Father Kramper’s home will be among rural parishes

Just look for what appears to be a big, red barn between Ponca and Newcastle, a few miles from Vermillion, S.D. That’s where Father James Kramper said he will spend his retirement, after serving 44 years in more than a dozen parishes across the archdiocese.

He bought the 10-acre property from a farmer he met 30 years ago while serving as pastor of St. Peter Parish in Newcastle. His home, which is being built to look like a barn, is expected to be completed "before the snow flies," Father Kramper said. It will include a small guest wing for individual families to come, relax and experience the beauty he will see daily.

"This place is a slice of paradise," said Father Kramper, who turns 71 next month. "Building a retirement home is not the easiest way to retire, but it’s the most fun."

Living in rural northeast Nebraska is where he said his heart is most at home. All but the first eight years of his priesthood were spent in rural parishes. He said he wants to continue helping those parishes in retirement, as well as do more traveling abroad, possibly to Australia and India.

"I want to be the help instead of find the help," he said. "I want to help those parishes in the northern part of the archdiocese that are more than three hours away from Omaha and find it difficult to get a retired priest."

Father Kramper’s service – including the last nine years as pastor of St. Peter de Alcántara Parish in Ewing, St. Theresa of Avila Parish in Clearwater and St. John the Baptist Parish in Deloit Township, rural Holt County – has reached beyond those parishes and into the community.

His favorite memory is helping bring to life the Nativity story six times in six different locations through re-enactments titled "Bethlehem Revisited," he said. Community members of all faiths built elaborate sets that included recreating a bustling town at the time of Jesus. There were live animals, and volunteers filled the roles of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, wise men, and shopkeepers.

Father Kramper also helped establish thrift stores in Verdigre, Ewing and Emerson.

"It’s my firm belief that every rural small town needs a thrift store," he said. "It serves so many needs: it’s an outlet for what you want to give away, it’s a good place to shop that doesn’t cost much, and it provides employment and generates funds for the community."

And Father Kramper found unique ways to raise money for the causes and parishes he loved. He once raised $8,000 for Ewing’s and Clearwater’s fire departments at a "Million Mile Party" that highlighted two Hondas – one he drove and one he purchased for the event – each with nearly 500,000 miles. For years, he raised and sold gourds for $3 a basket to raise money for the Omaha Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, a group he served as spiritual adviser for nearly 24 years.

Born in Sioux City, Iowa, he came to the Omaha area to attend St. John Vianney Seminary – now Mount Michael Benedictine High School near Elkhorn. He went on to study at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.

In addition to serving as pastor or associate pastor of parishes from Omaha to Ewing, he was vocations director for the archdiocese from 1977 to 1981, and served one year on the archdiocese’s Priests’ Council.

Although Father Kramper said he found great joy in serving others as a priest, he is ready to embrace a more reflective, prayerful relationship with God.

In describing his perfect retirement, he quotes a card he found years ago:

"Don’t look upon retirement as being put out to pasture … but now you have more time to spend with the Shepherd," he said. "That’s what I’m looking forward to … spending more time with the Shepherd."

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