(Dec. 24, 1789-May 24, 1870). Episcopal priest and missionary bishop of Indiana and Missouri, David Jackson Kemper was a native of Pleasant Valley, New York, and a graduate of Columbia College (1809). He was ordained a deacon in 1811 and a priest in 1814. Afterward, he spent 20 years as assistant to William White, bishop of Philadelphia and presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in America (see Episcopalians).

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Christ Church Cathedral and the Morrison Home, ca. 1897-1898 Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

From 1831 to 1835, Kemper served as pastor of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Norwalk, Connecticut. In September 1835, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church appointed Kemper its first missionary bishop, assigning him to the diocese of Indiana and Missouri (which was later expanded to include Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, and Nebraska).

During his 14 years as acting bishop of the Diocese of Indiana, Kemper oversaw the creation of 23 parishes throughout the state and advocated for the election of a full-time bishop, which occurred with the appointment of the Reverend George Upfold of Pittsburgh in 1849.

Concerned with the shortage of Episcopal churches in the West, Kemper toured the diocese and raised funds for new congregations. He visited Indianapolis in January and February 1837 and spoke at the Methodist and Presbyterian churches to raise money for Christ Church, organized in 1838 as the first Episcopal church in the city. Kemper had previously consecrated Christ Church’s physical foundation in 1837 and later substituted at the parish from 1841-1842 while the congregation searched for a pastor.

In 1859, Kemper resigned from his missionary jurisdictions and became the first Bishop of Wisconsin. He remained in this position until his death. At the time of his passing, Kemper was responsible for establishing seven dioceses, founding three colleges, and opening numerous schools and academies, including Nashotah House Theological Seminary (1841) in Wisconsin.

In Indianapolis, Kemper is memorialized in the east window of the north transept of Christ Church. He is also the namesake of the Kemper House located 1028 North Delaware Street and currently owned by Indiana landmarks.

Revised February 2021
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