“Being myself is good for evangelization. I look like them so if I’m talking with people, they’re already interacting with me before they put their guard up,” he said.
His ability to connect with youth and people of all ages doesn’t just come from his outward appearance. Whether Fr. Bob is communicating on Facebook, at Mass, while making a hospital visit, or enjoying a meal with friends, he’s able to meet people where they are – because he understands where they’ve been.
The pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, administrator of both St. Rita and St. John the Evangelist, and chaplain of Geibel Catholic Jr/Sr High School grew up within a mile of the Connellsville parishes he now serves. The path he took to get there as a priest, though, wasn’t so easy to find.
One year out of college, he dreamed of owning a dance club, driving a Rolls Royce and having a carefree life. While he was searching for his big break, he felt something was missing. The faith instilled in him growing up as an altar boy in a strong Catholic family was gone.
He commented, “My biggest struggle, when I was weak and without faith, was the inability to conceive living without it. I knew there had to be a purpose.”
It was Easter of 1989. In his vocation story, Fr. Bob wrote, “I don’t remember any more of that particular Holy Week until the Service of the Lord’s Passion Good Friday afternoon. I had to take my younger brothers to church because my parents were both at work. …I very clearly remember praying during the course of the service, telling God that I wanted to believe in Him and asking Him to let me know if He was there.
I was very specific. I made it clear that I didn’t want any big miracle; I didn’t want Him to go to all that trouble on my account. I simply wanted Him, in some small way, to reveal His presence to me.”
And God did, but in a big way instead.
An avid reader, Fr. Bob was feeling drawn to scripture; reports of miracles taking place; and books, which included the lives of the saints and Ray Moody’s Life after Life.
There was also the note he uncovered from his aunt Betty. It was penned in an autograph book for him when he was in 7th grade less than a year before she passed away and was signed, ‘To the Reverend Father Robert Lubic, Love Aunt Betty.’
“She had never before said anything to me about being a priest, nor did she ever say anything after that one incident. That Sunday afternoon in my bedroom, though, the words hit me like a ton of bricks. And I had to wonder, apart from senility… Did she have access to information beyond that naturally available?
Fr. Bob’s prayers were more than answered. He not only found his faith, he discovered his calling. At the age of 24, he entered the seminary and become a priest.
Preaching the Unexpected
It would be the good Acts of the Apostles that would influence his preaching style, especially Paul. The apostle admonished the residents of Athens about their worship of false gods by quoting a pagan poet (Acts 17:28). “That image has always struck. God speaks to us in all ways, including ways we don’t always expect.
Musicians tend to be poets of the modern world. Preaching isn’t always talking. You have to have an unexpected hook to get their attention. That’s what Paul was doing.”
It’s what Fr. Bob does too through the poetry of music.
At Geibel Catholic Jr/Sr High School’s senior Baccalaureate Mass, he used their class song, Blink 182’s “All the Small Things” as the focus of his homily. Breaking out into song, he referred to the title and the two main ideas in the lyrics.
“I talked about life and doing the small things well. Most of us don’t have great accomplishments. But as St. Therese showed us, the smallest things we do matters. God is there with us.”
Finding just the right words to use in his homily takes more than a song, it takes Divine intervention too.
“An hour before Mass I have no idea what I’ll preach. I’ll have a few ideas going in, but I don’t know how it’s going to come out. Once it clicks, then the homily message takes on its own life. I depend on the Holy Spirit, probably more than I should!”
That level of confidence wasn’t always there. He remarked, “When I was in college, I was terrified being in front of class speaking. That was, until my first summer of seminary when I was sent to Camp Conestoga as chaplain to the Boy Scouts. I did a campfire skit where I played the character of Fr. Quido Sarducci. The audience responded and I suddenly realized that I liked being in front of people!”
It’s a good thing he does because each weekend the Connellsville Catholic churches are filled with parishioners. They include two centenarians, Polly Trump and Frank “Slim” Ernesty who both turned 100 this year. “They never miss Saturday Mass!”
People who inspire me are people like them who make the most of what’s offered. People who choose to stay positive and look for the silver lining,” he said.
And when he comes across people with little Christian faith, Fr. Bob tells them, ‘to be open. I appreciate what they are going through from my own struggles. When I lacked faith, I wanted faith. I can’t understand why someone wouldn’t want it.
One of the biggest challenges he said he faces on a daily basis “is focusing on the thing that is right in front of me at same time my mind is swirling in a million directions.”
Fr. Bob’s home and offices reflect his tastes, which are eclectic, ornate, bold and bright. “I like colors. I also like to be cheap so I shop at Gabes and antique stores. This whole house is a unified project. I don’t feel constrained by anything but what I like. When it’s done, it’s done. If it fits, who am I to say it isn’t right? ”
Seizing Every Moment
He not only thrives on artistic expression, but on helping people. “The more you do in service to others, rather than in service to self imparts more meaning.”
One of the many ways he does this is by serving as an amateur genealogist to help families find their history and lineage. Sometimes even discovering their true age.
Recently, by researching a combination of church records and other documents, he found that a former parishioner who was born in Italy is, in fact, 111 years old. That discovery led to another. She’s also the 18th oldest living person in the U.S.
Whatever the day brings, Fr. Bob knows it will have purpose. “My motivation to wake up every day is my relationship with God.”
It’s also why he seizes every moment of an unconventional life.