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Feature News | Wednesday, June 05, 2024

'Bringing God online'

Blessed Carlo Acutis Virtual Academy (CAVA) holds inaugural Mass and blessing ceremony

From left to right: Fernando Vega, member of the ARCH Angels of South Florida homeschool group board of directors; Diana Vega, previous vice president of the ARCH Angels; Isabella Vazquez, a rising 12th grader at Blessed Carlo Acutis Virtual Academy (CAVA); and her mother, Yakelin Vazquez, pose with the CAVA school banner at the CAVA Inaugural Mass and Blessing Ceremony May 29, 2024, at St. Brendan High School in Miami.

Photographer: Emily Chaffins

From left to right: Fernando Vega, member of the ARCH Angels of South Florida homeschool group board of directors; Diana Vega, previous vice president of the ARCH Angels; Isabella Vazquez, a rising 12th grader at Blessed Carlo Acutis Virtual Academy (CAVA); and her mother, Yakelin Vazquez, pose with the CAVA school banner at the CAVA Inaugural Mass and Blessing Ceremony May 29, 2024, at St. Brendan High School in Miami.

MIAMI | During the COVID-19 pandemic, sixth grader Parker Dillon and his parents, Juliette and Michael, decided that leaving a Parkland brick-and-mortar school and entering virtual school would be the best option to protect the elderly members of their family. They landed at the Archdiocese of Miami Virtual Catholic School (ADOM-VCS), recently renamed the Blessed Carlo Acutis Virtual Academy (CAVA).

Parker Dillon, a rising 9th grader at Blessed Carlo Acutis Virtual Academy (CAVA), poses with the school banner at the CAVA Inaugural Mass and Blessing Ceremony May 29, 2024, at St. Brendan High School in Miami.

Photographer: Emily Chaffins

Parker Dillon, a rising 9th grader at Blessed Carlo Acutis Virtual Academy (CAVA), poses with the school banner at the CAVA Inaugural Mass and Blessing Ceremony May 29, 2024, at St. Brendan High School in Miami.

The flexibility of this archdiocese-linked virtual school enabled Parker and his family to travel wherever his father’s work would take them, including Argentina and numerous U.S. states. Years later, rising ninth grader Parker is still a student of the former ADOM-VCS. On May 29, 2024, the Dillon family attended the inaugural Mass and blessing ceremony for CAVA at St. Brendan High School.

The virtual school is the only virtual Catholic school linked to an archdiocese. As Parker’s father, Michael, said: “It’s about bringing God online.”

Approximately 55 people attended the inauguration of the revamped virtual school, including principals, representatives, and campus ministers from Archdiocese of Miami Catholic schools; families enrolled in CAVA; and homeschool and virtual school representatives including the ARCH Angels of South Florida, a Catholic homeschool group, and FlexPoint Virtual School.

“This is the launching of a new name and brand,” said Jim Rigg, archdiocesan secretary of education and superintendent of Catholic schools. “This represents a new vision and direction for CAVA. Catholic schools are always innovating, and as a virtual school CAVA can be in the lead of revisioning... It’s an opportunity to engage with students all over world.”

Jim Rigg, archdiocesan secretary of education and superintendent of Catholic schools speaks at the Blessed Carlo Acutis Virtual Academy (CAVA) Inaugural Mass and Blessing Ceremony May 29, 2024, at St. Brendan High School in Miami.

Photographer: Emily Chaffins

Jim Rigg, archdiocesan secretary of education and superintendent of Catholic schools speaks at the Blessed Carlo Acutis Virtual Academy (CAVA) Inaugural Mass and Blessing Ceremony May 29, 2024, at St. Brendan High School in Miami.

 

Rebeca Bautista, CAVA's principal, founded the K-12 ADOM-VCS in 2013. At the time it served just six students attending a brick-and-mortar school in Oklahoma. Now, the virtual school boasts an average of 1,000 students per semester, some hailing from international locations like Caicos and France.

In August 2023, Jaclyn Don Caceres joined the team to interweave Catholic education within the FlexPoint Virtual School (formerly Florida Virtual School) curriculum that ADOM-VCS was using.

“Our teachers always tried to include Catholic components in their classes, but it wasn’t officially implemented within the curriculum,” explained Don Caceres, CAVA's vice principal. “Thanks to 25 teachers from all over the Archdiocese of Miami schools, we teamed up to create Catholic content using the curriculum we had.”

“They took it as labor of love,” she added. “We went piece by piece, making Catholic assignments, reflections, prayers, depending what the content of that course asks for. Now, we have a NCAA accredited, truly Catholic curriculum.”

Bautista explained that their curriculum can be used by “partner schools” or by homeschool or virtual education students. “We want to help schools enhance their course options ... If the students want to take a course that’s unavailable in their brick-in-mortar school, instead of going to public school for that course, now they can go through us. We want to serve homeschool and virtual education students, providing an option outside of FlexPoint Virtual School.”

Rebeca Bautista, principal of the Blessed Carlo Acutis Virtual Academy (CAVA), speaks at the CAVA Inaugural Mass and Blessing Ceremony May 29, 2024, at St. Brendan High School in Miami.

Photographer: Emily Chaffins

Rebeca Bautista, principal of the Blessed Carlo Acutis Virtual Academy (CAVA), speaks at the CAVA Inaugural Mass and Blessing Ceremony May 29, 2024, at St. Brendan High School in Miami.

For Isabella Vazquez, a rising 12th-grader who has been attending ADOM-VCS since October 2023, the virtual school has been a game-changer. Isabella had been attending St. Brendan High School, but a chronic illness exacerbated by physical activity made it necessary to receive more accommodations. When she broke her leg on top of that, she moved to ADOM-VCS.

“She needed extra time getting back to school, tried the virtual school, liked it, and wanted to stay for senior year,” said her mother, Yakelin. “She gets a Catholic education, which I worried about with other schools.”

“It’s less pressure, and I’m able to stay in one place, which has helped my symptoms,” said Isabella. “I don’t have to deal with [symptoms] and can focus on school.”

The Vazquez family was in attendance for the inaugural Mass and blessing ceremony. Before Mass, attendees had breakfast and listened to talks by Ivette Alvarez, St. Brendan’s principal and member of CAVA’s advisory board; Rigg; and Bautista. Luca Tizzano, teacher and campus minister at Saint Francis Catholic Academy in Gainesville, delivered the keynote address. Tizzano spoke about CAVA's patron, Blessed Carlo Acutis, his life, spirituality, and impact.

On May 23, a few days before CAVA's inaugural Mass, Pope Francis announced that Acutis, a 15-year-old who died of leukemia, will be the first millennial saint after approving a second miracle attributed to Acutis’ intercession.

Tizzano, an Italian like Acutis, explained how the young boy impacted those around him, giving of his time and possessions and even spending three years creating a Eucharistic Miracles Exhibit website to encourage people's devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.

“Carlo said every encounter is not random but is a gift sent from heaven,” said Tizzano. “At his funeral, the church was packed with people who his mom and her husband didn’t know... She started receiving letters from these people telling her how grateful they were for the friendship and presence of Carlo.”

“He’s relatable to students,” said Don Caceres of Acutis. “He liked video games, soccer, hanging out with friends, and he was devout.”

Luca Tizzano, teacher and campus minister at Saint Francis Catholic Academy in Gainesville, delivers the keynote address at the Blessed Carlo Acutis Virtual Academy (CAVA) Inaugural Mass and Blessing Ceremony May 29, 2024, at St. Brendan High School in Miami. Tizzano talked about Blessed Carlo Acutis’s life, spirituality, and impact.

Photographer: Emily Chaffins

Luca Tizzano, teacher and campus minister at Saint Francis Catholic Academy in Gainesville, delivers the keynote address at the Blessed Carlo Acutis Virtual Academy (CAVA) Inaugural Mass and Blessing Ceremony May 29, 2024, at St. Brendan High School in Miami. Tizzano talked about Blessed Carlo Acutis’s life, spirituality, and impact.

“He could be a student in any of our classes,” Bautista added. “He was a Blessed when we first chose him to be our patron, and now he’s going to become a saint. He’s watching over us. It’s a sign we’re on the right track.”

After the speeches, Father Bryan Garcia, vice-rector and dean of seminarians at St. John Vianney College Seminary, located next door to St. Brendan High, presided at the Mass in the school chapel. Father Garcia also blessed CAVA’s image of Carlo Acutis.

“Carlo courageously defended the dignity of the human person from conception,” said Father Garcia in his homily. “He helped the homeless, giving them Tupperwares of food. He accompanied classmates through their parents’ separation, inviting them to his house to be in the presence of loving family.”

He added, “While a great future might have been in store for Carlo, he had to suffer through the pains of leukemia. Carlo Acutis proves that even when the cards don’t seem in our favor, there is so much that we can do. That our faith isn’t about us, it’s about one who gives us that faith, who never abandons us, who loves us and wants to make all things new.”

Diana Vega, former vice president of ARCH Angels of South Florida, said she is excited to see what’s next for the renewed CAVA. She and her husband, Fernando, who is on the ARCH Angels board of directors and who was also in attendance at the event, homeschooled their daughter Sofia from elementary school through high school.

“I have holy anticipation for what God’s going to do through CAVA,” said Diana. “I’m almost in tears. It’s going to be amazing.”

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