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The Kemper Center: A Sewanee connection

November 26, 2017

Some buildings demand your attention.

The Kemper CenterThe Kemper CenterBack in May, when I accompanied John for the final stage of his interview process at Carthage, we were driving from our hotel in Pleasant Prairie to the campus. We passed a dramatic collection of buildings right on the shore of the lake — old and ornate, complicated and mysterious. I immediately wanted to know more about these buildings, but that short visit did not allow for exploration.

In July, when John moved to campus to begin work, he told me about the Kemper Center in Kenosha, formerly an Episcopal school for girls, with dormitories for boarding students and a convent of the Order of St. Mary. I smiled to learn the connection because, in my extra month in Tennessee before moving to Wisconsin, I was attending Morning Prayer services at Sewanee’s convent of the Order of St. Mary.

Karen Howell and Cameron Swallow stand in front of the Kemper Center.Karen Howell and Cameron Swallow stand in front of the Kemper Center.The two convents were once thriving together, both running schools for young ladies, though in different regional polities of the same order. I asked the sisters in Sewanee if they knew about Kemper, and they remembered it fondly, with stories of national meetings in the past.

Sewanee’s convent is still open, and the sisters hold services three times each day, as well as offering hospitality to travelers in another wing of the building. They had to close their school in the mid-1970s, just as the Kemper sisters did. The old school buildings in Tennessee are used by the Episcopal diocese for conferences and meetings; the buildings in Wisconsin are now an arts center with a museum and an exciting plan for continued growth and outreach.

I got to see the Kemper campus in October with Karen Howell, a friend and Carthage employee who has introduced me to many important people and places in Kenosha and Racine. We had a delightful and informative tour of all the buildings, including the Anderson Art Gallery on the same grounds. I could imagine the sisters and their students in the halls and cloisters long ago, and I could also imagine the many weddings, parties, classes, and community activities that fill these same spaces today.

See for yourself

The Kemper Center
6501 Third Ave.
Kenosha, Wisconsin
Kemper Center website