program, the Catholic Church works alongside the pregnancy help centers, maternity homes and after birth homes as they continue to work diligently with each mom, the dad and other important family members,” Berdeaux said.

Now that the fall 40 Days for Life campaign has concluded, there will still be prayer warriors who will stand vigil in front of these local abortion facilities throughout the year. Contact your Parish respect life coordinator for details about when the nearest prayer vigil is scheduled.

Looking forward, the 40 Days for Life spring campaign begins Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, and concludes on Palm Sunday, March 24.

To learn more about how you can help protect life from conception until natural death, please visit

Grandparents honored at Neumann

Grandparents, a vital link to the past – most importantly to the Faith – were welcomed to St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples for a special celebration.

A Grandparents Day celebration on Nov. 3, 2023; opened with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane, as students sat with their grandparents in the Our Lady of the Angels Chapel. A luncheon followed in the Student Life Center.

During the Mass, Bishop Dewane spoke about the wisdom and knowledge of the faith that older people can share with the young. The Bishop prayed for all grandparents, those present and those who were unable to attend the Mass; but also for those who have gone before us, leaving a void in the lives of their grandchildren.

The Bishop encouraged the grandparents to impart their wisdom by passing along their stories of the family and faith, building the traditions upon which their grandchildren can now stand.

“Grandparents, you are to be the messengers of the word and tradition of the faith life within your family,” Bishop Dewane said. “Leave your impressions upon the family. Speak to them, show them, demonstrate to them, in a spiritual way, who you are.”

Bishop Dewane challenged the grandchildren to take up the traditions learned from their grandparents – the good, the strength, and the knowledge they have from life’s experience. “They will tell you the truth. It is my prayer that the generations go forward sharing the wisdom they have, the grace they have been given by the Lord, and the strength that is our Catholic faith.”

Several grandparents, and their grandchildren, complimented the Bishop for speaking so clearly about their respective roles in the Church – one as mentor and example, the other as respectful listener and observer.

Following the Mass, one grandparent noted that she is proud her grandchildren attend a Catholic High School. “My grandchildren are getting the best education. I tried to pass the faith along to my own children and grandchildren. It is rewarding to see that lesson is being passed down to my grandchildren and enhanced here at St. John Neumann.”

News Briefs for the Week of November 10, 2023

Parish joins Knights in supporting vocations

The 25th anniversary of the priestly ordination of Father Bob Kantor, Pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Naples, was a cause for celebration on the weekend of Oct. 28-29, 2023. The celebration served the dual purpose of supporting vocations as well as honoring Father Kantor. A special second collection was held to raise funds for the Florida Knights of Columbus Charities Vocations Fund. The fifth Sunday of a month is used for charitable causes outside of the Parish. More than $8,000 was collected. The monies will be designated for use in support of seminarians studying for the Diocese of Venice. Father Kantor serves as State Chaplain for the Knights’ Florida State Council. The timing of the support coincides with National Vocations Awareness Week which was Nov. 5-11.

Students learn computer coding

Sixth-grade students at St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral had an incomparable opportunity on Nov. 7, 2023, delving into the world of computer coding with the help of Jason Castaldo, a teacher from Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers. Under the guidance, inspiration, and expertise of Castaldo, the students explored the fascinating realm of programming and problem-solving. It was a journey filled with creativity, logical thinking, and the excitement of building digital wonders. Enthusiastically delving into the “Hour of Code” is paving the way for the future of these talented students.

Tasting the World!

Our Lady of Grace Parish in Avon Park hosted its annual International Food Festival on Nov. 5, 2023, in the Parish Center. Participants had the opportunity to “taste the world” in this culinary journey, sharing the flavors of their culture with food from many different countries, such as Colombia, Germany, Haiti, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Philippines, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and more. There were even hot dogs, ice cream, and popcorn for the little ones.

Students gather in the form of a Cross

Students at St. Ann Catholic School in Naples gathered Nov. 6, 2023, on the soccer field to stand in the form of a cross. This is an annual tradition at the school which is a fun day outside for the students as they gather in the form of an important symbol of the faith. The school has experienced rapid growth in recent years with enrollment topping 425, up 40 percent since 2020.

Parish celebrates All Saints’ Day with relics

For the second year in a row, Incarnation Parish in Sarasota had a special display set up for All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1, 2023). Saint relics, on loan from parishioners, were put on display for people to visit between Masses on the Solemnity. Many lined up to view the relics, touch rosaries to them, and pray for the powerful intercession of the Saints. The Second Vatican Council recalls that “the Saints have been traditionally honored in the Church, and their authentic relics and images held in veneration.” The term “relics of the Saints” principally signifies the bodies – or notable parts of the bodies – of the Saints who, as distinguished members of Christ’s mystical Body and as Temples of the Holy Spirit in virtue of their heroic sanctity, now dwell in Heaven, but who once lived on earth. Objects which belonged to the Saints, such as personal objects, clothes and manuscripts are also considered relics, as are objects which have touched their bodies or tombs such as oils, cloths, and images.

Stadium Plaza dedicated to longtime teacher/coach

Coach Mike Gill has been a presence on the campus of Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers for more than five decades, first as a student and then as a coach and a teacher for the past 52 years.

To honor his legacy, the newly constructed “Coach Gill Plaza” was dedicated to honor a man who has had a lasting impact on the Bishop Verot community. The plaza, complete with a cross, fencing, new pavers, and dedicated entrances, serves as the newly renovated entrance to the Viking Stadium which serves as home to numerous Verot sports teams, including football, track and others.

More than 150 family members, friends, Viking alumni, faculty, staff and current students were present for the dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony on Oct. 27, 2023, prior to the final regular season home game. Representing the Diocese was Jesuit Father John Belmonte, Superintendent of Catholic Education.

Verot Principal Suzie O’Grady lauded Gill for making an indelible mark on the Verot community, as mentor and friend to students, faculty, and staff for many decades. O’Grady also thanked the many supporters of the project and noted how appropriate it was to honor a man who means so much to the greater Verot community, with a legacy that goes beyond any words of praise.

Gill said he was privileged and humbled by the dedication of the plaza in his name, saying that in the crowd present to honor him were people more worthy of such an honor.

“I don’t deserve this,” Gill said. “I don’t need my name up there. Bishop Verot has given me more in my tenure than I could ever repay. It is the people that make up the Viking nation; that’s what is impressive, all of you.”

News Briefs for the week of November 3, 2023

Seminarian Admitted to Candidacy

Diocese of Venice Seminarian Joseph Bao Quoc Nguyen took a significant step in his vocation journey with his Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders. He was one of four men to be admitted to candidacy on Oct. 25, 2023, at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts. The Rite was presided over by Most Rev. Earl K. Fernandes, Bishop of the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio. During the Rite, each man expressed his intention to complete his preparation for Holy Orders and his resolve to dedicate himself to that goal. To be admitted to candidacy, Seminarian Nguyen had to have been first approved by Bishop Frank J. Dewane, and will continue his studies to become a Catholic priest.

Bishop celebrates Mass for students on All Saints’ Day

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated Mass for students at both St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers and St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral on All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1, 2023. In his message to the students, Bishop Dewane said it is important to learn about these Saints who are described as ordinary people of faith who lived extraordinary lives. They lived their lives in response to a call to holiness from the Lord. The Bishop asked the students at both Masses to respond to a call to holiness in their own lives.

Decline to Sign Petition for Dangerous Pro-Abortion Ballot Initiative

An extremely grave initiative is underway in Florida that seeks to erase pro-life protections by inserting language into the Florida State Constitution banning regulation of abortion. Abortion activists are working to gather petition signatures to place a pro-abortion constitutional amendment, titled “Amendment to Limit Government Interference with Abortion” on the November 2024 ballot. This amendment would allow abortion up until birth, including when the baby is capable of feeling pain, and would eliminate laws requiring parental consent and safety protocols for women. Floridians should not sign the petition. Please spread the word to your spheres of influence and continue to pray for the protection of the unborn.

All Saints’ Day Party held in Wauchula

Saints of all ages participated in the annual All Saints’ Day Party at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula on Oct. 28, 2023. Children dressed as the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Michael the Archangel were the most common costumes. Others dressed as St. Joseph, angels, popes, bishops and even superheroes. The evening included food, games and lots of candy. Prior to the party, there was an All Saints’ Day procession, led by a statue of St. Michael the Archangel and directed by the Servant Sisters of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará who serve the Parish.

Veteran’s Day Ball in Ave Maria

The Knights of Columbus of Ave Maria invite all to a Veteran’s Day Grand Ball, on Saturday, November 11, in the del Webb Grand Hall. The keynote speaker is Most Rev. Joseph L. Coffey, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, USA. The evening begins with a 6:00 p.m. cocktail hour/cash bar, with a 7:00 p.m. program, dinner and dancing. Black tie is optional for civilians, active duty military and veterans are asked to wear dinner dress or Class A Uniform. Tickets are $125 per person and seating is limited. For tickets, go to

National Night of Prayer for Life

The 2023 Annual National Night of Prayer for Life marks its 34th anniversary of people across the country praying to convert America’s heart to cherish life and encourage living the Gospel of Life.  It unites the Feast of the Immaculate Conception with the Feast of St. Juan Diego from Friday, December 8, at 9:00 p.m. to Saturday, December 9, at 1:00 a.m., with a national hour of unity across all time zones from midnight to 1:00 a.m.  People are invited to join in unity of prayer to restore the protection of life, the family, and the church, establish peace and inspire courage in our nation.  For more information, see, or contact Jeanne Berdeaux at or 941-374-1068.

Gloria Concert in Naples

St. Peter the Apostle Parish, 5130 Rattlesnake Hammock Road, Naples, is hosting a free Gloria Concert at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, December 14. The concert will include all the Parish choirs of various languages (English, Spanish and Creole) as well as a children’s pageant. For further details, please contact Nancy Spolsino at 239-774-3037.