The children who attended St. Michael Catholic Church Bible classes in the summer of 2009 call him Captain Cornball, after a fictional pirate he portrayed.
But Cornball, also known as the Rev. Randy Dollins, has been called many other names.
At a reception in his honor Tuesday at St. Michael, his parishioners called him a man of solid faith.
A dedicated youth-group leader.
On Monday, Dollins will depart for Summit County, where he will take a position at a ministry with locations in Dillon, Breckenridge, Kremmling and Walden.
It will end his three-year assignment in Northwest Colorado, where he alternated among St. Michael, the Holy Family Catholic Church in Meeker and St. Ignatius in Rangely.
Twelve-year-old Hannah Dove, of Craig, said there is one thing she will miss most about Dollins, whether he was dressed as Cornball or in his traditional black and white clerical suit.
“His personality,” she said. “He’s always got a joke to say.”
For Dollins, who was sent to Craig by the Archdiocese of Denver on his first assignment out of seminary three years ago, the departure for a new ministry will be a test of his identity as a priest.
“Everything I do has been being a priest at these three churches,” he said. “Everything, all my creative energy and force. My identity has formed around working at these three churches.”
He likened the next step in his service to rafting down a river, preparing for the next set of rapids, or maybe something bigger.
“You’re in a river and there’s a waterfall coming up, and you’re just kind of going and then you’re like, ‘What’s that noise?’” he said. “I still have stuff to work on (Wednesday), but Monday, I have to pack up and leave.”
The future of faith
At the reception, many of the parishioners agreed Dollins’ legacy will be in his service to the ministry’s youth.
“I’m most impressed with his work with the kids,” parishioner Earlene Sauer said. “And they loved him, too.”
When Dollins arrived in Craig three years ago, the youth-group program had fallen into disrepair.
He took it upon himself to reinvent the program, building contact lists, reaching out to parents and building a program of 25 to 30 children.
Dollins said it’s vital to create for the youth a colorful, engaging vision of faith.
“The faith is going to be carried on by the next generation,” he said. “If church is just this boring hour that they go to, and it’s not something for them, they’re never going to want to be part of their faith when they leave the house.”
One of his major projects involved starting a mission trip in 2008 with several teenagers at Holy Family in Meeker.
The trips, which also included children from Rangely, Craig and Steamboat Springs, took the group to rural areas in Okalahoma and Illinois to perform projects to help low-income communities.
Aside from bonding with one another, Dollins said the children learned to face the challenges of the world with inner strength.
When the group travels in July to Billings, Mont., Dollins will not be there, but he hopes the youth will be instilled with this year’s theme: “Resolve.”
“When the world hits you with a demanding situation, how will you respond?” he said of the youth mission’s life lessons. “Because so many people cower, and they run away and they ditch responsibility and they hit the eject button because they don’t want to deal with it.
“But, the world is led by people who say, ‘OK tough situation. How are we going to get through it?’ And hopefully they do it with the idea that their faith is what strengthens them.”
Aside from reaching out to youth, Dollins also gave sermons in Spanish, connecting with what he said is a growing congregation in Moffat County.
Dollins said his replacement is more than capable of picking up where he left off.
Michael Rapp, 27, will arrive in Craig by mid-June.
Dollins, who attended seminary with Rapp for five years, said he speaks Spanish and will also be able to act as a liaison to the ministry’s youth.
The Rev. Jim Fox, who has shared duties with Dollins for three years, said he will miss him for his youthful enthusiasm and dedication to his faith.
“He’s very high energy and industrious,” Fox said. “He brought a lot of solid Catholic values and faithfulness. He’s always standing up for being faithful to beliefs in the rest of the world.”
Fox said he has seen Dollins make connections with parishioners both young and old.
The diversity of the guests at Tuesday’s reception was evidence of the connections he had built, relationships that Dollins said will be the cornerstone of his memories of Northwest Colorado.
Sylvia Walker, of Hayden, recalled the first time she met Dollins.
She said he told parishioners he would be delighted to be invited to dinner at each of their houses and passed around a sign-up sheet, with small reminders attached so his hosts would remember the day he would arrive.
“I just thought that was so cute how he did that,” Walker said.
She said it wasn’t a standard practice for a priest to make himself so available to his ministry.
“That’s just his personality, his way,” she said. “He’s a wonderful speaker and a wonderful priest. I’m going to miss him so bad.”