Bishop Frank J. Dewane blesses the community center of the new St. Jahn Paul II Villas in Arcadia on July 20. The Villas are a 64 unit Catholic Charities senior housing subdivision. (PHOTO BY BOB REDDY)

New senior housing blessed

Arcadia  |  Declaring that everyone deserves a proper place to call home, Bishop Frank J. Dewane presided over a blessing and ribbon-cutting ceremony July 26, at the St. John Paul II Villas, a new Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. affordable housing community designated for low-income seniors in Arcadia.

The first new resident, Donna Gutierrez, was all smiles during the blessing and dedication noting afterwards that her new home is a dream come true after living in a dilapidated apartment for the past several years. “It is so beautiful,” Gutierrez declared. “Everything is wonderful. I really cannot thank Catholic Charities, the Diocese, and the Bishop, enough for creating this wonderful community for seniors. It is a real blessing.”

The 64 one and two-bedroom villas are adjacent to the existing Casa San Juan Bosco of Catholic Charities migrant farmworker housing community, which opened in 2013.

Bishop Dewane thanked and praised the numerous partners who helped to make the project come to fruition. “The support of all the partners is a testament to what can be done when we work together to address a need in the community,” Bishop Dewane said. “The speed in which this project was funded, and the work done by all parties, shows the confidence all have in the work of Catholic Charities Housing. This community is something of which all could be proud.” 

Bishop first heard of the plans for the development of housing in Arcadia, he visited the proposed site and saw a large empty field. The initial part of that plan was to build two phases of single-family homes for farm worker families to give them a place to call their own, which is now Casa San Juan Bosco. When the second phase was finished, the next logical focus was on phase three to provide affordable housing for vulnerable seniors. 

“These villas are not the biggest,” Bishop Dewane explained, “but they provide a safe, dignified place for seniors to live their lives with independence and the dignity they deserve.”

Catholic Charities CEO Philomena Pereira added the new community is not just about providing a roof over one’s head, but in fact Catholic Charities will facilitate a support system to ensure all of the residents receive the assistance they need to continue to thrive and live independently.

The ceremony featured remarks from representatives from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s office, U.S. Rep. Gregory Steube’s office, as well as DeSoto County Commissioner J.C. Deriso and Arcadia Mayor Jaccarie Simons. Pereira also read a letter of congratulations and support from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Deriso called St. John Paul II Villas, and the neighboring Casa San Juan Bosco, “God’s work.” He went on to say that something so beautiful and well-maintained did not happen by accident. “It’s a real success story from beginning to end.”

Simons called the work by Catholic Charities and the Diocese to provide housing a huge asset to the area. “We (as a city) are thankful for the Catholic Diocese for seeing a need and acting on it with St. John Paul II Villas.”

Funding for St. John Paul II Villas was provided by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, SunTrust, Affordable Housing Program through the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, DeSoto County SHIP funds, and through the generosity of individual donors.

National Development of America, Inc. constructed the new subdivision, which is composed of 16 quadplexes available for persons 55-years of age and older with a restricted income. The 64 units include 32 one-bedroom and one-bath and 32 two-bedroom and two-bath units. The one-bedrooms are 538 square feet and the two-bedrooms are 707 square feet. The neighborhood also has a community center where residents can receive enrichment services and participate in activities. The new community took nearly 10 months to build and cost approximately $8 million. 

Bishop Dewane, along with Pereira and members of the Catholic Charities Board of Directors and Housing Authority took part in the formal ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of the community center. The Bishop then blessed the center as well as several of the villas. Following the ceremony there were tours of the new community and a celebratory reception.

Also of note, the Councils for Catholic Women of St. Therese Parish in North Fort Myers and Epiphany Cathedral Parish in Venice raised funds for blankets and kitchen supplies, which are being placed in units as a warm welcome to the new arrivals to the Villas.