Saint James the Less:
St. James Parish today traces its history from the original community of
Catholics in North La Crosse. Prior to the formation of our parish, the growing
number of faithful in this area were attended by the pastor from St. Mary's,
Rev. James Schwebach (later bishop). Masses were held in a former Protestant
church that had been purchased by the Hibernians for a hall.
Upon his death in 1884, Arthur Maguire, a Civil War veteran, willed four lots of
land to "the Right Rev. Kilian C. Flasch, Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese
of La Crosse, and to his successors in office forever.' One of the conditions
attached to the gift was that English should be spoken "at least part of the
time." The congregation was French and Irish. The cornerstone was laid on this
property July 18, 1886, and the church was completed for $15,000. Upon its
dedication Jan. 9, 1887 by Bishop Flasch, it was named St. James in honor of the
patron saint of Rev.
The church was a two story frame building with brick veneer. The school occupied
four rooms on the first floor with the church on the second.
Some of the pioneer lay parishioners of St. James include: Peter, Mike,
Patricia, and John Keaveney, M. Devine, M. Larkin, Joe Larkin, T. Hurley, J.
Driscoll, P. Kennedy, M. Noonan, M. Colgan, G. Johnson, J. Manning, R. O'Gar, A.
Conway, M. Downey, M. Rathburn, P. McGinty, Joe Conway, A. Murphy, T. Slattery,
J. Smith, Egan, McCarty, Brady, Desmond, J. Finn, Dunlap, McMahan, D. Thayer, H.
Byrne, R. Coney, D. McGuire, J. Fitzpatrick, J. McLinden, T. McHugh, Malley, G.
Young, Martell, D. Richard, Marco, B. Richmond, Jolivette, Busluy, Snyder, Lee,
Hanner, G. Phillips, La Fleur, Willette, LaBree, Bruckette, J. Asselin, W.
Vallincourt, Souise, Carroll, McCabe, Conley, B. McHugh, and J. McHugh.
On June 9, 1900, at about 10:00 p.m., St. James Church was struck by lightning
during a severe electrical storm that caused several fires in the area. Father
Murphy did not notice the extent of the fire as he entered the church, and
paused to notice how beautifully the altar had been decorated with plants and
flowers for the first communion that was to take place the next morning at 8:00.
While securing the Blessed Sacrament and several silver and gold articles from
the altar, he heard a crash behind him, and there, in a thousand pieces, lay the
huge lamp that had hung before the altar. The day after the fire, Father Murphy
made this statement to the press: "You can say in The Chronicle this
morning that St. James Church will be rebuilt and that I will hold my first
communion services at St. John's Church at 9:00 o'clock this morning, Father
Kaluza having kindly offered me his church, and he has accordingly set the hour
for his early mass at 8:00. I feel, more deeply than I can tell you, this
terrible blow that has descended upon my people."
The following day Father Murphy announced that a new church would be built of
solid brick, not veneer, and the school would be separate. The parish had been
nearly out of debt when the church burned. After the appeal made by Father
Murphy, The Chronicle headlined, "More than $1,000 raised before the
ruins are cold."
While the church was being built, some school classes were held in the Hibernian
Hall and St. John's Church was used for services. The new church was completed
in eight months at a cost of $18,000. Of Romanesque Revival Architecture, the
exterior walls are of Winona Brick, with blue Bedford and Merimac white brick
trimmings. The roof was covered with galvanized iron. It was dedicated by Bishop
Schwebach on March 3, 1901. This is the same structure we enjoy today.
Father Ambrose Murphy was born in Belledune, New Brunswick, Canada, Sept. 2,
1862. When he was four his family moved to Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. He
attended school there until he entered the Seminary of St. Francis in Milwaukee
at the age of fifteen. He continued his studies in Belgium, Austria, and finally
at the University of Paris. While in Europe he studied German and French,
developing great ability as a linguist.
He was ordained in 1886 and returned to Chippewa Falls in 1887. He came to St.
James as assistant pastor in January, 1888, and two months later became pastor,
serving in that position for the next fifty-one years. He enlarged St. James
spiritually and physically. In addition to our present church, he planned and
built a school and rectory. Before his death in 1939, he had saved money and
planned a new school to replace the one built in 1900.
The parishioners grew in love and respect for Father Murphy. He was a popular
orator with a ready wit and a grand way with words. After twenty-eight years,
Bishop Schwebach promoted him to take charge of the large French speaking parish
of St. Gabriel in Prairie du Chien; but a deluge of letters, calls and petitions
persuaded him to change his mind and let Father Murphy stay at St. James.
Over the years Father Murphy acquired a great collection of relics and left them
to the people of St. James. They can be seen on either side of the front altar
and in a cabinet on the side of the church.
In spite of pain and suffering, he worked with patience and courage to the end
of his life, April 6, 1939. He was buried from St. James Church.
"Father Murphy was admired as a citizen, a clergyman, and as a man. Never
yielding an iota from his firmly established beliefs, nor his loyalty to his
conscience and to his convictions, he has always been a most liberal and
tolerant man, a man of the people, a man always willing to give and take - a man
of the very highest ideals." These were the words of a New Richmond editor and
personal friend published in the New Richmond News.
In 1900, John S. and Ellen Darling donated six lots to St. James for a school,
and in 1901 three more lots were purchased. A long, rectangular, one story
building of wood frame construction was built close to the alley facing Windsor
Street. The floor plan consisted of a central corridor the entire length of the
building with classrooms on each side. The rest rooms were in the south end of
the basement, next to a hot air furnace room with a sand floor. The playground
is remembered because of a unique slide, a merry-go-round, and a tennis court.
The last class to graduate from this building was the Class of 1941. Swanson's
Heavy Moving Company in 1939 moved the building to the back of the lot to make
room for the construction of the present school.
The organ now in use was installed Jan. 25th, 1940 at a cost of $2680 by the
Wicks Organ Co. of Highland, Illinois and the original rectory was replaced by a
fire-proof, termite-proof building in 1952.
As a result of Vatican II, changes were made within the church
(see photo of pre-1952 church interior) under the
direction of Father Robert Hanson. The former main altar was simplified by the
removal of the baldachin and decorative niches, which were put back in place in
2003. The side altars were placed back
to back to form the altar of sacrifice. A shortened communion rail and the
removal of the rood beam made the sanctuary more open to the people. The side
table was made of part of the communion rail, and at the present time the
components of the rood beam adorn the left front wall.
Special appreciation is extended to the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual
Adoration who played an important role in the formation and development of our
parish. Prior to the building of St. Clara's Convent in 1893, the sisters walked
from St. Rose Convent to the North Side each day to teach the students at St.
James and St. John's. Their efforts and dedication to our parish have continued
for over one hundred years.
Of major importance in the history of St. James was the assimilation of some of
the people from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish and from St. John's Parish upon the
closing of those two churches.
In 1876, North Side Catholics purchased a former public school building on St.
James and Avon Streets to use as their own school. The English and French
speaking people sold their share in that building to the German speaking people
when they built St. James Church in 1886. These Germans were members of St.
Joseph's Cathedral, but overcrowded conditions there forced them to establish a
church of their own. The lower floor of the school was renovated for a temporary
church, and the first mass in the new St. John's Parish was held there in
October 1887 (see photo at right).
St. John's Parish grew rapidly. A neighboring lot was purchased and the old
church/school was placed on it to make room for the building of a new church on
the corner site. The cornerstone was laid there in 1892, and the church was
dedicated to St. John the Baptist on Passion Sunday, 1893. The first pastor was
Rev. F. X. Wilms. In 1928, a new school with four classrooms was built
east of the church.
The parishioners were energetic and developed deep spirituality. They celebrated
their Golden Jubilee in 1938, and again held a large celebration in 1963 for
their 75th Anniversary. In 1960, Bishop John Treacy had begun terminating the
national parish status of La Crosse churches in order to establish them as
territorial parishes with definite boundaries. The debts at St. John's had
become an insurmountable burden, partly because of the loss of parishioners due
to the closing of major factories. Since St. James and St. John's served
practically the same territory, the schools were combined in 1966, and on the
first Sunday of June, 1970, St. John's became part of St. James.
Many years ago a church on Copeland Avenue was dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes
(see picture at left).
It was a Catholic Church of the Maronite rite/liturgy used by many of the people
from Lebanon and Syria. This rite is a very important part of our Catholic
heritage because it is a direct link to the time of the original apostles. This
parish was also closed and combined with St. James. The faith of the people from
both St. John's and Our Lady of Lourdes has been beneficial to St. James, and
their talents are sincerely appreciated.