Thousands attend Hispanic Fall Festival

The Hispanic Fall Festival at St. Jude Parish in Sarasota returned from a two-year hiatus on Nov. 5, 2022, with a day filled with food, fun and entertainment.

This was the 18th Annual Hispanic Festival and an estimated 12,000 people descended on the Parish for this return event following a hiatus in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The annual festival is a celebration of both the individual nations and the unified culture of a diverse people. Held annually in early November, the day includes musical performances and ethnic dancers as well as food from many nations. Throughout the Parish grounds were tents full of a wide variety of foods that left many mouths watering.

The celebration of more than a dozen countries lasted from morning until sunset. Throughout the day, there were performances from a variety of countries, offering both folk and modern music and dance. Many wore shirts proclaiming to everyone their country of origin.

Alegria Fredrick, 12, enjoyed her papas rellenas from the Cuban food tent, which is a meat-filled potato ball. The highlight of the day for the young girl were the various dancers who wore colorful dresses. “It was so wonderful to see them dancing and singing to such beautiful songs.”

Father Celestino Gutierrez, Pastor of St. Jude, officially opened the Hispanic Festival with a prayer. This followed a “Parade of Flags” when each country represented at the festival was announced, and the respective flags brought forth cheers from the crowd.

As a bilingual Parish, the members of both the English and the Spanish speaking congregation participated and volunteered to staff the booths including a beverage stand run by youth from the Parish. This annual Festival is the oldest one in Sarasota County to feature authentic Latino food, music and culture.

Whether it was the food, the music, the dancing, or the joy of being around so many happy people, the Hispanic Festival was rated a massive success by any measure.

Thousands attend the event annually from as far away as Naples and Clearwater. It has become a much-anticipated event for the ethnically diverse Sarasota Parish. All of the proceeds of the Hispanic Festival go to support the various outreach efforts of St. Jude Parish, including a food pantry and other outreach efforts which help countless families throughout the year.

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.

Stories in wake of Ian

To put it simply, Hurricane Ian was a monster. The true scope is still unknown more than a week after landfall.

Following the passage of Hurricane Ian, people emerged from their homes to find the world turned upside-down. The spectrum of damage to the communities within the Diocese of Venice ranges from obliterated homes, floods and piles of yard debris and every impact in between.

Below are a few stories of the hurricane from around the Diocese:

Taking shelter

Father Patrick O’Connor, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales and Pastor of Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers, decided to ride out the storm inside the Parish church with Parochial Vicar Father Jose del Olmo. This was safe a bet because the new church was completed in 2011 to the highest standards. The area around the church is a very poor migrant community with many manufactured homes or houses built in the 1950s. Because many sought safety in the church when Hurricane Irma approached in 2017, Father O’Connor posted on all the doors of the church and Parish offices a list of nearby shelters. When the storm began most went to shelters, but when it got worse, the church was the safest place.

“It was crazy!” Father O’Connor explained. “Lots of families… We could not even open most of the doors because of the wind.” Everyone was safe as the church came through unscathed. However, the Parish Hall lost roof tiles, and San Jose Mission in South Fort Myers, which is administered by Jesus the Worker, was inundated with flood waters. In the days after the storm passed, volunteers cleaned out the Mission church and hall as best they could. Since then, the Parish has a been abuzz with activity of relief efforts to help the community with needed emergency supplies with the assistance of several organizations, including Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc.

Time for a barbecue

Nestled due east of Bradenton, St. Michael Parish in Wauchula sits in Hardee County, a rural community that prides itself on independence and resilience in times of adversity. Hurricane Ian has been the toughest challenge so far, but the spirit of the people remains strong as many families recover from the double hit of wind damage followed soon after by massive river flooding which caused hundreds to lose their homes to the Peace River. The Parish has a robust food pantry which is operated by a dedicated group of volunteers and the religious sisters who serve the community, Servant Sisters of the Virgin of Matara. With power out, it became clear that the food in the freezers would not last. So, a barbecue was planned for the night after the storm on Sept. 29. This was such a huge success; hot meals have been served each night since. Families emptied their own refrigerators and freezers before the food spoiled so the food was plentiful. Despite not having electricity, parish volunteers utilized a propane-powered stove and oven, outdoor grills and battery-powered lanterns to cook a hot meal each day following the hurricane. Outside large pots of pasta boiled while lasagna cooked in the kitchen of the Parish Hall. Since the storm, about 420 hot meals have been served each night. During the day, as more and more relief supplies arrive, distributions are taking place helping people get through each day.

Big truck, no forklifts, no problem

When three semitrailers full of supplies arrived at St. Katharine Drexel parish in Cape Coral on Tuesday, Sept. 4, and no forklifts were to be seen, a call went out for help. And help arrived in the form of dozens of volunteers, including many from the Parish Youth Outreach. These teens stepped up to help. The Cape Coral region experienced extreme damage and flooding and, even a week later, less than 20 percent of the city had power and few had drinkable water. The supplies being unloaded were desperately needed, even by some of the teens helping. Pastor Father Ricky Varner praised the youth for assisting in the difficult conditions.

Mary Statue spared

Some of the worst damage in the northern portions of the Diocese was to the roof of Incarnation Parish Church. Large chunks of copper roofing peeled off and were scattered everywhere. Some landed in the parking lot, others into carefully manicured gardens. One large piece that flew off the church building landed in a prayer garden where a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary stands and can be seen through a window as the faithful enter church. A post on social media from the Parish read: “Several large pieces fell here surrounding our Blessed Mother statue, but thankfully causing no harm!”

Still delivering meals

St. Vincent de Paul Society in Naples delivered Meals on Wheels amid Hurricane Ian’s destruction. Thanks to volunteers and staff, the Society was able to deliver shelf stable food to those who rely on Meals on Wheels for their daily meals. The Society posted to social media a day after Ian passed, “The destruction that was seen while delivering was truly heartbreaking.”

A new skylight

As the hurricane blew through Sarasota, the storm created a new skylight for Bishop Frank J. Dewane. Two large branches from an oak tree pierced the ceiling of his living room, causing damage and water to intrude. “I have two trees in my home, but I didn’t plant them,” Bishop Dewane said when explaining the damage to parishioners at Incarnation Parish in Sarasota on Oct. 1. The Bishop said he feels blessed to be alive after such a close encounter with an oak tree. “My issues are nothing compared to others who are going through a much greater loss. Roofs can be repaired. If not, I will decorate them for Christmas. The true focus now is on repairing the lives of those who are suffering in our Diocese.”

Check back in the next issue of The Florida Catholic for more stories of hope in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

News Briefs for the week of September 23, 2022

Bishop inspires students

Bishop Frank J. Dewane inspired students to use the Gifts of the Holy Spirit during Mass on Sept. 16, 2022, at Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice, and then on Sept 19 at St. Catherine Catholic School in Sebring. Bishop Dewane told the students how they need to work to hear a call from the Lord and respond in a particular way, using those Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Naples student earns Do the Right Thing Award

Congratulations to St. Ann Catholic School fifth Grader Nicholas Radosti for winning the 2022 Do the Right Thing Award, awarded by the Naples Police Department. Nicholas was nominated for this award because of his kind and honest heart. One day during Mass, Nicholas saw a teacher drop money on the ground. Nicholas made sure to find the teacher right when Mass ended and give the money back to her. Nicholas is a kind person who is filled with honesty and integrity.

Neumann reaccredited

St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples has been reaccredited by the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops. The reaccreditation process included a Sept. 16, 2022, visit to the campus and an evaluation of the courses and programs offered at Neumann following state and national Catholic education guidelines. Each Diocesan Catholic school in accredited and the reaccreditation process takes place every seven years.

Student Bibles blessed

Sixth grade and new middle school students at Incarnation Catholic School in Sarasota were presented personal Bibles following Mass on Sept. 13, 2022. Father Eric Scanlan, Pastor at Incarnation Parish, blessed the Bibles and encouraged the students to not just read the words, but grow to understand what the Lord teaches in Sacred Scriptures and then use the lessons learned in their daily life.

Read a book, build a robot

Students in a St. Martha Catholic School language arts class read Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451,” as part of the STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math) curriculum which enhances the educational experience for students in multiple disciplines. As part of that curriculum, the Sarasota students engineered robotic dogs out of Lego bricks on Sept. 16, 2022. The dogs are based on the robotic dog featured in the novel. The students’ robot dogs were more cute than vicious, but they had a great time with the challenge!

Eagle Run a success

St. Joseph Catholic School in Bradenton held its annual Eagle Run on Sept. 16, 2022. This fundraising event was a huge success as students of all ages participated in the run as well as other related activities all in support of the school. St. Joseph officials thanked the parents and community for their continued support of the school and this 2022 Eagle Run.

Verot celebrates homecoming in style

A weeklong celebration led up to the Bishop Verot Catholic High School football Homecoming Game Sept. 16, 2022, versus Gulf Coast High School in Fort Myers. The Vikings won 27-14. Prior to the game, the students participated in a variety of fun activities to boost the excitement for the students. This included a Spirit Day, fun and games and several dress-down days and competitions between boys and girls, the various houses, and grade levels, in the courtyard and gymnasium. A key component was schoolwide Mass.

School raises awareness about cancer

Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School in Venice took time out on Sept. 15, 2022, to raise awareness and support for pediatric cancer. Donations will be given to the Children’s Cancer Center. Thank you to everyone who donated. Please keep all those currently battling cancers, and those in remission, in your prayers. Local businesses donated items which were then used in a raffle to raise the money.

Model UN team excels

The weekend of Sept. 17-18, 2022, the St. John Neumann Catholic High School Model U.N. group competed in the SharkMUN conference at Gulf Coast High School. Seven schools were represented, and the Neumann team came away with the Best Delegation Award. Five members of the team received individual awards: Bella Fernandez, Alessio Cirino, Mason Wagner, Jake Marks and Hunter Lund.

New Evangelization Director brings extensive experience

James F. Gontis cherishes the opportunity to multiply the good of the Catholic Faith in his new position as Diocese of Venice Director of Evangelization.

Starting his new role on Aug. 1, 2022, Gontis brings to the Diocese his diverse experience in the evangelization and catechetical field. Most recently Gontis served in the Diocese of Harrisburg, first as Director of Religious Education and then for the last five years as Director of Evangelization and Catechesis.

In Harrisburg, he oversaw classes, workshops and presentations on theological and Catholic teachings, evangelization and much more and previously directed Adult Religious Education and related programs and workshops.

Gontis explained that his role as Director of the Department of Evangelization – which includes the Office of Family Life and the Office of Youth and Young Adult Outreach – is to draw people closer to God.

“Faith cannot be in the abstract but has to be lived out in the here and now,” he said. “I am grateful to serve the Church in this beautiful area, helping to remind everyone the role we all have – as the baptized – to live our Faith as God calls. We do this through the way we live, what we say, and what we do. It is easy to say and hard to do. But we must respond, confident that the Lord gives us sufficient grace to do what He asks; to live for the Glory of God and get into heaven, while bringing with us as many others as possible.”

Gontis earned a M.A. in Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and before that a degree from Adams College (University) in Colorado. He was a teacher in Farmington, New Mexico and Fountain Springs, Pennsylvania, before taking a Diocesan position in Harrisburg.

Married for 25 years and counting, Gontis has eight children. Three are still in school, while the five oldest children are in college or working. His parents live in Punta Gorda, and a sister is also nearby, so he was not unfamiliar with the area before recently moving his family to the Sarasota area.

The Office of Evangelization is currently organizing a Diocesan Eucharistic Congress and Youth Rally for March 24-25, 2023, a large event in Fort Myers that is part on the ongoing National Eucharistic Revival. The Revival is an initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to reaffirm a devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

In addition, the office is also hosting a “Together in Holiness” Marriage Conference on Oct. 22 in Fort Myers as well as planning a Diocesan pilgrimage to World Youth Day 2023 in Portugal. Please visit for information about these and other events.

“As important as those events are, evangelization is not just about these mountaintop experiences,” Gontis explained. “The Parish is the primary focus of our work, building up the Faith – this is done through programs that reach out to support marriage, as well as youth and young adults. We know the family is a foundation of the Church, but at the same time we will work hard to keep youth and young adults engaged in the Faith, reminding them that they are not only the future of the Church, but they are also the present of the Church, crucial to the renewal of the Faith.”

James Gontis is the Diocesan Director of Evangelization and can be reached at 941-484-9543 or

Music, faith bring Lee County youth together

A question which has baffled religious scholars for millennia – “How do you get teens to get excited about their faith?” – may have found a solution in Fort Myers.

The answer, good music, and a chance to let loose for an evening which ultimately focused on the Blessed Sacrament and an examination of their faith.

On Aug. 28, 2022, the regularly scheduled youth outreach meetings at Parishes across Lee County were instead directed to St. John XXIII Parish, where the Parish Youth Council hosted a free summer concert event featuring EPIC the Band, for a night of music, adoration, faith and fun.

EPIC the Band is a young and vibrant group of artists based in Miami, who have dedicated their lives to sharing the Gospel through music. EPIC will be touring with Matt Maher in 2023. The band has appeared in the Diocese of Venice in the past and theirs is a sound that blends multiple genres.

The night opened with some beachballs being tossed around and music blaring as the teens got into the fun of the night.

Lead Guitarist Luis Castro spoke to the teens during and between the various songs, sharing the meaning of the music and how each member of the band has gone through a spiritual journey to bring them to this point.

“Ups and downs, from darkness to the light of God,” he said, adding that everyone’s spiritual journey has these moments which are comforted by an undeniable reality. “The Lord is the One who always believes in you; who never gives up on you; who loves you no matter what; who will comfort you; who will lift you up; who will help you find your way. He does this because you are His child, precious and beautiful.”

Guiding the youth, and many adults, through their songs, Castro and the band members encouraged everyone to join in as the songs were created out of their collective love for God and His people which is poured out in musical praise.

While some teens stayed in the background, for much of the music was unfamiliar, many others joined in clapping to the beat and echoing lyrics they learned.

“This is great,” said one girl from Resurrection Parish. Another from Our Lady of Light Parish said she had “lots of fun.”

During the second set of music the evening pivoted to include Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament when Castro called on everyone to “point your gaze toward the Lord; He is why we are here.”

Father Simon Hoang Minh Dao, CRM, came forward to the stage and placed the Blessed Sacrament into a monstrance on a prepared table.

While everyone kneeled, the music continued in a solemn tone with a mix of sacred music and instrumental background. Father then led everyone in prayer before taking the Blessed Sacrament to a place of repose.

Following Adoration, the evening continued with more music and spirits lifted high.

The event was free for everyone, but there was a concession for pizza and drinks, and a 50/50 drawing.

Kelly Evers, St. John XXIII Coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Outreach, said the evening was a huge success, with 338 in attendance, adding that this is the latest joint youth effort among Parishes in the area.

“We are working to help reach our youth in different ways,” Evers said.

The Parish has a High School Social program after Masses once a month. This program is intended to build a strong connection to the Parish because high school-aged students are often at risk of straying from their faith during these formative years.

Meanwhile, a Middle School Youth Group meets Wednesday evenings, providing a place for youths to identify their place in the Church, grow in their faith, and together in fellowship. The outreach is intended to help youths and families become more actively involved in the parish life.

Other Parish youth leaders also had groups at the St. John XXIII event. The Sunday night gathering served as an unofficial kick-off to the fall religious education season. Several Parishes are also expanding their middle and high school outreach efforts, trying to keep the teens connected to the faith. Many are nearing, or at the time they should be seeking the Sacrament of Confirmation, while others may have completed this goal and are now seeking a security of their future place in the Church.

Evers said the answer to that is simple, these teens are the Church, the present and the future.

News Briefs for the week of August 26, 2022

Mooney football team hears from coaching legend

The Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School Football Team was both humbled and honored to have had Coach Urban Meyer give an inspirational talk before their Preseason Classic Game against Seffner Christian in Sarasota on Aug. 19, 2022. Meyer’s is a three-time national championship college football coach, twice as head coach of University of Florida and once with Ohio State University.

Gliders fly through classrooms

Fourth graders at St. Mary Academy in Sarasota had fun with their latest STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math) challenge on Aug. 19, 2022. Their task was to build 3-hoop gliders, alternating the location of the hoops on each glider, and then let them fly. Each glider flew to determine which design performed the best and traveled the farthest. This was a lesson which challenged the students to think creatively and build a glider from paper and then see the results of their hard work.

Verot track and field champ receives ring

Bishop Verot Catholic High School senior Wyatt Whalen received his State Championship Ring on Aug. 19, 2022, in Fort Myers. Whalen took the Class 2A shot put title with a throw of 16.32 m (53 feet 6 ½ inches) during the Florida High School Athletic Association Track & Field State Championship May 11 -12, 2022, at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Whalen also took third in the discus with a toss of 46.36 m (152 feet 1 inch).

Eucharistic Conference in September

Inspired by the National Eucharistic Revival movement, St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naples is creating the opportunity for people to learn more about Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. The one-day Eucharistic Conference is 9 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. The day features talks and worship music in both English and Spanish. There are sessions only in Spanish at the same time as the only English sessions followed by Eucharistic worship in both languages. Father Casey Jones, Pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton, and Jon Niven, Music Director at Seton, are hosting the English track. Special guests Juan De La Rosa, Director de la Renovación Carismática and Fernando Torres, Ministerio Agnes Dei Líder de Adoración, both from the Archdiocese of New York, are hosting the Spanish sessions. The day will end with a bilingual Vigil Mass at 4:30 pm. Breakfast and lunch are provided. Cost is $10 per person. Registration is on Seton’s website, The Parish is located at 5225 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples. Please call 239-455-3900 for any additional information.

Students visit Venice retreat center

Eleventh grade students at Donahue Catholic Academy of Ave Maria Parish in Ave Maria spent time on Aug. 18, 2022, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice as part of a retreat. The students prayed together, had some fun and learned about how they need to hear the call of the Lord in their lives. Ave Maria Parish Pastor Father David Vidal celebrated Mass for the teens.

Students have a ball with robotics

At St. Andrew Catholic School in Cape Coral, students are working hard to improve their coding skills during a robotics class on Aug. 22, 2022. This specialized skill is being learned as part of a broader STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts and Math) curriculum. This curriculum, called, “The Gifts of Christ: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Affability, Fortitude, Humility, and Prudence,” is growing out of a robotics program which broadens the opportunities for each student. The coding skills learned at St. Andrew enabled the students to perform various fun tasks with a Sphero Bolt Robot.

Ave Maria men’s program returning

The Ave Maria Parish “This Man Is You!” interactive men’s program is returning for weekly meetings beginning Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, in the Parish. The program combines the best research from science with the teachings of the Catholic Faith and the wisdom of the saints to develop the vision of man fully alive. By honestly addressing the pressures and temptations that men face in our modern culture, “That Man Is You!” seeks to form men who will be capable of transforming homes and society. The theme for the year is “Thy Kingdom Come: Claim Your Royal Dignity and Inheritance.” The schedule includes 7 a.m. breakfast, with a weekly presentation from different speakers, small group discussions, concluding with Mass in the Parish church at 9 a.m. For more information and to register, please contact Dr. Charlie Thomason at or 860-460-7195.

Sarasota Laps for Life Oct. 8

Join the Sarasota Laps for Life 5K on Siesta Key Beach from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. This year the Knights of Columbus are running to benefit SOLVE maternity homes in Bradenton, Sarasota and Englewood. SOLVE provides cost-free housing, counseling and support for women and teens with unintended pregnancies. Why run? Promote a culture that encourages life in abundance by providing the support and resources available for both mother and child so they can flourish. Join us as we celebrate life in abundance! See for details and registration.

Priest appreciation dinners coming soon

The Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women invites all to one of two Priest Appreciation Dinners the group is hosting. The dinners are intended to honor all priests serving in the Diocese. The first dinner is 6 p.m. – 9 p.m., Friday, Sept. 16, at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Hall, 1301 Center Road, Venice, while the second is at the same time on Friday, October 7, at Our Lady of Light Parish, 19680 Cypress View Drive, Fort Myers. The dinner is $45. For those interested in attending either dinner, please contact Ellen Bachman at 941-721-7393 or

First Responders Mass

The Knights of Columbus Saints Cosmas and Damian Council 13341 is honored to sponsor the First Responders Mass at 1 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 10, Our Lady of the Angels Parish, 12905 E. State Road 70, Lakewood Ranch. The Mass will honor the work of public safety personnel, including law enforcement officials, firefighters, and emergency medical service personnel. This Mass is a way to recognize the sacrifice of first responders and to remember those who have given their lives in service to their communities. All are welcome.

40 Days for Life Fall Campaign begins soon

The Fall Campaign of 40 Days for Life begins Sept. 28, 2022, and ends Nov. 6. Check with your Parish coordinator to join your Parish’s day on the sidewalk or go to (look under the locations tab for Sarasota or Fort Myers). Your presence can be a powerful sign to women in need that there are better options available. Questions? Contact Jeanne Berdeaux at or 941-374-1068.

Support CCW Seminarian Fund

Support, encourage and educate future priests through the Venice Diocesan Council of Catholic Women Seminarian Fund. Join the VDCCW in celebrating Priesthood Sunday on Sept. 25, 2022, in a special and lasting way by sending your Parish a Seminarian Fund “IN HONOR OF” card. This is a gift that keeps on giving. The Diocese is currently educating 13 men in various seminaries and a donation of any amount would be a great help (The donation amount will not be revealed to the recipient. To take part, please send your donation, made out to VDCCW Seminarian Fund (plus $1 to cover postage and printing) to: Cornelia Zanetti, Seminarian Fund Guardian, 5808 Gulf Drive #204, Holmes Beach, FL 34217. If you have any questions, email Cornelia Zanetti at



Inflation causes increased demand for food

At 10 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, a line of vehicles wound its way through the parking lot of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naples.

It was the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but the occupants of the vehicles were not going to Mass, they were waiting for food as part of a local distribution effort to help the needy in the area.

The line of 390 vehicles, representing some 700 families, rivaled the peak demand during the early months of the global pandemic when many were out of work. The people in line all had jobs, some several, but they still needed the food to help their family and children survive. The distribution is part of a community effort with St. Matthew’s House in partnership with the Harry Chapin Food Bank.

The reasons were simple, the cost of everything is going up. Inflation has hit families who are financially on the edge very hard. With rent, insurance and gas prices still high, it is the food price increases that seem to hurt the most.

“I have three children and my grocery bill is nearly $200,” said Shannon Byrd of Naples. “I work. My husband works and it isn’t enough. Buying the basic food for my family is just too much.”

“God bless you!” Byrd said from her car as volunteers loaded her trunk with bags of food on a hot summer morning.

In late July 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the all-items Consumer Price Index (CPI), a measure of economy-wide inflation, increased by 1.4% from May 2022 to June 2022, or up 9.1% from June 2021.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that the food prices were going up even faster at 10.4%. Specifically, the USDA stated that overall grocery store prices are up 12.2% from 2021, with those prices expected to go up another 10-12% by this time in 2023. The biggest impact on prices is in poultry and eggs which are up 15% in the last year and expected to increase another 29% in the next year. The USDA reported grocery store/food inflationary price increases of only 3.5% in both 2020 and 2021, numbers that have been consistent for the past 10 years.

The reason for the increases varies: Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine; the market still recovering from the global pandemic; a recent avian flu wiping out chicken and egg production; gasoline prices; and the increasing costs at every level for farmers, production and grocers for labor and processing. The impact is real.

For people on a budget, these price increases can be very difficult and lead to them cutting back on healthier foods and products, which tend to be more expensive, leaving them buying lower quality and lower nutrition foods. Combined with the cost of everything, this means families have to make difficult choices between paying rent, utilities or buying less food.

Maria Verde of Immokalee waited patiently at Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice, Inc., in Immokalee on Aug. 15, so that she could get a bag of food for her family. She has two toddlers and one child in elementary school.

“I don’t know what we would do without Catholic Charities,” Verde said.

Peggy Rodriguez, who is the Collier County District Director for Catholic Charities, said the demand at the food pantry is very high for the summer months. The Casa Maria Soup Kitchen is serving 300 meals a week and the demand continues to increase.

“We do our best to help people with the donations we can get and from purchases from the local food bank, but the demand is starting to outpace the availability,” Rodriguez said.

At St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, where there is a weekly food distribution on Saturday mornings, the demand is also starting to outpace the food on hand.

Erika Wood, who helps coordinate the volunteers, said that the numbers are as high as they have ever been with more than 300 families seeking help on Aug. 13. “It’s really hard because many are people that we have not seen before.”

Food pantries, whether run by Catholic Charities or at a Parish, rely on donations and the purchase of food from area food banks which are at a substantially discounted rate. But, in some cases, this support is not keeping pace either. This, in turn, means the amount of food being distributed must be stretched so there is always something available when the next family comes seeking help.

Many Diocesan Parishes support a variety of food pantries and food banks within the region. Please check with your local Parish on how you can help this effort.

How to help

If you would like to support Catholic Charities, please visit

If you need food

For various food distribution sites throughout the Diocese of Venice, the days, times, and locations are listed below:

  • Guadalupe Social Services, of Catholic Charities – 211 S. 9th St., Immokalee, Monday – Friday: 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen open daily. The Soup Kitchen Dining Room is open for dine-in and also provides meals-to-go.
  • Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center, of Catholic Charities – 3174 Tamiami Trail E., Naples, Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
  • St. Margaret Parish, Catholic Charities – 208 Dean Duff St., Clewiston, Fridays: 9:00 a.m.- 12:00 p.m.
  • St. Leo the Great Parish Campus, Catholic Charities – 28360 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs, Fridays: 9:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m.
  • Elizabeth K. Galeana Food Pantry, Catholic Charities – 4235 Michigan Ave. Link, Fort Myers, Thursdays: 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
  • St. Paul Parish – Parish Hall, 1208 E. Oak Street, Arcadia, Fridays 8:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
  • St. Francis of Assisi Food Pantry – 5265 Placida Road, Grove City, Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays: 9:15 a.m. -11:15 a.m. Contact Matt Egan at or 941-697-4899.
  • St. Jude Food Pantry – 3930 17th St., Sarasota, Wednesdays: 5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m., Saturdays: 8:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. Please bring ID and do not exit your vehicle. Volunteers will load cars. Call 941-955-3934 if you have any questions or visit:
  • Wauchula Food Pantry – 408 Heard Bridge Road, Wauchula, Saturdays: 7 a.m.- 8:45 a.m. Call the Parish at 863-773-4089 if you require a different time or would like to support the efforts to assist the community.
  • St. Joseph Food Pantry – 3100 26th St W., Bradenton, Monday through Friday: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. Call 941-756-3732 with any questions. To donate money or food, please visit
  • St. Elizabeth Seton Parish – 5225 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Mondays. Call the Parish for details at 239-455-3900.

Parish helps youth reach for the stars

The parishioners of St. Leo the Great Parish have developed a strong bond with Catholic Charities programs in Bonita Springs.

The Parish hosts Catholic Charities in the Juan Diego Center and supports the good works provided by the staff and volunteers, many of whom are their own parishioners.

The faithful provide donations for the St. Leo Food Bank, as well as annual holiday food and gift drives at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, explained Anne Bellows, Assistant to the Pastor.

Of particular focus is support for the Positive Youth Development Program, which offers an after-school tutoring program and summer camp for underprivileged children in the area.

This summer, each of the 46 children who participated in the Program’s Summer Enrichment Camp received scholarships from parishioners of St. Leo, explained Jose Perez, Positive Youth Development Program Manager.

During the summer, the youth received tutoring in math and reading, as well as enjoying enriching activities during their seven weeks on campus including a number of day trips.

Perez works to ensure the children have a well-rounded experience. In 2021, for the first time, the campers finished the summer by taking a magical trip to Disney World in Orlando. This was something none of the campers had experienced as the price was too much for the participating families. When the call went out for support, St. Leo parishioners responded with love and kindness, covering many of the costs for each student to have a wonderful experience in Orlando at the conclusion of the camp.

“We know this is a really wonderful program and opportunity for these kids,” Bellows said. “Our parishioners are so generous in supporting it every year.”

When looking at the end of summer trip this year, they wanted to do something a bit different than returning to Disney.

“This summer turned out to be, in a sense, themed on Florida, from the native wildlife to the historical places in our state,” Perez explained. “Most of our guest speakers and field trips were related to Florida in some way. This year, however, was about what kind of mark you want to leave behind. When speaking with the youth in our program about this topic in our afterschool program, one thing that came up a lot was discovery, space, and the future. We knew then where we were headed – the Kennedy Space Center.”

With an “out-of-this-world” trip in mind, Perez worked tirelessly to put the pieces together to make the adventure happen within budget and without a hitch.

Once again, Bellows said St. Leo parishioners stepped up and generously covered many of the costs for the trip such as food, t-shirts, money for souvenirs and more. One parishioner generously covered the admission costs.

“It is a joint effort of love and outreach to underprivileged kids in Bonita Springs,” Bellows said.

Boarding a bus, the campers and their chaperones spent the early part of the day travelling to the Space Center, being immersed in the history of exploration of outer space and getting a glimpse into the future. The group even had the opportunity to talk with NASA Astronaut Steven Smith who has travelled to outer space four times.

Perez said the trip was a fantastic experience, “getting to see the kids in our program be in awe of the sheer size of the rockets and shuttles that have been launched into space. We had many moments of wonder. One was getting to ‘experience’ the first launch of Apollo 11 from the original control room.”

Two of the younger kids (Gael and Abraham) wondered if what they were seeing was real. “They were awestruck, and the look of amazement in their eyes and their smiles told me that it was the perfect choice for a trip. After that, they had so many questions about how they could be astronauts which were answered by an actual astronaut!”

Perez said the best part is that he and his team are blessed for the opportunity to be part of expanding a child’s world beyond what they know or have experienced, showing them that they are not limited or bound to their zip code.

“We would not be able to do this without the support of remarkable individuals such as St. Leo’s parishioners and staff,” Perez added. “They have supported us and have helped us make these fantastic experiences possible for the youth of the community.”

To learn more about the Catholic Charities Positive Youth Development Program please contact Jose Perez at 239-390-2928 ext. 2302 or email To support the Program, visit

To learn about St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs, please visit or call 239-992-0901.

‘Totus Tuus’ leaves impacts for a lifetime

When you note something took 40 days, that number has a significant connection to Sacred Scriptures, uniquely elevating the impact and meaning of an activity.

For example, the Bible states: 40 days and nights of rain during the great flood, Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai; Jonah preached 40 days to Nineveh; Goliath taunted Israel for 40 days; and Jesus fasted for 40 days, as well as other examples.

Therefore, there is a special significance in that the “Totus Tuus” summer camp was active in the Diocese of Venice for 40 days. This is not only because of its symbolic connection to the Bible, but for its wide-reaching impact on the hundreds of children and teens who participated. However, this positive impact was not limited to the campers; it was felt at the host Parishes, by the volunteers, and in the families, not to mention the missionaries and seminarians who led the camp each week.

In the Bible, after 40 days a great event always occurs, and the same is true in the Diocese at the completion of the “Totus Tuus” camp on Aug. 5, 2022.

Word has been spreading about the passionate growth in a love for Christ by the children at the host Parishes achieved in a single 5-day period. There is already a call to bring the missionaries back in the summer of 2023 at more Parishes, reaching even more children and teens.

Beginning June 6, at St. Katherine Drexel Parish in Cape Coral, host Parish priests have raved all summer about how this summer camp was different than anything that has been offered. Each of the five days of the “Totus Tuus” camp was an intensive and enriching time for the young participants as they learned about their faith and grew closer to the Lord.

By the time the camp reached its eighth weekly home, St. Patrick Parish in Sarasota from Aug. 1 to Aug. 5, the results were abundantly clear, the camp was a success and there was a demand for more of the same.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane visited the St. Patrick camp on Aug. 4, witnessing what the young children (aged from kindergarten to sixth grade) learned in just a few days.

The children, led by the “Totus Tuus” missionaries and accompanying Diocesan seminarians, were able to recite a variety of prayers and enthusiastically sang songs. When asked about the camp, eager little hands rose in excitement because the lessons of the week excited their minds and souls helping them to grow in their passionate relationship with the Lord.

Bishop Dewane praised the children on their knowledge of the lessons they had learned. These lessons focused on the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary, prayer, key aspects of a devotion to Jesus, all with a special focus on the Mass.

“You learned so much,” Bishop Dewane said. “That is very good. Remember, we all have more to learn about the Lord and our relationship with Jesus Christ and how that must continue to grow.”

Among the lessons during the camp, the children were taught how to view others as brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore, when they see someone in need, they are to help, acting as Christ did.

“Totus Tuus” is a Latin phrase meaning “Totally Yours.” It was a motto of St. John Paul II, taken from St. Louis de Montfort’s “True Devotion to Mary.” It signifies our desire to give ourselves entirely to Jesus Christ through Mary.

Each Parish hosting the event welcomed children and teens from Monday morning to Friday afternoon.  These sessions were divided into daytime camp for children from first grade through sixth, and evening retreats for teens seventh grade through recent high school graduates. The weeks were filled with faith, fun, and friendship as well as games, crazy skits, and music. Throughout, the college-age leaders provided an authentic witness to the students. They were in turn supported by teen helpers for the day camp and adult volunteers in the evenings.

During this initial introduction to the “Totus Tuus” summer camp in the Diocese, only one Parish hosted the camp each week. In addition to St. Katharine Drexel and St. Patrick bookending the summer, other host Parishes included: St. Agnes in Naples (June 13-17); Our Lady Queen of Heaven in La Belle (June 20-24); St. Catherine in Sebring (June 27-July 1); St. John XXIII in Fort Myers (July 11-15); St. Joseph in Bradenton (July 18-22); and St. Elizabeth Seton in Naples (July 25-29).

The “Totus Tuus” program strives to bring an awareness of vocations to the young adults who serve as missionaries. Each missionary begins the day with morning prayer, praying the rosary and attending daily Mass. These missionaries serve as teachers for the camp by leading a small group of children or teens each day with lessons and activities to enhance the theme of prayer.

“Totus Tuus” missionaries were Stephanie Lovetere of the Diocese of Venice, Epiphany Cathedral and a student at Ave Maria University, Sam Salyer of the Diocese of Gary, Kate Ihlefeldt, of the Diocese of Colorado Springs, and Garrett Willie of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Additionally, assisting the missionaries were Diocese of Venice Seminarians Juan Contreras and James Gates.

Salyer finished his missionary work on fire for the Lord. “It has been an amazing journey,” he said. “I grew as a person, as a missionary and as a man of God. The interaction with the children of different ages opened up a whole new way for me to see how the Lord works in each of us. I saw the transformation of these children from uninterested to totally engaged in a short period of time. It was incredible.”

Seminarian Gates enjoyed helping connect the children with the wonders of Christ through the lessons, during Eucharistic Adoration and at Mass. “When you see the faces, the reactions, it is very special. Their enthusiasm validated the hard work we put into each day.”

Carrie Harkey, Diocesan Director of the Office of Family Life, who helped bring the “Totus Tuus” summer camp to the Diocese, said the praise from priests, religious education leaders and parents has been 100% positive. The only negative reaction was the request that the camp be longer than one week at a Parish.

“With the feedback we have received, we are going to bring the camp back for the summer of 2023,” Harkey said. “The enthusiasm is contagious and that is a god thing. This summer was a test to see how it worked and we have our results. Going forward, we now have an established program which directly engages young people, from kindergarten through high school, about their faith. That is very special.”