|At right, Father Paul Hostettler con-celebrates Mass with Bishop David Choby at Mary Queen of Angels assisted living facility. On June 3, Father Hostettler will celebrate the 65th anniversary of his ordination. Photo by Rick Musacchio
During his ordination as a priest nearly 65 years ago, Father Paul Hostettler was kneeling on a step before the altar at the Cathedral of the Incarnation as Bishop William Adrian laid his hands on his head.
“When he did that I thought he was going to push me through the step I was kneeling on,” Father Hostettler recalled. “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.”
On June 3, Father Hostettler, 92, will mark the 65th anniversary of his ordination. He also will retire for the third time, this time as chaplain at Mary Queen of Angels Assisted Living Facility.
Father Hostettler realized his call to the priesthood with a bolt of lightning.
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 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.
“It’s a very small town. When I was living there, there was 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.”
After 13 years at St. Catherine Laboure, Father Hostettler retired for the second time and moved back to his hometown of Nashville to be closer to family.
Soon after he moved into the Villa Maria Manor, he was asked to celebrate Mass at Mary Queen of Angels next door. As the health problems of Bishop James Niedergeses worsened, Father Hostettler started saying Mass there more often. After the bishop died, Father Hostettler agreed to become the chaplain at Mary Queen of Angels, celebrating Mass for the residents, on a full-time basis.
He’s enjoyed the assignment, Father Hostettler said. “It was a good training for me too. … You’re never too old to learn, to get better, so to speak.”
Now that he is retiring again, Father Hostettler plans to get back to one of his hobbies: painting.
“I love to paint,” he said. “It’s a talent I have, and I’ve never had any lessons. And I do a pretty good job if I say so myself.”
When he first moved to Nashville, he started a painting of a man standing on a boulder at the edge of a river fishing. “I worked on it every morning.”
But when he started celebrating Mass at Mary Queen of Angels every day, he stopped working on it. “I haven’t finished it yet. It will take 20 to 30 minutes to finish it.” Once he retires, he plans to finally finish the painting and start another. “I will keep painting if I can.”
Celebrating Mass and administering the sacraments for people is the most fulfilling aspect of being a priest, Father Hostettler said. “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.”