Father Paul Hostettler will mark the 70th anniversary of his ordination as a priest on June 3.
“It’s the greatest thing that’s happened to me to become a priest,” said Father Hostettler, who is retired and lives at Mary Queen of Angels Assisted Living Facility in Nashville.
“What I have enjoyed as a priest is being able to offer the Mass and change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ and give it to other people,” Father Hostettler said. “It’s almost the same privilege to say to people I forgive you your sins and if they’re sorry, they’re forgiven.”
Father Hostettler recognized his vocation to the priesthood while a student at Father Ryan High School in the 1940s.
While attending the school’s annual Mothers and Sons Banquet, he heard Bishop William Adrian say, “Some day, one of you boys might be sitting over there” pointing to the table where the priests were sitting, Father Hostettler told the Tennessee Register in 2015. “I didn’t think any more about it.”
About three months later, he was caught in a summer storm and sought refuge under a tree at the corner of West Linden Street and Natchez Trace, just up the street from his home.
“I can still picture the corner where the tree was,” Father Hostettler said. “I couldn’t see anything but lightning when it would flash. There wasn’t anyone else around when it came to me I could be a priest.”
After graduating from Father Ryan, he was accepted as a seminarian for the diocese and was sent to St. Ambrose Seminary in Davenport, Iowa, to begin his studies. The seminary closed after his first year because the U.S. Navy took over the dormitories at St. Ambrose, and Father Hostettler finished his seminary students at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis.
Father Hostettler was ordained on June 3, 1950, by Bishop Adrian at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, where he had been a parishioner growing up and had attended elementary school.
As he was kneeling before the altar, Bishop Adrian laid his hands on Father Hostettler’s head. “When he did that, I thought he was going to push me through the step I was kneeling on,” Father Hostettler recalled in 2015. “And when he let go, I thought I was going to fly through the ceiling. I may have been in ecstasy for about a half hour.”
After his ordination, Father Hostettler served in parishes around the state, including Memphis, Jackson, Cleveland and Athens, among others. When the Diocese of Knoxville was established in 1988, Father Hostettler became a priest of that diocese.
“My favorite place was Copperhill,” in the southeast corner of the state along the borders of Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina, Father Hostettler said.
When he was a pastor in Cleveland and later in Athens, he served St. Catherine Laboure Church in Copperhill as a mission. When he retired for the first time in 1993, he volunteered to go back to Copperhill to serve there full time.
“That was my favorite part of the state because of the mountains and hills and rivers and lakes,” Father Hostettler said. “It’s really a beautiful place.”
The parish was one of the smallest in the state with about 60 people when he served there. A family of Lebanese people moved in there and that’s what brought the Catholic Church in there,” he said. “And it didn’t grow much after that.”
After 13 years in Copperhill, Father Hostettler retired a second time and moved to his hometown of Nashville to be closer to family. Once in Nashville, he took over as the chaplain at Mary Queen of Angels until retiring from that post in 2015.
“I’m not able to get around much anymore,” said Father Hostettler, who turned 97 on May 12. “I don’t need a walker or a cane or a wheelchair. I just use my two legs, but I’m slow at it.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Father Hostettler has been confined to his room, he said. “I’m not supposed to go outside and especially go around other people,” he said. “If anybody in the building gets it, that’s going to cause a lot of trouble.”
Although he’s been unable to celebrate Mass during the pandemic, Father Hostettler said, “I say my breviary every day and do some spiritual reading and try to behave myself.”
“This is an extremely different situation than ever has been in my life,” Father Hostettler said. “I’ve always been able to offer Mass every day and visit people. … Now I can’t do any of that. It’s tough.”
“I’ve never done anything in my life that gave me more pleasure than fulfilling my duties as a priest,” Father Hostettler said.
“I think any Catholic should realize that they have a vocation in the Church and they should try to fulfill the duties of that vocation to the best of their abilities,” he said. “A priest has the duty of teaching the faith and administering the sacraments. They should try to love that work and do the best you can.”