Jeanne Provenzano answers, "A Day in the Life of a Bishop's Wife" for Church of England Newspaper, London
by Peter Menkin
Responses to Peter Menkin interview questions for “Day in the Life of a Bishop’s Wife”
By Jeanne M. Provenzano, January 2011
Mr. Menkin, in the selection of interviewees and the naming of your “Day in the Life of …” article or column or series, please consider that in the Episcopal Church we have women bishops, as well as men, and a gay and a lesbian bishop.
–Note by Jeanne M. Provenzano
In this warm and thoughtful interview, a Bishop’s Wife tells us something of her “Day.” I note that the first wife in this series offers in her official biography a few salient points worth quoting here as introduction:
Jeanne M. Provenzano was born in Waterford, Connecticut, to Arthur and Edna Ross, the fourth of five children and the only girl in the family. Her father worked for the United States Postal Service and her mother was a nurse who worked in several different medical fields.
Jeanne was educated in public schools and went on to college, earning a Bachelor’s degree in English literature. Following college, she worked in publishing.
She met her husband, Larry Provenzano, a Roman Catholic priest, just weeks after graduating from college. They left the Roman Catholic Church, were received into the Episcopal Church and were later married in the Episcopal Church. They moved to Rhode Island where Larry was received as a priest in the Episcopal Church and served as a curate in a parish there for four years. They then moved to North Adams, Massachusetts where Larry became rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church and served there for eight years before he was called to be rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Longmeadow, Mass. The Provenzanos lived in Longmeadow for fourteen and a half years until Larry was called in 2009 to be the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, New York.
When the children were of school age in Longmeadow Jeanne entered the Western New England College School of Law. She graduated in 2002 and was admitted to the bar in Massachusetts that year. She practiced law and served as an assistant district attorney in Hampden County, Mass., until moving to New York. She had also been admitted to the practice of law in Connecticut. Not yet admitted to the bar in New York, Jeanne is not currently practicing law.
THE INTERVIEW: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A BISHOP’S WIFE
- On a typical day, say today, what is a typical morning like starting with breakfast?
On a typical day during the week, the bishop is often at meetings in the evening and can’t return home until late. Consequently, we have late nights and rise later than we ever did in our life before he became a bishop – around seven or seven-thirty in the morning. We both try to spend some quiet time reading and/or praying to start the day. Some mornings Larry has breakfast meetings. Occasionally, we’re able to have breakfast together.
Most of the time, once we are done with our quiet time, we both move into our respective days. Mornings do, however, provide time for us to catch up about each other, our children, household concerns, and to share other topics.
Then, my mornings are spent tending to household chores, tending to needs of our children or other family members or providing hospitality to friends and colleagues. Because we have been in this diocese for just one year, I have spent a fair amount of time continuing to settle into our home. Weekends are filled with parish visitations and other events, so we are up early and traveling to one part of the diocese or another, which stretches for 150 miles.
- Please tell us something of your prayer life? How is God moving in your life?
My prayer life/spiritual life is undergoing some transformation due to the recent changes of our life. Those changes include leaving our former parish family and church community. The regularity of parish life necessarily provides a rhythm to one’s prayer and spiritual life. As the spouse of a bishop, I no longer have the regularity of that kind of community life.
Each week we are in a different parish with different traditions and practices. That new reality is a wonderful one and has begun to transform my view of the church, the world and consequently, my understanding of, and relationship with God.
Although we are here because of the diocese’s call to Larry to be its bishop and Larry’s belief that God was calling him to this ministry, I felt that coming to Long Island was the right next step also for me. Both my prayer and action so far have been to be open to God’s movement in my life as I walk through this amazing experience. I have recently engaged a spiritual director, a Roman Catholic nun, to work with. Our time together has been very life-giving.
- What do you see going on in your life that excites you? What do you think is there about the Church that is good?
By saying in your question, “the church,” I’m guessing you mean, The Episcopal Church. There is so much that is good about The Episcopal Church. The Church is engaged in vast ministries locally, nationally and internationally in response to our call to “love one another as Christ loved us.” At the same time, we faithfully consider the thorny issues that occupy our current time.
- How old are your children? Are they at home?
- What do you think being a good parent means? Does your husband agree?
I think being a good parent can mean many different things – however, mostly it is to love your children unconditionally to your absolute best ability, allowing them to grow fully into the person that God intends them to be. I believe that my husband would agree with this.
- Have you always been an Episcopalian?
No. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church.
- Life before the Bishopric? What was it like?
Before Larry became the bishop of the Diocese of Long Island, he was the rector of St. Andrew’s Church in Longmeadow, MA. We lived in the rectory, three houses away from the church. Our children grew up and went to school in Massachusetts. They participated in sports and other activities. Shortly after arriving there, I entered law school. After graduating from law school and passing the bar exam, I practiced law for seven years, until coming to New York. Our life was busy with our children, the parish, and my law profession.
(Note: The following three questions and response have been grouped together because they deal with the same theme.)
- 8. Should a Bishop’s wife be active on her own? Are you? In what ways?
- Do you have a ministry, not just working on boards and the like?
- Is there a committee or Board you look forward to working with – Why?
I had the privilege of participating in the work of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) in New York last winter with women from many provinces of the Anglican Communion. A group of women from our diocese, which included me, who attended the conference, have begun a Women’s Commission in this diocese to pray over and work on issues concerning the lives and treatment of women and girls globally. I look forward to continuing to be part of the Women’s Commission ministry.
I am also passionate about our diocesan clergy spouses, partners, group. We have recently had our first retreat together and are in the beginning stages of planning further events to build community and support for spouses, partners and families.
- How do you not get involved in political issues at the Cathedral and in the Diocese, if you do not? Do you find doing this makes it easier to get along? Do you work together with your husband or by yourself without your husband with others to solve and resolve misunderstandings and arguments?
I don’t get involved in diocesan issues in any way, and I don’t allow others to try to draw me into them. As bishop, Larry has professional lay and clergy staff to assist him to work through issues that face the diocese. If there’s an issue at the cathedral, the bishop and the dean work together to resolve it.
- How do you like being a Bishop’s wife vis a vis a Rector’s?
I’m having trouble responding to this question – or at least to the way it is phrased. It seems to suggest in the use of the terms “Bishop’s wife” or “Rector’s wife” that there are certain prescribed roles. That has not been my experience. Being married to a person who leads a parish community brings with it certain joys and challenges. So, too, with being married to a person who leads a diocese. I like both phases of our life together as a couple.
There is no prescribed “role” for bishops’ spouses or partners in the Episcopal Church. We are a diverse group of men and women who pursue different careers and participate in the church in varying ways. This reality can be both a blessing and a challenge. The blessing is that we are not forced to step into a role previously defined by another person or persons. The challenge is having to define one’s own role. I have chosen at this point in our life together, not to work in my law profession but for now to get to know this new life we have been called to. I am doing that by traveling around the diocese to parish visitations with my husband each weekend and to some other engagements during the week. This has allowed me to begin to get to know the diocese geographically, and to get to know the people, churches and different ministries of the diocese.
- What is the difference between a normal wife and a Bishop’s wife? Is your life that much different from someone in the pews?
I don’t think our everyday life is that much different from anyone else. We have professions, are married, have children and work to educate and raise them. We run a household, drive cars, care for the cat, have friends, socialize, etc.
I do think that we have a different relationship with the institutional church than the average person in the pew. It’s in the same way that a doctor or a nurse knows the inner workings of a hospital or surgery center more deeply than the average person.
Practically, though, the rhythm of our life is often very different from that of a person who is not a clergyperson or spouse or partner of clergy. Our life is not structured by the Monday through Friday business workweek. The concept of “the weekend” does not exist for clergy. Saturdays and Sundays are filled with weddings, funerals, multiple worship services, Sunday School, confirmation. Clergy families struggle to accommodate this reality. Our lives are always in tension with the structures, agendas and expectations of the secular world.
A bishop necessarily lives a more public life than the average person, and our life together, therefore, is a more public one. The role of the bishop is holy and special, and by association to him and that role, I am afforded a degree of unearned respect and privilege. I continue to work to earn those honors.
- What do you think about where you live – you’re leading a special life and live in a special place. You have a special role in the Diocese. Will you tell us a little of how it is special and different.
The cathedral for the Diocese of Long Island is in Garden City, New York. Garden City is centrally located in the diocese. West of Garden City are the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. Garden City is located in Nassau County and to the East is Suffolk County. Our home is a short distance from the cathedral and the diocesan offices and is situated in a suburban community. It is also one block from the Long Island Rail Road which provides easy access into New York City. We are able to take advantage of the myriad cultural opportunities there. And, Long Island itself has many beautiful beaches, parks and gardens.
There are so many aspects of the life of a bishop’s family that are special. It is special in that wherever we go, we are received with expectation and joy. The people here are warm and hospitable and eager to share with us what they are doing as a congregation. We are often treated to wonderful meals, and displays of music and dance. The children are always excited to see and meet us.
The diocese is extremely diverse. For example, there are over 100 languages spoken within the borders of the diocese. This diversity makes our experience of the church varied and broad. The diocese includes very urban areas, suburban areas and some more rural areas.
The diocese recently formalized companion relations with two dioceses. One is from Ecuador, the Diocese of Ecuador Central, and the other from Southern Sudan, the Diocese of Torit. The two diocesan bishops and their wives from those dioceses attended our annual diocesan convention last November. Following the convention, the bishops and their wives stayed at our home for a week. It was a privilege to have them in our home, to learn about the church in their countries and to learn from them.
14. Are you an important part of your husband’s ministry?
I think you would have to ask him that question!
- What is your worship life like? What is your spiritual life like, and what refreshes you most about it?
My worship life centers primarily on the weekly visitations to different congregations within the diocese. Those church services are always warm and festive and celebratory.
My spiritual life is fed best by silence and being alone. I have gone on several week long silent retreats at a Benedictine monastery and have found that discipline to be most refreshing to me. When I don’t have the time to devote an entire week away, I also benefit greatly from just a morning, afternoon or day away at a retreat center or monastery. I can physically feel myself relax and shed stress that accumulates from time to time in our lives. I am much more aware of God’s presence when the distractions of day to day life are stripped away.
16. Are you active in the national Church? If so, why?
I am part of the national bishop’s spouses and partners group in the Episcopal Church. Other than participation in that group, I am not currently active in the national church. Prior to my husband becoming a bishop, I was working full time, running a household and caring for children. There wasn’t much time to be thoughtfully engaged in anything else.
- Do you disagree with your husband about Church issues?
We agree on most issues.
- Are you an affiliate of a religious order, as in an associate. If so, what drew you to it or a religious sense of your own devotion.
No, I am not.