BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Father Pierre Keralum was born in Brittany, France around 1820. He was accepted into the priesthood around 1850 but prior to that he was an architect and a very, very skilled one.
He was a builder, architect. He was assigned to south Texas and arrived in the area around 1852. His first mission was to go to Roma and work with the parish there. Father Keralum actually built that particular church in Roma around 1856.
The priest who was in charge of the initial laying of the foundation of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral was Jean Maurice Verdet. His life ended tragically in 1856 in order to go to New Orleans to pick up some money for the finishing of the church. That particular ship sunk and Father Verdet drowned. That is when Father Keralum was brought back to Brownsville to help finish the church and the architecture is basically Gothic revival.
It is an excellent example of that in the entire state of Texas. He finished the cathedral in 1859. It took six years to finish. Father Keralum also lent his skills to the building of the rectory to the Brother’s college. He started the first convent that blew down in 1967 he also lent his hand into the convent that was built in 1867.
There are two other churches that are important in Father Keralum’s architectural gift to South Texas and they were built after his death. They were drawn on plans that he had developed prior to his death. They are the church in Santa Maria, the Nuestra Señora de Visitacion and the church at the Toluca Ranch. Saint Joseph the Worker, all of these buildings are splendid examples of his genius and they are basically Gothic style.
Beyond the fact that Father Keralum was a genius in architecture, he was more a genius in his service to the community and to the parish. He was affectionately called by the parishioners “El Padresito Pedrito” and he made the circuit at least three times a year, sometimes four times a year to the various ranchitos that were all the way from Brownsville up to Roma by horseback. That was the Cavalry of Christ and he was among the very first members of that missionary crew that went up the river.
In 1872 he had lent his services to the design of St. Augustine Church in Laredo but in the fall of that year, he made a mission on his route up the Rio Grande Valley against the will of the other priests in the diocese because of his failing health. He serviced a mission outside of Mercedes in 1872.
It was in November of 1872 that he did not appear at the next station. People began to worry and of course people suspected foul play. Well, Father Keralum did indeed succumb on that particular fateful mission in November of 1872. His remains and his little camp that was set up with the altar and all of the fixings for his missionary service were not found until ten years later.
Those particular artifacts are now in the possession of the church and there was a movement to make Father Keralum a saint. He was a reverend spirit and gave so much to the community he served, and he lent so much to the architectural aspect of what the church appeared.
With all of that gift built upon his legend, the rest is history.