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KORTENKAMP, Anton (Rev.)

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Rev. Anton Kortenkamp (1834-1889), St. Francis Xavier Parish, Dyersville

By: Daniel Kortenkamp (30 November 2019)

Family History:


Rev. Anton Kortenkamp. Photo courtesy: Daniel Kortenkamp

(Stephen) Anton Kortenkamp, son of Johann Heinrich and Elisabeth [b. Strothoff] Kortenkamp, was born March 13, 1834, near Münster, Westphalia, Prussia [now Münster, North-Rhine-Westphalia, Germany]. His father was a “Tagelöhner” (day laborer). They lived in a farm cottage -- Bauerschaft Mecklenbeck Nr. 2 -- on the east side of the Aa River about one mile southwest of Münster. Anton was the second of six children (one younger brother died in infancy). (1)

At the age of 14, Anton entered the Gymnasium (“high school”) at Münster for study in the classics. Before he could graduate his father died October 17, 1856, and his mother died less than two months later on December 6, 1856, in her “52nd year.” Burial for both was in St. Lambert Cemetery, Münster.

To support Anton in his studies, a younger brother, Heinrich, worked as a brick burner in a brickyard across the road from the cottage. He and a younger brother, Ignatz, also placed fish traps made from willow branches in the Aa river, selling the fish in the morning market. (2)

After graduation, Anton entered the Academy/University in Münster on October 20 to study philosophy and theology to become a priest. With both of their parents deceased, it was Heinrich’s earnings in the brickyard and fish market that helped pay for Anton's studies. In 1861 Anton came to America and was ordained by Bishop Clement Smyth in Dubuque, Iowa, November 4, 1861. (3)

Rev. Kortenkamp served three months as Assistant Pastor at St. Mary's Parish (the “German Church”), Dubuque, before he was assigned as pastor of the newly formed St. Francis Xavier Parish, Dyersville, Iowa.

The Dyersville area was settled in the spring of 1846 by nine immigrant families from Bavaria. For several years they walked or rode in wagons the five miles north to the newly erected St. Boniface Church, in New Vienna.

The Dyersville parish had been organized in 1858 under Rev. Andre Longfils, who remained only five months. He had rented a frame building for church and school purposes, and begun construction of a brick church on the west side of the North Maquoketa River.

                     On February 4th in 1862, Dyersville finally received its second 
                     resident pastor from Bishop Smyth.  He was the newly ordained 
                     27-year-old, Fr. Anton Kortenkamp.   He moved into the Holscher 
                     home, and said his first Sunday Mass in the new church..  A pan 
                     of coals was placed near the altar to keep his fingers warm, 
                     while snowflakes fell through the unfinished roof on the 
                     congregation of 25 families.  He had his work cut out for him!”
                         -- Rev. Edward C. Petty (2001). "Salvaging the Parish," 
                         St. Francis Xavier Basilica, The Historical Sermons, 
                         Heritage Printing: Dyersville, Iowa, p. 11

Upon arriving in Dyersville, Rev. Kortenkamp lived in the homes of his parishioners for the first year or two, and conducted catechism classes in their homes. He is described as “a man of powerful physique ... soft-spoken, reserved and tactful.” His first duties as a priest were to finish the new brick church whose floors and walls were completely bare. He also started a school in a rented building in 1863. A frame rectory was built four blocks southwest of the church. The rectory was on four acres (known for many years as “The Priest’s Pasture”) where the first three pastors kept their horses and carriages, a cow or two, a few chickens, and a small garden. In 1865 a frame one-room schoolhouse was built. In 1873 Rev. Kortenkamp erected a brick schoolhouse. This schoolhouse was expanded many times, and in 1920 a west wing was added and named “Kortenkamp Hall”. This schoolhouse and “Kortenkamp Hall” were demolished in 2008.

In addition to being pastor at St. Francis Xavier, Dyersville, Rev. Kortenkamp also attended to missions near Dyersville -- at Worthington, Delhi, Earlville, Petersburg, and Luxemburg. In 1868 he organized the Worthington Catholics into a parish, served as pastor, and began the building of a church -- St. Paul’s. When the church was finally completed about 1871, Rev. Kortenkamp read Mass at Worthington one Sunday of every month, winter and summer, until 1875 when St. Paul’s received its first resident pastor. Rev. Kortenkamp also established the church at Luxemburg.

Rev. Kortenkamp often drove many miles visiting sick parishioners. One spring he was called to Buffalo Creek about 20 miles SW of Dyersville, and almost drowned attempting to cross a swollen stream. The water was so intensely cold, that as a result he developed a severe rheumatic disease. During the following years his rheumatism became severe. In 1885 he began to suffer from “dropsy” (edema, i.e., fluid retention, often due to kidney or heart disease). For two years previous to his death, Rev. Kortenkamp was confined to his room, sitting in a chair day and night.

By 1886 the Dyersville parish had outgrown the old church -- there were 260 persons confirmed that year. Despite his failing health, Rev. Kortenkamp began formulating plans to build a larger church. He patterned this new church after the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.

                 The erection of the present St. Francis Xavier church, outside his 
                 remarkable work for souls, was the chef d’oeuvre of Father Kortenkamp’s 
                 life.  Due to his many missionary activities and his physical labors 
                 his health had begun to fail quite seriously, and that is what makes 
                 it a matter of profound astonishment to the people of today that this 
                 ailing priest should dare such an ambitious project as the erection in 
                 a rural community of such a huge and imposing edifice as the St. Francis 
                 Xavier church.
                            -- “The Reverend Anton Kortenkamp, First Pastor” The 
                            Centennial Story of the Parish of St. Francis Xavier Basilica,
                            Dyersville, Iowa, 1859-1959

At this time, Rev. Kortenkamp's illness was so severe that he requested and was assigned an assistant priest. In the autumn of 1887, Rev. Joseph Brinkmann took over the duties of the parish, including supervision of church construction. The stone foundation for the new church was begun in September 1887; and completed in June 1888. Rev. Kortenkamp's brother, Henry, used his expertise at brick making and selected the brick for the church.

According to the Dyersville Commercial [July 16, 1887], “The church will be the largest and most beautiful in this diocese . . . large enough to seat from 1000 to 1500 people.” (4) And, “It is still the largest church building of traditional ecclesiastical architecture in the state. (5) Each spire is 212 feet high, and topped by 14-foot crosses.

The new St. Francis Xavier Church was completed in 1889 and dedicated December 3, 1889. “Special excursion trains were run from all points in this section of the state, and a full 6,000 people were in town – about 1500 going from Dubuque.” (6)

Sadly, Rev. Kortenkamp did not live to see this dedication. He died that autumn on September 14. In fact, the last service to be held in the old church was the funeral of Rev. Kortenkamp. Burial was in St. Francis Xavier Cemetery, Dyersville.

St. Francis Xavier Basilica

Rev. Kortenkamp finished his studies for the priesthood in Germany and went to America, his brother, Heinrich/Henry quit his job in the brickyard. On November 9, 1861, he joined the Prussian Army and became a drummer in the 9th Company, 5th Westphalian Infantry, Regiment #53. He served during the Danish-Prussian War of 1864, and received combat medals for several battles. (7)

Henry was discharged from the army on December 18, 1864. The following year, he left for America and went to Dyersville to join his older brother, Rev. Kortenkamp. Rev. Kortenkamp financed Henry's immigration to America, and also helped Henry purchase a farm 2 miles NE of Dyersville, on the south bank of Hewitt Creek, January 11, 1866. Rev. Kortenkamp did this as repayment for the years Henry worked in the brickyard paying his brother's expenses while studying for the priesthood. Henry Kortenkamp married Josephine Schermer, daughter of Simon and Dorothea [Empting-Grawe] Schermer, on April 17, 1866, in St. Francis Xavier Church, Dyersville.

In 1866, Rev. Kortenkamp’s older sister, Gertrude, immigrated to Dyersville. She married Ignatz Summer in 1869 in Dyersville. In 1872, Rev. Kortenkamp’s younger brothers, Herman and Ignatz immigrated to Dyersville. Herman never married, and was considered somewhat retarded. He worked as a farmhand and gardener, and as a painter for Mr. Summer in his Dyersville wagon shop.

Rev. Kortenkamp’s youngest brother, Ignatz, stayed for a short time in Dyersville, but didn't like it, and decided to return to Germany. According to a story handed down in the family, Ignatz went to New York City and worked for a hotel as a roof gardener to make enough money for the return trip to Germany. One day, Ignatz’s brother Henry received a package in the mail from Ignatz’s roommate. It contained Ignatz’s belongings with a note saying he had left the hotel one day and never returned. Some investigation by Henry through correspondence with the hotel concluded that perhaps Ignatz was murdered and his body sold to a medical school. However, Ignatz is listed in the 1876 Chicago City Directory (p. 597) as a “florist” and a “boarder” at 328 Cottage Ave. (8)

In 1950, St. Francis Xavier pastor, Rt. Rev. Matthias Hoffman, wanted to turn the parish school into a public school. The Dyersville public school only had a "carload or two" of students. There would be many financial advantages to becoming a public school. In early February 1950, the parishioners voted "Yes". But, Dubuque Archbishop Leo Binz was "mad as the dickens" about what Msgr. Hoffman was doing. Archbishop Binz had many powerful contacts in the Vatican, and proposed a compromise. If Msgr. Hoffman would drop the idea of making the catholic school public, the Vatican would elevate the church to a basilica. Msgr. Hoffman agreed; and in 1956, Pope Pius XII proclaimed St. Francis Xavier Church a “Basilica” (among only twelve other Basilicas in the US at that time, and the only one in a rural area). (9)



1. Information about Rev. Kortenkamp and his family and ancestry in Germany was obtained by Daniel Kortenkamp correspondence (1969, 1971) with Archiv und Bibliothek des Bistums Münster, Germany; and, (1971) Pfarramt St. Lamberti, Münster, Germany.

2. Audiotape interviews (1969, 1970) by Daniel Kortenkamp with Mrs. Adolf [b. Josephine Kortenkamp] Stoeckl, Lamont, Iowa. Josephine was the daughter of Heinrich/Henry & Josephine [b. Schermer] Kortenkamp.

3. Much of the information about Fr. Kortenkamp in Dubuque and Dyersville is from -- Arthur A. Halbach (1939). Dyersville: Its History and Its People. St. Joseph Press: Milwaukee, Wisconsin; The Centennial Story of the Parish of St. Francis Xavier Basilica, Dyersville, Iowa, 1859-1959; Dyersville, Iowa, Centennial, July 9-15, 1972: Official History & Program. Dyersville, Iowa Centennial Corp., Dyersville, Iowa; Celebrating our Christian Heritage Saint Francis Xavier Parish (125th Anniversary). Basilica of Saint Francis Xavier, Dyersville, Iowa (1984); Rev. Edward C. Petty (2001). St. Francis Xavier Basilica, The Historical Sermons, Heritage Printing: Dyersville, Iowa.

4. Arthur A. Halbach (1939). Dyersville: Its History and Its People. St. Joseph Press: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, p. 197.

5. Rev. Edward C. Petty (2001). "Father Anton Kortenkamp”, St. Francis Xavier Basilica, The Historical Sermons, Heritage Printing: Dyersville, Iowa, p. 13

6. Dubuque Herald, Dec. 4, 1889 [quoted in: Arthur A. Halbach (1939). Dyersville: Its History and Its People. St. Joseph Press: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, p. 289].

7. Original combat certificates and medals, and Prussian Army discharge papers for Henry Kortenkamp, in the possession of Daniel Kortenkamp.

8. Dubuque County Probate Records for Rev. Kortenkamp (October 16, 1891) record that "Ignatz Kortenkamp has not been heard from for 18 yrs."

9. Kenneth Pins (2011). Chapter 14, “Monsignor Hoffman and the Basilica”, Dyer’s Dream: The History of a British Town Amid German Countryside. Rockville, MD: Kenneth Pins Press; "Parish School 'Going Public' at Dyersville", George Mills, Des Moines Register, Feb. 5, 1950; "Abandon Plans to Make Dyersville School Public", George Mills, Des Moines Register, Feb. 24, 1950. Website for the St. Francis Xavier Church: http://www.xavier.pvt.k12.ia.us/xavier-basilica-information.html


-- Daniel Kortenkamp (dkortenk@uwsp.edu) https://dkortenk.wixsite.com/dkortenk

Here are my immigrant lines, and their hometowns (at bottom are just the surnames in alphabetical order):

My wife’s side:

Most settled around Sherrill, Dubuque County, Iowa, USA:

HAAS (Niedernberg, Bavaria, Germany), settled at Jasper, Dubois County, Indiana, USA LANG (Niedernberg, Bavaria, Germany) SCHEURICH (Niedernberg, Bavaria, Germany) SCHIRRA (Dirmingen, Rhineland, Germany) ZIEGLER (Thalexweiler, Rhineland, Germany)

Most settled in the City of Dubuque, Dubuque County, Iowa, USA:

BECK (Neckargemünd, Baden, Germany) BERG (Bensheim, Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany) FABRICIUS (Schieren, Luxembourg) KISCH (Schankweiler, Rhineland, Germany) MOSSAL (Schankweiler, Rhineland, Germany OETH (Nieder-Ingelheim, Hesse, Germany) OSTER (Nieder-Ingelheim, Hesse, Germany), settled at Cincinnati, Ohio? REINFRIED (Schwarzach, Baden, Germany) RITZERT (Fehlheim, Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany), settled at Butler, Butler County, Pennsylvania, USA WEBER (Medernach, Luxembourg) WUNDERLE (near Gernsheim?, Hesse-Darmstadt?, Germany?)

My side:

Most settled in the New Vienna and Dyersville area, Dubuque County, Iowa, USA:

BAUER (Fuchsberg, Oberpfalz, Bavaria, Germany) BELM (Rieste, Hanover, Germany) BRAUN (Teunz, Bavaria, Germany) BRINKMANN (Mettingen, Westphalia, Germany) BURKLE (Trillfingen, Hohenzollern [now Baden-Württemberg], Germany) EMPTING (Westbevern, Westphalia, Germany) GRAWE (Westbevern, Westphalia, Germany) HEINRICH/HENRY (Rineck, Baden, Germany) KORTENKAMP (Münster, Westphalia, Germany) LAMPE (Thiene, Hanover, Germany) MEYER (Bokel, Oldenburg, Germany) PASKER (Coesfeld, Westphalia, Germany) REICHERT ((Rineck, Baden, Germany) RICHTER (Rieste, Hanover, Germany), settled at Quincy, Adams County, Illinois, USA SCHERMER (Wormerveer, North Holland, The Netherlands) SCHLIEKELMANN (Mettingen, Westphalia, Germany) STOECKL (Zeinried, Bavaria, Germany) TAUKE (Twistringen, Hanover, Germany) TEGELER (Thiene, Hanover, Germany) ZWACK ((Teunz, Bavaria, Germany)

Surnames in alphabetic order: