ALLOUEZ — Deacon Matthew Rappl jokes that he has been “institutionalized,” when referring to his 20 combined years of Catholic education. Those early days in the classroom at St. Gabriel School in Neenah set the foundation for his vocation. The youngest son of Jim and Karen Rappl will be ordained to the priesthood on July 1 at St. Mary Church in Ledgeview.
“I was very young. Fr. (Richard) Allen (pastor) would come to visit the classroom,” explained Deacon Rappl. “He always had some sort of story to tell us, whether it was a story about a certain Scripture passage or he was telling the creation story. I remember having my imagination opened up to the reality of Providence and the love of God. It all made sense to me in the way it makes sense in a kid’s mind, that sense of the keeper of the story. Fr. Allen had a big part in it.”
Attending a Steppin’ Right with Jesus retreat in the seventh grade also helped foster Deacon Rappl’s vocation. He met two young seminarians at the retreat — Quinn Mann and Daniel Schuster (now Frs. Mann and Schuster).
“Quinn Mann had his Paschal Mystery Machine where the small group met,” said Deacon Rappl. “I just remember looking up to them. Shortly after Fr. Quinn was ordained, he was assigned as a priest at St. Pius X in Appleton. I attended CYE (Catholic Youth Expeditions, founded by Fr. Mann) the summer going into my junior year of high school.”
During his junior year at St. Mary Central High School in Neenah, Deacon Rappl was assigned an English class project that required shadowing someone in a profession he considered. He chose Fr. Mann.
“It was in the winter. The car got stuck. It was the God Squad car,” he explained. “We talked for 40 minutes in the car waiting for the tow truck to come and get us. We started out the day at Xavier High School, visited a nursing home, shot some hoops. I did an interview with him. I asked him about the formation process and what that entailed.”
Fr. Mann continued visiting him at St. Mary Central on Wednesdays during lunch. They prayed together.
“I appreciated that continual presence in my life of a priest taking time to be with me not even talking to me about vocations,” said Deacon Rappl. “He knew it was on my mind, but he was just being present to me.”
Fr. Tom Long, director of vocations at the time, learned about Deacon Rappl’s interest in the priesthood through the Boy Scouts. He invited Deacon Rappl, an Eagle Scout, to visit St. John Vianney College Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., where he met seminarians from the diocese.
“That was probably the best thing, getting to know them,” he said. “I was closer to them in age than I was in seventh grade. I remember evening prayer that first night we got there. A college chapel, filled with 130 guys, all singing loudly, made a very strong impression on me. That was really beautiful.”
Fr. Ryan Starks, administrator at St. Therese Parish in Appleton, was one of the seminarians he met. Deacon Rappl’s preaching assignment this past semester was at St. Therese. Fr. Starks will vest him at the ordination.
“I was preaching in Spanish at St. Therese and, alternating weekends, I was at St. Pius X,” said Deacon Rappl.
Deacon Rappl spent the last four years of formation at St. Francis de Sales Seminary near Milwaukee. St. Leonard Parish in Muskego was his teaching parish while at St. Francis.
“A bunch of people from St. Leonard are going to be at the ordination,” he said “I was able to see how the finance council operates, social concerns, liturgy and worship committees. I ended up teaching a fifth grade religious education class for a semester. There were a lot of good things to plug into there.”
Deacon Rappl was also able to travel as a seminarian, including a semester abroad in Rome his senior year of college.
“I served midnight Christmas Eve Mass for the pope (Benedict XVI),” he said. “I visited other countries when I was there. I love Germany.”
He also did a Spanish immersion in Morelia, Mexico, and spent a summer month in Jamaica working with the Missionaries of the Poor.
“Families leave people with disabilities on the side of the streets because they can’t take care of them,” he explained. “The brothers pick them up and provide a home for them. They are doing some really beautiful work.”
Deacon Rappl spent last summer serving as a deacon at St. Joseph Parish in Wautoma.
“I loved being out in the country,” he said. “The people of the parish were very good to me. I got to preach in Spanish. I visited some of the migrant worker camps and provided catechism lessons for some of the children preparing for sacraments. I got out to the camps three or four times. Every Sunday, there was a group of students at the church after Mass.”
When preaching, Deacon Rappl said that he turns to prayer and personal experience.
“I can’t tell people where I get my good ideas from, but I have my sources,” he said with a smile. “It’s exciting to be able to offer something to people that you hope touches their heart; something that can move them in some way to experience the love of Jesus and have their questions answered.”
The newly ordained Fr. Rappl will serve as parochial vicar at St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Oshkosh. He will assist with Masses at St. Mary Church in Omro and St. Mary in Winneconne.
Deacon Rappl is thankful to his family for their support and example. This past spring, he baptized his niece, Eliza, at the St. Peter site of Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Oshkosh.
He will celebrate his first Mass of Thanksgiving on July 2 at St. Gabriel the Archangel Church, his home parish, in Neenah. He also scheduled Masses of Thanksgiving in Muskego and Wautoma and hopes to celebrate Mass in the future at St. Mary of Mount Carmel Church in Fancher in Portage County, Diocese of La Crosse. His family has a long history at the church.
“I want to keep that family connection alive,” he said. “It’s a church where the bells would have rung and the people would come in from the fields in the old days. It has a beautiful high altar. I got my chalice from that parish. My mom was calling around. The parish said, ‘Sure, we have this chalice, it just needs to be refurbished.’”
Following eight years as a seminarian, Deacon Rappl is ready for ordination.
“It’s time,” he said. “God needs to do what he needs to do.”