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

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.