Finding God in Nature

Posted by Addie Woods

March 22, 2022

Finding God in Nature

She can be seen studying animals on the trail, or answering questions of those interested in birding. A lifelong environmental enthusiast, Pat Bartolo, SCN, has often volunteered as a nature camp counselor.

 

Her love of nature and strong advocacy directly ties into Laudato Si’ and the commitment by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in caring for the environment.

Often when members of the Congregation come together to discuss how they might further their efforts, Sisters say she is among the first to come up with forward-thinking ideas.

Sister Pat developed her love of nature, and particularly of birding from her father. She recalls enjoying her time with grandparents as they raised chickens and tended gardens. She tells of how she would walk about the chickens, or would wander into the garden and pluck cucumbers to eat right off the vine.

As a young woman, Sister Pat also developed a deep desire to live in a community, whether that was at the convent, or living alongside others as part of a parish or in a neighborhood. It’s her can-do attitude that she took with her in June 2020 when she moved into Terrace Place, along with Rita Gesue, SCN. The apartment community, a ministry of Vincentian Collaborative System, is located just down the road from St. Louise Convent and Caritas Place. Sister Pat says she sees Terrace Place as a continuation of being part of a community. In this new place, she has found herself modeling for others just what the life of a Sister is like. Many have never met a Sister before, and Sister Pat says some are surprised when they learn she is a Sister.

Making acquaintances and answering questions has never been hard for this lifelong educator, who began teaching not long after she entered religious life in 1963.

Pat Bartolo, SCN, is seen on one of her many outings enjoying the wild Mountain Laurel shrubs in Terra Alta, Preston County, West Virginia.

Sister Pat says that her 17 years at Monongahela Valley Catholic High (MVC) in particular were memorable; the faculty was close-knit and dedicated, and the students were spirited. MVC had a track and field below which she could take students to observe and describe nature in each season. “We saw over 88 species of birds there during those years (1980-1989),” says Sister Pat. “I remember how the students knew from their outdoor gym classes to respect the killdeer nesting on the slope, John Fazzini’s amazement to see a male indigo bunting in the low vegetation looking ‘just like the bird in the book I’m reading,’ and Deb Dimasi recognizing the plaintive song of the field sparrow from the open windows as they were taking a final exam, singing the notes later, asking if that was in a minor key.”

Her lifelong interest in birds further expanded during this time. At her father’s urging, she attended

Oglebay Institute nature camp for adults. She was drawn to the field of nature education.

Sister Pat also enjoyed Terra Alta Mountain Nature Camp, where she was taught a system for identifying birds, and a system for identifying plants as well. Dr. Glenn Peterjohn passed on his knowledge of insects and herps (snakes, frogs, turtles, etc.). She emphasizes that every staff member embodied the camp director’s philosophy “that knowledge of nature leads to loving it; and when you love anything, you want to protect it.”

“In this new place, she has found herself modeling for others just what the life of a Sister is like.”

Indeed, caring for and teaching about nature is part and parcel of Sister Pat. From 1981 to 1999, she volunteered two weeks of her summer as a counselor at the Oglebay Institute’s resident Junior Nature Camp. She shares, “It was amazing how quickly many learned about the stars, birds, insects, trees, wildflowers, and creek critters, created nature art, and made lifelong friends.” She describes the many memories made. “In the evening the whole camp would try their best to sit quietly on Vespers Hill; eventually some would recite poetry, read a nature passage, play a tune, and later lead songs at campfire, relate nature observations, tell stories, listen to the night insects, maybe a frog or screech owl. When the Perseids were active on a clear night, we would all lie on blankets or sleeping bags while astronomer Lenny Muni would point out the night constellations.”

At her residence, Terrace Place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Pat Bartolo, SCN, and Rita Gesue, SCN, plant and maintain plants, like this tomato plant.

 

 Sister Pat has spent much of her life finding God in the great outdoors.

The impact Sister Pat has had outside and inside the classroom is profound. She taught English and later, religion. She marvels at how she had the good fortune, as a lover of nature, to live in close proximity to water while carrying out her ministries. In Donora, her home when teaching at MVC, the Monongahela River was visible from both convents; at Bishop Boyle High in Homestead, she had an easy walk to the

Monongahela River; at St. Joseph’s in Natrona Heights on the cliffs of the Allegheny, and later, in Bellaire, Ohio at St. John Central High, she was near the Ohio River. “For 47 years, I lived within walking distance of Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers, teaching energetic and talented students, and working side by side with generous and caring adults, whom I consider to be ‘the salt of the earth,’ reflects Sister Pat.

Pat Bartolo, SCN, is seen observing Dr. Glenn Peterjohn as he points out the field marks of this snake.

In addition to meeting new folks on the nearby walking paths, or while out and about, Sisters Pat and Rita get to know Terrace Place residents at dinners. At a recent Oktoberfest celebration, Sister Pat shares how she and Sister Rita met a gentleman whose children had attended St. Sebastian and Vincentian Academy, schools where Sisters taught. They all hit it off with common interests, especially he and Sister Rita, both of whom had been involved with Barbershop Quartets. The fact that the gentleman’s now grown children knew the Sisters led to much conversation.

Indeed,it is a small world and with every new person she meets while at Terrace Place, or every moment spent in the great outdoors, she tries to stay attuned to God’s hand in each connection.“It’s such a wondrous world,” reflects Sister Pat; “As in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s lines from Aurora Leigh, ‘Earth’s crammed with Heaven, and every common bush afire with God.’”

3 Comments

  1. Rosemarie Kirwan

    And there are so many birds singing as I walk to O’Connell hall in the morning that I cannot see, and whose song I do not recognize. Just think you many you could identify here.

    Reply
  2. Corrine Giel scn

    An interesting article about an interesting woman who I also call “friend”

    Reply
  3. Angie Shaughnessy SCN

    Wonderful, Pat (and Rita.). Thank you for your witness and service!

    Reply

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