Rest in peace, Father Paul Hartley, 66

Ministered in many parishes in the Jefferson City diocese


Father Paul Hartley ministered in many parts of the Jefferson City diocese over his four decades of Priesthood.

He considered every one of them a blessing.

“I’ve seen a common thread that runs through it all: Holy people want holy priests,” he once stated. “So I thank God for calling me to this wonderful vocation, and I try each and every day to live up to that calling.”

Fr. Hartey, 66, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Montgomery City, St. Patrick Parish in Jonesburg and Church of the Resurrection Parish in Wellsville, died peacefully on Jan. 12 in Boone Hospital Center in Columbia.

He had been undergoing treatment for cancer since June and was looking forward to returning to his full duties this year.

He had received the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.

The Mass of Christian Burial was to be celebrated on Jan. 19 in Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Boonville, with Bishop W. Shawn McKnight presiding, priests of this diocese concelebrating and Father Gregory Frankman, a priest of the Diocese of Sioux City, South Dakota, preaching the homily.

Burial was to be in Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery.

The people helped him

Friends remember Fr. Hartley as an extremely prayerful, devoted priest with a powerful, cultivated intellect and a devastating sense of humor.

He was born on Aug. 13, 1955, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a son of the late Herman Hartley and the late Martha Bechtold Hartley.

His father was in the Air Force. The family moved to Anchorage, Alaska, and then to Boonville, where Fr. Hartley spent most of his childhood.

Since he and his family lived so close to Ss. Peter and Paul Church, he frequently got last-minute calls to serve at Mass and Saturday-night Benediction.

He got hit by a car when he was 5 and woke up from a coma on Easter Sunday.

Around that time, he started thinking about being a priest.

He attended Ss. Peter and Paul School and graduated from Laura Speed Elliot High School, both in Boonville.

He considered entering the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) while studying theology and philosophy from 1973-77 at Rockhurst University in Kansas City.

He eventually discerned that he would be better suited to parish ministry than teaching.

Bishop Michael F. McAuliffe, now deceased, of Jefferson City accepted his application to enter formation and discernment for possible priestly ordination in this diocese.

Fr. Hartley earned a master’s degree in divinity while in formation at St. John’s Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota.

On May 30, 1981, in Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Boonville, Bishop McAuliffe ordained him to the Holy Priesthood.

Fr. Hartley told his hometown newspaper at that time that he would be happy wherever the bishop sent him, and that he would focus on building relationships and “trying to make every place I go a little better.”

He served as associate pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Jefferson City from 1981-84; pastor of Church of the Risen Savior Parish in Rhineland from 1984-87; pastor of St. Andrew Parish in Tipton from 1987-91; pastor of St. Mary Parish in Shelbina and St. Patrick Parish in Clarence from 1991-93; pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Owensville and St. Alexander Parish in Belle from 1993-98; pastor of St. George Parish in Linn from 1998-2001; pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Macon and Sacred Heart Parish in Bevier from 2001-04, while also serving as pastor of St. Mary Parish in Shelbina and St. Patrick Parish in Clarence from 2002-04.

He served as administrator of St. Michael Parish in Kahoka, Shrine of St. Patrick Parish in St. Patrick and the former Mission of St. Martha in Wayland from 2004-12, then as pastor of Sacred Hear Parish in Vandalia and the Mission of St. John in Laddonia from 2012-17, then of St. Mary Parish in Glasgow and St. Joseph Parish in Slater from 2017-2021.

He was appointed pastor of the Montgomery City, Jonesburg and Wellsville parishes in January 2021.

“Every parish has been different and has contributed to my ongoing formation as a priest,” he told The Catholic Missourian in 2006. “Through the good and the bad, people help you to be more Christ-like. You chip away at what’s not important and get down to what can bring Christ into their midst when they truly need Him.”

Fr. Hartley also served for several years as the Catholic chaplain to the residents of the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia.

His friend, Father Louis Dorn, noted that this assignment involved overcoming the fear of going into a prison.

“But once he got in there, the women softened his heart and he got to enjoy his time there very much,” Fr. Dorn noted. “The ladies who are there today who remember him still speak very kindly of him.”

Fr. Hartley wrote in 2010 that offering Mass each day and hearing Confessions were the center points of his priestly ministry.

“Everything else revolved around those two powers I share with every priest because those are specifically what we are ordained to do,” he stated.

Six months into his final assignment, he received a cancer diagnosis. Bishop McKnight placed him on medical leave so he could focus on his treatment.

Fr. Hartley’s goal was full recovery “so I can resume my priestly duties as I want to,” said Fr. Hartley.

“It’s not fun,” he told The Catholic Missourian on Sept. 17. “But what’s nice about it is all the support I’ve received from the three parishes I’m at.”

Prayerful dedication

The announcement of Fr. Hartley’s death brought reactions and memories over social media from all over the diocese.

“Such a caring person. Will be greatly missed,” wrote Elizabeth Pfeiffer.

“He was a very kind and compassionate man,” stated Laura Riddle Flannery.

“You will be missed, Father,” said Vanessa Collins.

Fellow priests recalled his relentless curiosity and commitment to learning.

“He was a very good student and anything he took, he was determined to do it well,” said seminary classmate Father Michael Coleman, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Centralia and a chaplain at Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School in Columbia.

“He loved his parishioners and would do everything he could to help them grow in their faith,” Fr. Coleman added.

“He was a very good and faithful priest and concerned about the salvation of souls,” said longtime friend Father William Korte, pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in St. Elizabeth. “He was diligent in his prayer life. And he was a very good friend. Very supportive. I always knew I could count on him.”

“He was a faithful priest, very conscientious about his parish work,” said longtime friend Father Richard Frank, a retired priest of this diocese. “He certainly believed in the Sacraments and into going to Confession regularly.”

Fr. Hartley’s reading habits were legendary.

“He was the proverbial book worm,” said Monsignor David Cox, pastor of St. Stanislaus Parish in Wardsville and St. Margaret of Antioch Parish in Osage Bend, who was ordained the same year as Fr. Hartley.

“I rarely saw him without a book in his hand,” Msgr. Cox stated. “He was the one to consult when in search of a fact. He was always well informed.”

He was particularly well-read in theology and spiritual subjects.

Fr. Hartley had a rapacious memory and enjoyed offering his parishioners a chance to grow in faith and knowledge of such things as Church history, Sacred Scripture, the Church Fathers and the Sacraments.

“I always saw Fr. Paul as an intellectual,” said Father Gregory Frankman, a priest of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who was to preach the homily at Fr. Hartley’s Funeral Mass.

He and Fr. Hartley were friends since their seminary days and often spent their vacations traveling together.

“He would always come out and join my family for a couple of weekends during pheasant season,” Fr. Frankman recalled. “That worked really well. We could hunt on Saturday with my family, and then the two of us could cover the Masses for my parishes.”

One time during their travels, Fr. Frankman said he couldn’t keep up with something Fr. Hartley was trying to explain to him.

“Well, read my mind!” Fr. Hartley fired back with his requisite deadpan.

It became a running joke for them.

Strong connections

Father Philip Kane remembers Fr. Hartley as a man of prayer who was devoted to receiving the Sacrament of Confession each week.

“Fr. Hartley was, in his own self-effacing way, a bright light,” he said.  

Fr. Kane, who grew up in Ohio, met Fr. Hartley shortly after arriving in this diocese in 1987. Fr. Hartley’s family quickly “adopted” Fr. Kane, and the two men forged a lasting friendship.

“He was conscientious in his duties, devoted to the Blessed Mother and the Eucharist, and a man of great fidelity to the Catholic faith in an age of extensive confusion regarding the Creed and the Commandments,” Fr. Kane recalled.

Fr. Hartley wrote in a letter to his parishioners in Glasgow and Slater when he left there for a new assignment a year ago.

“Each of you,” he stated, “in some way has helped to make me a better priest, and I deeply appreciate the many signs of your care and support that you have given me in my years with you.”

His health took a sharp turn for the worse during in December 2021, about two-thirds of the way through his infusion treatments.

He spent Christmas Day in the Intensive Care Unit.

Parishioners gathered on Wednesdays to pray the Rosary for his recovery. People were also encouraged to stop by church throughout the week and offer prayers for him.

Current and past parishioners stayed in contact with him, which he appreciated very much.

“It’s not the same as being there with them,” he stated in September, “but I do feel connected, such that there isn’t such a sense of separation or distance.”

He offered Mass whenever he could, continuing to observe an admonition he received on his Ordination Day: “O priest, offer this Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass.”

As pastor of a neighboring parish while Fr. Hartley was undergoing cancer treatment, Fr. Kane visited him frequently and covered his sick calls and funerals.

“It pained him to not be able to do those things himself, but it was an honor for me to be able to be of some service and help to him in those last six to seven months of his life,” said Fr. Kane.

“He was a good and loyal friend all these years,” Fr. Kane stated. “I shall miss him greatly.”

Surviving are two sisters, Jayne Evatte and Monica Hartley; a brother, Mark Hartley; nieces and nephews; and his brother priests.

Fr. Korte asked for prayers for Fr. Hartley’s family and for the repose of his soul.

“I have confidence about where he will be if he’s not there already,” he said.