Retreat opens eyes of students

A group of students from St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples put their classroom lessons to work when they participated in a weeklong Immokalee Service Retreat.

The group travelled about 40 minutes from their school to Immokalee, a short physical distance but the retreat was a long spiritual journey that surprised many in how deeply it impacted them.

Each of the 18 students, incoming-juniors and incoming-seniors, learned about the Collier County community that is home to many farms and food processing facilities and is also one of the poorest in the country.

Throughout the week of May 31-June 3, the students spent each day assisting at different outreach facilities, including Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities, Habitat for Humanity and others.

The service trip was organized and led by Sisters April Hoffman and April Cabaccang, Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco, both of whom are on the faculty at St. John Neumann. To start the week, they prayed each student would gain a renewed sense of Christian Service from their experience. The theme for the week was based on a Gospel quote from 1 Peter 4:10 – “Each of you should use that gift you have to serve others.”

The enthusiasm of the students to put their Catholic Social Teaching to work was reflected in the effort and care they put into each task they were assigned.

When the week began, the students did not expect the retreat to have the deep emotional impact it had on them as most had never been to Immokalee or even heard of the plight of the people there.

Some admitted to participating in the retreat to earn service hours or because a friend was participating. But then, something changed. As the week progressed, the teens began to grow as Christians, shining the light of Christ in the community while also finding the face of the Lord in all whom they encountered.

Several expressed a greater appreciation for the gifts and opportunities they have in their everyday life and a desire to carry the lesson of service beyond the one week. St. John Neumann has several clubs which do service projects, many benefitting the programs of the poor in both Naples and Immokalee.

Each day included evening Mass celebrated at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish by Father Inna (Ignatius) Reddy Yeruva, Missionary of Compassion, who works with Catholic Charities.

“God is granting you enlightenment,” Father Yeruva said of the retreat. “You are getting to see a world beyond St. John Neumann and your own homes. This is a gift you must embrace.”

The retreat also included daily prayer and reflection while staying at the Bethel Retreat Center. In addition, the evenings included games and guest speakers who offered words of encouragement. The first guest speaker was a Neumann alum who was on the same retreat several years earlier and shared how it had had a lasting impact on his life.

For example, when some of the students were assigned to count beans at the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen of Catholic Charities, the task seemed pointless, but the youth quickly learned that it was important to sort through the beans to ensure proper portion sizes and their helping lessened the work of the only paid employee of the Soup Kitchen.

Other students helped Pathways Early Childhood Center and learned that the lunch the children receive each day is likely the only food they will have access to all day. Then, while helping to paint and clean homes at a Habitat for Humanity project, the students met a future resident who expressed eternal gratitude for their work.

Sister April Hoffman said the week is much more than service hours earned and being with friends. “It is about developing a desire to serve others and that when we serve, we are serving Jesus in the people we encounter.”

For more information about St. John Neumann Catholic High School, please call 239-455-3044 or visit

News Briefs for the Week of May 20, 2022

Volunteers sort food

More than 150 volunteers came to the St. Joseph Food Pantry in Bradenton to help sort and store 50,000 pounds of food on May 14, 2022. The food was collected during the U.S. Postal Service Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive.

CCW council re-established in Sebring

The St. Catherine Council of Catholic Women was re-established during a ceremony in Sebring on May 7, 2022. The installation ceremony included representatives from the Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women who aided in this process. The Council acts within the Parish to support, empower and educate Catholic women in spirituality, leadership and service. The installation was presided over by Father Jose Gonzalez, Pastor of St. Catherine.

Diocesan seminarian Valedictorian

Transitional Deacon David Portorreal, a Diocese of Venice Seminarian, graduated on May 12, 2022, from St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. The commencement address was by Most Rev. Felipe J. Estévez, Bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine. Deacon Portorreal was the Valedictorian of his graduating class and will be ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Frank J. Dewane on July 16, 2022, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

SVdP International president visits Parish

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul International President General Renato Lima de Oliveira visited members of the Sacred Heart Conference on May 5, 2022, in Punta Gorda. He congratulated the conference for their spirituality, friendship and their Vincentian Spirit. He was amazed at the size and ability of the conference to help the community in so many ways.

Ordination to the Permanent Diaconate June 18

All are invited and encouraged to attend the Ordination to the Permanent Diaconate for the following candidate: Craig Dutka of Holy Cross Parish in Palmetto. The Ordination will be held at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, June 18, 2022, at Holy Cross Parish, 506 26th St. W., Palmetto. A reception in the Parish Hall will follow.

Our Lady of Fatima Rosary Rally

Please join our national America Needs Fatima Rosary Rally for the Traditional Family and Public Prayers in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to end abortion Saturday, June 4, from noon to 1:00 p.m., at the corner of Daniels Parkway and Daniels Commerce Blvd near Tile Outlet of America and TIAA Bank in Fort Myers. Parking is in an empty lot at Daniels Commerce Blvd and Commerce Park Blvd or John Yarbrough Linear Park off Daniels at Metro Parkways. Please arrive 10 minutes early and bring your Pro-Life signs, chairs, water and umbrellas. For more information, please contact Toni at

Charismatic Pentecost Celebration

The Diocese of Venice English Charismatic Renewal invites all to join them for a celebration on Pentecost Sunday at 3:00 p.m., June 5 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 211 West Charlotte Avenue, Punta Gorda. The afternoon will include praise and worship followed by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at 4:00 p.m. Please bring your Prayer Group Banner and Stand as there will be a Banner Procession. For further information, please contact Alice Keough at or 941-484-3505 ext. 1104.

Youth Conference in July

The 14th annual Ave Maria University Youth Conference – “Fearless” is July 8-10, 2022. Featured talks are by Father Rick Martignetti, Father Joseph Lugalambi, Father Rich Pagano and Chris Padget. The event includes the talks, Mass, Adoration, praise and worship, fellowship, opportunities for confession and much more. The cost is $175 and includes lodging, all meals t-shirt and more. To register, call 239-348-4725, or

Youth service club helps needy

The grades 5-9 religious education/faith formation classes at St. Martha Parish in Sarasota have been using some of their classroom time to give back.

Just in time for Easter, the youth made more than 100 lunch bags that were distributed to the homeless in the area. This outreach is part of a new service club which has been included in the ongoing religious education classes.

Patricia Sileo, Director of Religious Education at St. Martha, said one Sunday a month is committed to the service club which was created in the wake of the pandemic as both the students and teachers became more acutely aware of the need to give back within the community.

“We dedicate one class a month to learn about Catholic Social Teachings and do a project that coincides with the teaching each month,” Sileo explained.

For example, on April 3, 2022, as part of a “Hearty Meals Project,” the students happily went to work as they first decorated the bags and then packed them with various donated foodstuffs. Each lunch bag had its own colorful and unique design and had a sticker which read: “Made with Love & Care by the St. Martha Service Club.” These decorated lunch bags were given to local outreach programs that minister to the homeless, including Caritas, Catholic Charities and more.

Previously, the youth worked on other service projects. These included supporting the Eucharistic Ministers who visit the hospital by making get well cards for the sick they visit. The club also colored placemats (and laminated them) for the Knights of Columbus Thanksgiving Dinner which is offered annually for those in need or alone.

Their Christmas service project included making Christmas cards and ornaments for the elderly that live in Casa Santa Marta, a senior housing facility run by the Diocese of Venice. Still another project included writing prayer cards and creating rosary boxes for the children from the Parish who were making their First Holy Communion.

Sileo explained that among the special projects that received the most enthusiasm was making blessing bags. These are bags with prayers and words of encouragement that the students were able to create and keep for themselves, or in their parents’ vehicle, so the youth would be able to distribute bags if they came across someone in need.

The projects are supported by the parishioners at St. Martha, providing many of the donations of the needed food and supplies. Sileo said the generosity has been overwhelming. The “Hearty Meals Project” response enabled the youth to not only fill the lunch bags for the homeless, but also stock two different food pantries while also giving additional financial support.

Sileo said the enthusiasm of the young students in response to the new service club has been overwhelmingly positive as it gives them the opportunity to make immediate and positive impacts on their Parish and in the community in which they live.

Catholic Schools Week gets off to fun start

Every Catholic Schools Week is an opportunity to recognize the value and contributions of Catholic education to the Church and the world.

During the week of Jan. 30 to Feb. 5, 2022, Diocesan Catholic schools celebrated their schools, their Parishes, the nation, vocations, their families and their teachers in a variety of ways.

At St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton, it was decided to bring in a former student to speak to the students, Miss Florida 2021 Leah Roddenberry.

The youngest of five children to receive a Catholic school education from kindergarten through high school (St. Joseph and Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota), Roddenberry credits that experience with her ability to overcome many obstacles in her life while achieving success.

During a visit to her former school, Roddenberry met with two groups of students while getting a tour of the school grounds. She reflected not only that everything looked very familiar, but also that the visit brought back many wonderful memories.

Upon arrival at the school, Roddenberry was greeted by some of the staff, including Principal Deborah Suddarth who presented Miss Florida 2021 with images found in old yearbooks. Roddenberry was delighted to receive them and said she would cherish the gift forever.

Then it was on to meet the third-grade class of Juli Ferguson. There Roddenberry shared her story explaining how she loved going to St. Joseph and later Cardinal Mooney as both schools helped shape her into the confident young woman she is today. She noted that she started participating in pageants through the years and eventually became Miss Florida 2021 last June.

“What I really love about being able to visit Catholic schools, in particular, is talking about the faith, and how that’s really remained a constant value throughout my life,” she said. “I know that I wouldn’t be here as Miss Florida, and I wouldn’t be doing the job that I’m doing, without my faith and having that instilled in me at a young age. So, I know that sometimes being in school here you can question why you have to go to church – it’s different as some kids don’t have that in school – but it is something that you are going to appreciate down the road and I hope you can see the value in it today.”

Roddenberry later had lunch with members of the St. Joseph Catholic School National Junior Honor Society, along with Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education. The 22-year-old was Miss Tampa 2020, and an author of a children’s book and founder of “Be a LeadHER: Igniting the Spark Within.” She graduated from Cardinal Mooney in 2017. She represented Florida in the Miss America pageant in December 2021 where she finished in the top 10, her final pageant experience. The Miss Florida pageant is a scholarship program which Roddenberry said will help her finish her education nearly debt-free. She hopes to enter law school after her commitments as Miss Florida 2021 conclude.

During the weekend leading up to Catholic Schools Week, many Parishes throughout the Diocese hosted guest student speakers who were able to share how their school fosters a growth in faith, values, virtues, self-confidence, and much more.

St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Academy in Sarasota kicked off their celebration of Catholic Schools Week Jan. 31 in celebration of our nation with a morning prayer service. They had guest speaker, John Carkeet, Marketing Coordinator with the Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools and Public Affairs Noncommissioned Officer with the 75th Innovation Command, U.S. Army Reserve. In uniform, Carkeet shared his vision on faith and service. The prayer service also included the installation of a new Peace Pole on the playground which was filled with messages of peace from each class. New Buddy Benches will be placed near the Peace Pole in the coming days.

St. Ann Catholic School in Naples had a Community Service Day on Jan. 31, where students collected trash outside City Hall and spent some time with Mayor Teresa Heitmann, helped to clean Cambier Park, Naples beaches, as well as the School and Parish properties.

At nearby St. John Neumann Catholic High School, a group of students, and religious sisters, helped to load vehicles with food at the St. Elizabeth Seton Parish distribution on Feb. 1.

Things have been busy at St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral where students opened the week participating in a Math Olympics. Students participated in the “bobsled” and dividing and comparing decimals to determine fastest times. Just so everyone understands that Catholic Schools Week isn’t all serious – the second day was crazy hat day.

Meanwhile, at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton, after their exciting guest visitor on Monday, the next day a group of students delivered potted plants to the homes of families that border the school. Some students made the delivery while others created colorful, “Thank You!!!” signs.

Check out more about Catholic Schools Week in the Diocese of Venice by visiting and return to read the Feb. 11 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 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 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

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.

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.

Giving back for Thanksgiving

Catholic schools and Parish youth groups across the Diocese of Venice learned a valuable lesson ahead of Thanksgiving: to be thankful for what they have and how wonderful it feels to give to others.

Thousands of cans of food and other non-perishable items were collected and then delivered to various Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. food banks or those of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

For example, at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers the students took part in the school’s annual “Share Your Blessings” canned food drive. The drive was led by the National Junior Honor Society in partnership with the Knights of Columbus and collected more than 3,500 items for the nearby St. Vincent de Paul Society which helps feed those in need. Top collecting classes earned a prize of holiday cookies.

This important lesson of giving back resonates with students of all ages and is a strong representation of the Catholic Social Teaching regarding charity, where one doesn’t just give but gives from the heart to everyone in need regardless of their race or religion because “Christ is all and in all.”

Although many world religions uphold charitable work, it is specially emphasized in the Christian Faith and is a central message found in the Gospels. For example, in Colossians 3:11 we are instructed to love our neighbors because they are the children of God as we are all part of the same human family and share the same nature, needs and dignity.

This is why the smiles on the student faces last a little bit longer as they learn to appreciate that their combined hard work translates into food on the table for many families in the community who are less fortunate.

When organizing food drives, many Catholic schools often have friendly competitions amongst the different classrooms and grade levels.

This went to an extreme level at Donahue Academy of Ave Maria Catholic School in Ave Maria, where the whole school took part in a massive, canned food drive competition to help the Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities in Immokalee.

How massive? One local store had to stay open two extra hours as the students were buying so many cans. Then, when the stores ran out of cans, the students collected rice, pasta and more. This created a temporary counting problem as the faculty tried to figure out the equivalent value of a canned item versus a bag of rice or box of pasta.

The result was a massive 6,000 items of food. So much that it took more than one trip to deliver everything to the grateful staff of Catholic Charities.

The competition was also fierce at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers where students put their donated food items into large cans labeled with the name of favored teachers or faculty members. The name which had the most food was obligated to wear a turkey outfit after school on Nov. 19, 2021 – the start of the Thanksgiving break – and wave to all of the families and students. The “winner” was Matt Hiller, Assistant Dean of Students who gladly wore the outfit and held a sign as he waved and gobbled – “Save a TURKEY – Eat PIZZA!”

At St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples the students, faculty, and staff delivered a total of 6,474 items to Catholic Charities. In addition to the school-wide food drive, the Celtic baseball team decided to go above and beyond and host an additional food drive, donating more than 200 items to another area charity.

Nearby, St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School students collected over 1,000 pounds of food and over $250 from a dress down (non-uniform) day collection.

Not to be forgotten, the St. Columbkille Parish Youth Group & Faith Formation families came together to donate and assemble many large baskets of food. This was in addition to turkeys donated by the Knights of Columbus.

These were just a few examples of the generosity and charity from the students and youth of the Diocese of Venice leading up to Thanksgiving. The lessons of charity were well learned and countless families were the beneficiaries of their generosity.

Students implement service project with local hospital

St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers is implementing a Good Samaritan partnership with Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

“Our fifth-grade teaching team, Natalie Kuznicki and Melissa Lanzilotta originally wanted this to be a year-long service project for their students,” said Esther Kiesel, Director of Development at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School. “During their planning sessions, word got out and the entire school embraced ‘Breath of Life – Help Our Heroes,’ which became a schoolwide service project, that runs this calendar year.”

As a result, each grade will share their time, talent and treasure to bring joy, comfort and support to the frontline staff at Golisano Children’s Hospital NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) Respiratory Team.

The initial project – “Friendship” – was presented by the fifth grade students and delivered in September. The students created an in-house thank you video, and gave up recess time to make friendship bracelets, greeting cards as well as candy jars of joy!

In October, the sixth-grade students practiced their letter writing skills to create formal letters of gratitude. In these letters the students recognized the compassion, care and dedication of the NICU Respiratory Team, that helps save the lives of children in their community. The students and school provided these dedicated caregivers with cookies, sweets, snacks and coffee they could enjoy when taking a brief respite during their shift at work.

During the coming months, each grade is excitedly working on their service project, recognition theme and thoughtful treat.

As we approach the holiday season of Thanksgiving and Christmas, we are reminded to embrace our call to serve others,” said John Gulley, St. Francis Xavier Principal. “What a blessing to put into practice our school mission, ‘To Be Like Christ’ in all that we think, do and say, while experiencing the joy of learning.”

Sarasota Parish has Teen “Service Week”

Service, prayer, music, fun and food.

Combine those things and you have a formula for a successful “Teen Service Week” for youth who are preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation at St. Thomas More Parish in Sarasota.

Robbie Anderson, the Director of Religious Education and Youth Outreach at St Thomas More, brought the idea of a faith-based service week from her previous position in the Chicago area. The group began their week with their regular Sunday night meeting on Aug. 1, 2021 with prayer, music and food.

On each morning of the week of Aug. 2-6, the teens met with assigned leaders at the parish and prayed together. From there, they were sent to different locations to serve the community. Their week started with a Sarasota food pantry, then met with teens from St. Michael Parish in Wauchula. In the middle of the week, they assisted at a local soup kitchen and organized the Parishes’ own food pantry.

The longest journey was on Thursday, when they trekked to Immokalee and visited Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish and the Catholic Charities offices there, which include a soup kitchen, food pantry and much more. The group also helped in a local environmental cleanup and learned about the difficult working conditions for farmworkers and were educated on unfair wages. The week concluded with the group helping parishioners with small projects around their home.

Anderson said each day began by 7 a.m. and concluded by 9 p.m. At the conclusion of each day, the teens finished with a sponsored meal, played outdoor games and prayed together. As part of the week the youth wrote prayers based on their daily experiences. Examples include the following:

  • “I pray for immigrants who are struggling for an income standard because of their circumstances.”
  • “Please put food on the tables of those in food insecurity.”
  • “God bless those who love and support their communities through organized and consistent efforts.”
  • “That we continue to make a difference in future days and weeks.”
  • “That our work today will make us more compassionate to those who don’t have enough.”
  • “That this week was life changing for all the teens and adults and that what we experienced will motivate us to continue to serve others.”
  • “For a resolution to equality, justice and hunger issues.”
  • “For the homeless people we served today, that they stay safe.”

It was clear to Anderson that the week made a real impact on the youth in various ways.

“At our reflection at the end of the week many said they were made much more aware of the poverty right here in Sarasota that they never imagined existed,” she said. “They were also saying they need to raise awareness of the unfair wages that the farm workers receive.”