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Sunday, January 15, 2023

An historic school and church at Jefferson and Francisco Lemos streets in Kerrville

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Kerrville, around 1920.

I’m old enough to remember an old school and church at the north corner of Francisco Lemos and Jefferson streets. In my childhood – the 1960s – the old building was in poor repair, and had a fence around it, to keep folks out.

What I most remember most, though, was a bell which hung in one of the twin belfries. Even as a child I knew the building was probably doomed for the wrecking ball, but I was very concerned the bell would be lost in the demolition. I often wondered how I could save that bell, and how I could enlist my friends to help. I had no idea church bells were so heavy, and well beyond my ability to carry – even with friends helping. 

The school was called Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it was opened on October 4, 1915 with 150 pupils. It was one of the many projects of Father Henry Kemper, who guided the Notre Dame Catholic Church parish and schools from his arrival in Kerrville in February, 1911.

Contributors to the founding of the school, in addition to the Kemper family, included Capt. Charles Schreiner, L. A. Schreiner, Dr. Sam Thompson, and Robert Real.

The school was run by the Sisters of Charity, according to an article from June, 1915.

Though I think the building started life as a school, it wasn’t long until worship services were also held there. A mention of services at Our Lady of Guadalupe is in a June, 1917 issue of the Kerrville Mountain Sun, and other notices can be found in later issues.

The school also served as a makeshift hospital during the influenza epidemic of 1918.

The site today, January 2023
According to the October 11, 1918 edition of the Kerrville Mountain Sun, a young man serving in the Navy was sent home to Kerrville because his ship had an "epidemic" of Spanish Influenza, "and a number of the boys were sent home, hoping they would escape it." The young man "is thought to be in no immediate danger and will likely soon be up. This is the first case of influenza reported here." The young man survived.

By October 25, 1918, the Mountain Sun reported the first death in the epidemic; the victim was a young man working for the government in Kentucky, who fell ill and was sent home to Kerrville. He died just three days after arriving home.

By November, when the community was celebrating the signing of the Armistice, it was also "in the throes of the most malignant epidemic of Spanish Influenza," according to an article by Father Kemper, which was published years later, in the Kerrville Times of September 28, 1933.

"Within a few days, and sub-freezing snowy days at that, Father Kemper buried from Our Lady of Guadalupe parish" six victims of the disease. Dr. Palmer identified three dozen additional cases in the parish.

"At once the Guadalupe School was converted into a free hospital regardless of sex or creed. A rigid quarantine was established, with paid police at all street entrances in to the [neighborhood]. Father Kemper stripped the Rectory of beds and linens; used his Buick as an ambulance; contributed several hundred dollars to furnish groceries for a thousand isolated parishioners in the danger zone; and despite the shortage of nurses in that never-to-be forgotten month, he secured two skilled nurses from Santa Rosa Hospital [in San Antonio], Sisters Irma and Ladislaus, who as by miracle at once turned the tide of one of the greatest dangers that threatened our city in the last quarter of a century. 

"The thirty-three men, women and children whose life seemed doomed in the Guadalupe School at once showed signs of recovery. No new cases arose in the neighborhood. After ten days and nights of anxious watching, the two Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word were able to dismiss the last flu patients, and to let their fellow-nuns resume class work as soon as the public schools were permitted to open."

Others praised in Kemper’s 1933 article were Dr. E. E. Palmer, who "will probably remember this as one of his busiest weeks in half a century of medical practice," and Mrs. Louis A. [Mae] Schreiner, “an angel of mercy ministering among the lowliest of God's stricken children,” and "who has since joined the choir invisible….”

The school was ‘abandoned’ during the Great Depression, ‘due to the lack of funds,’ according to the Kerrville Daily Times of February 28, 1971. The last pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church was Rev. Cayetano Romero; church services ended there in 1955.

The building was home to a ‘youth center’ until the mid-1960s. Its last use was as a storeroom for clothes and other items donated to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and members of the society met in the building.

The structure was condemned as a fire hazard in the summer of 1970, and finally came down in 1971.

And what happened to the bell I remembered from the old school? I’ve been told it was saved and now graces the bell tower beside Notre Dame Catholic church on Water Street.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects items from Kerrville’s past. If you have something which you’d care to share with him, it would make him very happy. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 14, 2023.

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