Sarasota | Nearly half of the 68 people from the Diocese of Venice who took the long journey to participate in Catholic Days at the Capitol in late March were Catholic high school students.
The 29 students, split between Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers and Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, gained a great deal from their experience: insight about key issues vital to faithful Catholics, meeting state legislators, and knowledge of the state legislative process.
Devin LeClair, a freshman at Cardinal Mooney said the trip helped him learn about the process in which decisions are made in our government.
“It was also nice to be there amongst people in office representing our beliefs and values as Catholics in such a large group,” Devin said. “When I first signed up to go on the trip I was in it for the community service hours but when I got there I started to invest myself in the Catholic group and began to support the bills they were trying to pass.”
Some of the students didn’t know what to expect from the Catholic Days at the Capitol trip. Alexa DosSantos, a Bishop Verot senior, wasn’t sure what the Catholic Church had to do with legal or legislative issues, knowing there is supposed to be a separation between Church and state. “This trip taught me that in some circumstances, such as the bill for parental consent for abortion, the mix of church and state is exactly what is necessary and most effective,” Alexa said.
Cardinal Mooney freshman, Liam Donovan, added it was good to get to meet the state legislators in person, but was surprised to learn that some didn’t know key details on issues that were deemed vital to the Catholic contingent. “I appreciated having the opportunity to give the local representatives the Catholic perspective on important issues.”
Bishop Frank J. Dewane took part in Catholic Days and was impressed by the enthusiasm of the high school students. “They were a remarkable group to see,” Bishop Dewane said. “I’m so proud to know that our Diocese had the largest group of young people for this important gathering.”
Catholic Days is sponsored by the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Diocese trip was organized by Jeanne Berdeaux, Diocese Respect Life Director.
While in Tallahassee, conference staffers briefed the participants on key legislation they would then be advocating to state lawmakers. Key topics included bills dealing with abortion and school choice, and a resolution expressing support for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent moves to expand environmental protections across the state.
The group was given a tour of the state Capitol and the students participated in a mock debate in the state house chambers.
Nicholas Otzko, a Bishop Verot senior, said traveling up to Tallahassee opened his “eyes to see how people can come together for the same cause, appealing to our government to make change in our local communities.”
Brigid Rowan, a Cardinal Mooney freshman, enjoyed the trip and said she learned a great deal about the inner workings of state government. “All in all, I enjoyed my time there and I would go again without a doubt.”
Anna Latell, a Bishop Verot freshman, was excited to witness state senate and house sessions and meeting her state house representative as well as the president of the senate. “It really made me feel like I had a voice as a Catholic,” she said. “Students should definitely take the opportunity to go to Catholic Days at the Capitol because it is absolutely eye-opening. I want to see more students there next year.” n
The culminating event of Catholic Days at the Capitol is a Red Mass, celebrated by the Bishops of Florida at the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Tallahassee for the participants from across the state as well as state legislators.