Frontier Bishop Jackson Kemper

Dan Graves, MSL

Frontier Bishop Jackson Kemper

Brethren, we are assembled, under the protection of Almighty God, to partake in, or to witness, the consecration of a missionary bishop. It is a new office in this Church. The event has not occurred before. What we are now to do will go on record, as a precedent..." With these words, George Washington Doane, a Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church signified the importance of events taking place in St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia. On this day, Friday, September 25, 1835, elderly Bishop William White, George Washington Doane and several other bishops consecrated Jackson Kemper for work on the American frontier.

Jackson had already shown strong interest in the west. In fact, he was the first clergyman of his church to preach west of the Allegheny mountains. While stationed in Philadelphia, he made missionary journeys into the wild areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia. Now he was being placed in charge of a vast region in the center of the nation, supposedly encompassing just Indiana and Missouri. In actuality, he labored far afield, expanding his work into Wisconsin and to the west.

Motivated by the urgency of winning souls, Jackson traveled incessantly on horseback or in open wagons and worked himself hard. (Right up to the last year of life, when he was over eighty, he insisted on pushing himself to his limits.) What this cost him in his personal life is indicated by painful lines in his journal: "It is now 4 weeks since I left my own dear home & precious children. About this time I expected to be there again, & here I am at the farthest distance from Norwalk, with no prospect for more than a fortnight yet of returning! God's will be done."

Nonetheless, he exhorted fellow Episcopalians to make greater efforts, too. Pointing out the singular advantages enjoyed by the Episcopal church, he said, "Brethren! may it not be our duty to convert the world--may not this high, this inestimable privilege be offered to us! And are we prepared--are we doing at the present moment even one tenth part of what we are capable?" He appealed for more self-discipline, more self-sacrifice, and showed the way by regularly giving away about two-thirds of his own small income.

Jackson discovered that his recruits from the east did not adapt well to conditions in the west, and so he founded a school to train priests from among western men. Kemper College, his first venture, failed, owing to financial difficulties and faculty quarrels. Later he founded Nashotah House and Racine College both of which succeeded better.

His kindness, friendliness, honesty, concern for souls, and good breeding won him many friends throughout the vast territory of what was then called the Northwest. The extent of his effort can be seen in the fact that he organized eight dioceses: California, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and Wisconsin and founded three colleges. In addition to this, he promoted mission work among the Potowatami, Seneca, Oneida and Huron Indians with whom he worked. He pleaded for translation of the Scriptures into their languages.

His last public work was a confirmation service. Barely able to force himself through the rite, he returned home feeling ill; and he weakened steadily until he died on May 24, 1870. His last words to David Keene (who preached his funeral) were, "I hope I have been faithful; I hope I have kept the faith."

Bibliography:

  1. Cuff, Rev. Stephen. "Celebrating the Life and Ministry of Jackson Kemper." http://www.episcopal-dso.org/pages/int2000/ 0006cuff.htm
  2. Doane, George Washington. "The Sermon at the Consecration of The Right Reverend Jackson Kemper, D.D., Missionary Bishop for Missouri and Indiana in St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia, September 25, 1835." Project Canterbury. http://justus.anglican.org/resources/pc/usa/ gwdoane/kemper.html
  3. "Jackson Kemper, Bishop, Missionary." Episcopal Calendar. http://elvis.rowan.edu/~kilroy/JEK/05/24b.html
  4. Keene, David. "Funeral Sermon, the Rt. Rev. Jackson Kemper." Project Canterbury. http://justus.anglican.org/resources/pc/usa/jkemper/ funeral1.html
  5. Kemper, Jackson. "Journal of An Episcopalian Missionary's Tour to Green Bay, 1834." http://justus.anglican.org/resources/pc/usa/ jkemper/greenbay.html
  6. "Kemper, Jackson." Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1928 - 1958.

Last updated July, 2007

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