News from the U.S. Province

Obituary: Vincent. D. Bui, P.S.S.

Vincent D. Bui, P.S.S

June 25, 1961 – June 9, 2020

“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you’ ” (Gen 12:1). With Fr. Vince Bui, it is as though he heard a call like that of Abram when he came to us in the wake of the Vietnam War. After graduating from high school in 1979, he attempted to escape the Communists in Vietnam but was captured during his thirteen attempts. His brother arranged a fourteenth attempt, which finally proved successful. He escaped Vietnam on Easter Sunday, 1981, a profound experience which gave the paschal mystery a deeper meaning of suffering, freedom, and new life for Fr. Bui ever after. After spending about eight months in refugee camps in Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand, he arrived in the U.S. on February 4, 1982.

Vincent D. Bui was born on June 25, 1961 in Bien Hoa, South Vietnam, to Trinh Q. and Yen T. (Duong) Bui. He is the sixth of eight children, and he is survived by two brothers (one also a priest) and four sisters (one a Dominican Sister).

After getting settled at his father’s cousin’s house in Illinois in 1982, Fr. Bui spent two years studying English at Divine Word College in Iowa and then moved to Quincy, Illinois to join the Franciscans. He remained with them for only one year. For the next four years he lived in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois while working as a bilingual social worker with refugees through the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center. In addition to working with refugees, he also held a variety of other positions in the local community and the local church. In 1989 he took a position with the Resettlement Program of Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Peoria (Illinois). Out of this work, he gave himself another chance at official ministry by applying for studies to the priesthood for the Diocese of Lansing (Michigan) in 1990. He began his theological studies and priestly formation at St Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, MD in 1990 under the auspices of the Diocese of Lansing.

Fr. Bui was ordained for the Diocese of Lansing on June 10, 1995, while harboring an interest in perhaps joining the Sulpicians. He spent two years as an associate pastor at St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Flushing, MI from 1995-1997. His trajectory with the Sulpicians began in an unusual way for his time in that his candidacy and years of Sulpician formation took place at Emmaus Spirituality Centre (Lusaka, Zambia), a mission seminary providing a propaedeutic program for young men interested in going to the major seminary. While in Africa he contracted malaria, a disease which he had also had in Vietnam, but which came back forcefully with negative ramifications for his health from then on. After his two years of candidacy in Zambia, he returned to the States and was admitted as a definitive member of the Society in 2000. He then spent a year at The Catholic University of America completing a licentiate degree in Canon Law (2001).

After completing the JCL, he was assigned to the faculty of St. Patrick’s Seminary & University, Menlo Park, CA from 2001-2006. From there, he went off to do further studies in Canon Law at St. Paul University, Ottawa, Canada, but never completed the degree. He returned to St. Patrick’s Seminary in 2009 and remained there until the Sulpicians withdrew from there in 2017. After a sabbatical year, Fr. Bui was assigned to Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas, in 2018, where, in addition to regular formation duties, he served as the Director of Liturgy and Director of the College and Pre-theology programs.

Within the Sulpician community, Fr. Bui was generally perceived to live more interiorly than publicly. As a result, he could come across as distant and disinterested, or even a bit hidden or marginal from the larger community. Yet, in his own quiet way and with his gentle spirit, he was one whom colleagues and seminarians alike could turn to for strength. He had the reputation of being a gentle confessor, something clearly validated when he was named an extraordinary confessor during the Year of Mercy (2015-2016).

Among the Vietnamese community, by contrast, Fr. Bui was more public, integrated, and animated. He had a wide network of Vietnamese connections. He made great contributions to the Vietnamese community in the Dioceses of San Jose and Oakland, and he often taught theology to many Vietnamese Sisters. His relationships among the Vietnamese community benefitted St. Patrick’s Seminary greatly. He was instrumental in the multiple successes of their fund-raising activities and in bringing the Vietnamese culture to the seminary community through festive multicultural events. In his last two years, while at Assumption Seminary, he was beginning to network with the Vietnamese community in San Antonio, and his reputation was growing as a substantive presence.

When the corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic forced the closure of Assumption Seminary in late March this year, Fr. Bui went to San Jose, CA. Unfortunately, he brought with him a compromised immune system from his past illnesses and so was an easy victim to the virus. He had to be hospitalized on May 13 in the San Jose Regional Medical Center, owing to complications from the virus. After nearly a month in the ICU and on a ventilator, Fr. Bui died on June 9, 2020, one day shy of his twenty-fifth anniversary of priestly ordination.

The family has asked that Fr. Bui be cremated and that the cremains be returned to Vietnam so that he can be buried in the family plot. A funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Francis Assisi Church in the Diocese of San Jose and a memorial Mass will be celebrated at Assumption Seminary in San Antonio when it can properly be arranged for the whole seminary community to be present.

Richard M. Gula, PSS
Director of Personnel

Obituary: John F. Mattingly, PSS

John F. Mattingly, P.S.S.

January 19, 1923 – June 8, 2020

“As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age.” (Gen 15:15). These words which Yahweh spoke to Abram could well be spoken to Fr. Mattingly, who enjoyed the benefits of God’s grace for seventy-two years as a priest and ninety-seven years of life. Living got to be such a habit for him that it was hard to imagine him any other way. When he died, he was the oldest Sulpician in the US Province.

Born January 19, 1923 and raised in Cumberland, MD, Fr. Mattingly was one of four children of John and Teresa (nee Winters) Mattingly.

Fr. Mattingly was educated in Cumberland parochial schools under the direction of the School Sisters of Notre Dame and the De LaSalle Brothers. Then he entered the high school division of St. Charles College in 1936 where he met the Sulpicians. After completing high school and the first two years of college there, he went to Theological College, Washington, D.C. as a Basselin Scholar in philosophy at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. He completed his B. A. in 1944 and his M.A. in 1945. He began his theological studies there in 1944 and completed his S.T.L. in 1948. He was ordained for the Archdiocese of Baltimore on May 22, 1948. He immediately joined the Sulpicians and was admitted to the Society in 1949.

Fr. Mattingly remained at The Catholic University of America to further his studies in theology with a concentration in Scripture. He then went to study at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome to receive the S.S.L. in 1952. After twenty-four years of non-stop education, he took his first teaching assignment as a Sulpician at St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park, CA, where he was professor of biblical studies from 1952-1968. During those years, biblical courses were taught on a rotating basis. Fr. Mattingly tried to introduce a sequential course program so that the Old Testament would be taught before the New. However, the rector, Fr. Mulligan, rejected this proposal on the basis of setting a bad precedent for biblical studies! After a decade and a half at St. Patrick’s, Fr. Mattingly was then assigned to be professor of biblical studies and dean of the theologate, St. Thomas Seminary, Kenmore, WA (1968-1972).

Despite the fact that Fr. Mattingly was appreciated as a good priest, a dear and gracious man, and an industrious worker, teaching was not his strength. As a formator, he was strict about keeping the rule. As with other matters of life, he would get lost in small details and gained the reputation of making even small infractions of the rule reason for holding a student back from being advanced towards priesthood. Accepting the reality that he was not effective in the classroom and had become outdated in his teaching methods and biblical scholarship after the Vatican Council, he brought his teaching career to a close, generously giving his biblical library to a younger Sulpician colleague just beginning biblical studies. Fr. Mattingly nevertheless continued to contribute to seminary education and priestly formation in other ways.

In 1972, he returned to Baltimore to assume various roles as a support person in administration and to serve as assistant treasurer at St. Mary’s Seminary & University (1972-1976). In 1976 he went back to The Catholic University of America to earn a degree in library science, which he was able to complete in a summer and one full school year. In 1977 he was awarded the M.S.L.S. Fresh with this degree, he went back to St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park, CA in 1977 to serve in the library for the next twenty years, first as Director (1977-1990) and then assisting the new Director until his retirement in 1997 to the Sulpician retirement community of what was then St. Charles Villa in Catonsville, MD, now named Villa Olier.

Fr. Mattingly was a lifelong learner. His interests were broad, and he read widely. He often plunged into the latest works on theology and Bible, even very large works that would have intimidated others of his age. As his world grew smaller from having to give up driving, he nonetheless tried to keep his mind alive through conversation, reading, and listening to CDs of the Great Lectures series. Even in his later years, he could be found pushing his walker through the Villa while listening to those CDs. His energy seemed as boundless as his interests. He rightfully earned the nickname among his confreres as the “energizer bunny.” It was not unusual for him to ride his scooter through the Charlestown Retirement Community campus to visit the Sulpician cemetery. The confreres joked that he wanted to stay on good terms with his future companions!

Throughout his Sulpician career, he was a faithful community man, always present for community events and mixing well with everyone. Visitors to the Villa will remember him as a gracious, genteel host. As his hearing began to fail him, he found conversation with the confreres more frustrating, and his life more confusing. Yet, in his intrepid way, he continued to be faithful to every community gathering, especially the social hour at Villa Olier with his afternoon scotch, and to contribute to every conversation even if he couldn’t hear it all or follow its train of thought.

Fr. Mattingly died on June 8, 2020 at Villa Olier, Catonsville, MD. Given that he died during the days of restrictions on community gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, the family requested that he be cremated and that the funeral Mass with cremains be deferred until restrictions were lifted so that everyone could attend. Fr. Mattingly requested to be buried from the chapel of Our Lady of the Angels in the Charlestown Community, the chapel where he spent many hours during his years at St. Charles College eighty-four years ago. Burial will follow in the Sulpician Cemetery, Catonsville, MD.

The psalmist once prayed, “Do not cast me off in time of old age. Do not forsake me when my strength fails” (Ps 71:9). Fr. Mattingly could well make this his prayer, too, as he enjoyed ninety-seven years of life. He did indeed live with the sense of God’s care for him to the very end. His gracious spirit will remain his lasting witness to God’s enduring love in old age.

Richard M. Gula, P.S.S.
Director of Personnel 

Father Michael J. McGivney to be Beatified

St. Mary’s Seminary & University Alumnus Father Michael J. McGivney to be Beatified by Pope Francis


Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney – an alumnus of St. Mary’s Seminary class of 1877 who in 1888 founded the Knights of Columbus – will be formally elevated to “Blessed” following Pope Francis’ decree this week recognizing a miracle attributed to the intercession of Father McGivney. The Beatification Mass, soon to be announced, will take place in Father McGivney’s home state of Connecticut. Beatification is the final step before sainthood.

“The deeply charitable spirit and zealous commitment to pastoral ministry shown by Father McGivney is what has always been at the core of formation at St. Mary’s Seminary and University,” said President-Rector Father Phillip Brown, PSS. “Though serving in the nineteenth century, Father McGivney demonstrated the same essential qualities needed for effective priestly ministry in the 21st century as well: faithfulness, Christ-like humility, zeal for the well-being, and especially the spiritual welfare of his parishioners and others, in particular those who are most vulnerable, and dedicated service. We take great pride in Fr. McGivney’s acknowledgement that his years of formation at St. Mary’s in the Sulpician tradition served as a defining influence on his vocation and life-long commitment to serve others as a parish priest. Providing the people of God with the kind of pastors they deserve, pastors like Fr. Michael McGivney, is the defining mission of St. Mary’s.”

As the first of 13 children born to Irish immigrants Patrick and Mary McGivney in Waterbury, Connecticut on August 12, 1852, Michael McGivney survived six of his siblings who died in infancy or early childhood. He was raised in a devout Catholic community where at age 13 he discerned a calling to the priesthood.

Entering minor seminary at the age of 16, he studied the classics and philosophy in Canada and later enrolled at St. Mary’s Seminary and University on September 14, 1873 to prepare for Holy Orders. During his four years at St. Mary’s, Fr. McGivney excelled in academics while acquiring a keen desire to commit his life to parish ministry. It was during his formation in the Sulpician tradition at St. Mary’s that Fr. McGivney first discovered that he had the heart of a pastor.

Following ordination in 1877 by James Cardinal Gibbons at Baltimore’s Basilica of the Assumption, Father McGivney served a largely Irish-American immigrant community in New Haven, Connecticut at St. Mary’s parish. Undeterred by the anti-Catholic sentiment of the day, Fr. McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in his parish basement as a way to support families who had lost husbands and fathers and faced destitution, a threat Fr. McGivney and his family knew only too well when his own father died in 1873. The fledgling membership group of Catholic men eventually grew to an international membership organization of nearly 2 million today, a major force in the areas of evangelization, charitable works, racial integration, pro-life initiatives and the defense of religious freedom. Father McGivney died of pneumonia at the age of 38 on August 14, 1890 in the midst of a global pandemic that claimed over 1 million worldwide.

The case for Father McGivney’s sainthood was officially opened in 1997 in the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut. Pope Benedict XVI declared Father McGivney a “Venerable Servant of God” in recognition of his life of heroic virtue in 2008. It has now been advanced by the Vatican’s recognition of a first miracle. It is especially poignant that the miracle attributed to Fr. McGivney’s intercession involved the healing in utero and subsequent healthy birth of a child. A second verified miracle is required by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints prior to a recommendation for sainthood and canonization by the Pope. St. Mary’s Seminary & University joins our Chancellor Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus since 2005, in praying for the recognition of a second miracle and Fr. McGivney’s eventual canonization.

About St. Mary’s Seminary & University

Founded in 1791 by priests of the Society of Saint Sulpice at the invitation of Bishop John Carroll, St. Mary’s Seminary & University is the oldest Catholic Seminary in the United States and is often referred to as America’s “cradle of pastors.” The Sulpician tradition is dedicated foremost of all to preparing men to be parish priests. This formation process concentrates on providing seminarians with the kind of spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral knowledge and sensibility that will allow their relationship with God to flower in ways that lead to outstanding service to their congregations and the larger communities in which they live and to which they minister.

Recently Retired Provincial Superior John C. Kemper, P.S.S., Dies

John C. Kemper, P.S.S.

July 29, 1957 – May 21, 2020

See also the article on the Archdiocese of Baltimore website. Link will open in a new tab or window.

Very Rev. John C. Kemper, P.S.S., Provincial

Very Rev. John C. Kemper, P.S.S.

When a member of our Province passes on, he leaves a mark. For many, it is as a teacher in the classroom; for others, it is as a formation advisor or spiritual director; for a few, it is as an administrator. Fr. Kemper is among these few.  He may not have been a master teacher, but he was a master builder. With St. Paul, we can say, “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder, I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds on it.” (1 Cor 3:10) Whenever someone visits the refurbished Sulpician retirement residence, Villa Olier, or tours the beautifully restored St. Mary’s historic chapel on Paca Street, Fr. Kemper will rise from the dead. A dedicated administrator with a warm heart, a good sense of humor, and a gift for building was God’s gift to us in Fr. Kemper.

John Charles Kemper was born in Kulpmont, PA on July 29, 1957 to John and Lois (nee McCabe) Kemper.  He is survived by his mother, Lois, and his three sisters: Georgeann Hyduk, Marsha Williams, and Marion Zakrzewski.

Fr. Kemper was raised and educated in central Pennsylvania, an area that he loved for its simple life and wholesome people.  He returned there frequently to enjoy his personal home (inherited from his aunt), to enjoy time with his family and to remain connected to his home diocese.  Fr. Kemper earned his bachelor’s degree at St. Pius X College Seminary in Erlanger, KY (1979) and then moved on for theological studies at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, 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, Berkeley, CA (1993).

Fr. Kemper’s journey to the Sulpicians did not follow the common narrative of his era. His seminary studies were done at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, a seminary founded by the Sulpicians but not Sulpician at the time Fr. Kemper studied there. However, Sulpician Fr. James Brennan, P.S.S. who was teaching canon law there at that time, and Fr. Thomas Byrd, a member of the faculty with a high regard for the Sulpicians, encouraged Fr. Kemper to consider the Sulpician ministry as his vocation within his vocation to the priesthood. After ordination to the priesthood for the Diocese of Harrisburg, PA on April 9, 1983, Fr. Kemper did not immediately seek admission to the Sulpicians. He was assigned as an associate pastor at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Camp Hill, PA (1983-1986). After three years in parish ministry, Fr. Brennan’s invitation came to fruition. Fr. Kemper was accepted as a Sulpician candidate. After completing his formation year at Vaugirard in Berkeley, CA (1986-1987), he was assigned to the faculty of St. Joseph’s College, Mountain View, CA (1987-1990). He became a member of the Society in 1989.

After completing his Doctor of Ministry degree in 1993, he embarked on his career in administration—a track from which he was never derailed. While holding the academic rank of associate professor of pastoral theology, he began his administrative duties at SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, MI where, after a year as director of the internship program, he was named vice rector and director of formation for three years (1994-1997). From Michigan he went to Texas to become the director of the D.Min. and the pastoral internship programs for the Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio, TX. During this time, he was in residence at Assumption Seminary while sharing duties on the formation faculty (1997-2000).  While on the faculty at Oblate and Assumption, he also chaired the multicultural formation committee for the Province.

After a semester sabbatical in the fall of 2000, the Oblate School of Theology recognized his gifts for administration and assigned him multiple administrative duties through the years 2001-2006. While holding the rank of professor of pastoral theology, Fr. Kemper served as vice president for administrative affairs, the school liaison to the Board of Trustees, and the director of the pastoral year internship and continuing education programs. He also had responsibility for overseeing the Renewal Center on campus, the physical plant, the renovation of the library, human resources, and information technology.  In addition, he chaired the grant writing group (2002), the centennial planning committee (2003-2004), and was on the professional consultation committee for the Clinical Pastoral Education Department of the Baptist Health System (2001-2006).

After a year’s sabbatical (2006-2007), Fr. Kemper came back east to Baltimore to serve the Province in various administrative capacities.  He had already been elected to the Provincial Council in 2003 and served as a consultor for two terms until 2015. In 2007, he was made Provincial Secretary for one year while also serving as the Director of St. Mary’s Spiritual Center & Historic Site on Paca Street, where he resided until 2020. As Director of the Center and Historic Site, he oversaw his first major construction project for the Province – building the visitor’s center and restoring the historic chapel.  While holding the position of Director of the Spiritual Center and Historic Site, he also became the Vice President of Advancement for the Province in 2009.  He held these dual positions until 2015 when he was elected Provincial. As Provincial he oversaw the major renovation of Villa Olier, and the renovation of Providence Hall at Theological College, the new residence for priest-graduate students of CUA doing a “fifth” year at TC. In short, he was at home wearing a hard hat on a building site. He also continued to make a major contribution to the office of Advancement for Theological College, such as in spearheading the fundraising for the Endowed Selner Chair in Liturgy and Sacred Music.

During his time as Provincial, Fr. Kemper not only oversaw the final negotiations with the Little Sisters of the Poor to gain possession of the property for Villa Olier and conduct the major renovation of the Sulpician retirement community but also managed three significant developments in the seminary world for the Province.  The first was the Provincial Council’s decision to withdraw from St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, CA.  On May 13, 2017, Fr. Kemper presided over the “Adieu” event that celebrated our 118 years of service in a spirit of hope amidst sadness and loss. With a dignity befitting the gentlemen of St. Sulpice, Fr. Kemper said farewell to friends and supporters of the church of the west coast as he recommitted the Province to its mission and its future.

The second major event was responding to the invitation by the Archdiocese of San Antonio for the Sulpicians to assume the administration of Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, TX. On November 21, 2017, Fr. 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.  With this agreement, Fr. Kemper acted on behalf of the Sulpician Fathers in taking a historical step forward in serving the Church in one of its most rapidly growing areas.

The third major event was responding to the invitation of Cardinal Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation of the Evangelization of Peoples and Archbishop Murat, Apostolic Nuncio of Zambia and Malawi, and with the approval of the Sulpician Superior General, Very Rev. Ronald D. Witherup, PSS, for the US Province to undertake responsibility for St. Anthony’s Seminary, Kachebere, Malawi, beginning February 2018. While this event was not marked by formal celebration similar to the one in San Antonio, Fr. Kemper visited Malawi to assist in the transition of a new administration that now expands the Sulpician mission in Africa to include Malawi along with Zambia.  After sizing up the situation there, he returned later with two professors from the University of Nebraska, one to offer technical assistance on running the farm and the other to install internet service on the campus.

With such yeoman service in various administrative capacities, Fr. Kemper gave clear witness that the work of administration is indeed a work of ministry. He accepted without complaint the sacrifices of a life in administration. He engaged in all kinds of details in work that often went unnoticed by the rest of us and often without the support of words of appreciation or thanks.  Yet, he sustained a remorseless work ethic, a prodigious worker to the very end. “Don’t forget,” he would say, as his cancer progressed, “we have more work to do here.” We must number him among those who “get the job done.” As he worked hard, so he expected those under his care to go and do likewise. He had little tolerance for those who did not carry their weight but would wait for the community to carry them. Even weakened by advancing cancer, Fr. Kemper found the means of doing what would have kept more than a few others busy.

He gave selfless service to the network of people and structures that make up the Province. He approached fund-raising as a relational matter.  He called it “making friends” for the Province. He took great delight and satisfaction in watching things physically take shape and in having a hand in making it all happen, especially his three major projects—St. Mary’s Spiritual Center & Historic Site, Villa Olier, and Providence Hall at Theological College.  His love for construction work seems to have been cemented into his DNA for it goes back to his days of working closely with his father making repairs on the rental properties his parents owned and on his own home in Kulpmont. Fr. Kemper loved to see things done and done right.  He was most pleased to see everything run like clockwork and, deep down, he knew that his best chance of this happening was if he was intimately involved in it. One didn’t have to scratch too deep to discover that, to have anything done right, he would prefer to do it himself. While holding onto his vision of the whole as administrators must, he could easily feel overly responsible for everything and so want to control it all. One friend often teased him at such moments by reminding him of his own often repeated adage, “Life is a journey, John.  Life is a journey.”

In serving as an administrator, he was more than affable. He was good-humored and lighthearted. He made administration seem like fun, and the office a fun place to work. He helped to create an atmosphere of relative peace and security so that everyone could carry out his or her responsibilities. He forged an authentic spirit of community in the workplace with his interest in each one and with his good sense of humor. When something would strike him as incongruous with how things normally function, he would always have a clever quip to lighten the heaviness (“Really, I tell ya’ lad, you can’t make this up!”). Rather than getting worked up over the absurdity of things, he usually found a way to face unwelcomed realities, from personnel problems to water leaks at the Villa, without being thrown off track.

Despite his myriad administrative duties, he continued to be engaged in pastoral ministry. He frequently served as a confessor for the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a community with deep historical connections to 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 his home diocese through his frequent visits, keeping in touch with his close friends and classmates from the seminary, and serving on the diocesan seminary board.

In his diverse ministry, he saw small intimations of death, especially as he had to give up being able to keep up with all his commitments. Letting go was hard for him. He did not suffer cancer; he worked with it, as purposefully as possible. After receiving his diagnosis of stage four esophageal cancer with metastasis to the liver in the summer of 2018, he made it clear that, even though his diagnosis assumed that death would not be far ahead, he was not dead yet. He felt the shadow of his diagnosis beside him all the time. He knew that if he turned towards that darkness and embraced it, he’d be lost. So, with his back against the wall and with his desire for consistency in life, he developed an action plan to be as productive as he could be. He was not about to go gently into that good night, to sit back and wait his dismissal. He had work to do.  His plan was to work until he couldn’t. And he did. He kept moving.  Planning. Strategizing. Doing. As long as he kept moving, he could keep death at bay. His fear, it seemed, was that he didn’t know how to be if he didn’t have something to do. Work was his salvation. Even though encouraged by his staff to change the direction of his sails and tack a different course, he held firm to the tiller and sailed into the wind.

He worked prodigiously for the Province—following his schedule of commitments, meetings, and travel. He kept himself open to people, to laughter, and to love—the love that he had for everyone around him, and the love that everyone reciprocated. He strove to keep his sense of humor intact. His willingness to persevere as long as he was able was telling. Our Superior General, Fr. Witherup, observed in his letter announcing Fr. Kemper’s resignation, “All of us who have worked closely with him were impressed, indeed astounded, that he continued his duties much of the time as if nothing had changed. He stayed remarkably active and vibrant, even though, as time went on, the toll of fighting this pernicious disease became more evident.” If Fr. Kemper was burning the candle at both ends then, by the time he died, there was nothing left but the flame.

For over a year and a half, chemotherapy allowed him to work diligently. But in the spring of 2020, the impact of a new, more powerful dose of chemotherapy zapped his energy beyond his imagining. It marked the tipping point in his ability to be attentive to and responsive to what the ministry of Provincial required. Finally, accepting that he couldn’t change the direction of the winds of death, he changed the position of his sails so that he could tack toward peaceful shores.

On Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020, he moved from living alone in his Paca Street residence and moved to the retirement community of Villa Olier. He realized that it was no longer wise to be living alone and have to negotiate stairs and meals on his own. At the Villa, he had a supportive community and the personal and healthcare services that he needed within easy reach.

On April 24, 2020, he submitted his letter of resignation to the General Council through Fr. Ronald Witherup, P.S.S., the Superior General.  It was accepted, effective May 1, 2020.  In the letter of acceptance, Fr. Witherup expressed a sentiment shared by the whole Society when he wrote, “I believe you have been richly blessed by the Lord, though this latest illness is surely a hardship and a suffering. But you have blessed the Province with your talents, your dedication, and your tireless devotion to our Sulpician ministry. Many thanks!”

On May 19, 2020, he was admitted to home hospice with continued residence at the Villa. The old life in him was exhausted. He awaited the coming of the new.  This new life came on May 21 when he died in the late afternoon. If it is true that constancy is a mark of character, then Fr. Kemper embodied this adage to the end. True to the manner of this man, he did not slip away without giving detailed instructions from his death bed of what he wanted for his funeral. Because we were living under the social constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, he knew that we would not be able to gather for a funeral Mass. He requested that he be cremated. When the social restrictions for group gatherings without social distancing were lifted, he wanted a memorial Mass to be celebrated with his cremains first at St. Mary’s chapel at the historic site on Paca Street—the chapel whose renovation he oversaw over a decade before.  After that, he wanted a funeral Mass to be celebrated in his home parish in Kulpmont followed by the interment of his cremains in the family plot at St. Edward’s Cemetery, Shamokin, PA.

Letting go a little at a time and embracing small deaths and big ones, like his resignation as Provincial, was practice for his final letting go into the hands of God where he could be received by an embrace of love beyond his imagining.

Richard M. Gula, P.S.S.
Director of Personnel

Very Rev. John C. Kemper, P.S.S. Resigns


April 30, 2020

Very Rev. John C. Kemper, P.S.S. resigns as Provincial Superior of the Society of St. Sulpice, Province of the United States

Baltimore, MD – On April 24, 2020, Very Rev. John C. Kemper, P.S.S. submitted his resignation for health reasons effective May 1, 2020 as Provincial Superior of the Society of St. Sulpice, Province of the United States. His resignation was accepted by the General Council as required by the Constitutions (Art. 118). As first consultor, Rev. Daniel F. Moore, P.S.S. steps into the position provisionally to administer the Province as Acting Provincial Superior, effective the same date. He will serve in this capacity until the elections are held at the Provincial Assembly in Baltimore, Maryland in January, 2021 (Art. 119).

As Provincial, Father Kemper has done a great service to the U.S. Province and accomplished many tasks. Known for his expertise in building and construction, he has tended to several important projects, especially the beautifully renovated Villa Olier, the Sulpician Retirement Community. He also oversaw the acceptance of new missions at St. Anthony’s Seminary-Kachebere, Malawi and Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas.

Most recently he oversaw a renovation of Providence Hall at Theological College, which has made an attractive space for welcoming priest-students at The Catholic University of America and for Chairing The Rev. John C. Selner, P.S.S. Endowed Chair for Sacred Music and Liturgy. These are only the most obvious of his achievements; there are many others. Very Rev. Ronald D. Witherup, P.S.S., Superior General of the Society of St. Sulpice commented, “most of all, we thank John for his selfless dedication to the members of the Province and his desire to see the mission of Saint Sulpice in the United States remain vibrant in order to meet the challenges of the future.”


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