NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Members of the Nashville community are mourning the loss of Father Charles Strobel, a man inspired by the unending task of caring for the homeless.

According to his obituary, Strobel passed away from Parkinson’s disease complications on Sunday, Aug. 6, at the age of 80. The former Catholic priest has been a force in Nashville for a long time.

Per the obituary, Strobel was born in Nashville on March 12, 1943, growing up on “a quiet, integrated block of Germantown that was anchored by the Church of the Assumption.”

He reportedly graduated from Father Ryan High School in 1961; spent four years in the seminary at St. Mary’s College in Kentucky, receiving a bachelor’s degree in philosophy; received a master’s degree in theology in 1969 from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where he became immersed in the Civil Rights Movement; and received a master’s in education from Xavier University and an honorary doctorate in divinity from MacMurray College. 

The obituary said Strobel performed his first mass after being ordained in 1970 at the Church of the Assumption in Nashville. After that, he spent five years in Knoxville as the associate pastor of Immaculate Conception parish, in addition to several other accomplishments. Then, in 1975, he returned to the Nashville area to serve as pastor of Donelson’s Holy Rosary Catholic Church before he was named pastor of Holy Name Catholic Church in 1978, staying there until he left the priesthood.

More than 15 years after being ordained, Strobel established Room In The Inn, a nonprofit that offers emergency services, transitional programs, and long-term solutions to help people rebuild their lives. The organization said it first began in the winter of 1985 when Strobel opened his parish to people seeking sanctuary in the church parking lot.

“In December 1986, four congregations committed to sheltering people experiencing homeless through March 1987. By the end of that winter, 31 congregations had joined,” the Room In The Inn’s website stated. “Now, we have nearly 200 congregations from a wide variety of traditions and over 7,000 volunteers who shelter almost 1,500 men and women from November 1 through March 31 each season.”

The goal of Strobel’s network of faith congregations was to support people through programs emphasizing health, education, employment, and housing.

In fact, his dedication to feeding the homeless goes back to the days when Strobel was a priest at Holy Name Catholic Church. He even opened up a soup kitchen in 1983 called Loaves and Fishes. Then, after his mother was killed by a drifter in 1986, Strobel left the priesthood and devoted his full attention to helping Nashville’s homeless.

In an interview with News 2 in 2018, Strobel said he always knew his life would be one of service, inspired by his mother’s benevolent spirit.

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Multiple leaders and organizations across Nashville — and even in Kentucky — have shared their condolences on social media following Strobel’s death:

Today we received the sad news of the passing of Father Charles Strobel, a friend to so many in our community. He was a man who was always mindful of those who lived on the margins, making it his life’s mission to put into action Christ’s words in the Gospel of Matthew to feed the hungry and to welcome the stranger. We pray for the repose of Father Strobel’s soul and the comfort and consolation of his family.

Bishop J. Mark Spalding of the Catholic Diocese of Nashville

Today, I join my fellow Nashvillians in mourning the passing of Father Charles Strobel. His lifelong advocacy for the poor and homeless was a shining example to all of us of how to lift up those less fortunate than us. Through his tireless work at the Room In The Inn and the Loaves and Fishes food bank, Fr. Strobel helped thousands of our fellow residents get the helping hand they so truly deserved. Our city is a much better place because of Fr. Strobel, and all of us should strive to keep his legacy alive through compassion and love for our neighbor.

Mayor John Cooper of Nashville and Davidson County

We join the Nashville Community in mourning Father Charles Strobel. His mother Mary Catherine was the first ever female employee of the Nashville Fire Department and our Headquarters is dedicated to her. #RestWell

Nashville Fire Department

It is with heavy hearts that we share the news of Father Charlie Strobel’s passing. At 80 years of age, he spent 53 years as a priest, devoting his life to serving those who were most in need. Father Strobel was a true champion for the homeless, and his work as the founder of the Room in the Inn organization has helped countless people over the years.

Father Strobel’s legacy will continue to live on through the countless lives he touched. His dedication to the service of others was an inspiration to us all. He was a beacon of hope for the most vulnerable among us, and his kindness and compassion will never be forgotten.

We extend our deepest condolences to Father Strobel’s loved ones during this difficult time.

St. Henry Catholic Church

Our hearts are aching as we say goodbye to Father Charles Strobel. By speaking truth to power and walking in love every single day, he reminded us over and over again that one person actually can make a difference. His compassion for anyone left behind has forever changed our community.

Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee

Today, we join thousands across the nation as we mourn Father Strobel, the founder of Room in the Inn. On a bitter winter’s evening in 1985, Father Strobel welcomed the unhoused men and women who were camped outside of his church in Nashville, Tennessee, to come inside and sleep in his church’s gym, and began a movement. Currently, over 200 congregations across the country take place in RITI, with various denominations involved. A true servant and humanitarian, Father Strobel will be missed.

Warm Blessings Community Kitchen

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Strobel reportedly received a number of accolades throughout his life, including the Human Relations Award from the National Conference of Christian and Jews, the Catholic Charities Annual Service Award from the Diocese of Nashville, the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Nashville Chapter of the ACLU, the Joe Kraft Humanitarian Award, the Operation Andrew Annual Joe & Honey Rodgers Lifetime Achievement Award, AgeWell Middle Tennessee’s Sage Award, and the Father Ryan Legacy Award.

The obituary said Strobel is “survived by his brother Jerome Strobel, his sister Alice Strobel Eadler, and his brother-in-law Robert Eadler; his nieces and nephews Katie Seigenthaler, Beth Seigenthaler Courtney, Amy Seigenthaler Pierce, Amelia Strobel, Martin Strobel, Maria Seigenthaler, Merrill Strobel Bohren, Daniel Strobel, Margaret Strobel Pyburn, Morgan Strobel, Charlie Eadler and Katie Eadler; many great-nieces and great-nephews; legions of friends; the staff of Room in the Inn; and everyone Room in the Inn serves.”

According to the Diocese of Nashville, funeral arrangements will be finalized and announced in the next few days. In addition, Room In the Inn said a community celebration will be held in the coming weeks.

Strobel’s obituary encouraged community members to consider a contribution to the the Charles Strobel Housing Fund — “which is dedicated to expanding Room In The Inn’s Campus for Human Development to provide expanded community and wellness space for critical wrap-around services; and accessible, affordable housing for individuals experiencing homelessness” — rather than flowers.