Mike Rapp, a 27-year-old new priest at St. Michael Catholic Church in Craig, was worried last week that the blue dye he’d applied to his closely cropped brown hair wasn’t going to wash out.
It was a Wednesday, and Rapp colored his hair as part of “crazy hair day” during the church’s vacation Bible school tailored for local youth.
Rapp had only a little time to get his hair back to normal — he had a funeral service to conduct that Friday and mass services to orchestrate that weekend.
The blue hair, Rapp noted, probably wouldn’t have gone over well. Providence, however, was on his side.
“I was hoping it would wash out before the weekend,” he said. “It did, thank God. I was going to have to shave it off if it didn’t.”
While the dye job may not fit the traditional idea of a priest for some, it’s in keeping with Rapp’s personality.
As a youth, he described himself as being a “typical high school kid — wild and rebellious.” At seminary, which he recently graduated from, he once sported a mohawk — “They told me, ‘This is just not going to work,’” he recalled with a laugh.
And today, he still listens to punk rock and hip hop, albeit at lower volumes than he once did.
Yet, ask his opinion on the church and its’ relevance in the lives of followers, and it’s easy to understand his moral foundation is built upon the church and its beliefs.
He speaks positively of growing Catholic populations in Asia and Africa, and is optimistic that the church’s struggles in the U.S. and Europe will be short-lived. He speaks about his long-standing practice of prayer, and credits Jesus Christ as his and the world’s savior.
“Religion in general is up against the ropes,” he said. “It’s not just the Catholic Church. … We live in the Oprah nation — read a book, eat well, think good thoughts about yourself.
“I don’t think it lasts. People have to take religion seriously if they want a happy life, a full life.”
Rapp’s path to the priesthood is an example, he said.
Originally from the Denver area, Rapp is a 2001 graduate of Regis Jesuit High School. He was a high school sophomore living in Littleton when the 1999 Columbine shootings occurred.
The tragedy left an indelible mark.
“That really shook me up and it surprised me,” Rapp said. “Violence, problems, they were supposed to be somewhere other than the suburbs.
“I started noticing there were problems everywhere. Life is hard, and it’s hard for everyone. I decided I wanted to help. I wanted the world to be better.”
But he didn’t know how. It didn’t take him long to find out.
During his junior year, Rapp was cleaning classrooms to defray the cost of his tuition.
A priest at the school, who would routinely ask Rapp to pray for various people and causes, stopped him one day. He asked Rapp to pray about whether “God wants you to be a priest,” Rapp recalled.
“I did, I prayed right there and I remember I was just struck with peace,” said Rapp, who found his family and friends receptive to the idea of the priesthood. “I thought, ‘I better give this a try if God wants me to do that.’”
“Nine years later, I got ordained, and I love it,” he said. “I don’t know if I would have found something that makes me as happy as this.”
Rapp replaces Randy Dollins, a popular figure at St. Michael who was transferred to Summit County after concluding his three-year assignment in Moffat County.
Rapp, who is at the beginning of his own three-year assignment, and Dollins were classmates at seminary and also lived at the same parish house along with other seminary students.
Rapp, who graduated the seminary in May, discussed his Moffat County assignment, with Dollins.
Rapp’s assessment of Craig and Moffat County, as well as Meeker and Rangely, where he also serves congregations, isn’t all that different from Dollins’ views.
“Generally, people are very good people here,” said Rapp, who has attended recent community events in town like Monday’s circus and Whittle the Wood earlier this summer. “It’s just nice to be involved and to have a community. It seems like the town of Craig is a warm place.”
The area of his first assignment is also an ideal location for Rapp to tap into his love of the outdoors. He said he’s learning to fly fish, and one congregation member has also offered to teach him bow hunting.
He’s also picking up tidbits of useful local information, one in particular that might be handy come homecoming time in the fall.
“Aren’t the (Moffat County High School) Bulldogs blue?” Rapp asked. “I’ll be ready for round two come football season.”
After all, he still has some of that dye leftover.