(Finistère), France, on 2 March 1817
Took the habit: N. D. de l’Osier on 22 October 1850
Oblation: N.-D. de 1’Osier on 30 October 1851 (No. 313)
Priestly ordination: Marseilles on 15 February 1852
Died: Mercedes, Texas, on 12 November 1872.
Pierre Yves Kéralum was born in Quimper, France, on 2 March 1817, the tenth and last child of Jeanne Colcanap and Marc Yves Kéralum, carpenter.
While making his “Tour de France” as an apprentice carpenter and cabinetmaker, he experienced a call as an adult to the priesthood. He studied at Pont-Croix minor seminary, before entering Quimper major seminary in 1847, where he was ordained a deacon in due course. Deciding to join the Oblates, he began his novitiate in Notre-Dame de l’Osier, on 30 October 1851. He spent a few months in the Marseilles major seminary. Fr. Jean Marchal, moderator of the scholastics, wrote in April 1852: “Brother Kéralum appeared timid and secret. Advanced in age, he still has the modesty, the humility and the candor of a child. He is gifted, but he speaks with difficulty. He is a perfect and reliable religious.” Bishop de Mazenod ordained him priest on 15 February 1852 and sent him immediately to Texas.
During the nine months he spent at Galveston, he helped the Oblates to establish the first Catholic college-seminary there. In March 1853 he was transferred to Brownsville and began his career as a circuit rider and church architect and builder along the Lower Rio Grande valley of Texas. Transferred upriver to the mission center of Roma in 1854, he designed and began the construction of the parish church there. Shortly after he was transferred back to Brownsville in 1856, he was entrusted with modifying and completing the construction of the church begun there by Fr. Verdet when the latter drowned at sea. The still extant church is now the cathedral of the diocese of Brownsville. Kéralum’s architectural and carpentry skills were put to use also for the convent, rectory, and college in Brownsville, and as late as 1872 he assisted the Laredo priests in completing their church, now the cathedral of the diocese of Laredo.
Yet Kéralum was most renowned among his contemporaries for his genuineness, simplicity of life, generosity, and affability. Known among the Mexican people as el santo padre Pedrito, he was a model of religious poverty, obedience, and unpretentiousness. At least three times a year, he would make missionary circuits on horseback over a vast territory of some 70 to 120 ranches, in which he would preach, catechize, baptize, confess, and marry the people. Along with an Oblate companion, he also preached missions on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande in 1865. Undaunted by his advancing age, with failing health and eyesight, he began what would be his final tour on November 9, 1872, in spite of the misgivings and anxiety of his fellow Oblates and the people of Brownsville. Last seen three days later at a ranch north of present Mercedes, he never arrived at his next scheduled destination. Foul play was suspected. But a decade later, in 1882, some cowhands came across his remains, identifiable by his undisturbed missionary belongings, and broadcast the sensational discovery to the populace.
The great esteem in which he was held during his life, combined with his mysterious death and the subsequent discovery of his remains in the remote countryside ten years later, ensured him a prominent place in the annals of the pioneers of Catholicism in Texas, including a fictionalized account by the famous American author Paul Horgan.
Robert Wright, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
Oblate Historical Archives, San Antonio, Texas: Kéralum files, Brownsville
account book 1852-1856, passim; Roma
Codex Historicus, passim.
Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Brownsville, and Our Lady of Refuge Church, Roma, sacramental registers, passim.
G. A.: newspaper cuttings, letters about him.
Missions O.M.I., 1862-1883, passim.
Fabre, Joseph et Gaudet, Augustin o.m.i., “Le père Kéralum”, Circulaire No.68, 5 October 1873, in Notices nécrologiques O.M.I., Vol. II, Paris 1869-1874, p. 401-405.
Le Révérend Père Pierre-Yves Kéralum, prêtre missionnaire de la Congrégation des Oblats de Marie-Immaculée, Quimper 1894.
Thiriet, E., o.m.i., “Une noble victime du zèle apostolique, le père Kéralum”, in Missions O.M.I., 56 (1922), p. 104-112.
Horgan, Paul, “The Devil in the Desert,” in The Saturday Evening Post, 6 May 1950, 24-25, 86-103 passim.
Doyon, Bernard, o.m.i., The Cavalry of Christ on the Rio Grande, 1849-1883, Milwaukee, 1956, p. 142-152.
Malégal, C., “Pierre Yves Kéralum, missionnaire au Texas”, in Nos Missionnaires, diocese of Quimper and Léon, April-September 2002, pp.23-28.