Home / Features / Community / Monsignor Earl V. Provenza
Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Monsignor Earl V. Provenza


Monsignor Earl Provenza was the 10th of 11 children born to Joe and Rose Provenza.

Beloved local pastor celebrates 60 years in the priesthood

The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know”… U.S. President Harry Truman (1894-1972)

Sixty years ago this month, when a 26-year-old Earl V. Provenza was ordained into the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church, the entire world was in an upheaval not unlike today.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who led the Civil Rights Movement, gave his “I have a dream” speech at the March on Washington nine months earlier; President John F. Kennedy, the nation’s first Catholic president, had been assassinated only six months before in Dallas; and then-President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 just a month after the young priest was ordained.

And that was just domestically. Across the globe, war was threatening to erupt in Indochina’s five southeast Asian countries – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam – where the U.S. had deployed advisors in the early ’50s and continued to do so until it finally deployed combat forces in 1965.

But it was not just the secular world that was in upheaval. The same was true of the Roman Catholic Church. Just a year before young Father Provenza came on board, Pope John XXIII died at the Vatican, ending a four-and-a-half-year pontificate that literally shook the ancient Church to its foundation with his Second Vatican Council, which he announced to “throw open the windows of the church and let the fresh air of the spirit blow through.”

Over the years that followed, a number of changes were made. For example, the Latin Mass, which Provenza learned to celebrate, was no longer used in Catholic churches throughout the world; instead, Catholics worshipped in their native tongues; although nuns could still wear uniforms or “habits,” orders were able to change their apparel to street clothes if they wished, and women no longer had to wear hats or veils inside churches.

Although the world and the Catholic Church have changed drastically since Provenza entered the priesthood, he learned to accept those changes without losing faith in humanity’s goodness.

It was in this changing environment that the young priest, Joseph Provenza — who grew up in Shreveport’s Allendale as the 10th of Italy natives Joseph and Rose Provenza’s 11 children and was baptized, received his first holy communion and was confirmed at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Shreveport — took his final vows.

Little could he — or any of his large family with whom he remains close — have predicted that some 60 years after his ordination into the priesthood, he would have visited countries all over the world — Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Sicily, Switzerland and Ukraine — some, like Italy and Ukraine — many times over.

Or that, in addition to his pastoral duties, he would complete six marathons — probably sparked by several stints as camp director for the Knights of Columbus Camp Maryhill in Pineville, where he estimates he served 48,000 children in summer camps.

The late Most Rev. Charles Greco, then bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Alexandria, La., ordained Earl V. Provenza into the priesthood in May 1964.

And, throughout his 60 years in the priesthood, Provenza has made his mark, serving multiple churches in central, northeast and west Louisiana, and regardless of whether the congregation large or small, his love for his parishioners and theirs for him have remained constant.

But he’s also a shrewd businessman. When assigned to St. John Berchman’s Cathedral, he oversaw its $2.8 million renovation. Additionally, he built St. Michael’s Chapel, a smaller but beautiful free-standing church that sits behind the majestic St. John’s Cathedral.

When he was assigned to the small St. George’s Catholic Church in Coushatta and Mary Queen of Peace Chapel, once a mission church in south Bossier Parish, he built a new $1.8 million structure. During his tenure there, he saw the church grow from 143 families when he went there to 343 families when he left.

One of the many things that endeared him to his parishioners at Queen of Peace was that he instructed architects to place baby changing stations in the men’s restroom. He reasoned that “fathers should be a part of taking care of their babies just as moms are.”

Though his duties as a pastor have always taken precedence, Provenza has found time to extend himself into the community. He’s been a chaplain for the Louisiana State Police for 47 years and served as Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms chaplain for 30 years, and at Ware Youth Center for 20 years. Seventeen years ago, Provenza joined the U.S. Army Volunteer Reserves and has now reached the rank of colonel. In that capacity, he performs funerals for veterans and visits hospitals and military families. In Shreveport, Provenza was on the organizational committee that started the Red Mass, which is offered each May to those in the legal field.

Though he’s had personal audiences with Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, celebrating Mass with Pope John Paul II still makes Provenza’s eyes become like a child’s, full of wonder, 19 years after his death.

“I was six inches from him,” Provenza said. “Six inches. And it almost didn’t happen.”

Provenza, who was planning a trip to Italy, said his dream had been to celebrate Mass with John Paul II. He asked then-Shreveport Bishop William Friend, appointed by John Paul II, to write to the Holy Father and ask if that would be possible.

The bishop told Provenza to write to Pope John Paul II himself, so that’s exactly what Provenza did. But Provenza didn’t hear back, so he went on with his trip. While in Italy, he stayed with an elderly priest who bought two tickets for him and Provenza to visit Assisi the next day.

But then Provenza was contacted and told to come to the Vatican the next day to celebrate Mass with the Holy Father. Provenza first thought of the old priest and the money he’d spent on the tickets and said he couldn’t.

Better angels, however, interceded, and the following morning, Provenza found himself before the altar with his beloved Holy Father celebrating Mass.

Though retired, Monsignor Provenza still fills in for masses all over the diocese and spends time with his legions of friends, 38 nieces and nephews and a fluctuating number of great-nieces and nephews.

The Rev. Earl Provenza processes to the altar inside Holy Trinity Catholic Church, where he will celebrate his first Mass as an ordained Roman Catholic priest. (Note all the women wearing hats, which was required in the Catholic Church at the time.)

The newly ordained Rev. Earl Provenza (left) celebrated his first Mass in May 1964 at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Shreveport, the same church where he was baptized, received his first Holy Communion and was confirmed. The children walking in front of Provenza are his two godchildren, Ronnie DeFatta and Andrea Provenza, who is also his niece.


The Forum News