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Priest gets mohawk, fulfilling promise to students

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SAN DIEGO – Have you heard the one about the priest with a mohawk?

No, really, that’s not a joke.

Father Billy Zondler, associate pastor of Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala Parish, got the distinctive hairstyle during a morning assembly Feb. 27 at Nazareth School, which is located next-door to the historic mission church.

The young priest, who turns 33 on March 4, had made the students a deal. If they could raise more than $45,000 through the “Turkey Trot,” their annual jog-a-thon fundraiser in late November, he would not only get a mohawk, but he would have his hair cut on stage in the school auditorium, and select students would have the opportunity to take scissors to his bushy mane.

What would possess the young priest to provide such an incentive?

“It sounded really funny and hysterical, and so I rolled with it,” said Father Zondler, who was encouraged to do so by a Nazareth School student and considers the loss of some hair a small price to pay for the students’ fundraising success.

Twelve students initiated the haircut by each snipping off a lock of Father Zondler’s  hair under the supervision of Marissa Hernais of Elevate Salon Studios, a parishioner of Mission San Diego with 35 years of professional hairstyling experience. After the students had their turn, Hernais took over with her electric razor.

When Father Zondler asked Hernais for mohawk, she was initially taken aback. Could the priest really be asking for the traditional mohawk from the 1980s, a radical hairstyle in which the head is completely shaved except for a tall, spiky strip of hair that extends down the center.

After presenting Father Zondler with several mohawk options, the priest ultimately decided to go with a fade. Hernais describes  this as “the modern mohawk,” a trendier look that is quite common today.

Dr. Colleen Mauricio, principal of Nazareth School, said that fundraising for the Turkey Trot had plateaued around $39,000 or $40,000 prior to Father Zondler’s mohawk challenge.

“Then, all of a sudden, we had all kinds of donations coming in,” she said, adding that the final tally is expected to be around $48,000.

Though the fundraising goal had been reached by early December, Mauricio said, the promised haircut had to be postponed until late February.

Father Zondler had already committed to officiating a few weddings and, as he put it, “these couples did not sign up for the ‘mohawk priest’ package.”

As for how long he expects to be sporting a mohawk, Father Zondler said, “My hair grows rather quickly. So, it’ll probably grow out and fill in quicker than people hope.”

Look for a longer version of this story and additional photos in our April print edition. 

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