Monday, March 21, 2011

Kerrville's Notre Dame Catholic Church celebrates 100 years as a parish.

For the past century, the parish of Notre Dame Catholic Church has been a positive force for good in our community.   In fact, a historical marker is being dedicated by the parish Saturday morning, March 19th, at 10:30 in front of the church.  Everyone is invited to the marker dedication.
Although Catholic services had been held here before 1911, most notably in a little frame church on Jefferson Street (behind the present-day Cailloux Theater) called St. Mary's, it wasn't until the congregation had a resident pastor that the church became a parish church.
The arrival of Father Henry Kemper marked a large change for the Catholic congregation here. Fourteen visiting priests preceded him in Kerrville; Kemper, however, made Kerrville his home, and led the parish for 44 years.
He was no ordinary priest, either, holding bachelors and masters degrees from Notre Dame University, and having studied in Rome for the priesthood. He also taught for a time at the University of Chicago. The son of a wealthy Chicago family, Kemper seemed destined for big things in the Catholic Church.
But, it seems, his heavenly Father had other plans. In 1910, Kemper contracted tuberculosis. This changed everything, and ended the scholarly part of his life. He was ordained in Chicago and ultimately sent to a sanitarium in Boerne to recuperate.
In those days the only treatment for tuberculosis was fresh, dry air. Many a family in Kerrville can trace their family's move to Kerrville to a relative who was ill with tuberculosis. Thus was the case with Father Kemper.
He came here for his health and decided to stay, becoming the parish's first resident pastor.
His first task was to determine how many Catholics lived in Kerr and some of the neighboring counties, and so he set out, by horse and buggy, to conduct a census. He counted around 500 Catholics living in the area. While out on this task he conducted services in Japonica (now Hunt), Turtle Creek, Harper, Ingram, Center Point, Barksdale, and Morris Ranch.
One of his earliest efforts here was to move the frame St. Mary's church from Jefferson Street to the corner of Main and Washington, the site of the old Ochse store. With help from his father, he bought eight adjoining lots and two houses, and together they built Notre Dame Institute, a school for grades 1-12. Advertising from the period shows a mortarboard-wearing scholar along with the headline: "One dollar a month and free to the poor."  When the school and parish ran a deficit during tough economic times, Kemper and his family often made up the difference.
In 1915, with help from his father and other community leaders, Kemper established a Catholic church and school dedicated to serving Hispanic parishioners, Our Lady of Guadalupe, on Jefferson Street.
He was also a community leader: In 1923, Kemper was chairman of the Kerrville committee sent to San Antonio to urge the establishment of the American Legion Hospital (now the Veterans Hospital).
In 1935, again with financial help from his family, a larger concrete and stucco church was built to replace the wooden chapel; the Kempers provided $25,000 of the structure's $30,000 cost. At that time the parish changed its name to "Notre Dame" in honor of Kemper's alma mater.
When he died in 1957, the community noted his service as both a religious and civic leader.
Numerous other ministries have begun at Notre Dame, including the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Knights of Columbus, and the Raphael Community Free Clinic. In addition, the Notre Dame campus has also grown, with a social center, a new gymnasium, and a new sanctuary.
Happy 100th Birthday, Notre Dame!  What an example of giving and leadership you have been in your first 100 years here.
This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 19th, 2011.

1 comment:

  1. Father Kemper must have been a wonderful person.


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