Father Paul Holthaus, a native of South Baltimore who served eight parishes in the Archdiocese of Baltimore during his nearly five decades as a priest, died Jan. 26. He was 76, and had resided at Mercy Ridge since retiring for health reasons in 2009.
The youngest of seven siblings, Father Holthaus received his first sacraments at St. Mary, Star of the Sea Parish, and attended its parish school. A Catholic Review profile at the time of his retirement recounted how when he received first Communion, he told one of his teachers, Sister of St. Joseph Inez Loyola, “I was going to be a priest.”
His vocation included six years of minor seminary at St. Charles College in Catonsville, and studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg. During his temporary diaconate, he served at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Baltimore and St. Joseph High School in Emmitsburg.
He was ordained May 16, 1970, and celebrated his first Mass the next day at St. Jane Frances de Chantal in Riviera Beach, where his parents had moved while he was a teen.
Father Holthaus spent nearly his entire priesthood as an associate pastor, spending 12 years each at Our Lady of Hope in Dundalk, 1974-86, and St. Ursula in Parkville, 1997-2009.
He also served St. John in Westminster, 1970-73; St. Margaret in Bel Air, 1973-74; Our Lady, Queen of Peace in Middle River, 1986-90; St. Ignatius in Hickory, 1990-91; the Shrine of St. Alphonsus in Baltimore, 1991-92 and 1993-97; and St. Cecilia in Baltimore, 1993-97. At St. Alphonsus and St. Cecilia, he also served as administrator.
His last assignment, at St. Ursula, included inspiring a parishioner to become a permanent deacon.
“He was instrumental in me becoming a deacon,” Deacon Michael Baxter said. “He was so reverent, celebrating Mass. His homilies were full of teaching, but they were also inspirational. He unpacked the Scripture in a way that touched me. When I entered formation, he was my spiritual director. It was hard, but that was the whole point.”
Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Joan Kelly, pastoral associate of St. Ursula, told the Review that Father Holthaus “wanted no part of administration.”
“I remember him saying how happy he was to be a parish priest and associate,” she said. “He loved the liturgy and administering the sacraments. He was so friendly and had the biggest smile. He always engaged the people in conversation.”
As he told the Review in 2009, Father Holthaus saw great value in his vocation, particularly celebrating the Mass and hearing confessions.
“If people knew what a joy it was to wake up every morning and know you’re going to celebrate Mass, they would beg for a vocation to the priesthood,” he told the Review.
“I felt the Lord was helping them through me,” he said, of the sacrament of reconciliation. “If you want to experience mercy, you come to Christ in the sacrament of reconciliation. Our Lord never tires of giving mercy.”
According to an obituary prepared by the Archdiocese of Baltimore, retired Monsignor George Moeller said that his friend “enjoyed giving people freedom from guilt and a way to go forward with their lives.”
According that obituary, Father Holthaus shared his priesthood with a large extended family, going as far as Colorado for one baptism.
Elizabeth Harkins, a niece, said he “was a treasure,” and described his affinity for film. “He loved movies and could tell you about every director, as well as the actors and actresses who worked in them. He kept all of them in his prayers.”
Monsignor Moeller said that Father Holthaus was an avid fan of Baltimore’s Orioles and Ravens. Monsignor James Farmer, another friend, noted his interest in early church history, which included an early misconception. The future priest apparently believed that all bishops “were like the apostles and had long beards,” so he was surprised when his first encounter with a prelate was a clean-shaven one.
Father Holthaus was slowed by diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, but at peace with death, according to Father William Foley, coordinator of Pastoral Care for Retired Priests in the archdiocesan clergy office.
“I was edified and inspired by how peaceful he was with the whole process,” Father Foley said. “He was joyful to be meeting the Lord. The depth of his spirituality was very real.”
Visitation will be held Jan. 31, from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m., at Stella Maris Chapel in Timonium. A funeral Mass will be offered there Feb. 1, at 10:30 a.m., with Archbishop William E. Lori presiding.