December 27, 2010
Marc Barylo is the 2010 winner of the WCR’s Worker in the Vineyard Award.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Marc Barylo is the 2010 winner of the WCR’s Worker in the Vineyard Award.

LASHA MORNINGSTAR
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

EDMONTON — Tim Spelliscy volunteers alongside Marc Barylo and marvels, "He works and works and works and always wants to sit in the background. He is not just a hard worker and high achiever, he is humble."

The vice-president and general manager of Global TV salutes Barylo's being honoured with the WCR's Worker in the Vineyard Award, saying, "When you work with Marc you feel like you should do more. That is the greatest compliment I can give him."

By day, Barylo is chief development and community relations officer at Catholic Social Services. But those other hours — nights, weekends, holidays included — are usually spent giving and doing for his Church and fellow man.

Archbishop Richard Smith says, "I think the entirety of Marc Barylo's life is an act of worship. We worship God in the liturgy, we worship God in prayer, but we also worship God in our service, particularly to the neediest and the poorest."

Barylo, the archbishop said, "is a man who gets what it means to be a man who follows Jesus Christ."

Smith said Barylo embodies the Second Vatican Council's teaching on the lay apostolate. "The lay apostolate is one who is out there bringing the Gospel forward. And Marc does that through his involvement with Catholic Social Services."

Barylo is the 2010 winner of the WCR's Worker in the Vineyard Award, given annually to a layperson in the Edmonton Archdiocese who lives a life of outstanding Christian service.

The archbishop agreed with Barylo's receiving the award, saying, "If you ask Marc to do anything, he is there for you. It's a generosity born of love."

Sister Annata Brockman has watched Barylo oversee countless celebration services, including Pope John Paul II's 1984 visit, installation of archbishops, the wedding of Wayne Gretzky, dignitaries' funerals, Christmas and Holy Week services.

"To ensure the liturgies celebrated in the main church of the archdiocese were according to the best guidelines, Marc took a tour to Rome," Brockman said.

"While others were sightseeing, Marc met with the pope's personal liturgist to discuss various aspects of liturgical celebrations. Marc is prayerful, reliable, well-organized, generous, humble, meticulous."

Barylo's compassionate heart and actions find their roots in his humble beginnings.

The 57-year-old man was born in Kamloops but the family moved to Edmonton when he was one.

Mother Marcelle came from the musical Pepin family and father Vitole was born in Lithuania.

Life was a struggle for the family of six. Once a seismic worker in Drayton Valley, Vitole learned the house-painting trade and started his own company, Vits Painting and Decorating.

"But being an immigrant — the language issue — a lot of people would not hire him, so he would have to go out of town," explains Barylo.

The family lived in basement suites in the city's underbelly. In their blue collar neighbourhood, most seasonal working families had to borrow money to put food on the table.

MICE DROPPINGS

"I remember lots of mice," says Barylo. They left their black droppings in the cereal box, "but we just cleared them out and still ate the cereal."

Hampers saw them through several Christmases and Santa's toys came from the Knights of Columbus.

"Most Christmases through the formative years came from the generosity of others," says Barylo. "But we never felt poor."

Vitole and other male relatives served in the Second World War and the trauma scarred them emotionally, emotions they self-medicated with alcohol "so we walked on eggshells."

Grade school at St. Cecilia's saw attention deficit Marc get the strap on the first day in Grade 1, tied to a chair and gagged in Grade 3, countless pointers broken over his back.

But in Grade 7, Sister Ernestine saw past Marc's rebellion, saying, "This kid's redeemable."

'That turned me on," says Barylo. "I would stay after school and work and started to apply myself."

The nurtured student displayed brilliance in math and physics to the point he mentored and even taught math to his fellow high school students.

With dreams of becoming an astronaut, Barylo took honours theoretical physics at the University of Alberta.

He drove cab at night to pay for his schooling — dangerous work; he was beaten, robbed.

"What a chess game it was."

Come Christmastime, Barylo gave free rides, delivered turkey dinners parcelled out of Sacred Heart Church to shut-ins on Christmas Day.

Throughout it all, he saw people who had no voice, immigrants who believed no one cared about them.

"My heart went out to them. I had a passion to do something. God put it into my heart. I could see Christ in others.

"I wanted them to know hope and love. It sounds corny, but it's true."

The struggling student also started delivering hampers for CSS, thinking, "There but for the grace of God go I."

CURSILLO MEETING

Then Fathers Clem Gauthier and Tom Kroetch crossed Barylo's path. He was urged to attend a Cursillo meeting but he begged off. Finally after the third request he went and had a spiritual experience that turned his world upside down and led him to question the meaning of his life.

So Barylo went to talk with Archbishop Joseph MacNeil about becoming a priest. Studies in philosophy, years in the seminary in Saskatoon and St. Joseph Seminary and Barylo realized as he was crying in the seminary chapel, "I do not fit here. . . . Celibacy is not right for me."

Barylo met his wife Susan while in the seminary and he wanted to have children. Dad Vitole was still painting so his son began to paint with him.

Susan and Marc married in 1981. In 1984, Father Bill Irwin pulled CSS out of the United Way and asked Barylo to come work for him. Susan told her husband he could serve the Lord in that job, and "I trusted her and never looked back."

As well as doing the expected services, CSS opened Kairos House for people with HIV and/or AIDS , Safe House for prostitutes — services that raised controversy and even bomb threats.

"If Christ was here, he would do it," stated Irwin and Barylo.

VISITS TO PHILIPPINES

Irwin also started the Philippines Self-Help Project to battle child prostitution. Barylo took it under his wing and visits for a month each year, inspecting 12 self-help projects, a water distribution project, micro-finance program, small business training program, pre-schools.

"You can smell and taste the poverty."

But small businesses are flourishing and some of those original preschoolers are now graduating from college.

"I feel so blessed to be with those people. It's a tough trip to take, but I feel God's presence when I am there."

Trying to list Barylo's volunteer work is like trying to map shotgun pellets.

Someone calls him with a family tragedy on the weekend and needs help — a visit, support for them, clothing, get police involved and Barylo springs to action. A shut-in needs shopping done and he does it.

"I enjoy it all," Barylo says simply. "It's part of our calling. God has given us the grace to reach out to be the face, hands and heart to others. God has given us the talents to do these things and if you can find the time, you've got to do it."

Check off Nothing More Beautiful presentations, Christmas Bureau board, Alberta Fundraising executive on Barylo's must-do list too.

This 24-7 presence comes at a cost. His first heart attack happened when he was 34. His recent heart surgery rocked him.

"I'm a pretty intense person, don't share personal problems, I'm always thinking."

But when someone he loves, like his beloved wife Susan, faces a critical health problem, "Marc becomes like a pit bull, reading medical books, calling the doctors," says Susan.

Spelliscy underlines Barylo's behind-the-scenes approach to his community work. "He keeps it quiet, doesn't make a lot of noise about what he achieves. Some people will find Marc almost military like in his approach. He is exceptionally well organized. He sets out goals. He sets out timelines. And they are all achieved."

'TWO MINUTES!'

Spelliscy breaks into chuckles as he says. "It doesn't matter who you are — the MC, the archbishop, even if the pope was around — he would tell you, 'Keep your speech to two minutes.' He doesn't care who you are or what you do or how important you are."

There's a lighter side to Barylo.

"One of my favourite things about Marc are his crazy ties," says Spelliscy. "He has the most outlandish ties. He has the dumbest ties. He has the ugliest ties."

Still, like a good friend, Spelliscy is concerned about Barylo's health.

"I worry about him all the time, all the time, the speed at which he moves, the way he moves. But I learned a long time ago that I couldn't change him."

Barylo excuses his constant giving by saying, "I have always been busy involved in lot of things. I don't do it. God does it. God takes care of it, puts all those pieces together."

A man who turns to St. Augustine in prayer, Barylo says, "My soul is always restless" and seeks guidance when saying, "Lord have mercy on me a sinner."

Dismissing any suggestion that he is a community/Church hero, Barylo states resolutely, "Anything I do that is good or positive is because of God's grace. It's certainly not because of me."