St. Margaret's new bus

Father Lorenzo Gonzalez, Pastor of St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers, right, presents a bus to St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston in early February 2021. 

CLEWISTON  |  The generosity of the faithful to help their brothers and sisters in need is always inspiring. That generosity can manifest itself with toys for children during the holidays, food at Thanksgiving, backpacks for students and much more.

Recently, the faithful of St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers made a generous donation of a bus to the faithful of St. Margaret Parish in Clewiston. This is just the latest act of generosity from the one Parish to the other, something that is needed and appreciated.

“I am so grateful with this good gift and all the help St. Columbkille is giving us,” said Father Jiobani Batista, Pastor of St. Margaret.

Some 80 miles apart, one near the Gulf of Mexico while the other is on the shores of Lake Okeechobee, the distance between the two faith communities has been bridged by the two Pastors, Father Batista in Clewiston and Father Lorenzo Gonzalez in Fort Myers.

Father Gonzalez has first-hand knowledge of the ongoing needs of the Parishes in the Eastern Deanery. Before his assignment at St. Columbkille, he spent seven years as Pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Moore Haven, a poor community immediately north of Clewiston. Father remembered that the support of other, wealthier Parishes was crucial in helping to meet the pastoral needs of the faithful.

“Because of that experience, and now being at a Parish where the community is extremely generous, we have reached out to all the missions of the Diocese and made donations to each in the past,” Father Gonzalez explained. “In the past two years our focus has been on St. Margaret, St. Joseph the Worker and St. Catherine in Sebring. It is the work of the Women’s Guild, Knights of Columbus, Homeless Sleeping Mats Ministry and other outreach groups who have been supporting these Parishes, financially, with food, shoes, toys, school supplies and much more.”

The bus which was donated to Clewiston was previously used to transport children for afterschool programs and other activities in Lee County. The Parish has a newer bus and the Pastoral Council decided to give the bus to a Parish in need, Father Gonzalez added.

Father Batista explained that the faithful of St. Columbkille have been helping St. Margaret by offering support for years, but this outreach expanded during the ongoing Pandemic, responding to a call for help due to a massive increase in demand for food and financial assistance.

“They have been very generous with their support,” Father Batista said.  “When I have a need or a project, I call Father Lorenzo. On this latest occasion I asked him to help us to buy a bus. But they decided to donate one of the two they have. This nice gift will better serve our pastoral work in our Parish.”

Located on the extreme eastern edge of the Diocese of Venice, St. Margaret serves a rural farming community which is spread across a large area and many do not have reliable transportation.

“This bus will allow us to bring people to the Parish for large celebrations and events across the Diocese,” Father added.

The timing of the gift coincided with the start of a Parish Jubilee Year, which began on Feb. 8, 2021, the 89th anniversary of the erecting of the Parish. During the coming year, Father Batista plans to have several opportunities to celebrate the Parish and its impact on the community on the southeast side of Lake Okeechobee for the past 90 years and beyond.

Father explained to the faithful of St. Margaret that the Jubilee Year will have the motto: “We strengthen our parish family in Love” and will close Feb. 7, 2022.

“The motto shows how we want to live; a year to the fullest in which Love is the Queen virtue, a virtue that is the essence of the Holy Trinity and that of our patroness, St. Margaret of Scotland,” Father Batista expressed in a message to the faithful. “We want to always put into practice this Love of God at all levels. Beginning in our homes, reaching our children, our young people, newly married couples, our elderly who have sown the seed of faith in this community, and in communion with those who are no longer with us, with the certainty that we will meet again.”

As St. Margaret Parish continues its Jubilee Year, Father Batista said that the faithful of St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers, and the others who support the people of Clewiston, will remain in their prayers as a way of gratitude for their generosity.