On June 19, 2020, Philadelphia lost a dear member of the LGBTQ+ community, Fr. Ron Hoskins. Hoskins devoted his life’s work to helping LGBTQ people including those living with HIV/AIDS, both as a priest and as director of volunteers at Action Wellness. For three decades, Hoskins provided ministry and chaplaincy to Dignity Philadelphia, a local iteration of nation-wide church communities that welcome LGBTQ people of Christian faith.
“He always did for others,” said Hoskins’ friend and Dignity Philadelphia member Richard Minuti. “I’ve never seen somebody so dedicated like that. He did it with a sincere heart, just always going to see people who were sick, and just helping everybody out.”
After converting to Catholicism in 1970, Hoskins became ordained as a priest in 1976 and later led church communities in three Philadelphia Parishes — Resurrection of Our Lord in Northeast Philadelphia, SS. Simon and Jude in West Chester and St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Lenni.
In 1988, when Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua rejected Hoskins’ suggestion of developing a ministry to provide care to the HIV+ and gay communities, Hoskins relocated to New York City where he could better serve those communities. He did so through several iterations of Dignity in New York, and worked in many roles for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.
“The reality is, he could have had a very comfortable life as a Parish priest and could have done this under the radar as a lot of Catholic priests do,” said Kevin Burns, executive director of Action Wellness. “[He could] never have come out and never be an advocate, but that wasn’t who he was. He had such integrity and such a commitment to the community.”
Hoskins came to Action Wellness in 1994, then known as Action AIDS. As director of volunteers for nearly 26 years, Hoskins prioritized community; Action Wellness has over 400 volunteers, and Hoskins knew each and every one of them.
“He could tell you what they did and where they lived and what their family was like,” Burns said. “He really knew people. It was a real gift.”
Action Wellness staff memorialized Hoskins’ death in a Facebook post and plan to have an in-person memorial when it’s safe to do so. Many community members posted comments saying how much Hoskins was loved. One post reads: “Ron Hoskins was a force of nature. I don’t know if I’d be where I am if not for him. I remember meeting him for the first time when I became a Buddy volunteer many years ago. What a deep loss. I will remember the light he imparted to me and will carry it forever.”
In addition to his work at Action Wellness and in church communities, Hoskins was generous and selfless toward most anyone who came into his life.
“He was there for a lot of us in the community through difficult times, with a lot of integrity,” Burns said. “He helped me to bury my first partner when he died. That was not unusual. When anyone in the LGBT community who was Catholic had some sort of crisis or a death, Ron was there.”
Hoskins was also known for hosting an annual Christmas party at Calcutta House, a housing and health services organization for people living with HIV and AIDS. Hoskins and members of Dignity Philadelphia would give gifts to the residents of Calcutta House, sing carols and enjoy holiday festivities.
“This was all done with much love and caring to the sometimes forgotten members dealing with HIV/AIDS,” Minuti wrote in an email.
As a gay Roman Catholic priest, Hoskins experienced his fair share of backlash. Before gay marriage was legal, Hoskins officiated commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples, Burns told PGN.
“He took a lot of criticism,” Burns said. “He also got a lot of hate mail and a lot of threatening phone calls from supposedly good Catholics. He kept his vision on what he was doing and stayed focused on that.”
Minuti explained that even though the Catholic Church to this day does not acknowledge members of the LGBTQ community, they are still free to attend any church that does welcome them.
“I can still go to the mainstream church I was brought up with, but I chose not to because I don’t agree with their position,” Minuti said. By choosing not to go to the mainstream church, “you’re saying to the Church, in this case the Catholic Church, that you disagree with their viewpoint and want to make change. [Dignity] believes that our sexuality can be in a positive manner, and that we are people of god and gospel. [Ron] still managed to find his own way, he made his own ministry.”
On June 27, a memorial service was held for Hoskins at his burial place, Green Mount Cemetery in West Chester.
“He was very spiritual, he had a really rich spiritual life,” Burns said. “I think he always went against the current, he always marched to the beat of his own drummer and made it work. I think that’s what people saw in him and loved about him.”