Bishop Bartosic revisits acting roots at St. Gregory Church

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Bishop Bartosic revisits acting roots at St. Gregory Church

Auxiliary Bishop Mark Bartosic revisted his acting roots during a performance of the letters of the famed medieval philosophers and lovers Abelard and Eloise during “Broken Fount” at St. Gregory the Great Church, 5535 N. Paulina St., on Feb. 8, 2020. Bishop Bartosic, who was an actor before pursuing his vocation to the priesthood, portrayed Abelard and was joined by actress Jennifer G. Smith, who portrayed Eloise. The performance was part of the parish’s Evangelization Through the Arts ministry. Franciscan Friar Arturo Felix joined the performance along with musical group Slaps. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Iconographer Joe Malham, an artist in residence at the parish, introduces the evening's entertainment. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Bartosic and actress Jennifer G. Smith perform the letters. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishop Bartosic portrays the philosopher and theologian Abelard. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A member of The Slaps musical group performs. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Conventual Franciscan Friar Arturo Felix pretends to bless Bishop Bartosic as they perform in the production. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Conventual Franciscan Friar Arturo Felix portrays Peter the Venerable. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When Auxiliary Bishop Mark Bartosic entered the priesthood, he left his days as a professional actor behind. But on Feb. 8, he revisited his acting roots in the performance “Broken Fount: The Letters of Abelard and Heloise” at St. Gregory the Great Church, 5545 N. Paulina St.

Abelard and Heloise were famed 12th century medieval lovers and scholars. Bishop Bartosic portrayed Abelard, reading from a podium at the front of the church. Actress Jennifer G. Smith played the part of Heloise, and musical group The Slaps provided instrumental breaks. The performance was part of the parish’s Evangelization Through the Arts ministry, which began more than 18 years ago. As part of that program, artists have space on the church campus and offer programs and performances to the parish and community.

“It now has become one of the mainstays of St. Gregory the Great Church — reaching out to the community through this evangelization, showing the beauty of God, the beauty of holiness, but without proselytizing. Just allowing artists to come in and show the beauty of God through the various disciplines of their different art,” said Joe Malham, an iconographer who has been an artist in residence since 2001 and who convinced Bishop Bartosic to return to the stage.

Malham creates icons and offers classes to the public.

“When people hear the word ‘evangelization,’ they want to turn and run as far as they can because they think it’s going to be a lot of hitting over the head with Scripture quotes. But it’s actually showing people the beauty of everyday life, if it’s writing, music, the visual arts,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been endeavoring to do.”

Bishop Bartosic chose the material and edited it down for the performance, and Malham took care of the music and publicity.

“It is really neat to see a bishop, a professional actress and these three young men from DePaul — professional musicians — all coming together from different backgrounds and trying to find this sort of sacred synthesis of their art, to come to the same end, which is honoring God through the gifts and the talents that they have been given,” Malham said.

Bishop Bartosic said when Malham approached him with the idea, it took some getting used to. In the end, he saw an opportunity to spotlight the parish’s unique ministry.

“As the vicar of Vicariate II, I thought, this is a great place to do something like that. I was happy once I got over the initial resistance to the idea,” he said. “I think there’s a tremendous spirituality in the arts, and that we don’t always find ways to integrate very creative people into the life of the church.”

The arts and faith have a natural relationship, he said.

 “Anything beautiful comes from God. God is beauty. God is clarity. He is brilliance. But God is also true. Anytime we can get a person’s heart resonating with what’s beautiful and true, I think we’re leading somebody to him,” Bishop Bartosic said prior to the performance. “I think there’s both beauty and tremendous truth in this piece tonight. I think we would all recognize a little of ourselves in Abelard and Heloise.”

Bishop Bartosic doesn’t regret his decision to leave acting and become a priest.

“I really wanted to find something worthy of giving my life to. It’s not that theater isn’t that, but it wasn’t for me,” he said. “I’ve never looked back.”

Kerry Reid is a parishioner at St. Gregory the Great and attended the performance to support the parish community.

“I loved it. It was a surprising and wonderful theatrical experience,” she said. “Especially to see our bishop in this role was really delightful.”

Parishioner Eric Heath agreed.

“My family has come to a lot of the Evangelization Through the Arts programs over the years. That’s one of the things that drew us to this church to begin with, the emphasis on the arts and finding the common ground between art and faith,” he said. “I think this is a perfect example of it tonight. It was complicated but beautiful, like life is.”


  • bishops
  • art
  • bishop mark bartosic

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