Midland native to celebrate 50 years as a Bernardine sister at Sunday Mass
By Mark Haney
The Catholic Weekly
MIDLAND — The Maria Bartos who returns to Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish this weekend is not the same Cecelia Bartos that left Midland some 50 years ago.
This one is a world traveler.
The one that left had none of that in mind.
When she left Midland back in 1959, Cecelia only wanted to serve as a nun. She became Sr. Maria Bartos, a Bernardine sister. And so much more.
Religious life, she said, “has been even more than I thought it would be. When I entered, I would do what I basically had to do — I became a nun and taught —but I never realized I would see the world when I entered the convent. I expected to stay in one place and just serve God in a very simple way.”
Instead, she celebrated the 50th anniversary of her final vows at the 9:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday, July 28, at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, 3516 E. Monroe Road, where she renewed her vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Relatives served as readers and lectors and Eucharistic ministers and 100 attended the Mass.
The Mass comes a day after her brother, John Bartos, hosted a private dinner party for the 14 siblings and their spouses — a reunion of upwards of 243 or more relatives — at the family’s centennial farm in Larkin Township.
Her jubilee began on May 26 in Reading, Pa., at her alma mater, Alvernia University (founded by the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters in 1958) where more than 450 friends and relatives joined the 22 Bernardines celebrating 25, 50, 60 and 75 years of religious consecration.
“I just feel like (my life) has been a gift from God.,” Sr. Bartos said. “It is a blessing from God that I have been able to do this for 50 years. And I think much good has resulted — not to my credit, but to the Lord’s.”
There have been up and downs through those five decades, she said, but she has been able to get through them “I guess because I always felt this was my calling. I didn’t see any need to go look somewhere else because I found happiness here.”
She felt that calling as a grade-school student in Midland. The ninth of 10 daughters and 13th of 14 children born to Henry and Frances Bartos attended public schools for six years until Blessed Sacrament School opened in Midland. She grew up on the family farm that fed all 16 people. The children helped work the farm while their father worked at Dow Chemical Co.
During those two years at Blessed Sacrament, young Cecelia got to know the Bernardine sisters well.
“Because my dad worked at Dow,” she said, “he had to take me to school early and pick me up after work. So as a result I stayed after school and I helped the sisters. I really got to know them. They seemed like such a happy group that I wanted that same happiness.”
That’s why she had no fear of leaving her home and moving to a boarding school in Reading, Pa., for high school. The school was a seminary for the Bernardines.
It wasn’t scary to go to Reading and boarding school, she said, “because this is what I wanted. And there were other people in Midland who had gone to this same school, so I got to meet them. It wasn’t like I wouldn’t know anybody at all.”
Getting there, however, was a 20-hour bus ride.
After she graduated, she moved on to Alvernia College (University), which still was small at the time, to get a degree in chemistry. That wasn’t so she could join her father at Dow. It was so she could teach. The order provided teachers and nurses when she entered.
“I wanted to be a sister. That was my heart’s desire,” she said. “Teaching was kind of a by-product of that.”
Thus began her travels, since her first jobs were teaching at St. Monica and Christ the King schools in Dallas, Texas. This was quite a jaunt for a girl who, growing up, considered a trip to the Detroit Zoo to be far away.
“I told my mom, ‘Don’t worry. They’ll never send me to Dallas,’” she said. Then another sister was elected to order leadership. “They needed someone so they sent me out to teach seventh grade at St. Monica School.”
She then taught math and science at Divine Child High School in Dearborn, while getting a master’s degree in mathematics at the University of Detroit. At that time — 1971 — the parish had a convent and she and 21 others lived there. They taught at the 900-student high school and the 900-student grade school.
“We still are teaching there at the grade school,” she said. “We don’t have anybody at the high school but one of our sisters is the principal of the elementary. We have probably three or four sisters at the parish — some are teaching and some are not.”
She and Sr. Ann deGuise, now principal at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Saginaw, both went to the boarding school together in Reading. Sr. deGuise had attended Divine Child. “She’s now in Saginaw,” said Sr. Bartos, “and I was at Divine Child for all of those years.”
In 1998, Sr. Bartos was elected to leadership. At that time headquarters were in Villanova, Pa. That led to travel to a lot of mission lands. She visited Liberia in the middle of a civil war to make sure the sisters there were safe.
“That was a little bit exciting,” she said. “Luckily nothing happened. God was with me and everything worked out well.”
While in leadership she advocated for the establishment of a development office for the order. “I said we need to start a development office,” she said. “We are going to need money. As time goes on.”
After six years in leadership, she went to the University of San Francisco to study for another master’s degree, this one in organizational development. She also studied at the University of California-Berkley. While studying in California, she was called back to start the office,
That was 18 years ago. She’s been there ever since. As the director of development and mission advancement for the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters at their international headquarters in Reading, she raises funds to support their many retired sisters as well as the order’s mission work in Liberia, Mozambique, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
And the nun who taught first grade and whom Sr. Bartos helped in 1957 in Midland is now her assistant, even at 89, in the development office.
“It was because of her — she has such a wonderful spirit — that I really entered,” Sr. Bartos said. “She really inspired me.”
The decision to become a nun is not one she regrets.
“I am happy here,” she said. “I just feel this where I belong, this is home. I never regretted it. And I feel really blessed that I have been able to serve in so many places and serve so many people.
“I just feel overwhelmed by God’s goodness.”