Young adult journeys ‘outside his comfort zone’
By Peggy Moraczewski
As a child growing up in the Austin area with a love of track and field, Robert Prybyla never envisioned that one day he would be enjoying morning runs around Vatican City. But a willingness to venture outside his comfort zone has led to rewards beyond the imagination of this young man.
The second of four children born to Marianne and Robert Prybyla Sr., Robert credits his parents with serving as his primary role models of the Catholic faith. Robert attended Catholic grade schools, but it was during his years at Round Rock High School that he had what he called a "sacramental awakening."
"Reconciliation became very important to me and I started going to daily Mass at St. William Catholic Church, primarily because I had a job nearby, but it was at St. William’s that I began falling in love with the Eucharist," he said.
Heading north to Baylor University, Prybyla became actively involved at St. Peter Catholic Center while pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Robert’s time at St. Peter ignited a spark that lingered in his heart long past his graduation two summers ago.
"St. Peter’s became a primary place of community for me. During these years I felt called to evangelize, but didn’t know exactly how, or where to begin. It didn’t seem to come naturally to me," he said.
Returning to Austin following graduation, Robert worked as a substitute teacher at St. Theresa’s Catholic School. Although he enjoyed teaching middle school, a desire to learn more about his faith and share it with others left him feeling a bit unsettled, until a friend from St. William Parish suggested he research Emmanuel School of Mission (ESM) – Rome (www.esm-rome.com).
This is where life took a sharp turn and, "moved me way out of my comfort zone. I had never heard of ESM-Rome, but in October 2012, I departed for Italy wondering what I had gotten myself into," said Prybyla, unaware he was embarking on a life-changing adventure in his journey of faith.
Emmanuel School Mission has four locations, three in Europe and one in the Philippines. The nine month ESM program has four pillars: Academics, Spiritual Formation, Mission and Community Life. With a smile acknowledging his partiality, Robert added, "Rome is the best location."
Academics are comprised of classes in theology, the sacraments, Scripture, philosophy, and Italian, augmented by studies in Theology of the Body, drama, patristics and apologetics. Since the school is rooted in the spirituality of the Emmanuel Community, spiritual formation each day included morning praise (singing, giving thanks, consecrating the day to Jesus through Mary), adoration and Mass. Daily Masses were celebrated in the ESM chapel or at Centro San Lorenzo, which was founded in 1983 by Pope John Paul II for the youth of the world. The relationship of ESM-Rome to Centro San Lorenzo was enhanced when the Pontifical Council for the Laity gave ESM-Rome responsibility for operating the Centro.
This connection likely opened another door for Prybyla that he never envisioned. Shortly after arriving in Rome, he was asked to stand for the youth of North America at the opening Mass for the Year of Faith. He joined a handful of Catholic youth from across the globe to receive a personal "Message to Young People" from Pope Benedict XVI.
Robert shared his ESM experience with 17 classmates, who hailed from 12 countries and spoke 21 languages. One student relocated to the Netherlands with her family after being forced to leave their home country of Rwanda during the genocide. Sharing in the lives of the remarkable people he encountered, both inside and outside of the school, made the mission trips exceptionally rewarding.
The ESM students travelled to the town of Diest, Belgium for their initial one week mission during Advent, helping a local pastor who sought to reverse the trend of his ever-shrinking congregation. The students evangelized by singing Christmas carols in the street and engaging people in conversations of faith as they stopped to enjoy the music. Students also went door-to-door inviting residents to church. This experience began to fill the longing in Prybyla’s heart to share his Catholic faith.
However, during the second mission trip, when ESM students were allowed to teach in the Lithuanian Public Schools, he was especially moved. ESM students shared their message of faith in a classroom, created and performed a skit for the students, and socialized with the children during the lunch period. They spent the second week in Vilnius, Lithuania, in the city center park, next to the Cathedral, visiting with people on the street.
This was a major turning point for Prybyla in his evangelization because, "I was way out of my comfort zone!" The ESM’s third and final mission of the year was at a parish in Rome, but he admitted his heart was in the city of St. Faustina’s mission, Vilnius, Lithuania, the "City of Divine Mercy."
Now back home in Austin, Prybyla continues to share the Holy Spirit with all those he encounters. He is a young man on fire with love for God, stirred by an amazing year of faith and feels extremely blessed to have had this experience. Participating in ESM-Rome left him "filled with a love for the Regina Caeli, the Angelus, adoration and daily Mass," Prybyla said.
He also treasured the opportunity to be present at numerous historical events in the life of the Catholic Church, including Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation and last public Mass on Ash Wednesday, as well as standing in St. Peter’s Square when the white smoke announced "Habemus Papam (We have a Pope!)," and joining the ecstatic crowd to welcome Pope Francis. He also attended Pope Francis’ first Angelus.
On a less monumental note, but still important, Prybyla added, "As a group, the ESM students voted ‘Frigidarium,’ near Piazza Navona in Rome, our favorite place for gelato!"
In five years, Prybyla sees himself teaching math and theology at a Catholic School, "preferably middle school," he said. Wherever he lands, his experience in Rome has certainly taught him how to go outside his comfort zone to do his best for God.