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Kempker, Rev. John Francis


Posted By: mjv (email)
Date: 7/28/2021 at 11:50:11

Rev. John Francis Kempker was born at Pleasant Ridge, Lee Co., Iowa, May 18, 1848. He is the son of Gerhard H. and Theresa (Achwelms) Kempker, of Hanover, Germany, where they were born, reared and married. Two children were born in Germany, Henry and Theresa, both of whom came with their parents to America in the spring of 1848. In April of that year Gerhard Kempker made a claim to a tract of land which he afterward entered at a Government land sale in Burlington. Upon this land he erected a log house, and into this the family moved, beginning soon afterward a pioneer life in its fullest sense. After arriving in Lee County the family remained some time with J. H. Kempker, a relative of the family, who had preceded them and had located in Iowa in 1836. He was an ardent Catholic, and while prospecting for a home in the Territory, found his way to Sugar Creek, Lee County, where a few families had already located. He, with H. Holtkamp, organized a Catholic Church as the settlers came in, and the first service held by a priest, Rev. Aug. Brickwedde, of Quincy, occurred May 11, 1838, in a new barn just completed, belonging to J. H. Kempker. At that time about ten families became members, and this small congregation grew until, in 1867, a resident priest, Rev. M. Michels, was called. It is now a large and prosperous charge, and to the Kempker families the honor may be ascribed of being the first in that neighborhood to organize a Catholic Church.

After the family of Gerhard Kempker settled on the Lee County farm, other children were born, as follows: John F., Mary and Margaret. Here the family remained until 1857, when they removed to West Point, in the same county, where three more children were born – Catherine Bernard, Joseph and George. The father engaged in farming on his own lands from the time he first came to Iowa, except one year, and is yet living a retired life upon the farm, where his last are his happiest years. When he came to Iowa he spoke only the German language, and conversed with his neighbors by signs; neither did he bring with him a wealth of silver and gold, for a few dollars comprised his entire fortune. His start was really made without capital, and he was known in the early days as “plucky Dutchman;” but throughout his whole life fair dealing and the strictest integrity were persevered in, until he accumulated quite a little fortune.

The death of Mrs. Kempker occurred Jan. 31, 1880, in her fifty-seventh year. She passed away leaving a family of children well settled in life, and a husband who is an honored resident of West Point and a valued citizen of Lee County. Her death was deeply mourned, and her funeral was one of the largest ever occurring in that neighborhood. Rev. Father Jacobz, her beloved pastor, officiated at the services, and from the church where for many years she had devoutly worshiped, her remains were carried to their last resting-place. All the children but four are married and have families. Henry wedded Josephine Sallen and is a resident farmer of St. Stephen, Neb.; Mary wedded Bernard Lampe, who is how deceased, but during his lifetime was extensively engaged in farming and brewing at West Point; Margaret became the wife of Joseph Nacke, a merchant tailor of West Point; Bernard H. wedded Miss Kate Strothmann, and resides somewhere in the West; Joseph became the husband of Miss Martin, of Carroll County, Iowa, and is a merchant at Breda, in that county; Theresa is an invalid, and remains with her father on the old homestead; George is in the West, and Miss Kate is housekeeper for our subject.

John Francis Kempker received his classical education at Milwaukee, graduating there. His health failed prior to that time, and physicians advised him to go to a more congenial climate; consequently, in 1868, he went to Bardstown, Ky., where he took a classical course, and then a course in theology and philosophy at Cape Girardeau, in 1870-71, completing his theological studies at Milwaukee in 1872. During his term at Bardstown, Ky., our subject was professor of the German language. After his vacation, Rev. Kempker was appointed assistant priest to Father Mc Menomy at Council Bluffs, where he principally attended the out-missions through Pottawattamie, Mills, Fremont, Montgomery, Shelby, Harrison and Crawford Counties. From there he was appointed pastor at Mr. Carmel, Carroll Co., Iowa, where he remained two years. This was a new and rapidly growing county, and through his efforts was made a very strong Catholic colony, and our subject organized congregations and erected four churches in the county. He also organized a parochial school and erected at Carroll, Roselle and Arcadia, and the church at Mt. Carmel was completely remodeled. Lyons and Sugar Creek comprised the next charges assigned to him, Nov. 1, 1875, which were faithfully attended until November, 1877, when he was assigned to Garnavillo, Clayton County, where he reduced a large Church debt and erected another parochial residence. From there he was called to the house of Bishop Hennessy, of Dubuque, where he remained seven months, and was then appointed pastor at Ft. Madison, where he remained three years, from whence he was sent to Neola, Pottawattamie County, of which he was the first priest. While there Rev. Kempker built an addition to the church. He then went to Brooklyn, Poweshiek Co., Iowa, where he erected two churches, one in Brooklyn and one in Grinnell, leaving the first free from debt and the second with only a small amount due, which has since been liquidated. This was done in six months, when he was transferred to Keokuk, where he remained until 1885, during which time he erected a fine parochial residence and organized a school. Riverside, Washington County, was his next appointment, to which he came in May, 1886. His first experience in this village was a most unpleasant one, as robbers made him a midnight visit and despoiled him of a nice gold watch and $280 in cash. Since taking charge of this congregation he has secured a $350 bell, two altars and an organ, and the Church is now in a flourishing condition, with the members acting in the utmost harmony. The membership is full 600 souls, besides many who are not regular attendants.

Rev. Father Kempker is a member of the State Historical Society at Iowa City, a member of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, and since January, 1887, has written and published each week in The Iowa, of Dubuque, and article upon the history of the Catholic Church in Iowa, and since July has contributed to the Davenport Messenger an article upon the same topic. He is also a graduate in medicine of the Keokuk Medical College, of the class of 1885. Some important positions have been held temporarily by our subject: the one, pastor of St. Matthias Church, of Muscatine, during the absence of the pastor while upon a trip to Europe, and a similar position at St. Mary’s Church at Iowa City, during the absence of Father Emmonds. Full of promise, and already having an enviable position in the Church of which he is the resident priest, in this village, the sketch of Rev. John F. Kempker adds luster to the records of the Catholic Church, and we note the above facts with a pardonable degree of pride. They were collected from an authentic source and are presented to the thousands who will peruse this volume at a later period.

Source: Portrait and Biographical Album of Washington County, Iowa (1887). Excerpt from Biographical Sketch of Rev. John Francis Kempker, pages 478-479.


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