Parish unites for neighbors

By Larissa Rodriguez, Special to the Florida Catholic

A volunteer meal packing event was hosted by Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers on March 16, 2024, just as the darker days of the Lenten Season were winding down and the bright hope of Easter was on the horizon.

The Parish’s collaboration with Meals of Hope was the idea of Deacon Ripperton “Rip” Riordan, who wanted to see increased involvement in the Parish community.

“With the large population during the winter season, I had an idea or dream of getting the Parish Community involved in an outreach project outside of the Parish walls,” Deacon Riordan said. “So, I spoke with a few leaders of the Parish and local community and asked what special project needed to be done that could involve 200 volunteers?”

From there, the idea was kickstarted into becoming a reality. Deacon Riordan enlisted the help of two parishioners, Steve and Vicki Pierson, who suggested partnering with Meals of Hope, pouring their heart and soul into planning the event.

Meals of Hope is a nonprofit based in Naples with 15 food pantries throughout Southwest Florida and one more opening this month. It was founded in 2007 by its president and CEO, Stephen Popper, to provide hunger relief to people in the U.S.

Popper learned from his mother and aunts, who were trying to take care of poor children in Haiti, that the children had trouble learning because they didn’t have enough food to eat.

Popper and his wife organized their first meal packing event, and grew from there, packing a million meals in the first year. Though the company started with the goal of shipping meals overseas, it now largely focuses on providing meals locally.

The goal at the Our Lady of Light event was to pack 50,000 meals of cinnamon sugar diced apple oatmeal for distribution by the Harry Chapin Food Bank and other mobile food pantries throughout Southwest Florida. This number was surpassed with about 52,000 meals packed and shipped out by the end of the day.

“We really have quite a large impact. But we can’t do it without the support of Our Lady of Light and other churches and groups,” Popper said.

This event provided a profound impact to the community especially because it took place during Lent, as it created a practical way for parishioners to exercise their Lenten obligation of almsgiving and service, while also having fun.

Volunteers danced to the music as they were packing their meals and cheered once their group finished packing a full box. Their biggest cheerleaders were Deacon Riordan and Father Hugh McGuigan, Pastor of Our Lady of Light.

“Being of service to others is an important aspect of a strong community. Our faith community here at Our Lady of Light is an active group that desires to live their faith by sharing their love and resources for the needs of our brothers and sisters,” Deacon Riordan said.

In Deacon Riordan’s Holy Thursday homily, he compared Jesus washing the feet of his disciples to everyday acts of service modern Christians can perform. The Deacon said this event was one of the ways the community was able to share their witness as “foot washers” to others.

“One of the things I love about Meals of Hope is how inclusive it is, people from all ages can do it,” Popper said. “There are not many things that can do that, where people of all ages and abilities can participate and really have a strong impact in the community.”

The staff and volunteers of Our Lady of Light Parish are already planning another Meals of Hope event in November.

News Briefs for the week of April 12, 2024

Naples students pack food for needy

Naples students from St. John Neumann Catholic High School, St. Ann Catholic School and St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School took part in a Collier County Food Bowl Competition supporting Meals of Hope, April 6, 2024. More than 350 students from schools across Collier County took part in the packing event. In all, more than 142,000 meals were packed in a single afternoon.

Eclipse helps make science fun

Students across the Diocese of Venice returned to the classroom from Spring Break on April 8, 2024, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. An added bonus was the arrival of an eclipse of the sun by the moon in the early afternoon. Students, donning protective eyewear, learned about how the sun and moon travel through the solar system and occasionally cross paths. While Southwest Florida only experienced about 60% blockage of the sun, the students were still impressed and in awe of the universe that was created by God.

Few spots remain for pilgrimage with Bishop to National Eucharistic Congress

Bishop Frank J. Dewane invites the Faithful of the Diocese of Venice to join him on a Pilgrimage to the 10th National Eucharistic Congress. This historic 5-day gathering will take place in Indianapolis July 17-21, 2024. The National Eucharistic Congress represents the culmination of the Church’s three-year effort to put an emphasis on the Real Presence of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the Holy Eucharist. This is a pivotal moment in the Church, and a unique opportunity for participants to draw into a deeper, more intimate relationship with Our Lord. The U.S. Bishops have announced that participants in the National Revival will be afforded the opportunity to obtain a plenary indulgence. The cost of the Diocese of Venice pilgrimage package is $1,049. With the package, pilgrims receive the National Eucharistic Congress 5-day pass, which provides access to all speakers and events, as well as four nights’ accommodations in a 4-star hotel within walking distance of the convention center. Please note, the pilgrimage package does not include transportation or meals. Only a few packages remain! Don’t miss this opportunity!  Deadline to reserve is April 17. Register at For further information, contact Jim Gontis at

Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship

“We need to participate for the common good. Sometimes we hear: a good Catholic is not interested in politics. This is not true: good Catholics immerse themselves in politics by offering the best of themselves so that the leader can govern” – Pope Francis. In this election year, please remember that shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our faith, and a basic part of the mission we have received from Jesus Christ. Guidance for Catholics in the exercise of their rights and duties as participants in our democracy is available from the USCCB, at Visit the website to deepen your understanding of Catholic Social Teaching, and the teachings of the Church that relate to the social, economic, and political issues of our time.

Theology on Tap Sarasota April 18

Theology on Tap takes place on the third Thursday of each month at 7:00 p.m. at the Mandeville Beer Garden in Sarasota, 428 N. Lemon Ave, Sarasota. Join us outside in the garden for food and refreshments, presentations, and discussions about the Catholic Faith. The next scheduled date is April 18, 2024. The speaker will be Father Rafal Ligenza, Pastor of Saint Joseph Parish in Bradenton. Father Ligenza will speak on “Divine Mercy, Message and Devotion.” For any questions, please contact Jim Gontis at





Catholic education gets deserved spotlight

Behind all of the fun and games which take place during the celebration of Catholic Schools Week each year is faith, which shines forth in everything that is done at all 15 of the Diocesan Catholic schools.

Catholic Schools Week (Jan. 28 to Feb. 3, 2024) provides an annual opportunity to celebrate and share the good news about Catholic Schools. The theme, “Catholic Schools: United in Faith and Community,” focuses on the important spiritual, academic, and societal contributions provided by a Catholic education firmly rooted in the Truth of the Gospel.

Grandparents Day at St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Academy in Sarasota began with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Feb. 2. Grandparents Day is a special time when the students can show off their school to their elders. Following Mass, the youngest students performed songs, before classroom visits and more fun was had by young and old alike.

Father Leo Patalinghug was a special guest at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers on Feb. 2. A Catholic priest from Baltimore, Maryland, and the founder of Plating Grace, with a mission to strengthen families and communities around the dinner table, Father Patalinghug encouraged the students to become superheroes for our world. An internationally renowned conference speaker, author, TV and radio host, Father told the students to always turn to the Lord, as this is where they will find real strength.

Another key component of Catholic Schools Week is “Community,” and many of the schools took the opportunity to have students complete local service projects.

One such service project included packing and donating emergency food bags (filled with snacks and easy open canned goods) and hygiene bags (filled with toothpaste, deodorant, baby wipes and more), at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Port Charlotte on Feb. 1. The items were donated for distribution by the Charlotte County Homeless Coalition. The emergency food bags are deemed essential by the Coalition for the unsheltered homeless because they don’t always have the means to cook. The hygiene bags were made readily available to anyone in need, as well as to be included during the Homeless Coalition’s weekly food pantry.

Service projects can also take place at one’s own school, as middle schoolers at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers found out on a Feb. 1. The students cleaned up the school prayer garden. The area includes a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto complete with a water feature, as well as Stations of the Cross. The students cleared branches, leaves, and other yard debris, then put down mulch and put young plants into the soil. They also cleaned off the statues and the water feature. They later had a chance to enjoy the fruits of the labor when they returned the same day to pray the Stations of the Cross.

Bradenton Police Department Chief Melanie Bevan as well as K-9 Officer Liberty and his handler were special guests at St. Joseph Catholic School on Jan. 30. The students learned about what the police do to protect the community. The youngest students met K-9 Liberty and give him a few pets and belly rubs.

Sports, too, were cause for celebration during Catholic Schools Week, especially at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, where Kali Barrett, a junior girl’s basketball player, reached a milestone on the court on Jan. 30, with her 1,000th career point. Kali has been on a journey filled with passion, perseverance, and countless hours of hard work. Congratulations!

Praying the Patriotic Rosary and wearing red, white, and blue, were part of celebrating the nation on Jan. 31, at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice. Prayers were given for all 50 states, as well as for all local, state, and national government leaders.

Each of the 15 Diocese of Venice Catholic schools participated in a variety of activities throughout this special week which commemorated its 50th anniversary this year.

Students encouraged to welcome Christ into their lives

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

During the week of Jan. 28 to Feb. 3, 2024, the more than 6,200 students enrolled in the 15 Diocesan Catholic schools celebrated their schools, their Parishes, the nation, vocations, their families, and their teachers in a variety of ways.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrated a Mass for Catholic school students in Collier County at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naples on Jan. 31. The Mass, which included several concelebrating priests from Parishes throughout Collier County, involved the eighth graders from St. Elizabeth Seton and St. Ann Catholic schools in Naples, Donahue Academy of Ave Maria Catholic School in Ave Maria, and affiliated Royal Palm Academy in Naples. In addition, the entire student body of St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples participated, having walked from their nearby campus to the Mass, and afterward escorted the younger students back for a day of food and fun.

The Mass fell on the Memorial of St. John Bosco, priest, founder of a religious order and supporter of youth and Catholic education. The students at St. John Neumann are very familiar with St. John Bosco, as the school is led by religious women who are Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco.

Bishop Dewane noted that the Gospel reading for the day (Mark 6:1-6), which recounts Jesus’ return to his hometown accompanied by His disciples was most appropriate. The locals, having known Jesus since childhood, were astonished by the wisdom the Lord had, and with a lack of faith, dismissed and took offense of Him.

“Do we dismiss Christ from our life?” the Bishop asked. “As Catholic students, you know the good works and miracles Jesus performed. How faithful are you of placing God before all others? That first Commandment. How faithful are you about going to Sunday Mass? It is a concern that I have. Is that not being dismissive of Christ in your life?”

No matter what disconnection they have from Christ, Bishop Dewane told the students that they need to set about to correct any dismissiveness they may have of Christ.

“When we sin, that is exactly what we do,” the Bishop continued. “Don’t be controlled by others. Have Christ be the influence. We all need to hear that call of the Lord and not dismiss Jesus Christ. Listen to what He has to say. You have been blessed with the graces to be more the young men and women of God you are called to be.”

Sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), Catholic Schools Week provides an annual opportunity to celebrate and share the good news about Catholic Schools. The theme, “Catholic Schools: United in Faith and Community,” focuses on the important spiritual, academic, and societal contributions provided by a Catholic education firmly rooted in the Truth of the Gospel. The weekend of Jan. 27-28, ahead of Catholic Schools Week, students spoke at many Parish Masses to explain the benefits of their education.

On Jan. 29, St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Academy celebrated their community through a Living Rosary Prayer Service. Students joined together as a community, prayed the rosary, and read special intentions throughout the service. Sr. Limeteze Pierre Gilles, School Sister of Notre Dame, was introduced to the school community, as throughout the week she taught the students how they can live out the promise of the Pope Francis Encyclical, Laudato Si, in helping the earth, specifically for those less fortunate living in Haiti without electricity and running water.

At Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice, the morning prayer service and assembly on Jan. 29, included a “Catholic Schools Week” proclamation from the Venice Vice Mayor. In addition, the students collected and donated more than 300 sets of pajamas which were donated to a local charity.

At Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers, the week kicked off with a school Mass at neighboring St. Cecilia Parish. Following the Mass, there was the traditional announcement of the “Christ The Teacher” award winner, Mary Dakin, chair of the English department. When announcing the honoree, it was noted that Dakin’s voice and personality are transcendent; and to know her is to love her. Dakin was able to enjoy the moment with her family and was rewarded with the afternoon off.

On Jan. 30, the student body of St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School celebrated with a beautiful Eucharistic Procession. Led by Father Casey Jones, Pastor and school Chaplain, the Most Blessed Sacrament was carried in a monstrance through the public streets surrounding the school before concluding with Benediction in Saint Elizabeth Seton Church. Before the procession began, the students were told that a Eucharistic Procession and Benediction is a special way of proclaiming to the world, as well as reminding themselves, that Jesus Christ is their King and that they believe in His Real Presence in the Eucharist.


These are just a few examples of some of the activities which took place in the first part of Catholic Schools Week 2024. Please check back in the Florida Catholic next week to learn about more of the festivities!

50th Catholic Schools Week– Jan. 28 – Feb. 3 – Diocesan Catholic schools continue to thrive

Each day is a celebration of educating the mind, body and spirit at Catholic Schools throughout the Diocese of Venice.

A more public celebration will occur the week of Jan. 28 to Feb. 3, 2024, when Diocesan schools will participate in a series of exciting activities as part of the 50th annual National Catholic Schools Week.

Sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), the week provides an annual opportunity to share the good news about Catholic Schools. The theme, “Catholic Schools: United in Faith and Community.” focuses on the important spiritual, academic, and societal contributions provided by a Catholic education firmly rooted in the Truth of the Gospel.

Within the 15 Diocese of Venice Catholic schools, these are exciting times. Just in the past year, a rapid increase in enrollment has continued; an already cutting-edge curriculum has expanded; and many schools are working on projects to expand and upgrade their campus facilities.

Schools typically observe the annual celebration week with Masses, open houses and other activities for students, families, parishioners, and community members. On the weekend starting Catholic Schools Week, look for students to speak at Parish Masses to explain the benefits of supporting their education.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said Diocesan Catholic Schools not only educate the mind but also the soul, teaching the students to have a concern for their brothers and sisters, whether they live in the same country, down the street, or are in their classroom, through prayer, and the teaching of values, morals, and virtues.

“Through this broader approach, the student begins to learn, to reach out, beyond themselves, seeing for themselves that we are all made in the image and likeness of God,” Bishop Dewane said.

Catholic Schools Week 2024 promises to be bigger and better than ever, starting with the large numbers of students attending Diocesan Catholic schools, which is topping 6,200. This a 30 percent growth rate in the high schools in four years and 40 percent increase in the grade schools. As enrollment for the 2024-2025 Academic Year ramps up, space is limited.

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School is in the process of building a science center/gymnasium which is expected to add six classrooms and open by the start of the 2024-2025 Academic Year. Several schools also received temporary portable classrooms to accommodate added enrollment. These are temporary solutions as long-term capital campaigns are being planned for projects to upgrade existing facilities, and add classrooms to accommodate current and projected growth.

“This is a good problem to have,” said Jesuit Father John Belmonte, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education. “We have been blessed in that people are choosing Diocesan Catholic schools. Parents are finding a rigorous academic program, but more importantly, the curriculum is about training the will of each student and teaching them to make the right decisions so that they can do the good that is needed by not only their families and themselves but by society.”

Each school offers a comprehensive STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, art, and math) learning model which is combined with the Diocesan curriculum called, “The Gifts of Christ: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Affability, Fortitude, Humility, and Prudence,” creating students of good moral character equipped to succeed in the world of today. This program has a strong robotics component as well.

“We prepare our students for today and for the future,” Bishop Dewane said. “We give the students what they need for success in this challenging world. Through this initiative, we are helping students to discover who they are as men and women of faith, as they learn these virtues that Christ calls us to, time after time in the Gospel.”

For example, there is an annual Diocesan robotics competition, dubbed the Lion Cup. This event brings together teams for each of the schools. The 2023 edition was a highlight for both students and teachers. Nearly 40 teams, and more than 220 students gathered for the middle and high school robotics tournament. The competition was fierce, and the intensity built as the day progressed and the participants became laser-focused on being the best in completing complicated tasks with their machines. Robotics teams are already gearing up for the 2024 Lion Cup which will be in April. In the meantime, the different robotics teams compete in public regional competitions.

On the spiritual side of the education, Father Belmonte has developed an annual devotional project, which is themed to focus students on a particular prayer or aspect of the faith, all in a continued effort to help them grow closer to Jesus Christ. The 2023-2024 project is themed, “Cause of Our Joy: Marian Devotional Project.” The focus of the project is teaching the students about Our Lady, and the importance of praying the Most Holy Rosary. This project builds upon the theme from the previous year, “The Most Holy Eucharist: The Riches of His Glorious Inheritance,” which was done in support of the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival. The Revival is a U.S. Bishops outreach to help increase devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist through prayer and Eucharistic Adoration.

On Dec. 8, 2023, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School football team from Sarasota, earned the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 1S state championship. This was 51 years to the day (Dec. 8, 1972) of the last state title by a Mooney football team. A victory rally was held on Dec. 19 at Mooney.

In addition, the Donahue Academy of Ave Maria Catholic School in Ave Maria won the 6-man football championship. Also, the Mooney girls’ basketball team, and the St. John Neumann Catholic High School baseball team in Naples, both reached the state Final Four in their respective divisions. Consistently, individual and team Diocesan athletes excel in swimming, cross country, track and field and more. Many go on to earn athletic scholarships and continue playing sports at the collegiate level.

While sports achievements are impressive, many Diocesan students earn honors for their academic and artistic gifts as well.

One Bishop Verot Catholic High School student in Fort Myers recently earned a perfect score on the ACT college placement exam. Students in all grades score at the advanced level on national tests while being grounded in the knowledge of the Catholic Faith. Impressively, the 2023 graduating high schoolers garnered more than $43.2 million in scholarship offers. Those numbers include students earning nationally competitive academic honors, such as the National Merit Scholarship. An astounding 99 percent of the graduates are heading off to higher education at some of the top colleges and universities in the land.

For the artists, students across the Diocese earn honors in both local, regional, and national competitions. In fact, for the past six years, at least one Diocesan student has been recognized for their artwork in the annual Missionary Childhood Association Christmas Art Contest. In the past year, several students have been recognized by county governments for their artistic talents, with artwork appearing in numerous environmentally-themed calendars.

The 15 Diocesan Catholic schools are an investment in the future as they serve as the heart of the Diocese, building the Catholic leadership of tomorrow. Schools are in Bradenton, Sarasota, Venice, Port Charlotte, Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples, Ave Maria and Sebring.

Scholarships are available to help ease some of the financial burden, and families should not assume that they wouldn’t qualify. In addition to school, Parish and Diocesan support, state scholarships such as Step Up For Students are also available.

Catholic Schools Week 2024 will showcase many of these aspects of Catholic education within the Diocese of Venice. Please check with the nearest Diocesan Catholic school for a list of public activities by visiting

News briefs for the week of January 5, 2024

High school club honors veterans

The Bishop Verot Catholic High School club Vikings for Heroes spent time helping the “Wreaths Across America” program on Dec. 14, 2023. This program took place at cemeteries across the entire nation, and the purpose was to “Remember the fallen. Honor those who serve. Teach the next generation the value of freedom.” Students spent the day decorating headstones at Fort Myers Memorial Gardens in preparation of the Christmas holiday. Vikings for Heroes is led by Pete Orsita, a military veteran himself who teaches science. Orsita’s passion to help other veterans is clear in how he has helped with outreach efforts such as “Wreaths Across America,” the Veteran’s Day assembly, and support for Honor Flights, which enables veterans to visit the memorials in Washington, D.C.

Boat building challenges robotics students

Congratulations to the ingenious 6th, 7th, and 8th grade robotics students at St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Corel. On Dec. 21, 2023, the students embarked on an aluminum boat-building challenge, showcasing problem-solving skills, collaboration and creativity that left us in awe! Special kudos went to 7th graders, Ryder and Matias, whose boat sailed to victory, holding an impressive load of 50 pennies, an example of true innovation at work. The project was a testament to teamwork, critical thinking, and the sheer joy of hands-on learning. All 15 Diocese of Venice Catholic schools offer a comprehensive STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, art and math) learning model which is combined with the Diocesan curriculum called, “The Gifts of Christ: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Affability, Fortitude, Humility, and Prudence,” creating students equipped to succeed in the world of today.

Catholic Charities Annual Christmas Appeal needs your support!

The 22nd Annual Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal needs your support! The Christmas Appeal continues through the end of January 2024 and is Catholic Charities’ largest annual fundraiser, critical to operating this critical social service organization. Gifts provide funding for the many Catholic Charities programs and services available throughout Southwest Florida. Your generosity enables Catholic Charities to serve those seeking help all year long. To donate please visit, or mail a contribution to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285.

Catholic Street Evangelization training in Naples

Interested in learning about Catholic Street Evangelization? Register now for the January 27 Saint Paul Street Evangelization (SPSE) training at St. John the Evangelist Parish, 625 111th Ave N, Naples.  Registration deadline is January 23. SPSE is supported and encouraged by Bishop Frank J. Dewane and is a response to the mandate of Jesus Christ to “preach the Gospel to all nations…” taking the Catholic Faith to the public square. The organization seeks to train others to witness effectively to the truth, beauty, and goodness of Jesus and His Church in a non-confrontational way. All Catholics who are 18 years of age and older are cordially invited to register. The daily Mass is at 8 a.m., and the workshops are from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. A “Live Lab” will follow. The cost is $15 per person and includes continental breakfast and lunch. Please visit to register. For other questions, please contact Jim Gontis at

Volunteers Needed for Prison Outreach

Join the team of Diocesan volunteers who enter county jails and state prisons within the 10-county Diocese of Venice to do pastoral outreach, distribute the Eucharist and facilitate programs. Priests, Deacons, and lay volunteers are encouraged to assist in this ministry. Volunteers will first participate in an orientation program before entering the facility and will “shadow” experienced volunteers until they feel comfortable. Times and days vary by facility. Please contact Joe Mallof at 224-217-7139 or Bob Hiniker 863-558-0407 to learn where you can fit into this joyful opportunity.


Thanksgiving celebrated across the Diocese

The idea of giving thanks, knowing that we are here because of gifts given to us by God, is at the core of what Thanksgiving is all about.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane described the holiday this way while celebrating Mass at Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch on Nov. 23, 2023.

As hard as we try, Bishop Dewane added, “being who God called us to be is difficult, and we will fail along the way. But, the Bible records the wonderful gifts of God, which we can find within ourselves and in others who are all made in the image and likeness of God.”

The Gospel reading of the day (Luke 17:11-19) was the parable of the 10 lepers, when only one returned to thank Jesus upon being cured of the debilitating illness. Jesus asks where the other nine were. Bishop Dewane stressed how we are all among the missing nine at certain points in our life, but we must always strive to be among the ones who return.

“By your presence at Mass on Thanksgiving, you are counted among those who returned to Jesus, just as you came to give thanks to God today. Know the Lord sees the goodness in you and thanks you,” Bishop Dewane said.

Meanwhile, Bishop Dewane went from the Mass in Lakewood Ranch to take part in a free community Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the Knights of Columbus Our Lady of Victory Council 3358 at their Hall on Fruitville Road in Sarasota.

The Knights delivered more than 200 meals to the elderly and homebound and then served hundreds more meals to those who needed a hot meal or didn’t have anywhere to go for the holiday. Guests were also encouraged to take meals home. Those meals included turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing, roll, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream.

Bishop Dewane offered the opening prayer for the Knights and other volunteers before the dining room was opened. Then, the Bishop took his traditional spot in charge of serving the corn and later assisted with the stuffing and gravy.

Being grateful for what they have was a strong theme during Traditional Thanksgiving events throughout the Diocese of Venice.

St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Cape Coral hosted a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for the second year in a row with 144 meals served. The first dinner in 2022 came about when many were still recovering from Hurricane Ian and Father Ricky Varner, Pastor at St. Katherine Drexel, organized different Parishes groups to make certain dishes to help people. It is now an annual tradition cherished by many.

In Naples, at St. Peter the Apostle, Pastor Father Gerard Critch started the Parish Thanksgiving dinner more than 10 years ago to ensure “no one will spend Thanksgiving alone.” Following a trilingual Mass (English, Spanish, Creole), the dinner served 300.

On Nov. 22, students from Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota volunteered and served food at the 23rd Annual Sarasota Ministerial Association Thanksgiving Dinner at St. Martha Parish in Sarasota. This was the fifteenth year Mooney students helped support this event.

At St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway happened on Nov. 18, in conjunction with the weekly Saturday Food Pantry. More than 200 turkeys with all the fixings were given away. On the same day, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., in Immokalee, delivered meals with all the trimmings to more than 150 families.

Gratitude for the many blessings enjoyed by the Diocese of Venice was widespread, and heartfelt!

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

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.

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.