Deacon Joseph Kemper, one of SC’s first permanent deacons, dies

MOUNT PLEASANT—Deacon Joseph Clement Kemper Jr., one of South Carolina’s first permanent deacons, died June 21. He was 102.

The Mass of Christian Burial was held June 27 at St. Mary of the Annunciation Church and interment was at Holy Cross Cemetery on James Island.

Deacon Kemper was born on May 29, 1909, in Muenster Saskatchewan, Canada, a son of Joseph Clement Kemper and Anna Augusta Reverman Kemper. He attended St. Gregory’s College in Shawnee, Okla., St. Benedict’s College in Kansas, and St. Joseph’s College in Princeton, N.J.

In August 1971, after two years of study at St. John’s University in New York, he was the first of three men to be ordained as permanent deacons in South Carolina by Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler.

The deacon was encouraged by his late wife, Eleanor Veronica McDermott Kemper, to follow his dream of dedicating his life to the church. After his four children were grown, the master carpenter and cabinet maker left New Jersey and gave up his worldly goods to follow Christ’s teachings.

In 1966, with a recommendation from Msgr. James A. Harding of New Jersey and on the advice of his brother Frank, a Trappist, he moved to Charleston and began 33 years of service with the Diocese of Charleston.

He eventually joined Msgr. John A. Simonin at St. Patrick Church in Charleston and they served together for 27 years.  

Although Deacon Kemper retired in 1999 after 17 years at St. Mary of the Annunciation, he remained active in his ministry, visiting the poor and writing. Throughout his life he gave all he possessed to those in need.

Surviving are two daughters, Eleanor M. Rich and Claire A. Johnson; two sons, Joseph E. Kemper and Thomas Kemper; a brother, Vincent Kemper; eight grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren.

Memorials may be made to St. Mary Church Restoration Fund, 89 Hasell St., Charleston, SC 29401.