The Blessed Blog

News, photos and stories from St. John XXIII Catholic Church.

October 26, 2014 | The 23rd Times

By | A Father Bob-Cast, Bulletin, Interviews, The 23rd Times | No Comments

 A New Chapter: Father John Vu Cao

With much excitement, St. John XXIII Catholic Church welcomes our new priest, Father John Vu Cao. Father John traded the Golden State for the Sunshine State and calls the move a new chapter in life. But how he arrived is quite the testament. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Father John was one of six children. His father died when he was eight years old. His memories of the war-torn country date back to when he was just a young boy. On April 30,1975, at just 10 years-old, he and his family left Vietnam by ship.

After 19 days at sea, they finally reached the Philippines. He went through several refugee camps before a Catholic church in Denver, Colorado sponsored his family.


In his introduction interview, Father John looked back at his childhood with gratefulness and explained how God called him to be a priest. You’ll also learn about what makes him tick… his favorite hobbies, the fact that he can’t remember the last time he ate a candy bar (yes, I’m serious), and what he loves most about serving God.
We couldn’t be more thrilled to have him as part of our family!

Danielle Koleniak: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Fr. John Vu Cao: I was born in southern Vietnam in 1965. I lived there for the first 10 years of my life. In 1975, we left. I lived in several refugee camps in the Philippians and California. Then a Catholic family near Denver, Colorado sponsored my mom and five siblings to move.

At the age of 12, I left home and joined the Vietnamese community in Carthage, Missouri. I was ordained in 2001.
I’ve been in Corona, California for the past 8 years.

DK: Where is your family now?
FJ: Everyone in my family is in California, except for my brother. He lives in Texas.

DK: What do you think of Southwest Florida, so far?
FJ: This is my first time in Florida. The people and the Vietnamese community have really welcomed me with open arms. I already feel a sense of community here.

DK: Tell me about the moment you decided to become a priest.
FJ: I knew at 12. I had a genuine desire to become a priest without knowing what it really meant. I didn’t feel like I could live a family life. I love children and I love family life, but I didn’t imagine myself having it. Plus, I’m a perfectionist. I don’t think anyone could stand me! Haha! There was something going on when God called me when I was 12, it wasn’t an accident. God put the right people in the right place to bring me to the priesthood. By 11th grade, I really decided that this was something I wanted to stay with for the rest of my life. I couldn’t imagine my life any other way.

DK: What are some of your hobbies?
FJ: I love to read books. They make me feel fulfilled. I like to read books about spirituality and Martial Arts novels. It’s addicting!
I also enjoy working in production/mass media.

DK: What are you most passionate about within the church?
FJ: I like working with small groups and ministries—helping people with growth in their spiritual life.

DK: What are your goals that you would like to see happen in our parish?
FJ: I want to continue to build on the foundation of the Vietnamese community here. My vision is to help people appreciate the spiritual life. I want to help the community grow.

DK: Now, onto some fun questions. What’s your favorite food?
FJ: Steak.

DK: Favorite Dessert?
FJ: Fruit. I don’t like cake or candy. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a candy bar.

DK: Music?
FJ: I like Vietnamese folk music and 80s Pop

DK: Play any sports?
FJ: I like tennis, soccer and basketball.

DK: Where would you like to travel?
FJ: I would like to go to South America. I’ve never been there before.

DK: If you were trapped on an island, what three things must you have with you?
FJ: Wine and bread to celebrate Mass and books.

DK: What is one thing that most people don’t know about you?
FJ: I’m an introvert, so some people may get the impression that I’m cold when really, I really want to have friends. I like to interact with people.

DK: We’re so excited to have you. You will have many friends here!

October 19, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Never Alone: Jane Sweeney – Her Love Story

Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s; Three words, where even the thought of a diagnosis is enough to put a pit in your stomach. The diseases are growing. So much that by the time you (yes, you!) finish reading this article, someone in the United States developed Alzheimer’s (

Many have seen dementia play out on the big screen in films like ‘The Notebook,’ but for Jane Sweeney, it was her reality. Her husband, Bernie, a man who she still describes as the love of her life, suffered from dementia before passing away in 2012.

Jane made it her mission to turn her tragedy into triumph while bringing awareness to a growing issue. In doing so she wrote the book ‘Caregiver: My Love Story’ in an effort to bring comfort, education and support to the caregivers pierced by the effects of the disease.

Now, she’s taking her testimony one step further.

In an eight-session course, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, Jane is hosting an education and support program to those impacted by dementia. The faith-based pilot course is designed to provide physical, emotional and spiritual support to the silent heroes.


Damian: Tell me what you’re doing?
Jane Sweeney: We’re so excited that we have the first pilot for the Diocese of Venice here at St. John XXIII for The Dementia Awareness program. It’s a faith-based program for love, hope and care when the diagnosis is dementia.

Damian: what issues are you going to address?
JS: It begins November 15, twice a month on Saturday mornings. It runs through February. You don’t have to be present for all sessions. We have two books to go along with the course.
We also have an entire program that’s going to provide support, resources in the community and guest speakers. It’s for colleagues, family members, spouses and neighbors with a loved one who is suffering from the illness.
There is an entire awareness for what’s being called ‘A Silver Tsunami’ that is going to impact our lives for the next 20 years.

Damian: Why is it called the ‘Silver Tsunami’?
JS: It’s a term used to bring a connection. As you know, when most people age, their hair usually becomes silver. Now, there’s an estimated 5.3 million people who have dementia. It’s estimated the number will rise to more than 16 million by year 2050. There is no cure. So, as a faith-based program we want to show people how they can receive emotional support through the resources in the community, support groups and web-based education.
It is a call to love.  We want caregivers to know they are not alone. We know how to be a caregiver. We know how to help spouses. We want to help those through the grieving process. Not only through the dementia (which is terminal), but we want to be there for them to enrich the passage.  The value of life has to be emphasized when dementia is the diagnosis.

Damian: So the program is not just about education, it’s support?
JS: Exactly! We also want to help the person who has been diagnosed with dementia. There’s a new program that offers mentors. People who have dementia offer help to others who have been diagnosed. We will educate attendees about programs like this.

Damian: What’s the plan for the future of this program?
JS: The program is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus 13624. Five other councils will also be attending and observing the pilot. They will use it as a screen-board for all the Knight councils in the state of Florida. Our hope is this program goes national and international.

Damian: What is involved the entire course?
JS: It relies on two text books. Ellen Edmonds’ book ‘A Call to Love’ and my book, ‘Caregiver: My Love Story. Facing Dementia.’ We’re thrilled to offer this because we know when the diagnosis of Dementia comes it’s so important for the family to know how to approach it over the next few years. We found that the more you know, you can participate in staying engaged with the person, staying connected while gradually letting go, and to finding joy in caring and seeing the person you love so much join God in eternal salvation.

Dementia Awareness: Education & Support Program

In the Community Room
Event Dates:


  • Nov 15
    Nov 22
    Dec 13
    Dec 20


  • Jan 10
    Jan 24
    Feb 7
    Feb 21

October 12, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Why we Celebrate the Feast of St. John XXIII

Pope John XXIII was canonized on April 27, 2014. Saint John XXIII was known as “The Good Pope.” Here are five things you need to know about the much-loved pontiff.




1. He was born in poverty — and proud of it

Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the man who would become Pope John XXIII, was the third of 13 surviving children born to a family of farmers in the tiny village of Sotto il Monte, near Bergamo, northern Italy in November 1881. Roncalli left home to study for the priesthood at the age of 11, but even after he became Pope in 1958 at the age of 76 he eschewed the trappings of his position, and refused to take advantage of it either for himself or his family.

In his last will and testament, Pope John XXIII wrote: “Born poor, but of humble and respected folk, I am particularly happy to die poor. “I thank God for this grace of poverty to which I vowed fidelity in my youth… which has strengthened me in my resolve never to ask for anything — positions, money or favors — never either for myself of for my relations and friends.” When John XXIII died in June 1963 he was mourned around the world as “Il Papa Buono” (“The Good Pope”). He left his personal “fortune” to the surviving members of his family — they each received less than $20.

2. He saved the lives of Jews fleeing the Nazis

Roncalli broke off from his religious training during the First World War to serve as a medical orderly and later as a military chaplain. During the Second World War Roncalli, by then an archbishop, was serving as head of the Vatican’s diplomatic mission to Turkey, and as a Vatican diplomat in Greece. While there, he helped saved the lives of many Jews fleeing the Holocaust, providing them with transit visas and other vital paperwork which allowed them to leave Europe.

In recognition of his efforts, the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation has petitioned Yad Vashem, the official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, to name John XXIII as one of the “Righteous Among Nations,” non-Jews formally recognized for risking their lives to save Jews. Once he became Pope, John XXIII worked to improve relations between Roman Catholics and other faiths; one of his reforms was to have the phrase “perfidious Jews” removed from the traditional Good Friday prayer.

3. Strictly speaking, he wasn’t the first Pope John XXIII

That honor belongs to Cardinal Baldassare Cossa, one of a series of claimants to the papal throne during the late 14th and early 15th centuries, when the Roman Catholic church was bitterly divided by the Western Schism. Pope stirs Communion debate Pope Francis breaks tradition, again Rock star Pope shakes up the Vatican Two Popes with one trusted adviser. The split, which lasted from 1378 till 1418, saw rival Popes elected by separate factions of the church. Cossa was named Pope John XXIII in 1410, but he was forced to abdicate — alongside Popes Gregory XII and Benedict XIII — five years later to heal the divide.

Today, Pope Gregory XII is considered the only true pontiff from that period: Benedict XIII, John XXIII and his predecessor Alexander V are all regarded as “Antipopes,” which is why Roncalli became John XXIII, and not John XXIV when he was elected pope.

4. Pope John XXIII played a key role in the Cuban Missile Crisis

In October 1962, with the U.S. and Russia teetering on the brink of nuclear war, Pope John XXIII helped to bring both countries back from the edge, urging President John F. Kennedy and Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev to exercise restraint. During a message broadcast on Vatican Radio at the height of the crisis, the pontiff pleaded: “We beg heads of state not to remain deaf to the cry of humanity: ‘Peace, peace!’”

“I’ve heard that it [the message] got to Khrushchev,” Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former Archbishop of Washington, told CNN. “The Pope is looking for peace, and why don’t you be the man of peace? And he said ‘OK, I’ll be the man of peace.’” Days after the Pope’s address, Khrushchev began withdrawing Russian missiles from Cuba, defusing the crisis. Months later, John XXIII published the encyclical “Pacem in Terris” (“Peace on Earth”), addressed “to all men of good will” and calling on the world’s populations to coexist in harmony.

5. Unlike other saints, Pope John XXIII only performed one miracle

Under the normal beatification and canonization process, a person who has lived a holy and virtuous life is first declared “venerable,” then “blessed” and finally named as a saint. Candidates for sainthood must be shown to have performed two miracles. Pope John Paul II, who was canonized at the same time as John XXIII, was said to have cured a French nun of Parkinson’s disease, and a Costa Rican woman of a cerebral aneurism.

However, John XXIII had only been credited with one miracle. Instead, the decision to canonize him was based on his huge popularity, and on his role as the “founder” of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), according to experts.

“There already was one miracle certified for his beatification in 2000,” Vatican analyst John Allen explained to CNN in September 2013. “Pope Francis has decided he doesn’t have to pass go, doesn’t have to collect $200, he can go directly to sainthood.”

Indeed, some would say that his canonization was already long overdue.

In its entry on “the roly-poly pontiff… [who] became a kind of father figure for the world,” the Encyclopedia Britannica notes that “had the ancient custom of popular canonization still been in effect in 1963… that favour would probably have been given to him immediately by the tearful crowd who were gathered in St Peter’s Square when his death was announced.”

October 5, 2014 | The 23rd Times

By | A Father Bob-Cast, Bulletin, Interviews, Ministries, The 23rd Times | No Comments

Sewing a Sisterhood

by Danielle Koleniak

I read a quote the other day online that really made me stop and think. It wrote, “Best friends are the people in life that make you laugh louder, smile brighter, and live better.” The 17 sort-of cheesy/poetic words really made me stop and think. I realized how much of who we truly are is built by the relationships we have in life; Our relationships with our spouses, kids, parents, coworkers, friends and God. They make up the circle that surrounds our life and gives us a greater sense of meaning (and sometimes a lot of headache).


When we went over to the Villas to check out what the Craftie Ladies are really about, we didn’t know what to expect. What they do is pretty simple; a group of about 20 women get together each Monday from 1:00 to 3:00 and work on their projects. They crochet blankets, scarves, clothes and the list goes on (this isn’t your average stringing colored-pasta on a necklace group). They sell their products throughout the year and give the proceeds to a select charity in the community. But what they really do is so much more. They are a community- each other’s support system. When we sat down with members, Cathi Koehn and Mercedes Fiorella, they spoke candidly about what life was like when they fi rst moved to Southwest Florida and into the Villas.

They didn’t know the area, came with very little, and left everyone they knew behind. When the ‘Craftie Ladies’ began, they knew they’d find a commonality because they share the same hobby, but they never expected to find a sisterhood.
When one member doesn’t show up, they call her or stop by her home to check on her. They teach one another how to build their skill level.They smile and laugh a lot. Most importantly, they love each other and never have to live life alone again. After all, there’s no closer bond than a sisterhood.

Damian: Tell me a little about yourself.
Cathi Koehn: I’m Cathi Koehn. I came here March 25, 2013 from Wisconsin. I came here because of my health and I needed to be where it was warm.
Mercedes Fiorella: My name is Mercedes Fiorella. I came here from Las Vegas. I’m originally from New York. I lived in San Diego for about 25 years.

Damian: Give me some background about how you came here.
Cathi: I came here to visit my sister. It was just going to be a visit. Then I realized I can’t do Wisconsin winters anymore. We went looking around and someone told me about the Villas. So, I came and I was number 51 on the list.I moved in that March. We put my stuff in a U-Haul trailer behind my PT Cruiser and we came to Florida. I’ve been here since and I love it. It’s such a comforting place. They’re my new family.

Damian: Tell me about your relationship with your late friend Bobbie.
Cathi: We all met at the Villas. We were known as the Gabor Sisters. When Bobbie got really sick, Sandy and I took care of Bobbie. There were days where it was stressful with her cancer. After Bobbie passed, my body decided it was on the downswing. This summer I wasn’t able to do any of my crafts. I couldn’t function because my body went into a major flare up. I’m just now coming out of it. That’s the thing with Rheumatoid arthritis, your emotions affect it very much. We took care of her. We made her a shawl so she was always warm. She’s still warm in our hearts.
Mercedes: I saw her the day before I left to go to Massachusetts. She was sound asleep and looked frail. When she heard my voice she woke right up. It was as though she was just taking a nap. She asked when I would return and then said when I get back we would go out. I said ok and goodbye. She died the very next day.

Damian: How do crafts keeps you going, building and bonding in your friendships?
Kathy: Every Monday from one to three we do crafts and we help one another out. We have so much talent. We went from fi ve members to over 20. We help one another out with our projects and that’s how the relationships build.
Mercedes: With the women it’s comradery…a bonding. If you’re stuck, someone’s there to help you. You have the same mission purpose. It’s good, it’s very good. There is a bonding. We designate the donations at the end of the year to go to a local charity that helps children. When you see a need for something, how can you not help out?

Damian: Where have you made a difference in years past? How do you decide?
Mercedes: We make the decision as a group. We’ve given a good percentage back to the food pantry. Any little bit extra helps. It’s a way of giving back to the community. I really feel we are making a difference. There’s just no doubt about it. This group that I’m involved with has kept me here because there is a sense of belonging and a mission purpose.

Cathi: This is our family now. When you get that new bond, it becomes your new family. There’s the caring, too. We’re in a close group.

Danielle: What kind of bond would you consider your group to be?
Cathi: A sisterhood. You know, like the ‘Red Hat Ladies.’ We’re the Craftie Ladies. We form a bond that when we don’t see each other we want to know why and what’s wrong. That’s our environment here. It’s a circle.

Craftie Ladies is open for anyone to join! They meet every Monday at the St. John XXIII Villas from 1:00pm-3:00pm

September 28, 2014 | The 23rd Times

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Stepping into the Future

We all strive to live a life of meaning and purpose. Whether it may be in our careers, volunteering in our free time, or raising our children better than our parents raised us. Some way, somehow, before we leave this world, we hope we made a little difference and left a footprint behind.


We all strive to live a life of meaning and purpose. Whether it may be in our careers, volunteering in our free time, or raising our children better than our parents raised us. Some way, somehow, before we leave this world, we hope we made a little difference and left a footprint behind.

A priest’s life is committed to making a difference; In praying for the sick in his or her most desperate hour, in loving people, and sharing the Word of God to those who are lost.

Here, at St. John XXIII, our priests are our family (we might even like them a little bit more).
For the past three years, Father Bernie has been everything his mission stands for.

He has grown the Vietnamese community in our parish, counseled families, and traveled on mission trips building homes in rural communities.
Now, God and his community have called him to a new journey… to a much colder climate…where there are definitely no palm trees- Missouri.

Selfishly, we don’t want to see him go, but what’s next is big. Father Bernie will be taking a leadership role in the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix (CMC) for Annual Marion Days Celebrations. The CMC is a religious community of priests and brothers based out of Carthage, Missouri. In August each year, 50,000 to 60,000 Vietnamese American Catholics gather in Carthage for the celebration. He’ll also be working with families, praying for the sick and reaching out to the lonely.

As we dedicate our Masses, celebrate him and send him off with big hugs, one thing is certain— From the bottom of our hearts, Father Bernie, we thank you- for leaving one big footprint behind at St. John XXIII.

Damian Hanley: What has it been like to be the spiritual leader for the Vietnamese community here and why is it important to have this?
Father Bernie: I’m so grateful to God, to my Superior, to Father Bob, and to this parish for the last three years. I think God has a plan for all of us. For the last three years, I saw and experienced a lot of blessings that God has granted to me personally and within the Parish and the Vietnamese community. I came here September 1, 2011. Time flies by quicky. As you may know, another Vietnamese Priest, Father John Cao, will be replacing me.

I remember the first New Year’s celebration we had here. This older man- He’s 70-something…had been in Florida for quite some time. For years he tried to gather the Vietnamese community, but it never happened. Until that day, three years ago, when we first celebrated the Vietnamese New Year. He was shedding tears and thanking God for finally giving everyone a home where we can gather together to worship God and to celebrate with one another.

For us, that’s special in this country. For the last three years, I gave my best with the wide open arms of Father Bob and such a welcoming Parish.

I had a chance to work with some of the Vietnamese people here and establish a Vietnamese community here. They’re such loving people. For some time they felt like lost sheep. Now they have a place to go. Some of our people travel 30-40 minutes to worship and thank God on Saturday evenings. More and more, people still continue to come.

DH: What are some of the things you see within this specific community?
FB: The biggest problem I saw was that they had been living in this ‘neighborhood’ too long without a shepherd. They had (and continue to have) the language barrier, so it was hard for them to come to Mass because they didn’t understand anything. For a long time they wouldn’t go to church. They didn’t have spiritual guidance, so their lives were spent away from the Church. A lot of them struggled with their family lives.

Damian: What was something you quickly embraced when you first came to the Parish?
FB: When Father Bob and the staff took me in the Church I saw the credo hanging on the wall. That moment is still in my heart.

Danielle Koleniak: What did the credo mean to you?
FB: It spoke to me that no matter who I am, I am accepted , respected and loved at this Parish. It made me feel at home.

DH: What is the next chapter for you?
FB: My religious community called me back to Missouri to help out with the community. I’ll be in charge of the evangelization program. This means for the next four years, I’ll be in charge of the Annual Marion Days Celebration. About 80 thousand people come to the United States from all over the world for four days.
I’ll also be in charge of the CMC families—reaching out to the poor, the sick and the lonely.

DK: What excites you about this next journey?
FB: It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m excited to bring Christ to different people.

DK: Looking back on the past three years, What difference do you hope you made in the lives of others?
FB: I love the community. I love the people. Especially, Saturday night Mass— people just hang out after. It shows me that they feel at home here and have peace here. I saw it really come together when we built the Vietnamese Memorial. I’m going to miss the children, the choir, the women who help prepare the food, all the fun: Christmas Midnight Mass, picnics and New Year celebration.

DK: We are going to miss you, too!