Many work to make Thanksgiving joyful

Thanksgiving is an annual national holiday to praise and give thanks to God for our blessings of food and life.

In preparation for the holiday, many volunteered to help those who are less fortunate or who are struggling in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

Parishes and Diocesan Catholic school students collected thousands of cans of food and other items to help fill local food pantries. Many also volunteered to distribute food as lines of vehicles twisted through parking lots in hopes of getting items for a hearty meal this year. Some Parishes hosted pre-Thanksgiving dinners to bring holiday cheer wherever they could.

For example, St. Andrew Catholic School students in Cape Coral donated 1,630 pounds of food to a local food pantry while at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton, the student there collected 1,253 items. Similarly, St. John Neumann Catholic School students in Naples held their own food drive to benefit Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., collecting and delivering 6,423 canned goods.

The beneficiary of the St. John Neumann food drive was the Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center of Catholic Charities in Naples. The Thanksgiving food distribution there took place on Nov. 22, 2022.

Allegra Belliard, Program Director, supervised as a steady stream of grateful families came and received a turkey and ham as well as bags of food. The turkey and ham meals were courtesy of Publix Charities.

Belliard said the demand is higher in 2022 as compared to the height of the COVD-19 pandemic. This is because the cost of food is much higher due to inflation combined with many people being out of work because of Ian. The hurricane damaged or destroyed many homes, businesses, and resorts, dramatically impacting those in the service industry. Among the places damaged was the Family Resource Center itself. Storm surge flowed through the building and surrounding neighborhood, but the food pantry part of the building was open within a few weeks as the demand remained high.

Cordelia Fulton felt blessed to have Catholic Charities provide food for her family. “Bless you all,” the mother of three who has been unemployed since Ian said. “It will be a happy Thanksgiving in our home.”

Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities in Immokalee did their own food distribution on Nov. 19. This area had some damage during Hurricane Ian, but the greatest impacts were to the crops which are an important resource for work in the rural community.

Peggy Rodriguez, Catholic Charities Regional Director for Collier County, said teams of volunteers packed more 700 bags of food ahead of Thanksgiving, above what is normally distributed each week. About 200 of those bags were dispersed directly from the Guadalupe Social Services food pantry. Meanwhile, several agencies worked together to deliver the balance of the food to 500 more families who were unable to arrive during regular hours.

Students from St. Joseph Catholic School show off the items collected during a Thanksgiving food drive on Nov. 18, 2022, to benefit the St. Joseph Food Pantry in Bradenton.

In Manatee County, where hurricane damage was scattered, the demand for food ahead of Thanksgiving was still very high at the St. Joseph Food Pantry in Bradenton.

A line of vehicles filled with families seeking a turkey with all the trimmings, twisted its way through the parking lot of St. Joseph Parish on Nov. 21. In a three-day period, the pantry expected to distribute food to 800 families. A generous donation of 2,000 turkeys the week before Thanksgiving enabled the pantry to give every family a turkey, something that isn’t always possible.

Sylvia Trotter said she has been struggling to feed her family while juggling expenses such as caring for two children and her parents. “We combine our money for important things, and we doubted that we would celebrate Thanksgiving this year,” Trotter said. “Everything is a luxury now, which makes these wonderful (volunteers) my heroes.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane offered the following Thanksgiving message to the faithful of the Diocese:

“Greetings to all and a Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving! In this season of gratitude, let us remember to give thanks to God who has given many great gifts to all. The greatest gift God has given is the body and blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, in the Eucharist. The word “Eucharist” actually means “an act of thanksgiving to God”. By participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we are united as one body, one human family, in Christ.

On Thanksgiving Day, I extend my gratitude to all here in the Diocese of Venice, and to the many around the country, who so generously have provided aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. Know that you remain in my prayers.

Happy Thanksgiving! Have a Blessed Advent Season!”

If you would like to support Catholic Charities, please visit or if you would like to support the Diocesan effort to recover from Hurricane Ian, please visit

News Briefs from the week of Nov. 25, 2022

Fort Myers Rabbi given Papal Knighthood

Rabbi A. James Rudin, co-founder of the St. Leo University’s Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies, became only the third American rabbi in history to be honored with the Papal Knighthood of the Order of St. Gregory for his work in interfaith relations at St. Leo University on Nov. 20, 2022. Rabbi Rudin, who is from Fort Myers, received the medal of the Order of St. Gregory from Auxiliary Bishop Mark O’Connell, of the Archdiocese of Boston. The investiture ceremony was conducted on behalf of Pope Francis in recognition of Rudin’s decades of work in building positive Catholic-Jewish relations throughout the world, fostering interreligious dialogue and understanding. Rabbi Rudin has spoken several times at interreligious gatherings within the Diocese of Venice, including the annual Yom HaShoah commemoration in Venice, as well as the Kristallnacht commemoration in Naples. Bishop Frank J. Dewane was among the honored guests for the investiture. Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston, originally was to conduct the ceremony on behalf of Pope Francis, but was unable to attend. The Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies was co-founded by Bishop John J. Nevins, founding Bishop of the Diocese of Venice.

“Blessings Bags” for Our Mother’s House

Girl Scout Troop 71404, which is located in North Royalton, Ohio, and is composed of 16 kindergarten girls who recently had a lesson on hurricanes, made “Blessings Bags” for moms and kids in the Diocese of Venice after hearing about Hurricane Ian.  The girls made 46 bags including 13 bags for moms with personal hygiene items, six bags for babies including items such as pacifiers, rattles, and hooded bath towels, and 27 bags for children, which included toys, writing pads, and crayons. The “Blessings Bags” were distributed to moms, babies and kids at Our Mother’s House in Venice on Nov. 17, 2022. The Catholic Charities programs provides residential support for new mothers who might otherwise be homeless. Upon receiving the “Blessing bags,” Shannon Hoyt, Our Mother’s House Program Manager said, “What an amazing, thoughtful thing for them to do! Thank you so much!”

Giving Tuesday, Nov. 29

The Tuesday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 29, 2022) has been traditionally recognized as Giving Tuesday, when people switch from their frenetic Christmas shopping to give back to local charities. Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. (, as well as each of the 15 Diocesan Catholic schools ( are participating in this Giving Tuesday. Many of these organizations have challenges which can multiply your donation and better benefit a school or program. Please consider giving on Giving Tuesday.

Parish celebrates cultural diversity

St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers celebrated a multicultural Mass on Nov. 20, 2022, the Solemnity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Prior to the Mass, women of the Vietnamese Catholic community performed a ceremonial dance in honor of Christ the King. The Mass included readings in Spanish, Filipino, and English, and music from each of the cultures. This Mass was originally scheduled for early October but was delayed due to the destruction caused to the Fort Myers area during Hurricane Ian. The celebration was one way to mark the ongoing recovery as well the diversity and unity of the Universal Church.

Students make blankets for the homeless

As part of a Reverse Advent Calendar Project, eighth graders at St. Martha Catholic spent the week before their Thanksgiving break making blankets for the homeless. A special thank you to the local JoAnn Fabric stores for making the fabric for the blankets available.

Science, art and food enhance classroom lesson

As part of a biology class at St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples on Nov. 16, 2022, students created a 3-D representative of a eukaryotic and prokaryotic cell, with a twist. The goal of the project was to develop and use the model to describe the function of a cell as a whole and showed ways that parts of cells contribute to the function. Then they ate the cells which were created out of a variety of food. This unique project was developed by teacher Elaina Gianello who used various aspects of the STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, art, and math) curriculum to make the lesson more engaging for the students.

Safety patrol recognized for hard work

The Safety Patrol team at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton received a surprise visit on Nov. 16, 2022, from deputies from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. Each Safety Patrol member was presented with a Junior Deputy Badge and AAA Certificate. A Sheriff’s representative spoke to the Safety Patrol member to recognize the hard work and commitment these fourth-grade students have put into their positions.

Students make prayer ropes

Bishop Verot Catholic High School theology students in Fort Myers recently learned about prayer ropes and made them during an outdoor lesson on Nov. 15, 2022. These ropes are typically made with intricate knots, 33 of them to be specific – one for each year of Jesus’ life. A prayer rope is a loop made up of complex woven knots formed in a cross pattern, usually out of wool or silk. The students learned a little more about this tradition and got to enjoy some time outside of the classroom in the process during their theology class. Most commonly part of the practice of Eastern Orthodox monks and nuns, the prayer ropes are used to count the number of times one has prayed to Jesus.

News Briefs for the week of Nov. 11, 2022


After consultation, Bishop Frank J. Dewane announces the following:

Father Kristian Villafaña is relieved of his duties as Temporary Administrator of Holy Cross Parish, Palmetto, effective October 18, 2022.

Father Nicholas Thompson, as Parochial Vicar at St. John the Evangelist Parish, Naples, effective November 1, 2022.

Father Binu Joseph, as Parochial Vicar at Sacred Heart Parish, Bradenton, effective November 3, 2022.

Catholic Mass to Honor Veterans Moved Due to Weather

The Diocese of Venice in Florida will celebrate its 13th annual Veterans Day Catholic Mass to honor veterans on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022. The Mass, originally scheduled to be held at The Sarasota National Cemetery, has been moved due to weather constraints. The Mass will now be celebrated at the nearby St. Patrick Parish, 7900 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota. The Mass will begin at 3:30 p.m., with opening ceremonies at 3:15 p.m. All are encouraged to arrive early. Bishop Frank J. Dewane will be the principal celebrant of the Mass.

Mooney runner finishes second in States

Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School junior Addison Dempsey took the silver medal in the Class 2A girls Florida High School Athletic Association Cross Country State Championship on Nov. 5, 2022, in Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee. Dempsey crossed the 5,000-meter (or 3.1 mile) race in 17:54, just 11 seconds behind the winner. The Mooney girls’ team came in 25th overall, with Kate Ruaona placing 11th. The Sarasota boys finished in 20th, with the top runner, Christian Kline placing 37th. At the same event, the Bishop Verot Catholic High School runners from Fort Myers also participated, with sophomore Mackenzie De Lisle placing fifth. The boy’s team took fifth place overall, with the top runner, Grayson Tubbs, placing 16th. Congratulations everyone!

Students learn to fold American Flag

The Veterans of Foreign War Golden Gate Post 7721 visited St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Naples on Nov. 4, 2022, to teach the eighth graders how to properly fold the American flag in advance of the school’s Veterans Day Tribute on Nov. 11.

Key Club members help neighboring school

More than 40 St. John Neumann Catholic High School students and Key Club members came together Nov. 7, 2022, to help with a beautification project at St. Elizabeth Seton. Students laid mulch on the playground and painted parking lot curbs and stops. Lots of fun was had amidst the hard work.

Tiger Trot a success

The annual Tiger Trot at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice was a huge success. Held on Nov. 4, 2022, the event raised funds and everyone had a great time. Msgr. Patrick Dubois was in attendance to observe and blessed the Tiger Trot and cheer everyone on.

Thermal energy class was HOT!

Fourth grade science students at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota learned all about Thermal Energy the week of Nov. 1, 2022. The students each constructed their own solar oven and placed the components for s’mores in them before bringing them outside to cook. The result: the ovens worked, and everyone had a delicious snack created in their own oven!

Parish holds food fest

Our Lady of Grace Parish in Avon Park held its annual International Food Festival on Nov. 6, 2022. Delectable cuisine from around the world was up for selection including from countries such as Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Ireland, Mexico, Italy and many more. Parish pastor Father Ronnie Sison, who is originally from the Philippines, took time to visit each table and sampled many selections.

 Fun day in Bradenton

A fun time was had during “Silly String” festivities at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton on Nov. 4, 2022. The fun was a follow-up celebration to the successful annual Eagle Run fundraiser held earlier in the month. The seventh-grade class, which had great success during the Eagle Run, also celebrated with a McDonald’s party.


‘Circle of Goodness’ – The History, Impact, and Future of the ‘Thank You Card Revolution’

Valentina Baretta, Special to the Florida Catholic

Human beings naturally have a goal of personal fulfillment. A rather vague topic, achieving goodness can be defined so differently by any group of people. But Dr. Lisa Kotasek (affectionately known to her students as Dr. K), Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School 11th grade Theology teacher, has continued an inspiring tradition to make this commitment to the common good: the “Thank You Card Revolution.”

For the past two years at Mooney, the “Thank You Card Revolution” originated from a former school. It has been part of Sarasota school’s community-oriented initiative and the STREAM Project of the Diocese of Venice. An acronym for Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Art, and Math, STREAM includes the infusion of Catholic values into school activities such as writing thank you cards to teachers, friends, and family.

Kotasek connects the “Thank You Card Revolution” to Scripture, specifically to “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad” (Ps. 118:24). For the junior class at Mooney, the 160 students rejoice in God’s goodness through their creative letters. All handmade, these cards signify the genuine character of each writer, an example of spreading positivity based on the idea that “if you receive one, you write one.” Expressing one’s feelings in this way encourages the gift of affability, where we spread joy and evangelize with the joy of the Gospel message.

With this motif in consideration, several students revealed their personal views on this “revolution.”

Allie Moore, a Mooney senior, spoke about her participation in this “revolution” after receiving her first thank you card. Allie admitted that junior year “was very stressful with a very heavy course load and receiving that letter from someone else brightened my day and overall boosted my mood.” Knowing that her friend was willing to write a letter to her, prompted Allie to join in on sharing such optimism through her own thank you cards. If given the opportunity to do such an activity again, Allie stated that she would write a thank you card to Mr. (Ryan) Krause because she “greatly admired his devotion to this school, especially being a new teacher.” For her, the “Thank You Card Revolution” is “inspiring” and “should be inspiring to others as well.”

Mooney senior Jessica Kaszubski said the “Thank You Card Revolution” was just as impactful. “I remember last year, Dr. K asked us to make a thank you card for someone in our class before we left. I remember writing a card for one of my friends, and I know that she still has it to this day. It was a very generous and thoughtful thing for Dr. K to have us do.”

A “circle of goodness,” the “Thank You Card Revolution” spreads the idea that we can be grateful and see the dignity in our neighbors, as God has given us all the gift of dignity, made in His image and likeness. Living in solidarity with each other, we take the time to stop and give specific feedback about how much we appreciate what others have done for us. Thus, we can use fortitude, prudence, and temperance as we battle vices and choose virtues instead, even if we simply choose to write uplifting letters of gratitude.

Another Mooney senior, Cooper “Froggy” Flerlage was also fond of this selfless activity. A football player, track and field athlete, and choir singer, Cooper “loved the project-based learning… I’ll never forget Christmas in G-102 where we read aloud about St. Nick and enjoyed the season.”

A project in itself, the “Thank You Card Revolution” is assigned as a “Do Now Project” for the junior class. The class plans on sending one card per student per week, the equivalent of sending over 5,700 cards and exponentially increasing from there to send nearly 275,000 cards this year in total.

The original idea of the “Thank You Card Revolution,” came from Dr. K’s mother, Wendy Starr. She “instilled this habit of “Thank You Cards,” as we spent our childhood thankful for others who blessed our lives with the gifts of their time and talents. Mrs. Starr was a beloved guidance counselor and history teacher at Triway High in Wooster, Ohio.

Moving forward, Dr. K challenges all card receivers to stop by to get a blank card to send to someone else. This builds upon the Diocese of Venice Gifts of Christ initiative created by Jennifer Falestiny, Diocesan Curriculum Coordinator, into projects like this “revolution” during the school year. One of these gifts, unity, was expressed in a homily by Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education, to Mooney’s student body upon their return after Hurricane Ian.

With the “Thank You Card Revolution,” such values of togetherness are summed up in Dr. K’s words, “We are all in this together. As God’s beautiful, blessed, beloved, and cherished children, we can unite in solidarity and love to spread goodness to all across Florida and beyond. Join us.”

Valentina Baretta is currently a senior at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School. She is a swimmer, weightlifter, flute player, and Newspaper Club president.


Rivals battle on field, united in the Lord

The Bishop Verot Catholic High School Viking football team from Fort Myers defeated the Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School Cougar football team from Sarasota on the gridiron 27-24 on Oct. 21, 2022.

The final score of the hard-fought game was irrelevant as the two schools put aside their rivalry and came together in the wake of the devastating impacts of Hurricane Ian. The Fort Myers region was hard hit by Ian and many students, staff and faculty lost their homes. The Sarasota area did not have near as much damage, but impacts were felt, and the homes of several families were badly impacted.

Although sorrowed by their own losses, the realization by the Cougar football team that their rivals were hurting even worse caused them to spring into action. This included a school-wide effort to collect much needed disaster relief items. On Oct. 20, Mooney players and coaches loaded up a truck with these donations and delivered them to Fort Myers where they were given to needy members of the Verot community.

This gesture did not go unnoticed. Just prior to the opening kick-off, the entire Verot football team and cheer squad, accompanied by their coaches, crossed the field carrying a banner which read “Thank You for Supporting our Bishop Verot Community.” The banner included the school logos as well as the signatures and individual “Thank you” messages from each player, cheerleader, coach and support staff.

This act of Christian character and class brought a roar of approval from the Mooney grandstands as the banner was brought forward and the two head coaches shook hands. As a Cardinal Mooney social media post after the game stated: “Sometimes it is so much more than football.”

The game served as the Mooney homecoming and included honoring multiple graduating classes, with a special emphasis on the class of 1962, the first graduating class at Cardinal Mooney. At various moments before the game and during breaks, these special alumni were recognized.

News Briefs for the week of October 28, 2022

Red Mass in Sarasota Nov. 10

The Catholic Lawyers Guild of the Diocese of Venice invites you to the 14th Annual Red Mass at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, St. Martha Parish, 200 N. Orange St., Sarasota. Bishop Frank J. Dewane will be principal celebrant. The Red Mass celebrates all who pursue justice in their daily lives as is the time-honored tradition dating back to the 13th century. Today, the tradition still stands as an invocation of God’s blessing upon the members of the bench, bar, legislature, law enforcement and governmental agencies, all protectors of and administrators of the law.  We welcome all who participate in the administration of justice. We hope that you will be able to come to pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and to strongly encourage and support the involvement of the legal community in spreading the Word of God. Kindly RSVP to Deacon Paul Consbruck at, or 941-966-6706.

 Students take action to prevent bullying

Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools participated in the annual Unity Day on Oct. 21, 2022, to take action in their world and stand up against bullying. For example, at St. Catherine Catholic School in Sebring, students wore orange to school and took a pledge of acceptance, kindness, and inclusion.

Students wear pink to fight cancer

Pink, pink, and more pink. Once again Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota is making an impact and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer! More than 130 Cougars participated in the annual 5k walk on Oct. 22, 2022, at Nathan Benderson Park making Mooney the largest group to walk in the event. The Cougar team raised over $4,000 for breast cancer research.

Students get creative honoring saint

In anticipation of the Feast Day of St. John Paul II (Oct. 22, 2022), pre-kindergarten students at Ave Maria Catholic School and Donahue Academy in Ave Maria, made triptychs (a work of art divided into three panels) and miters (the headdress worn by the popes). What happy little saints-in-the-making!

Combining art and history

Students Advanced Placement Art History at St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples took time out on Oct. 21, 2022, to created their own frescoes with plaster and tempera. Now, when they learn about Giotto’s Arena Chapel, they have a new appreciation for the amazing artwork of these masters.

STREAM project develops many skills

During a STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, and Math) Class at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton, on Oct. 24, 2022, second grade students have been learning to develop creative thinking skills by building an entrance to an amusement park ride. Through using innovative word block coding to program their project, when a photosensor sees a ticket of a specific color a light will turn green for “GO”!



Schools continue to rebound from Ian

The welcoming back of students and faculty at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School on Oct. 10, 2022, was the result of the hard work of many. The joy everyone felt to gather for morning prayer was electric.

The school was ravaged by Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28 when a large portion of the roof ripped off, allowing water to pour into classrooms. Faculty, families, volunteers and contractors have worked hard since the storm to clean up the mess and ensure the school was safe to open.

Father John Belmonte, SJ, Superintendent of Catholic Education, said the repairs will take time, but a creative use of the available space allowed everyone to return to the classroom, even if it wasn’t in the same exact room as before the hurricane.

Msgr. Patrick Dubois, Rector of Epiphany Cathedral, was present for the opening prayer service and offered a special blessing with holy water, just as he did on the first day of school in early August. This time, the blessing included prayers for families struggling to recover from losses caused by Ian, and also to thank the Lord that they were all reunited in praise of God.

By Oct. 10, all but four of the 15 Diocesan Catholic schools had reopened, with the exceptions being St Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Port Charlotte, St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral, along with St. Francis Xavier Catholic School and Bishop Verot Catholic High School, both in Fort Myers. Each of those schools had some damage and are expected to resume classes by Oct. 18. The delays in reopening were primarily due to a lack of power and reliable drinking water in the impacted areas.

“It was too soon,” Father Belmonte said. “The extra time allowed us to work out logistical issues for mitigating and repairing damage while ensuring the faculty, staff and Catholic school families were more secure and prepared to return following the devastation of Hurricane Ian.”

The Diocesan schools that were spared the worst of the hurricane quickly rallied to collect needed emergency supplies to deliver to the schools in Lee and Charlotte counties.

St. Ann Catholic School in Naples, where the storm surge stopped short of entering any buildings, reopened on Oct. 10 and students were led in a prayer service by Father William Davis, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales and Pastor at the neighboring Parish. This school suffered severe damage following Hurricane Irma in 2017 and the repairs held as there was only minor damage, even though the area had winds in excess of 100 mph and the storm surge was at least 3-feet deep as it surrounded the school. The school also held a collection drive for needy families led by the Minnie Vinnies, a school service club associated with the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Naples. A concurrent outreach collected $75,000 in gift cards to local stores which were then distributed to families.

At St. John Neumann Catholic School in Naples, the apparel company Vans, best known for designer sneakers, delivered dozens of boxes of sneakers, t-shirts, and shorts on Oct. 7. Neumann Principal Sister Patricia Roche, Salesian Sister of St. John Boco, knows someone with the company, and gratefully accepted the donation before having students and staff organize the clothing and box it up to be sent to families in need throughout the Diocese.

St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School, spared damage from Ian but nearly destroyed in Hurricane Irma, also collected items for families in need. The response was overwhelming as more than 300 individual care packages that equated to 10 carloads of food, water, diapers, air mattresses, care packages and more, were distributed to various communities in need.

At St. Catherine Catholic School in Sebring, where damage was minimal, the outreach of support was aimed at neighboring DeSoto and Hardee counties which were devastated by record river flooding. Reopened for classes by Oct. 4, the school and Parish accepted donations of water, blankets, clothing, food, sleeping mats, etc., and then loaded school buses to deliver the items.

“The Diocesan Catholic school community has rallied together during this time of difficulty for so many,” Father Belmonte said. “This has also been seen by the outpouring of support from outside the Diocese, with Catholic schools from all over the country reaching out, offering to send prayers, supplies and financial support. It really is heartwarming to see this, and it is particularly appreciated and welcomed by the Diocesan Catholic school communities where the suffering has been the greatest.”

Meanwhile, second graders at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota created special “Thank You!” cards to deliver to the men and women who helped to restore power. The school, as well as St. Mary Academy, reopened Oct. 4, and held collection drives which resulted in being able to send several loads of items to Lee County.

To support the recovery effort of Diocesan Catholic Schools please visit This provides links on ways you can give directly to the Diocesan hurricane relief or to Catholic Charities.

Most Catholic schools recovering quickly after Ian

The 15 Diocese of Venice Catholic schools weathered Hurricane Ian in relatively good shape compared to some of the destruction in the surrounding area.


While there was some damage at schools, the most severe were torn roofs at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice and St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers.

However, after much work and a rallying by the local communities, by Oct. 5, 2022, just seven days after Ian struck, six of the 15 schools have reopened. For example, Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School students arrived back to classes on Oct. 5, and were greeted by faculty with high-fives, BIG hugs, happy smiles and yummy chocolate.

Of those that were not open, several await the restoration of power or water before they can safely reopen.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane and Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education, surveyed the damage in the days following Ian by making visits to the affected schools.

Some of most dramatic damage was to the roof of Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School. There, a large part of the roof peeled off and was left dangling in a breezeway. Similar damage was found at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School. The roof damage at both schools allowed water to intrude into the buildings, adding to repairs.

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Port Charlotte, which will reopen by Oct. 11, had roof damage above the cafeteria and a privacy fence was shredded. Also opening by Oct. 11 will be Incarnation Catholic School in Sarasota, which had minor roof damage, which also caused a small amount of water to intrude into the building.

At each of the schools with damage, contractors were on site within days, working tirelessly to mitigate any further damage and, in some cases, repairs are already taking place.

As for the faculty, Father Belmonte said that as of Oct. 4, a number had catastrophic damage to homes, while many others have some damage. It is for this reason that some of the schools that are safe to open, are slightly delayed in that process.

“We want our people to focus on their homes and families before they come back to school,” Father Belmonte said, as each school has done a safety assessment of the school building as well as well-being checks of faculty and school families.

At many of the schools, volunteers arrived to help clean as much as possible of the mess Ian left behind. In the hardest hit areas, some teams went to homes to help where they could.

For example, at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers, just a few days after the storm, about 100 students, parents and faculty helped remove the manageable debris from the campus. The school had damage to some roofs and portable classrooms, as well as the bleachers on the football field. The Verot group split into teams to go to homes of impacted families which had water damage from flooding or storm surge throughout, destroying the entire contents. Undeterred, the teams worked to help get rid of as much debris and mud as possible.

Father Belmonte celebrated Mass for the Cardinal Mooney students on their first day back at school and reminded the students that during times of despair and suffering they are to live out their mission of hearing the call to greatness and holiness when responding to those in need.

“This is a call that comes in prayer; a call that comes when we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; a call we hear when the Gospel of the Lord is proclaimed in our midst,” Father continued. “You are called to serve, to help and to give sacrifice to build up the broken world, to build up Jesus Christ. Your school is a great school because it encourages all of you to strive forward to true greatness and holiness. These have been difficult days, but they have been grace-filled, when people of character, virtue and humility have taken action to inspire us by going out to help strangers in need.”

Many Diocesan schools outside the area of the worst impacts of Ian have been collecting items to help impacted families.

St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Academy in Sarasota put a call out for emergency supplies to help families at the three Lee County schools (Bishop Verot and St. Francis Xavier in Fort Myers and St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral).

The response was so overwhelming that by Wednesday, Oct. 5, two deliveries had been made to the three schools. The first load included the essentials, such as water, bread and non-perishable foods, car seats, and even new or gently used shoes and clothing for children. As the week progressed, the request went out for cleaning supplies, wipes, diapers and toiletries.

These are just some of the examples of what is taking place at Diocesan Catholic schools. Check back next week as more information is available about reopenings and what is being done to help the schools and the community recover from Hurricane Ian.

News Briefs for the Week of August 5, 2022


After consultation, Bishop Frank J. Dewane announces the following:

Father Thomas Carzon, Oblate of the Virgin Mary, as Pastor of San Pedro Parish in North Port, effective Aug. 1, 2022, and thus is relieved of his duties as Parochial Vicar of Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.

New Marian statue blessed

St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers hosted the blessing of a new Marian statue on July 31, 2022. The statue of Mary was donated courtesy of Retired Pastor Father Stanley Dombrowski, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, and his sister Mary. Father Dombrowski led the blessing ceremony for the statue which sits outside, under the portico at the entrance of Marian Hall. The statue was dedicated to their parents, Stanley and Mary Dombrowski.

Men’s Retreat held in Lake Placid

Members of the John XXIII Retreats Movement gathered at Campo San Jose Retreat Center in Lake Placid on July 31, 2022, to celebrate the conclusion of another retreat. More than 25 men took part in the three-day retreat with their family and others taking part on the final day for the closing Mass. This makes more than 1,000 who have returned to the faith in the Diocese of Venice through the John XXIII Movement. The Movement is a private international association of laity, with the goal of leading marginalized communities to God. After completing an initial retreat, participants are encouraged to attend faith-formation classes and weekly meetings to strengthen their faith and personal relationship with God. Rooted in Eucharistic Adoration, the ministry serves the Church and its people through love, surrender, and sacrifice. For more information about the John XXIII Movement, please contact Father Stewart at or Jose Pastor Ramirez, Diocesan Coordinator, at

Catholic Charities Summertime Appeal ongoing

Every day, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., serves its most vulnerable population by feeding, housing, empowering, and helping all in need. This summer, you can be the one that makes a difference. Your acts of kindness have the power to transform lives and leave a positive impact in our community. Catholic Charities, “Summertime and the Giving is Easy Appeal” is asking for your support. The giving is easy! Your gift will make a positive impact on our less fortunate brothers and sisters! Please visit or mail a check to Catholic Charities, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285.

Walking With Moms in Need

Would you know how to help a pregnant woman in need? Maybe it’s your neighbor, cousin, niece, sister, granddaughter, or daughter. Maybe it’s someone you see in a store, restaurant, or church. Perhaps she is crying, looks distraught or is obviously being treated poorly by someone. Through a new national initiative from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) called Walking with Moms in Need, now you will know how to help. Walking with Moms in Need teaches the faithful how to help pregnant women in need, starting by letting them know they are not alone. The nationwide Catholic program calls every parishioner to learn the names of their local pregnancy help centers, the first responders for women with unexpected or difficult pregnancies. If you know of someone who is pregnant and needs help immediately, visit

Parish youth help out  Do not run on same page as above brief

The St. John XXIII Parish Youth Outreach in Fort Myers has been working hard. First they organized shoes and backpacks collected from parishioners and to be delivered to families in need. Then they shifted their efforts to helping to organize and clean the Parish thrift store. Please keep all the youth in your prayers that they too will also say yes to living His word through action.

National Eucharistic Revival

A three-year revival of devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist begins with the Diocesan phase, from June 19, 2022, through June 11, 2023. During the Diocesan Year, there will be a series of events and retreats that encourage the renewal of the Church “by rekindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.” The pinnacle of the coming year will be a Diocesan Eucharistic Congress on March 24 and March 25, 2023. This event, which is in the early planning stages, will take place at the Convention Center and Luminary Hotel on the Fort Myers riverfront. The National Eucharistic Revival is a focused effort by the U.S. Catholic Bishops to revive a devotion to and belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. To learn more about the National Eucharistic Revival, visit Stay tuned for more information for the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress by visiting

Support after abortion – Project Rachel

Most women who choose abortion eventually realize that they made the wrong choice and face a lifetime of regret. Even if they confess this sin to a priest, they often find it difficult to accept God’s forgiveness and forgive themselves. Project Rachel is the Catholic Church’s program to help women and men come to terms with an abortion decision and find the hope and healing they need. Watch for more on post-abortion healing in the next edition of The Florida Catholic. For confidential help in English and Spanish, call 941-412-5860 or email

Do You Need Help?

If you need assistance from Catholic Charities for food, financial assistance, or tele-mental health counseling, please call 941-355-4680 in Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto, Hardee, and Highlands Counties; 239-390-2928 in Charlotte, Lee, Hendry, and Glades Counties; and 239-793-0059 in Collier County between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 pm., Monday to Friday.

Retreat Center Fall Schedule Available Online

The Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center (OLPH) fall group retreats are now available for registration at This includes a new one-day retreat on “Meditation in the Catholic Tradition,” scheduled for Saturday, October 22, the biannual silent Ignatian Preached Retreat, scheduled for Friday, November 18 to Monday, November 21, and the Monthly Day of Prayer series. Would you rather a private, directed retreat? OLPH offers 3-night, 5-night, and 7-night private retreats. To learn more about these retreats, please call 941-486-0233 or visit

Food pantry needs help

The St. Joseph Food Pantry in Bradenton is in need of peanut butter. This staple is an important part of the pantry’s Family Bags and provides a key source of protein for children in need in Manatee County. The Food Pantry is happy to accept bulk, large, and small containers of peanut butter, as well as other non-perishable food items. If you wish to make a financial contribution, your donation can be doubled thanks to a partnership with the Flanzer Trust. Donations can be delivered to 2704 33rd Ave. W. Bradenton, FL  34205, Monday thru Friday 9 a.m. till noon. Please call 941-756 3732 or email if you have any questions or if you need to make arrangements for drop off. For more information about how you can help, please visit

Friends of the Seminary Gala

Please mark your calendars to participate in the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary Friends of the Seminary Gala, in person or via our on-line experience, on Friday, October 21, 2022. You will find information at (This page will continue to update as we get closer to the event). This event is the Seminary’s largest fundraiser and your support is essential to ensure the continuity of this important mission: Forming priests after the Heart of Christ for the future of the Catholic Church. The virtual portion will be open to all and include live feed of the Mass at 5:30 p.m., and an online auction. We pray that with your support and God’s Providence, we will have a successful event. For more information, please call 561-732-4424, Ext. 162.

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