Father Rappold: ‘God didn’t ever give up on me’

Father Norbert Rappold, pastor of St. Peter the Fisherman Church in Mountain Home, serves cake during his 25th jubilee celebration June 12 at the Family Life building. (Leo Clegg)
Father Norbert Rappold, pastor of St. Peter the Fisherman Church in Mountain Home, serves cake during his 25th jubilee celebration June 12 at the Family Life building. (Leo Clegg)

Father Norbert Rappold is a piece of driftwood in the chaos of life.

“When I’m in my chaotic moments, I basically remind myself I’m driftwood. Falling over the waterfalls, the chaotic life of a piece of driftwood, in the end, is what makes it beautiful and unique and one of a kind,” said the pastor of St. Peter the Fisherman Church in Mountain Home and liaison to the bishop for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. “I’d like to think I’ll wash up on the shore of the ocean of Easter, and God will come pick me up and put me in my special place.” 

On June 12, Father Norbert Rappold, 62, celebrated his 25th jubilee as a diocesan priest. More than 250 people attended a potluck dinner at the parish’s Family Life Building.

Father Rappold, the eighth of 14 children, was born and raised in Conway. He attended St. Joseph School until the fifth grade, when the family moved to Houston, Ark. He then attended St. Boniface Church in Bigelow (New Dixie). His inquisitive nature earned him the nickname “Know It” in high school.  

“I was always one who was asking a million and one questions,” he said “… You can’t contemplate God if you don’t have a mind willing to kind of go out of the ordinary and step into the possibilities.” 

After graduating from Arkansas Tech University in Russellville in 1984, he worked as a farm manager, in construction and later owned a lawn care business. 

“I almost got married in those years. I was engaged. She met somebody else. I felt rejected. It kind of fell apart, but it was a blessing. I know what heartbreak feels like,” he said. “It became an integral part of my priesthood. When they come to me with those broken hearts, there’s nothing you can do to fix it; just sit with them in the midst of it because time is going to heal a broken heart.” 

Despite a good-paying career, something was missing from Father Rappold’s life. 

St. Boniface’s pastor, Father Edward Marley, CSSp, helped plant the seed for his vocation. 

“I was enamored with him. He was much older but still running the parish, and he was just normal,” he said. “He didn’t try to be holier than thou and some big theological genius. He was just normal and would talk to you wherever you were at.” 

After discerning his call for several years, he was accepted to St. Joseph Seminary College in Saint Benedict, La., and later attended Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. 

Father Rappold was ordained June 12, 1999, at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock, one of the last priests ordained by the late Bishop Andrew J. McDonald. 

He served as associate pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock for a year. In 2000, he became pastor of St. Agnes Church in Mena. In his 13 years there, Father Rappold experienced two pivotal moments of life-changing chaos: an EF3 tornado as he celebrated Holy Thursday Mass in 2009 and going to rehab. 

“You’re struggling to help parishioners and people beyond the parish itself. You can see the community and town as the body of Christ,” Father Rappold said, adding the tornado’s devastation opened his eyes to serving beyond the parish walls. 

After struggling with alcoholism, Father Rappold spent three months at an out-of-state in-patient rehab center. He has been sober since 2006. 

“I was addressing my own brokenness and woundedness instead of letting it control me,” he said. “I began to let the Lord help me with it, taking control of it through his grace.” 

In 2013, he became pastor of St. Peter’s in Mountain Home, revitalizing the parish with community outreach, more adult faith formation classes and a sense of unity and stability. 

Father Rappold often gives blessings to people after Mass, hugs his parishioners and shares vegetables from his garden. Living up to his seminary nickname “No-Shoes Norbert,” it’s common to see him barefoot, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, greeting parishioners after Mass when he isn’t the celebrant. 

“I try to be genuine. I don’t pretend to be something I’m not. I think that’s something that Daddy always did. You may not have liked him, but you respected him. … I’m not going to get on your pedestal,” he said. 

Reflecting on 25 years of priesthood, he’s most grateful that “God didn’t ever give up on me.” 

“I’ve discovered the secret of chaos and calmness — God is in the midst of it. If you trust him, he’ll take care of you. Even if you don’t trust him, he still loves you. He’s holding you up,” Father Rappold said.

Aprille Hanson Spivey

Aprille Hanson Spivey has contributed to Arkansas Catholic as a freelancer and associate editor since 2010. She leads the Beacon of Hope grief ministry at St. Joseph Church in Conway.

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