Welcome to the Diocese of Lake Charles

A commemorative edition of the Catholic Calendar was published in the American Press on April 23, 2022, as a tribute to the many accomplishments Bishop Glen John Provost has made since being installed as the third Bishop of the Diocese of Lake Charles on April 23, 2007.

We chose to highlight five endeavors that were of particular importance to His Excellency: 1. Restoration of the Cathedral; 2. Care of the Poor and Needy; 3. Providing for the Spiritual Needs of Young People; 4. Catholic Schools; and 5. Priestly Vocations. 

Due to limited space in the printed edition, we are providing the original articles below in their unedited format.

Restoration of the Historic Cathedral

Julie Engert

When Bishop Provost launched the capital campaign, “Return to the Lord” in 2016, there were six significant goals: Building our Priest Retirement Fund, Bolstering our Seminarian Fund, Strengthening our Parishes, Creating Camp Karol of Saint Charles Center, Expanding Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana, and Restoring the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

For those who regularly attend Mass and other celebrations within the walls of the Cathedral, it seemed as though repairs and restoration were the only need. However, it was apparent once installed as the third Bishop of the Diocese of Lake Charles, Glen John Provost would envision the restoration of the 100-year-old building referred to by many as The Cathedral.

Throughout an almost year-long study, consultation, and discernment, Bishop Provost frequently visited the building itself, not with his Sacramentary eye, but noticing along this investigative journey that every element of the building needed repair or update according to code — an overwhelming task not to be taken lightly nor without funding.

The basement retained water. Under the building had become the graveyard to cast-off building materials, bits and pieces, a few remains from the Great Fire of 1910, and a surprise: parts of a broken statue of St. Francis de Sales — the namesake of the first church established on the site in 1869 — preserved as part of the new church structure built in 1913. An unusual way to save relics of bygone times, but survive they did.

From the cross on the bell tower, which required an enormous piece of equipment to re-perch the listing terracotta cross and install a new lightning rod, to the very soil under the building; everything was sorely in need of repair. Two devastating hurricanes of Rita (2005) and Ike (2007) only exacerbated the already suffering Cathedral.

Once Lake Charles became a diocese of its own in 1980, separate from Lafayette, efforts to repair and maintain the newly dedicated Cathedral began. Now, forty years later the new roof of that time was woefully inadequate. New materials for protecting thebeautiful and priceless stained windows were desperately needed, too.

On the interior, asbestos acoustical tiles covered the walls thereby absorbing the damaging water seepage. And it was those tiles that covered the greatest surprise of all: the beautiful gold leaf Marian prayer stenciling on the upper walls. All agreed the words of the prayer must be returned to its rightful place, in praise and thanksgiving to Mary, the Immaculate Conception, who is “the Glory of Jerusalem and the Joy of Israel” “you, the highest honor” of “our” human “race” “Pray for us.”

With all this in mind, Bishop Provost sought guidance from a talented group of local professionals from the five parishes that make up the Diocese of Lake Charles. He appointed boards, and committees astute in fundraising, engineering, and restoration of historic church sites. Every square inch of the Cathedral needed attention. Every area within and outside needed repair and or restoration: the walls — repaired and stenciled with similar symbols of the old church; the pews — repaired and restored; the roof — repaired, retiled, and equipped with new lightning rods; the stained glass windows — restored by the original company, Emil Frei and Sons, and covered with a safe, perfectly clear panel; the heating and cooling units — replaced a worn out chiller with a multi-site heat pump housed in its own building; the Stations of the Cross — extraordinary, painted on copper, hand painted restoration;  the magnificent terracotta bas reliefs over the entry ways — restored and repaired to their former glory; electrical — brought to code and new lighting; the Sacristy — new casement for vestments, an elevator, and space in the basement; a clean, dry, safe space with an emergency exit; and Sanctuary — enlarged, with the restoration of the old altar rail to demarcate the space; beautiful rendition of Mary in the apse; new stenciling of Eucharistic symbols.

All the while, Bishop Provost kept the parish itself and all the Diocese notified as the restoration work began. Fortunately, Edward “Buzzy” Ribbeck, a man with the knowledge, the desire, and the skill accepted this endeavor as his own.

After each Mass — celebrated in the Ave Maria Hall for six months while the interior work progressed — parishioners were invited to view the transformation with coffee and donuts — even climbing the scaffolding to very top within the Sanctuary! The youngsters really liked that! Buzzy was so assured by involving the parishioners, and by extension the whole diocese watching the transformation of an old church building into a magnificent Cathedral, that the funding goal would be met. He was right. During the “Return to the Lord” Capital Campaign, pledges were made by the devoted people of the diocese, and generously paid to ensure funding for the Cathedral restoration. Bishop Provost realized all six goals.

Much research and consultation, much prayer, much hope, much excitement, much joy, and at times much trepidation. Our Bishop was asking a lot of an area still struggling with storm recovery and economic hardship (just like today as we recover from weather events and the pandemic), but with his guidance and reassurance we soldiered on.

Our thanks to all who worked so hard to meet the challenges of restoring our beautiful Cathedral, rededicated on August 31, 2019. What a joyous celebration to reclaim our church, our Cathedral, now a transformed structure, elegant and glorious, worthy of welcoming all people to give praise and glory and great good thanksgiving to God.

Editor’s Note: Julie Engert served on the Restoration Committee for the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception as part of the “Return to the Lord” Capital Campaign in 2016.

Expanding the Work of Catholic Charities

Sister Miriam MacLean, RSM

“The Bishop should set a fine example of fraternal charity and of a truly collegial spirit, offering loving care and support, both spiritual and material ... to the diocesan presbyterate, the deacons and the faithful, and particularly to the poor and the needy” (Apostolorum Successores, No. 38).

Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana can give a particular witness to the care that Bishop Provost has given to the poor since his Ordination as Bishop. When Bishop Provost arrived in the Diocese of Lake Charles, one of his goals was to ensure that Catholic Charities served the entirety of the Diocese of Lake Charles (encompassing the five-parish region of Southwest Louisiana: Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, and Jeff Davis parishes). Bishop Provost guided this goal with great patience, laying, as he has told me before, one brick at a time.

I have been aware of the Bishop’s loving concern for Catholic Charities since 2014, at first, from a distance when I was assigned to the Diocese and watched his direction of Sister Mary Vianney Walsh, RSM, the first Religious Sister of Mercy of Alma, Michigan to serve as Director of Catholic Charities. He told Sister Mary Vianney of his desire to ensure that the whole Diocese was better reached. Progress toward this goal was steady under the advisement of the Bishop. Catholic Charities met regularly with members of each of the Parishes who desired to be of service to the poor, seeking ways to collaborate more effectively. Sister Mary Vianney ensured that all of the Parishes knew that they could call her directly with requests for help. She also expanded the food distribution to outside of Calcasieu Parish, beginning two distributions in Cameron Parish (in Creole and Big Lake).

When I became Director of Catholic Charities in late 2018, the Bishop gave me the same marching orders that he had given to Sister Mary Vianney almost five years earlier. Catholic Charities continued the good works that Sister Mary Vianney had begun while strengthening them and exploring new ways to ensure more widespread service.

Before Hurricane Laura made landfall on August 27, 2020, Bishop Provost made known to me a desire to have a strong Catholic response to the devastation that was coming to the entirety of the Diocese. He wanted to ensure that the people of God knew that Christ’s Church was here with them, responding to their needs. It was these words which echoed in my mind and heart as the days, weeks and months following the Storm(s) unfolded! I knew that the Bishop’s heart desired to serve the people of Southwest Louisiana who were so devastated.

Bishop Provost remained in close communication with Catholic Charities during the coming days and weeks, desiring to know the services that could be provided to alleviate some of the needs of the people, and also desiring to use his own resources and connections to add to the efforts. It was Bishop Provost’s vision of desiring to serve the whole Diocese that propelled us forth to bring supplies throughout the entire Diocese with our Saint Joseph the Worker Truck, which the Bishop had blessed several months before the storm.  

As the immediate aftermath of the Storm ended and we transitioned into what we know all too well as long-term recovery, the Bishop’s desire to ensure that Catholic Charities serves the whole Diocese remained very much in the forefront of goals being set at Catholic Charities. Knowing that people’s needs had not been met, and that people remained in very difficult situations as we made this transition, Catholic Charities was able to keep distribution sites in all the five parishes. Beginning in January 2021, we started scheduled distributions in Vinton, Kinder, DeRidder, Ragley, Elton and Jennings, in addition to our already established sites of Creole, Big Lake and Lake Charles.

The Year 2022 is bringing with it a greater emphasis on ensuring that the financial assistance given for rent, utilities, and home repairs is more evenly distributed throughout the Diocese, seeking to further realize the Bishop’s goal. No doubt the coming years will bring about additional ways that Catholic Charities can continue to serve as the Bishop’s arm in service of those who are vulnerable in our society.

Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana remains grateful for the loving care — both spiritual and material — of our shepherd, Bishop Glen John Provost! We know that his support is a sign of Christ’s tender love for His poor and we strive to be effective signs of the Lord’s love in union with our Bishop!

Editor’s Note: Sister Miriam MacLean, R.S.M., serves as Director of Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana. She is also the Secretary for the Ministry of Pastoral Services.

Creating Camp Karol:
A Place for Youth to Grow in Faith

Reverend Whitney Miller

Many are familiar with a movie produced in 1986 by the name of “Stand By Me.” It is the story of four 12-year-old boys — Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern — set in Castlerock, Oregon through the days of summer 1959.  Along the course of the movie, they learn about themselves, the meaning of friendship, and the need to stand up for what is right.

Almost 16 years ago, March 31, 2006, a similar group of lay men — David, Michael, Jared, Bruce, Ric, and others — set out with a vision for a place, a supportive holy ground for youth, where girls and boys of all ages, shapes, sizes and backgrounds could come to find family, friendship and faith. It is, after all, something we Catholics do at our best … we stand by one another; as we recite the Creed at Sunday Mass, as we rally for the rights of the unborn, as we pray for our beloved deceased at wake services, as we link arms around a camp fire and recite the “Our Father”… we stand united by each other.

After nearly 10 years of independent effort from 2006-2015, 89 acres of property known as “Bear Island” was donated to the Diocese of Lake Charles in November. At the time, I served as Director of the Saint Charles Center, and Bishop Provost, who had been one of the primary supporters of the Bear Island project, assigned me to coordinate this effort toward a Catholic youth camp which would allow for a broadening of programs particularly with the young people of the Diocese in mind.

Bishop Provost’s vision was inspired by that of Saint John Paul II, whose birth name was Karol Wojtyla. In Polish, the native language of the pope, Karol means Charles.  And so, the name Camp Karol was selected to underscore this historic link Camp Karol has to our Saint Charles Center. Not long after, an additional 12 acres was purchased by the Diocese with an eye on future expansion and room for eventual growth.

The project of Camp Karol became one of the goals of the Return to the Lord Capital Campaign conducted by the Diocese in 2016. Throughout the course of these efforts, it was important to Bishop Provost that the youth of our local church have a place to call home so that the values and beliefs essential to their moral and spiritual well-being would be handed on to the next generation and beyond.

Deacon Harold Nixon and his wife, Sheryl, served on this campaign committee and once noted, “Having the proper facilities will attract our young people to spend more time with one another in a fun, Catholic environment. Someday folks will share that they met lifelong friends, their spouse or answered God’s call to the celibate life at this camp.”

And so, we stand with a rich lineage of Catholic connection, beginning with a saintly pope who loved the gift which young people bring to our church, continuing with the support and encouragement of our own diocesan shepherd and leader, along with countless hands and hearts joined together when folks of faith stand united with one another and our God!

Editor’s Note: Father Whitney Miller served as Director of the Saint Charles Center from 2010 to 2020. He assisted with much of the design of Camp Karol Catholic Retreat Center in Moss Bluff before turning the reins over to Deacon Brian Soileau. Bishop Glen John Provost dedicated and blessed the Catholic youth camp on Oct. 23, 2021. It was one of several goals of the “Return to the Lord” Capital Campaign.

Dedication to Our Catholic Schools

Kimberlee Gazzolo

In the darkest of moments, when the need of our schools, students and teachers were at their greatest, Bishop Provost was a true leader to our educational community.

Moments after the devastation of Hurricane Laura was seen in the light of day back on Aug. 27, 2020, the Bishop was quick to respond.

Despite being in the midst of the COVID pandemic, he was quick to turn his focus to the new need — that of our school students, teachers, and families.

This was not an easy time. The pandemic had already caused disruption in our school calendar, with forced shutdowns and virtual learning. With all of that, despite our best efforts, the storm damage was overwhelming.

But as the winds calmed and the damage was assessed, Bishop Provost made sure our school communities were never overlooked. At the first Hurricane Recovery meeting I attended, Bishop Provost included schools as one of his top priorities.  He made it a goal to get them the funding they needed to have them up and running as soon as possible. As a previous school pastor and always an educator, I was not surprised that he recognized how important our schools were to our Diocesan community.

Bishop Provost worked tirelessly to secure funding and establish the Bishop’s Hurricane Recovery Tuition Fund. He oversaw our office as we distributed over $100,000 to directly fund families to continue their children’s Catholic education. Our bishop was adamant that students return to school as soon as buildings could be secured and for some sites, temporary buildings could be established. There have been many decisions made in the aftermath, none of which have been easy, but each has shown that Bishop Provost is committed to ensuring the longevity of Catholic education in Southwest Louisiana.

Throughout his years at the Diocese, Bishop Provost has made it clear that our schools should remain decidedly Catholic. With a focus on religious education, he ensures that all schools follow clear standards, learn sacred scripture, and incorporate faith traditions into their school days. Our Bishop has high expectations that our students will understand the history of our Church, the tenets of the Catholic faith and what that means for their own personal lives.

Bishop Provost understands that parents sacrifice to send their children to Catholic schools. Each year, he directs funds from the Bishop’s Services Appeal to student scholarships. He has also encouraged schools to participate in school choice scholarship programs, targeting families in need. He is unequivocal in his support for students with special needs and their inclusion in our schools.

As I reflect on the last 13 years that I have been Superintendent, I have had the honor and privilege of watching Bishop Provost as he cares for our schools. Each year, he spends a morning at each school, visiting classrooms, praying with students, and answering questions. The most cherished moments are when he laughs at a second grader’s silly question, handles with grace the same question for the tenth time and interacts with student lessons. I have seen him speak French with a high school student, join in on a literature discussion and patiently explain “how he became a Bishop.” He is passionate about the arts, and attends school plays, concerts, and arts presentations.

One of my fondest memories, is when I accompanied him to Our Lady Immaculate Catholic School in Jennings. He joined the fourth and fifth graders at recess as they surrounded him, and he gave them each saint cards. It was easy to see how he enjoyed their enthusiasm and they his. On a wall in my office is a picture of Bishop Provost, walking between desks in an elementary classroom, talking with students. Always a teacher, comfortable in a Catholic school.

For him the school visits seem special, a time he can spend with the future of the Catholic Church. It was in those moments that we see his caring isn’t just in the big picture but rather more on the personal level. 

On that personal level, for the past 15 years, this is the shepherd we are blessed to have. A leader with a compassionate heart. His dedication to our schools extends to all of us within the diocese. Like many of us, Bishop Provost has confirmed my daughter, attended a family member’s burial, and taught me to be a better leader. Not a meeting goes by when he does not ask about my family with a pastoral concern.

It is that pastoral concern that has resided with us during the past 15 years amidst the pandemic and hurricane recovery. It is that pastoral concern that will continue to lead us in our faith with a resounding hope in our Lord. It is the leadership of Bishop Provost that will help ensure the future of Catholic education in the Diocese of Lake Charles.

Happy 15th Anniversary! 

Editor’s Note: Kimberlee Gazzolo has served has Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Lake Charles since 2009.

Increasing Vocations to the Priesthood

Reverend Levi Thompson

“The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” (Luke 10:2)

I remember the day in 2009 when Bishop Glen John Provost confirmed me using the Sacred Chrism. I had no idea that eleven years later this same bishop would use Sacred Chrism again to anoint my hands as a priest of Jesus Christ. This was no mere coincidence, but instead, the fruit of years of his faithful prayer for my vocation.

Bishop Provost has been a bishop that prays for and fosters vocations to the priesthood and religious life. I am just one of the many priests and deacons whom he ordained. I am truly grateful that he has “asked the Master of the harvest for laborers” and encouraged my response to God’s call.

In order to “ask the Master,” one must set aside time to pray. Bishop Provost has commissioned the Diocese to pray intentionally for vocations. He implemented the 40 Hours Devotion in the Diocese, which consists of every parish offering forty consecutive hours of Adoration for the increase of vocations to the priesthood. During my eight years of seminary formation, I know that these prayers of parishioners truly sustained my discernment during trying times.

Bishop Provost also founded the Vianney House of Discernment, a house set aside for young men to live in community with a priest, while discerning the priesthood and attending college or working.  After high school, I entered the Vianney House while I studied at McNeese. During that year, I developed the habit of daily prayer and fostered fraternity. It helped me understand that the priest is a normal person, and it affirmed God’s call as I applied to seminary.

As the capstone of my formation, Bishop Provost sent me to study Theology at the North American College in Rome, Italy. Words cannot describe the joys of those four years in the Eternal City. It was an honor to study Theology while living in the heart of the Church. Having Saints Peter and Paul a mere stone’s throw away brought new meaning to the Church’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic foundation.

I have always looked to prayerful fidelity of Bishop Provost amid chaos. In no instance is this truer than when he bestowed upon me the gift of priestly ordination during the pandemic. In his homily from the Ordination Mass, Bishop said that the priest is first to be a man of prayer. The priest is not to preach his own self but Christ’s action Himself. Bishop Provost said, “Approach the altar of God, not as a presider or an actor on a stage, but rather as Christ. Walk as He would walk, turn as He would turn, kneel as He would kneel, lift your prayerful hands as He would lift them … Be attentive to every word spoken in the sacred liturgy, because through them Christ is speaking to you, in each moment of your life.”  His words proved prophetic for the four new priests ordained that day who were about enter a world in dire need of Christ’s presence. Prayer and conformity to Christ were necessary remedies as we then entered into a season of natural disasters in fall, 2020.

St. John Vianney once said, “The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus. When you see a priest, think of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The prayerful example of His Excellency and his support of vocations show what the priestly life ought to look like. Each priest has his own vocation story, but from the Chrism of my Confirmation to the Chrism of my Ordination, I am truly grateful for Bishop Provost’s effect on my vocation to the priesthood. May God continue to bless Bishop Provost for all his work and ministry in the Diocese of Lake Charles.

Editor’s Note: Father Levi Thompson was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Glen John Provost on June 27, 2020. He was one of the first to live at the Vianney House, a place of discernment for young men considering a vocation to the priesthood before entering the seminary. 

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