Father Paul Hostettler dies; was a priest 73 years

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

Father Paul Altman Hostettler, who was a priest for 73 years and celebrated his 100th birthday last May, died on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023.

A visitation will be held from 5-8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23, at Marshall Donnelly Combs Funeral Home. A reception will be provided throughout. A Mass of Christian Burial, celebrated by Bishop J. Mark Spalding, will begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 24, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, following one hour of visitation from 9-10 a.m. Several priests, including those from the Diocese of Nashville, will be concelebrating the Mass. 

Father Hostettler

“I love him so much,” Connie Radford, Father Hostettler’s niece and goddaughter, told the Tennessee Register at the party for his 100th birthday. “He’s been the most wonderful uncle in the world.”

Her affection for her uncle is shared by many who knew him. “I think people love his humility,” Radford said. “He’s very funny. … He charms everyone. 

“I know people who say because of him they have come back to the Church … even more devoted to the Catholic Church and to Jesus,” Radford said. “He was always a wonderful example to me, just watching someone live a godly life.”

Father Hostettler was a Nashville native whose family settled in Tennessee in the 1880s after emigrating to the United States from Switzerland. The family first settled in Signal Mountain near Chattanooga, Radford explained. “His grandfather walked to Nashville from Signal Mountain and started this big Hostettler family here.”

Father Hostettler was a man of many talents, his niece said. “He was a great golfer. … He was a horseman,” serving as the riding instructor at Camp Happy Hollow, the forerunner to Camp Marymount. Her uncle is also “a very talented artist,” she added. “Just intelligent. And I think that’s why people like him. He’s such a well-rounded person.”

Father Hostettler first heard the call to the priesthood during a storm, he told the Register in 2015 at the time of the 65th anniversary of his ordination.

While a student at Father Ryan High School in the 1940s, he attended the school’s annual Mothers and Sons Banquet. During his talk Bishop Adrian said, “Some day, one of you boys might be sitting over there” pointing to the table where the priests were sitting, Father Hostettler recalled. “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. While standing there in the dark, Bishop Adrian’s comments popped into his head and he realized what he meant. In that instant, Father Hostettler’s call to the priesthood was clear, he said.

“I decided I was going to be a priest and nothing could stop me but God, and I’ve never changed my mind,” Father Hostettler said.

After Father Hostettler graduated from Father Ryan High School, he entered the seminary and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Nashville on June 3, 1950. 

After his ordination, Father Hostettler served in parishes around the state, including Memphis, Jackson, Cleveland, and Athens, among others. As pastor of St. Therese of Lisieux Church in Cleveland, he led efforts to build a church there.

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 told the Tennessee Register in 2015. 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 and stayed for 13 years. 

“It’s a very small town. When I was living there, there were only about 400 people living in the town, and I got to know a whole bunch of them,” said Father Hostettler. “I loved that part of the state. Something about it got into my blood.”

Father Hostettler retired for the second time in the mid-2000s and moved back to his hometown of Nashville to be closer to family. For several years, he served as chaplain at Mary, Queen of Angels Assisted Living Facility, celebrating Mass there.

Father Hostettler has loved being a priest, Radford told the Register. “Being a loyal, godly priest is his life,” she said. “All of the flocks that he has cared for have cared for him and really appreciated him.”

Celebrating Mass and administering the sacraments for people is the most fulfilling aspect of being a priest, Father Hostettler told the Register in 2015. “That’s when you’re another Christ. When you say this is my body, this is my blood … that’s a great privilege to do that for the people.”

“In my opinion,” Radford said in May of 2023, “Uncle Paul has lived the life of his dreams. How many people get to do that?”

Subscribe to our email list

Keep your finger on the pulse of Catholic life in Middle Tennessee by subscribing to the
weekday E-Register here.

* indicates required