Catholic Sentinel photos by Gerry Lewin
Arlene and Bob Kampmann light a candle in their home, the old St. Philip Mission Church in Dallas.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Gerry Lewin
Arlene and Bob Kampmann light a candle in their home, the old St. Philip Mission Church in Dallas.
DALLAS — Arlene and Bob Kampmann have discussed downsizing. Those 4,000 square feet are a lot for two people.

But then they wonder, who would honor the history of their house the way they have?  

The Kampmanns, members of St. Philip Parish here, reside in the century-old former St. Philip mission church. The building went out of use in 1987 when the current church went up.

"Someone might turn it into offices," Arlene says, her small laugh indicating what a thoughtless plan that would be.  

Better it remain the home of a Catholic family, she concludes.

The sanctuary is now the kitchen, but it is the scene of some domestic holiness, as Arlene cooks lovingly for grandchildren and other family.

The massive living room, which the Kampmanns call the great hall, once was the nave. There, worshipers sat and listened to the scriptures, took in fervent homilies and participated in the liturgy of the Eucharist. Nowdays, Bob often holds Knights of Columbus meetings in the room, or the couple host faith sharing groups. The arched windows are still in place.

A massive oak table in the great hall was made from the church's oak pews. The flooring is all original hardwood, where the feet of hundreds of worshipers shuffled on their way up to Communion. Crosses, candles and statues of angels occupy significant portions of the space.

Of course, the Kampmanns also play cards and watch television and tell jokes in the 80-foot-long chamber. Youngsters who visit can't help but run around a bit. It's a family house, after all.  

The church was built in 1910 under the supervision of the missionary priest Father Hugh McDevitt. The priest was one of the chaplains aboard a rail car that had been converted into a Catholic chapel. During the car's stay in Dallas, it became clear that the town could support an immobile house of worship.

What the local paper called a "handsome little building" was dedicated with townspeople of all faiths attending and impressed. The Catholic lumber yard owners had donated the wood. The exterior is all long-lasting cedar.

They Kampmanns moved into the old church 11 years ago after Arlene had a dream. A colleague from work at Westview Products, a construction firm, had suggested she come from her home in Salem to take a look at the place, which had been converted into a residence for some years, but now was up for sale, perhaps to become a day care or a nursing home. The man was impressed at the unique construction — only two beams held up the entire structure.

Arlene noted that the place needed painting and cleaning. It looked like a money trap. Though she liked Dallas and the idea of living in an old church, she returned to Salem. But in her sleep, she repeatedly got the strong sense that she and Bob should buy the place, lest it go to some purpose not proper for an old church.  Arlene got talking with the owner. The woman, who was not Catholic, was seeking a smaller, newer house in South Salem, all on one floor. That pretty well described where the Kampmanns lived. They worked out a trade.

There are some things that come along with living in a former church. Old timers and history buffs ask to peek inside. Couples married in the church would like to have anniversary parties there. Church mice come back, generation after generation.     

And then there's the resident spirit, believed to be a nun who had a heart attack and died in the church.

"She's usually pretty friendly," says Kampmann, who has heard the rustling of an old-time habit around the house. The dog and cat sometimes sit at the foot of the stairs and whine, sensing the presence.

The spirit, an old classroom teacher, apparently prefers that children behave. At times, when Kampmann's grandchildren are frolicsome, doors in distant parts of the old church slam.

The former owners sealed off the old front entrance to the church and made a porch and side entrance there. The steeple was removed at some point — perhaps during a 1960s expansion of the original church or when the 1962 Columbus Day storm hit. The 960-square-foot master bedroom is a former upstairs storage area.

Otherwise, there are not many major changes and the Kampmanns don't envision making any, except perhaps building a garage that would blending nicely with the rest of the building. Doing much more than that just wouldn't be right.

Looking around the great hall, Arlene pauses and then says, "I can't imagine living anywhere else."