Diocesan schools enjoy record enrollment

When entering any of the 15 Diocese of Venice Catholic schools you will find a bustling hive of activity, and you will see images of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary visible everywhere.

The children, in their uniforms – whether it is sports jacket, tie and slacks, or a polo shirt and tan pants – are smiling as they go from classroom to classroom eager for the next lesson.

In the classrooms, the students work at desks or in labs being challenged to learn in a way that is both enriching and fun: this is often done in a cooperative environment.

All Diocesan Catholic schools work conscientiously to provide Christ-centered learning experiences that are transportable to the real world, and to provide the opportunity for children to develop life-long learning skills and to be successful beyond the classroom.

Jesuit Father John Belmonte, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education, said the 2023-2024 Academic Year is going to be exciting for everyone as enrollment has topped more than 6,200 students. That is an increase of more than 30 percent since 2020.

“We are full up with every school having some sort of waitlist,” Father Belmonte said. “There has been a focused effort to let the community in on the secret that Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools provide a top-notch education at all grade levels. There are exciting things happening in our schools and families are taking notice.”

While some of the enrollment increase has been due to the expansion of school choice scholarships through the Florida Step Up For Students program, Father Belmonte said it is much more.

Most crucially has been the support of Bishop Frank J. Dewane with promoting a variety of different initiatives to help bolster enrollment in the past several years. This includes a curriculum called “The Gifts of Christ: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Affability, Fortitude, Humility, and Prudence,” a robotics program, expanding the scope of the STREAM model (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math), into the classroom.

“These new initiatives, which are being implemented in every Diocesan Catholic school, ensure that each of the students receives the educational experience that parents have come to expect from the Diocese,” Father Belmonte explained. “That is a quality education that helps to build the mind, body and spirit, all focused on building up the glory of God in the world.”

Bishop Dewane said the increased enrollment is impressive and that he is humbled knowing that more families are putting their trust in the Diocese to educate their child.

“I want to thank all of the parents who have put their confidence in Diocesan Catholics schools, whether they are new to our schools or have been connected to our schools for many years,” Bishop Dewane said. “We have gained this trust by having Christ at the center of everything. We accomplish this through our comprehensive ‘Gifts of Christ’ initiative which enhances the faith and academic life of the students and the entire Diocesan school community.”

This initiative creates a strong culture by providing each student a Catholic world view and building moral character that continues to help develop the creative imagination of each student.

The result is that Diocesan Catholic schools are outstanding in placing students ahead of the curve in primary fields while continuing to promote core Catholic values by helping students to develop cognitive thought processes and gain skills such as leadership, communication, complex problem solving, teamwork and creativity.

Getting the word out about the great things happening in Diocesan Catholic schools has meant that Father Belmonte and his team have been relentless in raising awareness about the widespread availability of school choice and education choice scholarships. During enrollment season in the spring, Father Belmonte said his office texted and emailed 1 million messages to Catholic families within the borders of the Diocese.

“People are saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re communicating with me on my cell phone,’” Belmonte said.

Clearly, the outreach efforts are working. And there are no plans to pause.

The Diocese is in the process of converting one of its schools, Incarnation Catholic School in Sarasota, into a classical school, in response to growing parental demand for that kind of rigorous curriculum. In doing so, Incarnation will join Donahue Academy of Ave Maria Catholic School in Ave Maria as a classical Catholic school.

Across the Diocese, the schools are increasing academic standards while focusing on developing a strong “Catholic School Culture.”

“This culture is the vision, values, systems, language, expectations, behaviors, and beliefs that increase a school’s and Diocese’s chances of accomplishing the strategy of fulfilling its mission: to introduce the world to its Savior,” Father Belmonte said. “That is at the core of what we do, each and every day, and judging by the enrollment numbers, the parents value that by entrusting their children to our schools.”

For more information about Diocesan Catholic schools, please visit www.dioceseofvenice.org/education.

News Briefs for the week of September 8, 2023


Father Patrick O’Connor, OSFS, is relieved of his duties as Pastor of Jesus the Worker Parish and San Jose Mission in Fort Myers, effective Sept. 1, 2023, and thus has returned to his Religious Community.

Father Carlos Encinas, is relieved of his duties as Parochial Vicar of St. Agnes Parish and St. Elizabeth Seton Parish, Naples, effective Aug. 1, 2023. Father Encinas, for health reasons, has taken an assignment in the Diocese of Oakland, California.

Bishop Dewane celebrates Mass in Bradenton

Students at St. Joseph Catholic School were blessed to have Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for them on Sept. 1, 2023. Bishop Dewane encouraged the students to follow Christ’s example at home, in school and in the community. Following the Mass, the Bishop joined the eighth graders for breakfast where he took time to speak to them and encourage them to be the leaders of their school.

Day focuses on STREAM learning

The third through eighth grade students at St. Mary Academy had a fun STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts, and math) day on Aug. 31, 2023, hands-on exercises in small groups. The students worked on the following: Natural Disasters – created structures to withstand high winds of a Category 1-4 hurricane, where a blow dryer created much excitement; Hurricane Escape Room – an activity where they researched the season, cause, formation, naming, and wind scale of a hurricane; Create a Structure to Survive the Storm: with the use of pilings, flood barrier walls and absorbent materials students created a dog house to keep their pet dog dry. These were great activities using all aspects of STREAM and the students learned so much, instilling a love of science, while also working together as disciples of Christ.

Fort Myers schools give back

Two Diocesan Catholic schools which received many gestures of kindness from the impact of two hurricanes are returning the favor. St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers and St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral had special “Dress Down Days” on Aug. 31, and Sept. 1, 2023, respectively. Money raised on these days will go to help Sacred Hearts Catholic School in Lahaina, Hawaii. The school, which has been serving the community for more than 150 years, was destroyed during an Aug. 8, 2023, wildfire which killed at least 115 and left thousands homeless. The school website states: “The flames destroyed our physical structures, but they cannot extinguish the Holy Spirit in us and our strong will to rebuild and rescue the students of the Lahaina community.” By providing a donation, the students at St. Andrew and St. Francis Xavier were able to forgo wearing their school uniform for the day. The result was that thousands were raised between the two schools in a single day. Both of the Lee County schools received donations from across the country following Hurricanes Irma (2017) and Ian (2022), which severely impacted the schools and surrounding communities, thus this was a great opportunity to give back to a Catholic school in need.

Service and community focus of school retreat

Middle school students at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota took part in a special Retreat Day Sept. 1, 2023, which focused on service and community. The students created cards for those who are sick in the hospital and placemats to be used at Thanksgiving for those less fortunate. They concluded with a Prayer Service with Pallotine Fr. George Suszko, Pastor of St. Martha Parish.

Patriotic theme for first game of season

The stands of the St. John Neumann Catholic High School football field were a sea of red, white, and blue on Sept. 1, 2023, during the first home game of the season in Naples. The Patriotic Night brought out many inspiring outfits as everyone cheered the Celtic team on to a 16-8 victory against Gateway Charter of Fort Myers.

Teachers take part in professional development

Each year Diocesan Catholic school teachers have special days set aside to help them grow in their work and receive updates on new policies and programs. At St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton on Sept. 5, 2023, the teachers learned about a new program for faith formation, followed by working in committees to begin a self-study that will lead to long range planning, goal setting, and preparation for school re-accreditation. During the day, the staff lived their mission statement: “rooted in Catholic faith and committed to academic excellence.”

Volunteers help fill backpacks

Volunteers from St. Martha Catholic School and Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota helped fill 1,200 backpacks for children in the region on Sept. 5, 2023, at All Faiths Food Bank. There were 18 volunteers who joined in this outreach.

2023 Camp Mercy in Sarasota

By Sue Thompson, Special to the Florida Catholic

From June 19 – 23, 2023, the Church of St. Patrick Parish in Sarasota rang with the laughter and song of more than 120 campers (kindergarten through fifth grade), youth counselors, adult volunteers and Parish staff who all tried to emulate Christ by serving not only one another, but also those in need in the community.

Camp Mercy, an alternate to a traditional Vacation Bible School, was founded by five St. Patrick parishioners in 2017. The camp concept is based on the premise that we are all “Called to Serve” and the Corporal Works of Mercy serve as the core of the program.

Each summer the children perform service projects that either feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, or bury the dead. As Christians, we are called to perform these works and as Camp Mercy continues to grow each year, it is obvious that the kids love to help others!

Kami Yaegers, who has taught Bible Study at Camp Mercy since its inception, said, “I am so thankful to be a part of Camp Mercy. It gives me so much joy to see these children learn about Jesus, scripture and how to be examples of God’s love for all of us.”

This summer the camp’s theme was “All Aboard with Jesus,” where the campers were taken back in time aboard a train and learned about four of Jesus’ miracles: the wedding feast at Cana, healing the 10 lepers, feeding the 5,000 and healing the paralyzed man.

The high school skit crew taught one miracle each morning and showed how Jesus used these opportunities to demonstrate his love for us and to give an example of how we can perform the works of mercy. Campers were taught that they too can give back to those in need and help each other to grow spiritually.

Ryan Yaegers, who started with Camp Mercy as a camper and helped as an adult volunteer this year, said that “This camp really helps to further the next generation of young Catholic believers.”

Through skits, Bible study, crafts (making necklaces for a local nursing home and rosary boxes), games (loaves and fishes basket relay, carrying your friends to Jesus), praise and worship (learning songs about Jesus’ miracles accompanied with sign language). Importantly, were the service projects (making 200 lunch bags for local homeless children, decorating and potting flowers for nursing home residents and cleaning the Siesta Key beachfront), when the youth were given the opportunity to share the gift of themselves in service to others.

The camp culminated in a concert for parents and a Knights of Columbus sponsored cookout where the children presented the results of their service projects. Each camper made placemats for the cookout and drew pictures and wrote about their favorite part of camp with many focusing on meeting new friends and feeling good about helping someone else.  The campers and their families also attended Sunday morning Mass together to praise the Lord, perform a few of the camp songs for the faithful and to start dreaming about camp next summer!

Sue Thompson is the Director of Religious Education at the Church of St. Patrick in Sarasota and can be reached at sue@churchofstpatrick.org.

News briefs for the week of June 16, 2023

Where is Totus Tuus this Week?

Totus Tuus (a Latin phrase meaning “totally yours”) is a summer Catholic youth camp program dedicated to sharing the Gospel and promoting the Catholic faith through evangelization, catechesis, Christian witness and Eucharistic worship. During the week of June 12-16, 2023, the team was at St. Agnes Parish in Naples. The weeklong Parish summer catechetical camp assists parents and parishes in evangelizing and catechizing the youth by complementing the work they are already doing at the Parish and at home. This summer the program is offered at 11 parishes in the Diocese of Venice with three sessions now completed. The week-long camps are divided into two sessions, with the day camp for students entering grades 1 – 6, and the evening camp for middle school and high school students entering grades 7 – 12.

The remaining Parishes hosting the program are as follows:

  • Ave Maria in Ave Maria and St. Peter the Apostle in Naples, June 18-23;
  • Catherine in Sebring, June 25-30;
  • Our Lady Queen of Heaven in La Belle, July 9-14;
  • John XXIII in Fort Myers and St. Patrick in Sarasota, July 16-21;
  • Epiphany Cathedral in Venice and Our Lady of the Angels in Lakewood Ranch, July 23-28.

Several parishes still have limited openings for this program. To inquire, please contact the individual Parish religious education office by visiting https://dioceseofvenice.org/find-a-parish/. For further information regarding this program, please visit https://dioceseofvenice.org/totustuus2023/.

Students work to protect Everglades

A dedicated team of 12 seventh grade students from the National Junior Honor Society of St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral, participated in a community service project to protect the Everglades. Our “Everglades Champions” worked for several months earlier in 2023 to understand issues involving water quality and seagrass habitats, learn about policies and practices associated with water quality, and implement goals and strategies to affect positive change in the community. Their goal was to promote healthy water quality and seagrass habitats by educating the community about the harm posed by fertilizer run-off and encourage the community to NOT fertilize lawns during the rainy season. To reach their goal, the students implemented a multi-faceted strategy. They created informational posters and artwork which is on display at the Cape Coral Library through the end of June. They delivered letters and flyers to local hardware stores, and they posted their message on social media. The students were recognized by the Everglades Foundation during a virtual celebration event on June 2, 2023.

Knights on Bikes begin evangelization efforts in Collier County

On Sunday, June 4, 2023, the Knights of Columbus Knights on Bikes rode from Ave Maria to San Marco Parish on Marco Island to participate in Mass as a Knight honor guard. The Knights on Bikes in the Diocese are under the leadership of Chair Pete Battle, whose mission is to evangelize to the Catholic community and to those willing to listen to the message of Christ, as they live and witness faith as motorcyclists. Their motto is “In God we trust and ride.” The Knights on Bikes are involved in charity rides, toy drives, fund raising rides for vocations and local Knight’s councils. The Knights on Bikes will next be participating in Mass will be at Our Lady of Light Parish, 19680 Cypress View Drive, Fort Myers, at 10:30 a.m., on July 23. Any Parish interested in hosting the Knights on Bikes can reach out to Pete Battle at 239-601-6061.

Independence Day Bike and Golf Cart Parade

The Knights of Columbus Ave Maria Assembly 3862 is hosting the 6th annual “God Bless America” Independence Day Bike and Golf Cart Parade, at 10 a.m., July 4, 2023. The ceremony starts in the Piazza of the town and will include a reflection from an Ave Maria veteran on the “Blessing of Freedom,” then patriotic songs, prayers for our country, then a “Blessing of the Bikes.” The parade, which will include bikes, trikes, golf carts, skateboards, strollers (decorated or not), will be led by a fire truck and pass through several neighborhoods, ending approximately 2 miles later back in the Piazza where there will be treats available. All are welcome. For more information, contact Dominick Micillo at 904-536-1480.

Summertime and the Giving is Easy Appeal

Every day, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., serves the area’s 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. The 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 www.catholiccharitiesdov.org or mail a check to Catholic Charities, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285.

Ordination to the Priesthood July 15

Bishop Frank J. Dewane invites the faithful to the Ordination to the Priesthood of Transitional Deacons Alejandro Giraldo Roldan and Daniel Scanlan. The Ordination will take place at 11 a.m., Saturday, July 15, 2023, at Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Ave. W., Venice. All are welcome and encouraged to attend this important event in the lives of Deacons Alejandro and Daniel as well as the Diocese of Venice. A reception will follow in the Parish Hall.

Free counseling services available

Did you know that Catholic Charities offers FREE counseling and Psychotherapy? If you or someone you know is ready to take the first step towards healing and wellness, call 888-249-9296. Catholic Charities serves ALL that come to us for help, regardless of race or religion.

Support pregnant mothers in need

Looking for a way to help pregnant women in need?  Your tax-deductible donation will help with rent, utilities, or other necessities.  Give to the Catholic Charities Pennies for Babies Fund, 1000 Pinebrook Road, Venice, FL 34285 where no administrative fees are taken from any donations. Questions?  Contact Jeanne Berdeaux, Berdeaux@dioceseofvenice.org or 941-374-1068.

Service Retreat opens eyes of students

Instead of spending their first week of summer vacation at the beach or playing video games, 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 it was a long spiritual journey that surprised many in how deeply it impacted them.

Each of the 21 students 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 30-June 2, 2023, the students spent each day assisting at different outreach facilities such as Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities, Habitat for Humanity, the Pepper Ranch Preserve, Pathways Early Education Center of Immokalee, and the Guadalupe Center.


The annual service trip was organized and led by Sisters April Cabaccang and Nicole Daley, 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 quote from Pope Francis to youth – “Young friends, don’t wait until tomorrow to contribute your energy, your audacity, and your creativity to changing our world. You are the NOW of God.”

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

When the week began, the students were unsure how the retreat would impact them as most had never been to Immokalee or even heard of the plight of the people there.

Kale Van Wart needed service hours and had heard about what fun the week would be. The reality was a profound experience that impacted Kale more than he expected.

“I thought we would be doing more fun things, but I have really enjoyed doing the hard work,” Kale said. “Seeing how people live each day in such poverty makes you want to do more. I also realize we are making a small difference and that is important.”

Tasks throughout the week included students painting ceilings and picnic tables, clearing branches and shrubs, and picking up trash. Other times they served and sorted food, spent time with preschool children and more.

When not out working, the students stayed in a dormitory at Ave Maria University, just south of Immokalee. Each day included Mass at Ave Maria Parish, morning and evening prayer as well as time for reflections and the group sharing about their experiences. There was also time for some fun and games.

The students also heard from people who shared their knowledge about the needs of the community. One of the speakers was a Neumann graduate who attended the service week in 2019, and another was from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group which fights for the right of farmworkers locally and nationwide.

When helping at Pathways Early Childhood Center the students learned that the lunch the children receive each day is likely the only food they will have access to all day. At Guadalupe Social Services, students helped in the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen and with the food pantry.

Anna Leigh Walker said the retreat helped her grow in her faith and in understanding the importance of giving back to the community in thanks for the gifts she has received in her life, provided by Christ.

“This week we have heard a lot about hardships and sad lifestyles that the population of Immokalee face. However, we have also been able to experience how many people come together to make all of these organizations happen,” Anna Leigh said.

St. John Neumann students volunteer thousands of hours each year throughout Collier County. The 2023 graduates completed 12,350 service hours in their four years.

Sister April 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 www.sjnceltics.org.

Golden Rose honors young ladies

There are 26 high school girls who now have the distinct honor of being named Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (VDCCW) Golden Rose Award recipients.

The Golden Rose Awards were presented during an April 29, 2023, luncheon at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. The Golden Rose Award seeks to recognize the tenets of the Council of Catholic Women – spirituality, leadership and service.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane and Josephine Weiss, VDCCW President, presented the awards while Father Jay Jancarz, VDCCW Spiritual Advisor and Pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Venice, gave each young lady a rose. Receives

Bishop Dewane congratulated the young ladies for living out a particular call in their lives and encouraged them to carry that call forward into the future.

“Thank you for what you do in your Parishes… There is a tremendous talent pool amongst you young ladies,” the Bishop continued. “Your generation has many skills that were never needed before. As you move forward in life, consider continued service to the Church, because there is always a need for good people like yourselves.”

Golden Rose recipient Raquel Rodriguez Martinez of St. Catherine Parish in Sebring, said it was an honor to be recognized by the CCW. The 15-year-old student at Sebring High School is an altar server, lector, helps in religious education programs for young children, and is active in the youth program. Raquel previously attended St. Catherine Catholic School and said “I am so blessed to be able to give back to the Parish.”

Samantha Mitchell, 15, a student at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers and parishioner at St. Cecilia Parish, was nominated for the Golden Rose Award by her Pastor, Father Paul Dechant, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales. Father Dechant was present for the awards ceremony and said Samantha “is a blessing for St. Cecilia’s.” Father explained how Samantha is very active in the Parish as an altar server, regular volunteer at activities and was the driving force behind a new rosary garden.

Josephine Weiss, VDCCW President, said it is important for the VDCCW to recognize these worthy recipients who were each nominated by their respective Parishes and Catholic schools. Nominees must currently be in high school, active in their Parish, and a practicing Catholic who regularly attends Sunday Mass, while also completing a meaningful service project.

Ellen Bachman, VDCCW Past-President, helped bring the Golden Rose Award to Venice having learned about similar recognition taking place by CCW groups in other Dioceses. Bachman said the nomination write-ups on the young ladies “were both amazing and inspiring. They are our future Church.”

“You are our future. You receive awards for sports, for your academics, but you don’t receive awards for your faith, until now,” Bachman said. “We found reading about you that Christ is alive in the things you are doing.”

Each Golden Rose Award recipient was presented with a certificate and golden rose, as well as a membership into the National Council of Catholic Women.

The Golden Rose Award was first awarded in 2020 following the example of CCW affiliates, with the first in-person Venice Diocesan ceremony held in April 2021.

Those receiving awards this year were: Silvia Zak, St. Agnes Parish, Naples; Kristen Carder, Sacred Heart Parish, Punta Gorda; Alyson Mizanin, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Venice; Carson Garcia, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish, Sarasota; Cecilia Cosgrove, Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Lakewood Ranch; Karin Osborn and Diana Sanchez, Holy Cross Parish, Palmetto, Marissa Iveth Cisneros and Claire Consbruck, Epiphany Cathedral, Venice; Valentina Barretta and Celeste Harrell, Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School, Sarasota; Caroline O’Halloran, Bishop Verot Catholic High School, Fort Myers; Martina Licheri, Ave Maria; Jena Jones and Gloria Markey, St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Fort Myers; Lily Mae Stewart and Bailey Barnes, St. Thomas More Parish, Sarasota; Linda (Rubi) Flores, St. Michael, Wauchula; Lucy Sonsone, St. Katharine Drexel, Cape Coral; Edith Villagomez and Maddi Davenport, St. Joseph, Bradenton; Serene Aviles, St. John Neumann Catholic High School, Naples; Monica Chillemi, St. James, Lake Placid; Samantha Mitchell, St. Cecilia, Fort Myers; Raquel Rodriguez Martinez, St. Catherine, Sebring; Melana Mourad, St. John the Evangelist, Naples.

Outreach helps newly released prisoners

Many recently released inmates from local jails have nowhere to go upon their release, but today at least 60 of them will have some basic help.

As part of a recent partnership between the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Re-Entry Navigator program and Venice’s Epiphany Cathedral, now at least 60 newly released inmates will have brand new “Start-Up Kits” to help them on their way.

The five dozen Start-Up Kits, created by Epiphany Cathedral’s Youth Group, are backpacks containing basic necessities, such as: hygiene supplies, rain poncho, towel, socks, sunscreen, lip balm, flashlight, and a special St. Michael the Archangel medal provided by the Outreach program at Epiphany Cathedral.

“We realized that many of those who are just released do not have anything, or anywhere to go,” said the Navigator program’s Fernando Rivera Lugo. “Unfortunately, often their only immediate choice is to become homeless.”

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Re-Entry Navigator program is a supplemental program to help men and women before and after release. Re-entry “navigators” work with inmates assisting them on their personal journeys toward reentry and/or recovery by implementing a case plan via community partners, like Epiphany Cathedral.

“The Youth Group at Epiphany was eager to help,” said Msgr. Patrick Dubois, Rector at Epiphany Cathedral, who offers the Catholic Mass at Sarasota County Jail once a month. “The mission of the Catholic Church is service, and this is a concrete example of how all can help those most in need. You would be surprised at how much a small gesture can help someone to get back on their feet.”

News Briefs for the week of May 5, 2023

Religious sister, longtime educator, dies

Sister Gloria Hillman (Sister Rita Joseph), of the Dominican Sisters of Hope, died on April 10, 2023. She was 88 years old. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Sister Gloria entered the novitiate of the Dominican Sisters of Newburgh, N.Y., in September 1953. She made her First Profession in June 1955, and Final Profession in August 1958. Sister Gloria earned degrees from Nazareth College, Rochester, N.Y., Catholic University, Washington D.C., and Fairfield University, Connecticut. Sister Gloria’s ministries included education and pastoral care. She taught at schools in Paterson and Camden, New Jersey; New Haven and Danbury, Connecticut; and Raleigh, North Carolina. It was in 1975 when she started teaching religious education at a Parish in Hawthorne, N.Y., before moving to Florida. Sister Gloria was Director of Religious Education at St. Thomas More Parish in Sarasota from 1981 to 1991, and Religious Education Teacher at Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Boca Grande from 1991 to 1994, as well as a substitute teacher at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota from 1992 to 1994. She served as Director at Manasota S.O.L.V.E. Inc. pregnancy resource center in Bradenton from 1994 to 1998, before returning to assist at St. Thomas More Parish from 1998 to 2001. In her later years, Sister Gloria ministered to the elderly in the Sarasota area. Sister Gloria is survived by her sister, several nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews. A funeral took place April 22, 2023, at St. Thomas More Parish in Sarasota.

Students pack meals for needy

National Honor Society & Key Club members from St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples participated in the annual Meals of Hope Packing Drive on April 29, 2023. Club moderators Susan Cavness and Denise Szedely led the students during the packing event. Meals of Hope operates 15 food pantries in Southwest Florida and their packing events help bring food to the needy both locally, nationally and globally.

Students build cathedrals in science class

The total learning experience was on display in the 8th grade science class of Cindy Neunder at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota. During late April 2023, students put in a lot of time, effort and teamwork to create their beautiful Gothic cathedrals. The objective of this project was to foster a love of our Church history, incorporate fortitude and beauty as Gifts of Christ, and nurture a better understanding of the engineering process. The results were impressive.

Rocky science project surprises

It is amazing what one can find when walking around outside. As part of the rocks and minerals units for the St. Joseph Catholic School 4th grade class of Blaire Hamric the students took a rock walk on April 28, 2023. While on the walk, the students collected rocks and then later washed and sorted them into categories. Using tools like sandpaper, the students then examined each rock’s texture and appearance and then reported on their findings.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week

The Home and School Association at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice kicked-off “Teacher Appreciation Week” with welcoming signs and refreshments on May 1, 2023. This was also Principal Appreciation Day, so Principal Nicole Loseto was give the royal treatment.


News Briefs for the week of March 24, 2023


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

Father Robert D. Tabbert, retired as Pastor of St. John XXIII Parish, effective March 4, 2023, and thus, is relieved of his duties as Pastor of St. John XXIII Parish, Fort Myers.

 Father Emmanuel R. Saint-Hilaire, is relieved of his duties as Parochial Vicar of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, effective February 13, 2023, and thus has returned to his native country of Haiti.

Lenten school Masses continue

Following the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Bishop Frank J. Dewane continued to celebrate Mass for students at each of the 15 Diocesan Catholic schools during the Lenten Season. The most recent Masses were March 21, 2023, at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers and St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral, and then on March 22 at Cardinal Mooney Catholic School in Sarasota.


St. Joseph Feast celebrated in Italian

Epiphany Cathedral in Venice hosted a Mass for the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was celebrated in Italian on March 20, 2023, and included the active involvement of the Italian-American Club of Venice. Following the Mass, the statue of St. Joseph was carried to the Parish Hall in a procession led by the Knights of Columbus. There, Msgr. Patrick Dubois, Cathedral Rector, blessed the traditional St. Joseph’s table of bread and sweets, which were later distributed. While usually celebrated on March 19, the Solemnity was transferred to March 20 since the liturgy of the Lenten Sundays take precedence.


Students “Make A Difference”

Service to others is part of St. Andrew Catholic School’s mission and vision. “Make A Difference Day” is an example of putting the mission and vision of service to others into practice. The school was able to partner with community businesses and individuals to assist. This year, the 8th grade students were fortunate to assist in a Hurricane Ian clean-up on Pine Island. They cleaned out a damaged kitchen, moved construction materials, created a yard debris pile to be removed from the property, just to name a few of the jobs that were completed. Seventh grade students were split into groups and worked at various locations including St. Katherine Drexel Parish, Bishop Verot High Catholic School in Fort Myers, Ronald McDonald House, Thrive Therapy Mental Health & Wellness, and Cape Coral Caring Center. Students participated in campus clean-ups, cleaning vehicles, stocking food items for the community at large and general cleaning maintenance as needed. Sixth grade remained on the school campus and provided a car wash for teachers and made Easter cards for those who are in a nearby rehabilitation facility. Way to go!


Leprechaun traps and house built in Bradenton

St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton offers a comprehensive STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts, math) curriculum at all grade levels. In time for St. Patrick’s Day, the pre-kindergarten students have been studying building construction, as well as using “imagination” to create in their “Creative Me” unit. In their STREAM class, the students put construction and imagination together to create leprechaun traps and leprechaun houses!


Naples Model UN team shines in New York

The St. John Neumann Catholic High School Model UN team from Naples took on New York during their spring break from March 13-17, 2023. The team competed against thousands of other high school delegations from around the world and got to experience diplomacy in a global way. A huge congratulations to Jake Marks and Hunter Lund for winning Best Delegates and to Connor Shea and Alessio Cirino for winning the Award of Merit. While in New York, the students visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Times Square, Rockefeller Center and even got to hear a speech on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly!

News Briefs for the week of Feb. 17, 2023

Seminarian instituted to Ministry of Acolyte

Diocese of Venice Seminarian Carlos Andres Galeso was instituted to the Ministry of Acolyte on Feb. 8, 2023, at Pope Saint John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts. Bishop John Noonan, Bishop of the Diocese of Orlando, presided over the institution of 10 men. The Mass of institution plays a significant role in the formation of these men as they journey towards ordination to the priesthood. An acolyte’s primary role is to assist the deacon and priest during Mass. They may also serve as Extra-ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, bring the Holy Eucharist to the sick, and assist the priest and deacon during other liturgical celebrations and devotions. Please pray for Seminarian Galeso and all discerning a vocation to the priesthood as they continue their formation to become priests who will serve God and His people.

Longtime financial advisor to Diocese dies

Ernest Clinton Skinner, 86, a longtime chair of the Finance Committee of the Diocese of Venice, passed away in Venice on Jan. 16, 2023. Skinner was a U.S. Army veteran and worked with IBM and later ATT (later known as South Central Bell and BellSouth) as a member of their management team. He lived in New York, Kentucky and Alabama. While in Alabama, Skinner volunteered with the Diocese of Birmingham, before retiring to Venice in 1993. In Venice, he was an active community volunteer and until his death served as the Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees for the City of Venice Police Officers’ Pension, was a member of the Board of Directors of SERTOMA, and also served on the Finance Committee for the Diocese of Venice for more than 30 years, most of those as Chairman. In addition, he was a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Skinner is survived by his wife of 65 years, Anne “Polly” Windeler Skinner, their three children and four grandchildren. Bishop Frank J. Dewane will celebrate the funeral Mass at 11 a.m. on Feb. 25, 2023, at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. Visitation with the family starts at 10 a.m.

Eucharistic Exhibition held in Fort Myers

As part of the National Eucharistic Revival, the Vatican Exhibit of the Eucharistic Miracles visited St John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers from Feb. 9 to Feb. 12, 2023. The exhibition contained 146 Eucharistic Miracles by country and were available in English and Spanish. This exhibition was designed by Blessed Carlo Acutis, who dedicated years to collecting information from historical records, maps and photographs of the Eucharistic Miracles that have taken place in several parts of the world. In addition to the display, there were activities for young school children called “The Eucharist: The Great Miracle.”

Cape Coral school celebrates growth

The St. Andrew Catholic School Gala, entitled “Havana Nights” took place Feb. 11, 2023, at Marian Hall of St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers. The evening was a celebration on many levels as portions of the school community continue to recover from Hurricane Ian, and the school has experienced more than 40% growth in the past few years with current enrollment at 562 students. The event included dinner, silent and live auctions, cash raffle drawing and entertainment and dancing.

Students make Valentine’s for nearby assisted living facility

K-Kids at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton created Valentine’s Day bookmarks and heart ornaments which were then delivered to Truewood by Merrill, an assisted living facility near the school. This act of kindness brought joy to the residents. The K-Kids are part of a school Kiwanis Club which does service and outreach in the community.

Neumann students de-stress

Harley, Dana and Max from the Golden PAWS Assistance Crisis Team (GPACT) Program, made a special visit to St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples for De-stress Day on Feb. 10, 2023. It was difficult to determine who loved the visit more, the students or the dogs.

School hosts evangelization team

St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Academy in Sarasota welcomed the Redemptorist Team for Evangelization on Feb. 10, 2023. The three Redemptorist priests celebrated Mass for the students, along with Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education. The Redemptorist priest also spoke to the students about letting their light shining and opening their eyes, ears and hearts to God.