Chicagoland

Bishop Mark Bartosic: From actor to priest

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
September 6, 2018

Bishop Mark Bartosic: From actor to priest

Bishop-elect Mark Bartosic is to be ordained Sept 17, 2018
Bishop Mark Bartosic greets parishioners after Mass at Assumption BVM Parish, 2434 S. California Ave., on July 8. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bartosic as a baby with four of his siblings. (Photo provided)
Bartosic with all of his six siblings. (Photo provided)

When Bishop Mark Bartosic first moved to Chicago in 1983, he was going to make acting his lifelong vocation. 

After studying theater in college, he moved here to act in a Shakespeare company. 

“I loved the city,” Bartosic said. “I also loved the church here.”

Growing up in a Catholic family with seven children, he never stopped attending Sunday Mass.

“We went to Mass every single Sunday unless you had a temperature of 105,” Bartosic said. “I’m very grateful for that. Some of my siblings have complained about being forced to go to church, so they didn’t force their kids, who consequently don’t go to Mass now.”

Going to Mass in Chicago, he discovered a Catholic church much more diverse than that in Ashland, Ohio, where he grew up. There was only one Catholic church in the town.

“Here in Chicago, I met this broad spectrum of priests with different styles and different gifts,” he said. “I had only known this one parish with this one priest my whole youth. So that got me thinking about the church and it became even more dear to me than it had been.”

As he moved through his 20s, acting started to lose its charm.

“I think I realized that I wasn’t that good, and that I could, just through attrition, probably be successful at this. I could end up a 40-year-old actor getting work, but just because all the other 40-year-olds had quit,” Bartosic said. “I thought I wanted to be better at whatever I do than that; whatever I’m going to give my life to, it has to be what I’m really made for.” 

While it was difficult to let go of his goal of becoming an actor, Bartosic  started looking toward the church and the priesthood. 

He started talking to the archdiocese’s vocation office and, in 1989, broke the news to his family that he was going to enter the seminary. 

“That was a big surprise to all of us,” said Joan Bartosic, Mark’s mother. “I told our parish priest about it, and he told me to stay calm and not get too excited because it was just beginning,” Joan said. “The time has gone so fast. It seems like we were just at the ordination where he became a priest.”

But even while he was taking classes at Mundelein, he wasn’t sure that he had a vocation to the priesthood. 

“I was willing to take the next step and they were willing to work with me,” he said. “I’ve certainly never regretted it.”

He was on vacation with some of his classmates from Mundelein when the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, called him to ask him to become a bishop on June 23.

“I was just numb,” Bartosic said. “I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I figured if the papal nuncio is calling you, there is only one reason why.”

He couldn’t tell his friends because newly appointed bishops are only allowed to share the news with their bishops or spiritual directors. 

“I was with three of my oldest and dearest friends, and they’re like, ‘What’s up with you?’ And I had to say, ‘Oh, not much.’”

Like men who’ve received the call before, he asked if he could have some time to think and pray about his decision. Like those who’ve asked before, the archbishop said yes, but not too much time.

“When I spoke to him on Sunday morning, he was laughing away, interspersing with his French accent, ‘Yes, but of course you’re going to say yes. You can’t say no to the pope,’” Bartosic said.

Then he had to wait until July 3, when the news became public.

He went to see his mom in Ohio the day before to tell her face-to-face. The next day, he emailed friends and other family.  

Joan Bartosic says she was “flabbergasted” when her son told her the news. 

“I’ve always just seen him as a parish priest,” she said. 

Bartosic is the second-youngest of seven children — six boys and one girl. One brother is deceased, as is his father.

“He always did his homework and was a responsible little boy,” she said. 

Bartosic said the outpouring of support from his brother priests has been “overwhelming.” He’s looking forward to supporting them as a bishop.

“You’re a bishop for your priests, and the priests take care of the people,” Bartosic said. “I really feel strongly, and have for a long time, that parish priests need the support of their bishops. That’s what excites me about becoming a bishop. I want to give the support to parish priests.”

When asked what a highlight of his ministry has been so far, he said ministering to Latinos, especially Latino immigrants. 

“I kind of fell into it because I was open to it from my first assignment, but I just can’t imagine my life without Latino immigrants,” he said. 

With his current assignment as director of Kolbe House, the archdiocese’s jail ministry, he now feels close to detained people, victims of crime, people who work in corrections and families of detainees.

“Both groups, for different reasons, can try to fly under the radar, or we can push them under the radar,” he said. 

Working with people on the margins is important to him, but he didn’t have a strong reason for accepting the jail ministry assignment. He had been in Cicero for 16 years and was ready for a new assignment and he knew they were looking for a new chaplain for the jail ministry because Father Arturo Perez was retiring. 

“It sounded important and challenging.”

He didn’t have a passion for jail ministry at the time but was willing to make the leap.

“I’m not a competitive person at all,” he said. “In parishes, I’m like, send me someplace where nobody else wants to be there.”

He doesn’t want to have to fight someone for his job. 

“That’s a reason I like the priesthood,” he said. “When you’re an actor everybody wants your job. I have a profession where nobody wants my job, so the job security is terrific.”

Photo: Stuart-Rodgers Photography

Topics:

  • bishops
  • bishop mark bartosic

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