Father John C. Kemper, PSS, died on May 21 in Baltimore. A native of the Diocese of Harrisburg, Father Kemper had been the Provincial Superior of the Society of St. Sulpice until his resignation in April for failing health from esophageal cancer. He was 62.
John Charles Kemper was born in Kulpmont on July 29, 1957, to John and Lois (nee McCabe) Kemper. He is survived by his mother and his three sisters: Georgiann Hyduk, Marsha Williams, and Marion Zakrzewski.
Father Kemper earned his bachelor’s degree at St. Pius X College Seminary in Erlanger, Ky., in 1979 and then moved on for theological studies to Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., where he earned the M.Div. and M.A. in 1983. Ten years later, as a Sulpician, he earned the D.Min. from the Pacific School of Religion of the Graduate Theological Union, in Berkeley, Calif.
After ordination to the priesthood for the Diocese of Harrisburg on April 9, 1983, Father Kemper was named associate pastor of Good Shepherd Parish in Camp Hill. After three years in parish ministry, he was accepted as a Sulpician candidate. After completing his formation year (1986-1987), he was assigned to the faculty of St. Joseph’s College in Mountain View, Calif., from 1987-1990. He became a member of the Society of St. Sulpice (PSS) in 1989.
After completing his Doctor of Ministry degree in 1993, he was vice rector and director of formation for three years (1994-1997) at SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Mich. From there, he went to Texas to become the director of the D.Min. program and of the pastoral internship program for the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio. He served there in various administrative roles from 2001-2006.
In 2007, Father Kemper came to Baltimore to serve the Province in various administrative capacities. As Director of St. Mary’s Spiritual Center and Historic Site, he oversaw the building of the visitor’s center and the restoration of the historic chapel. He was on the Provincial Council for two terms and was elected Provincial Superior in 2015. As Provincial, he oversaw the major renovation of Villa Olier, home of the retirement community of the Province, and the renovation of Providence Hall at Theological College. He also continued to make a major contribution to the office of Advancement for Theological College, such as in spearheading the Endowed Selner Chair in Liturgy and Sacred Music.
During his time as Provincial, Father Kemper presided over the “Adieu” event that celebrated the Sulpicians’ withdrawal from St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, Calif., after 118 years of service. A year later in 2017, Father Kemper signed an agreement with Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, MSpS, of San Antonio for the US Province to assume the administration and staffing of Assumption Seminary beginning July 1, 2018. Also, in 2018, he oversaw the Sulpicians assuming responsibility for St. Anthony’s Seminary in Kachebere, Malawi, to expand the Sulpician mission in Africa.
In the midst of these administrative duties, he also continued to be engaged in pastoral ministry. He frequently served as a confessor for the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a community with deep historical roots with the Sulpicians. He served as spiritual director for seminarians and would include himself in the mission co-op to preach appeals for money to support our mission in Africa. He also maintained an active relationship with the Diocese of Harrisburg through frequent visits, keeping in touch with his close friends and classmates from the seminary, and serving on the Diocesan Seminary Board.
In the summer of 2018, Father Kemper was diagnosed with stage four esophageal cancer with metastasis to the liver. He continued to work until he couldn’t. On April 24, 2020, he submitted his letter of resignation to the General Council. It was accepted, effective May 1, 2020.
Father Kemper died on May 21, 2020. He asked that he be cremated and later buried in the Kemper family plot in Shamokin. Since the restrictions on public gathering related to the COVID-19 virus do not permit gathering for a funeral Mass, Father Kemper asked that his funeral be celebrated with a Mass in St. Mary’s chapel at the historic site on Paca Street in Baltimore after social distancing restrictions are lifted. After the memorial Mass, his cremains will be brought to Pennsylvania where there will be another memorial Mass in his home parish in Kulpmont followed by interment in the family plot at St. Edward’s Cemetery, Shamokin.