MECS Missionary to Brazil
Jerome Walter Daniel was one of eleven children born to a family living in Cotulla, on the broad cattle ranges of southern Texas. He arrived at the state university in the fall 1907 and was soon drawn into the life of University Methodist Church.
When the prominent northern Methodist layman Dr. John R. Mott spoke in Austin in 1908, Daniel attended the meeting, was converted, and felt a call to preach. Upon graduation in 1911, he entered the seminary of the ME Church, South, at Vanderbilt University. By March, 1912, he felt an amplification of his call, an urge to offer himself for the foreign mission field. Applying to the Mission Board, he asked, if accepted, to be sent to Africa or Brazil. He was appointed as a teacher at Union College in Uruguayana, province of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.
Daniel arrived in Brazil in time for the meeting of the South Brazil Annual Conference, was admitted on trial, and was formally appointed to Uruguayana. The following year, he received appointment as pastor in Passo Fundo, a town in the Uruguayana District. Daniel remained in Passo Fundo from 1915 through 1921, and it was here that he did his most intriguing work.
The new pastor had not been at his post for long when he became aware of the total absence of educational advantages in Passo Fundo; even the most rudimentary schooling seemed to be lacking. Setting out to meet this need, Daniel applied to the mission board for funds to buy lots on which to erect a mission school. The school opened its doors as “Passo Fundo Institute” in March 1920.
As the school developed, it began teaching higher level classes until, by 1925, it was renamed “Instituto Gymnasial do Passo Fundo” with students enrolled in two years of primary work, five years of elementary work, and four years of either secondary work or commercial studies.
The Instituto Gymnasial became a magnet for other missionaries, many of them new recruits from the University of Texas. Prominent among the enhanced staff was a Californian who was already in Brazil. Maggie Lee Kenney was a pastor’s daughter from Los Angeles who had wanted to be a missionary since she was ten years old. The missions board sent her to American College in Porto Alegre, the principal city of Rio Grande do Sul, in 1912. She met Daniel soon after his arrival in Brazil, love bloomed, and they were married on New Year’s Day in 1917. From that point on, her assignment became Passo Fundo where her husband was pastor and director of the new school, then developing.
In recognition of Daniel’s accomplishments at Passo Fundo, the conference met there in 1921. At that session, Bishop Moore appointed him to the nearby Cruz Alta District as presbytero presidential (presiding elder) and to pastor at Cruz Alta.
The Daniels remained in Brazil until 1934. While he was very successful serving as pastor of the largest churches, presiding elder of two districts, treasurer of the mission,; and once, as the conference’s presiding officer, Brazil was not entirely happy for the Daniels. One son died while they in the field, and Maggie Daniel nearly died of a miscarriage in California on the way back after a furlough in 1929. But Daniel led the way for many of his fellow students to follow him to lives of service in Brazil.
Adapted from Robert W. Sledge, “A Model Home Base for Missions: Mary Decherd, The University of Texas Epworth League, and the Brazil Mission,” Methodist History 45:1 (October 2006): 4-15.