News Briefs for the Week of November 8, 2021

Bradenton students do well in Knights soccer challenge

Three St. Joseph Catholic School students in Bradenton won awards at the Knights of Columbus State Soccer Challenge on Nov. 6, 2021 in Melbourne, Florida. Connor and Karol placed 2nd in the state in their age division, and Cooper placed 3rd in the state! Congratulations!

Student wins top junior horsemanship title

Alexa Dahl, a junior at St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples, won the 2021 World Championship for American Saddlebred in the 17 and under Three Gated Country Pleasure Division which she won with her mount CH Undulata’s Satchmo on Aug. 27, 2021 at the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville, Kentucky. The Fair is host to the World Championships and the team made two top notch performances in to claim the title of Junior Exhibitor Country Pleasure 14-17 World’s Champion and World’s Champion of Champions! This team captured numerous other wins earlier in the year and is sure to continue their show ring success.

Students mourn classmate

Bishop Verot Catholic High School students, faculty, and family gathered Nov. 3, 2021, in the Senior Courtyard for a candlelight prayer vigil to remember senior Juan Roa, who died unexpectedly. The vigil included students sharing stories of Juan and the impact he had on so many lives. On All Soul’s Day, Nov. 2, the entire student body, along with members of the Roa family, took part in a Mass in his memory.

Three-year-olds dig for dinosaurs

The pre-kindergarten-3 students at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota played Jr. Paleontologists on Nov. 3, 2021 during a dino dig. A packed sand pit was created for the children to dig through in their own grip section as they happily searched out the “dino bones” and then tried to figure out how to put them together to assemble a “full-sized” dinosaur. Afterwards the whole group took a well deserved nap.

Volunteers at local soup kitchen

Junior girls at the Donahue Academy of Ave Maria Catholic School took part in a Nov. 5, 2021, service day volunteering at the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen at Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities in Immokalee. The students set up the dining room tables, served the food and washed the dishes, learning valuable lessons about giving back and seeing first-hand the need of the poor in the community, some 10 miles for their home.

School hosts Fall Festival

St. Ann Catholic School in Naples hosted a Fall Festival on Nov. 6, 2021, put on by the school PTA. Beautiful weather brightened everyone’s day there were lots of fun activities and good food too.

Department of Education holds marketing and development workshop

The Diocese of Venice Department of Education hosted a Catholic Schools Marketing & development Collaboration Event and Workshop Nov. 8, 2021, at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice. Some 30 school representatives took part in the day which included sharing best practices, learning new strategies and brainstorming on how to continue to work together. The workshop was presented by John Carkeet, Department of Education Marketing Coordinator. Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education was also present and encouraged that continuing to build the Catholic culture at their respective schools must be a large part of any marketing and development plan.

Workshops promote authentic femininity

Each woman is uniquely beautiful and made according to God’s “image and likeness,” that is God’s design. With this in mind, the Diocese of Venice Office of Family Life hosted a series of workshops in late October to help instill a deeper appreciation for authentic femininity and the way God designed the female body as taught in the Theology of the Body from St. John Paul II.

Christina Valenzuela, a national speaker who provides lifelong learning and support for Body Literacy and Natural Family Planning, addressed three very different audiences using Sacred Scripture and the rich theology of the Catholic Church to help women develop a renewed appreciation for their unique role in God’s plan.

Valenzuela first spoke Oct. 21, 2021, to more than 150 young women at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, in a talk titled, “Language of the Body,” which was directed toward single women.

During the evening, she spoke about cycle charting and opened a window into Original Solitude and an opportunity to better understand what St. John Paul II calls the “mystery of woman? “That was done in the context of the liturgy, devotions, and rich theology of the Catholic Church.

Kateri Millword, President of Ave for Life, Ave Maria University’s Pro-Life Club, described the evening as a very enriching experience. This included hearing Valenzuela “talk about true femininity through the lens of fertility and cycles. She focused on their spiritual aspects, highlighting the dignity and beauty instilled in each woman by God. In the light of the “Theology of the Body” from St. Pope John Paul II. She explained how each woman can truly find herself through learning about her body in respect to what makes up her ‘feminine genius.’”

Then on Oct. 23 at St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Myers, she took time to train representatives from several Parishes to develop Natural Family Planning (NFP) “Ambassadors.” The idea was to build confidence by talking about NFP with others while gaining tools for expanding NFP support at the local level. Valenzuela also offered a perspective on discerning the unique role each Parish plays in supporting the family. And the importance of becoming well-versed in various types of NFP and resources.

Workshop participant Lori Crawford, of Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers, explained how Valenzuela guided the group to reflect on the “next steps for sharing the good and hard news about Natural Family Planning. I felt the call while we were there to minister to young girls as they grow into young women and navigate the difficult teen and young adult years. I appreciated the clarity that this workshop brought as well as the camaraderie – a network of people that feel love for this relevant and difficult, but true teaching of the Church.”

The third workshop by Valenzuela took place Oct. 24, also at St. John XXIII Parish and was for mothers with daughters (ages 9-12) and designed to teach the science behind a women’s cycle, and how to create a “Culture of Care” for one another as a woman’s body grows and changes. More than 50 attended the “Cycle Prep Workshop” which receive high praise from the mothers who attended.

Elizabeth Andrews, of St. John XXIII Parish said “the Cycle Prep class offered by our Diocese was exactly what mothers of young daughters needed! There was so much information that moms weren’t aware of prior to this session, given in a fun and relatable way, plus we were given tools to assist our daughters as they mature.

Andrews said she would highly recommend any of the Pearl and Thistle’s programs Valenzuela created, and she was grateful to Bishop Frank J. Dewane and the Office of Family Life for bringing the workshop to the Parish.

Lastly, Valenzuela recorded a presentation on “Pastoral Accompaniment and NFP”, which Carrie Harkey, Diocesan Office of Family Life Director, said would be shared with Parishes to provide an overview of various NFP methods, resources and accompaniment techniques to help couples through difficult fertility situations.

In addition, The Family Life Office offers pastoral planning packets “NFP in Our Parish: A Guide to Building Family Support in your Pastoral Plan” with the goal of building support in the family and where that falls in the parish plan

Harkey noted that the success of the presentations by Valenzuela does not end the efforts of the Diocese to help women develop a renewed appreciation for their unique role in God’s plan while also continuing to support families who strive to authentically live Church teaching.

The ‘CASE’ to Educate About Cyber Awareness

With the proliferation of digital devices in everyday life, the Diocese of Venice has taken proactive measures to protect children from the online world’s moral pitfalls by giving its education professionals the knowledge and resources to teach cyber awareness to elementary and middle school students.

On Oct. 20-21, 2021, principals, teachers and directors of religious education (DRE) and catechists across the Diocese participated in an in-depth “train the trainers” course on how to apply the Cyber Awareness Safety Education (CASE) curriculum in their classrooms.

Led by Liz Repking, founder of Cyber Safety Consulting, the course teaches students about internet safety in a fun, interactive way. CASE encourages small group discussions of real-life internet experiences with a feedback loop to school parents. This approach provides greater retention and understanding among students and enables them to effectively apply these lessons to their online life.

The classes for DREs and catechists were held on Oct. 20, 2021 at St. Martha Parish in Sarasota and at Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers on Oct. 21, 2021. During the evening of both days the training by Repking was tailored for principals and teachers and took place at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota and St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers. The training was part of the Virtus Protecting God’s Children lesson plans for Diocesan religious educators.

The presentations were a follow-up of the Safe Haven Sunday workshops presented by Repking in April 2021. Those presentations to principals, DREs and parents and were titled, “Protecting God’s Children Online in a Hyper Digital Age.” Repking spoke about keeping children safe from cyber bullying, online predators, sexting, online gaming, and how to help children create an escape plan when trouble arises.

Safe Haven Sunday (March 6-7, 2021) was presented by the Diocese Office of Family Life and Department of Catholic Education to provide families with basic tools and practical tips for adults to create a safer digital environment for themselves and their children.

John Carkeet provided information to this report.

Diocesan principals gather

The ongoing mission of Diocese of Venice Catholic schools is to introduce the world to Our Savior. To better accomplish this, the principals of the Diocese are gathering periodically to receive guidance and updates from the Department of Catholic Education on how best to accomplish this task.

Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocese Superintendent of Catholic Education led the gathering of principals on Oct. 29, 2020 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice. Father Belmonte plans to hold several of these gatherings in the coming months to ensure everyone is on the same page on what is expected of the schools and what is being planned to assist them reach their goals in the future.

During the day, Father expanded on his previous vision of developing and deepening the Catholic culture at each of the schools. Only a few months into his position, Father Belmonte wants each school to place a greater focus on introducing the students, families, teachers and entire community to our Savior. By building up the Catholic culture of a school, which begins with the principals, a new identity will develop which will show the outside that these are indeed Catholic schools.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane had lunch with the principals and spoke to them about how proud he is for the hard work they put in to ensure each school opened safely in August while there were still many unknowns about the global pandemic.

The Bishop also thanked them for their patience and dedication in overcoming these challenges and their ability to orchestrate the reopening with results that have been remarkable.

“I think you have done a great job, and I know it has been a tough year as demands are greater than ever,” Bishop Dewane added. “The results speak for themselves. We have had a few bumps in the road, but a large number of students who started the year learning virtually have returned. That speaks to the confidence the parents have in what you and your staff are doing. Thank you again, and keep up the good work.”

The meeting also covered the reintroduction and reemphasis on curriculum standards and the roll out of a new classroom observation software.

In addition, Jennifer Falestiny, Diocesan Curriculum Specialist, shared updates on the ongoing efforts to increase the use of STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) programs in the classrooms at all grade levels. Falestiny also shared information about an upcoming program focusing on robot technology. More information on this effort will release soon.

Finance Councils learn from Diocese leaders

Each year the Diocese of Venice provides certificates and continuing development opportunities for staff and volunteers to update them on Diocesan, local and potentially federal policies related to their specific area of responsibility.

With this in mind, the Diocese offered a series of seminars in January and early February for members of Parish/School Finance Councils. Members of the Finance Councils are volunteers who generously provide their time and expertise while serving a critical role in support of their Pastor/Administrator. This work is done to ensure all pastoral needs are met, which includes financial stability, charitable work as well as planning for the future.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane welcomed the gathering on Jan. 21 at St. Patrick Parish in Sarasota, thanking the laity for sharing their experiences and expertise with their Parish/School and their Pastor/Administrator, as well as other members of their respective Finance Councils.

“We are blessed to have such volunteers who so passionately participate in the life of the parish and/or school,” Bishop Dewane added. “We’d be lost without people like yourselves. You are giving the advice and life experience in your respective areas and we are most grateful. Your contributions make a big difference for the priests of the Diocese who might not have the same experience in managing finances.”

The response to the seminars was overwhelmingly positive. One participant in the seminar said the information offered provided clarity to many questions while also providing context and a greater appreciation for the vastness and complexities of the Diocese.

The seminars, one held in each Deanery, helped to provide updates and a broad overview of Diocesan policies and procedures, future planning, and Diocesan growth related to finances. This was also an opportunity for Council members to understand the structure of the Diocese and to put a face to the names of Diocesan staff with whom they may interact and seek information. Topics addressed included the challenges inherent with rapid growth and seasonal nature of many of the parishioners as well as the fact that each Parish/School is unique and has its own issues.

This partnership between the Finance Council and the Pastor/Administrator is vital to the stable finances of any entity. Finance Councils assist the Pastor/Administrator in budgeting; review of quarterly financial statements; developing a long-term Parish/School capital improvement plan, including implementation and funding sources; developing a program for the care and maintenance of all facilities; development and maintenance of position descriptions for the Parish Business Manager/Accountant (bookkeeper) and other staff/personnel engaged in the management, operation or administration of the Parish; and to serve as a resource to advise the Pastor/Administrator on significant expenditures before making a purchase or lease commitment in accordance with Diocesan policies.

Each Parish/School undergoes a financial review every three years by an independent CPA firm, with which the Finance Council is an integral part. Parishes also participate in safety and security programs which must also be budgeted. One of the most challenging aspect of Parish/School finances is the maintenance and operation of the various buildings. As in a household, the Council must ensure that all expenses, such as electricity, water, security, and maintenance, as well as any salaries, are part of current future budgeting processes.

Long-term planning (three-month, one year, five years) is one of the more important aspects of the Finance Councils responsibilities. This is to ensure that the Parish/School is being a good steward of the money, in support of the Pastor/Administrator

Seminar presentations were from the Diocesan Director of Finance Peter McPartland; Risk Management Director Donna Foti; Director of Internal Finance Lorraine VanLede-Brown, Director of the Office of Stewardship and Development Carla Repollet, as well as the Executive Director of the Catholic Community Foundation of Southwest Florida Michael Morse.

Because of the complex nature of the Diocese, where each parish/school has its own unique identity and challenges, the gathering about finances was necessarily more of a general overview than a presentation on specific issues. This is because of the great diversity of the Diocese, with unique clusters of population and income ranges.  However, each speaker addressed the most common topics relating to finances. Each seminar also concluded with a question and answer session.

Teaching the Teachers

Department of Education conducts Clinical Education Course

John Carkeet

More than two dozen teachers and administrators from the Diocese of Venice Catholic Schools gathered Jan. 21 at the Diocese’s Catholic Center in Venice for a Clinical Education Course.

Approved by the Florida Department of Education, clinical education training is required for postsecondary teachers who instruct and/or supervise field experience courses or internships.

“This is the first and arguably the most critical step in the Diocese’s professional mentoring program,” said Jennifer Falestiny, Diocese of Venice Curriculum Coordinator. “In two days, teachers are expected to learn scientifically researched skills, techniques and practices to prepare them to mentor new teachers and host college interns in their classrooms.”

Through videos, roleplay, case studies and breakout sessions, Falestiny is helping teachers acquire a deeper understanding and appreciation of the certification program.

“There are four key skills associated with this course: developing a growth mindset, conducting effective content planning conferences, becoming expert observers and providing target feedback on performance,” said Falestiny. “Teachers who master these skills can confidently lead and mentor our next generation of instructors.”

Falestiny plans to host this and similar courses specifically designed for teachers throughout the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year.

“We are in an age where continuing and clinical education is no longer a convenience but a necessity,” said Falestiny. “We need not just great teachers but great teachers who are willing and able to help other teachers reach their potential. If the Diocese can have at least two certified teachers in this program, then we are in a much better position to retain our talent and enhance our stellar curriculum.”