The History of Saint James Parish

Many of the early Catholic settlers in Highwood attended religious services at Fort Sheridan. A large wave of Italian immigrants began to settle around 1906. It was in 1907 that Reverend James D. O'Neill, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Highland Park, celebrated Mass in the old Highwood City Hall on Waukegan Avenue.


St. James Church in Highwood was created in 1912; the ground was broken for the building on May 1, 1912. The constructed frame church built at the corner of Funston and North Avenues was dedicated by Archbishop James E. Quigley of Chicago on September 8, 1912. The church was originally built as a mission of the Immaculate Conception Church of Highland Park, with Reverend O'Neill serving as both the pastor of the IC Church and the new mission church in Highwood. Father O'Neill continued to care for the Catholic community in Highwood until October 13, 1923 when Rev. Simon J. Gates, a former chaplain at Mercy Hospital in Chicago, was appointed the resident pastor of St. James Church.


Following Rev. Gates' death on August 29, 1924 at the age of 47, Rev. Francis J. Magner was named pastor. He came to Highwood in October, 1924 from Wilmette, Illinois where he had been an assistant at St. Francis Xavier Church. Under Father Magner's leadership, a new parish complex was built. Andreas Brisch built a colonial- Style church from designs furnished by the pastor. In addition to the new church, St. James School was opened in 1925, and the Sisters of Loretto, who had come to Highland Park in 1912, were engaged as teachers. A rectory building was also built at 146 North Avenue. The new church was dedicated on April 25, 1926.


In December 1927, Father Magner was appointed pastor of St. Mary Church in Evanston, Illinois and Rev. Jeremiah P. Holley, a former assitant at Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Chicago, was named pastor of St.James Church. During Father Holley's pastorate between the years of 1927 and 1938, the membership of the Highwood Parish increased to about 350 families. 


In July 1938, Fr. Holley was appointed pastor of St. Bartholomew Church in Chicago and Rev. James D. Gleeson was named pastor of St. James. Prior to this, Rev. Gleeson had served as director of Catholic Charities, a post which involved working with the children of St. Vincent Orphanage in Chicago. During World War II, after a U.S.O. building was established in Highwood, officials decided that the National Catholic Community Service should manage the center and Monsignor Gleeson was asked to oversee this group. Following WWII, many Catholic families moved to Highwood and joined St. James Church.


To meet the needs of this fast-growing parish, Rev. Gleeson directed the construction of four additional classrooms to St. James School in 1949 along with a convent and chapel at 140 North Avenue. The cost of these structures was estimated at about $150,000.00. In 1956, major interior and exterior improvements were made on St. James Church. The old frame edifice erected in 1912 was torn down along with the original rectory. Construction began on an eight classroom addition and a lower-level auditorium which cost $250,000. In 1948, a new two story rectory was completed at 134 North Avenue. On July 28, 1963, Monsignor Gleeson celebrated the 25th Anniversary of his appointment as pastor of St. James Church.


On September 4, 1964, Monsignor Gleeson was appointed pastor of St. Giles Church in Oak Park, Illinois and Rev. Monsignor Thomas J. Kelley, former pastor of St. Columba Church in Chicago, had been named pastor of St. James Church. Msgr. Kelley served the Catholics of Highwood until February 1968, when he was named pastor of St. Margaret Mary Church in Chicago.


Rev. Joseph L. Curielli was appointed pastor of St. James Church on March 6, 1968. He came to Highwood from All Saints Church in Chicago where he had served as pastor since 1956. Due to a shortage of personnel, the Sisters of Loretto withdrew from St. James Parish in the summer of 1968. Beginning in September of that year, the School Sisters of Notre Dame were placed in charge of the parish school; Rev. Cmielli retired from his position as pastor in 1982, although he remamed at St. James as pastor emeritus until his death on December 19, 1986. 


Under Reverend Ouletta's pastorate, the East courtyard was landscaped. In 1989, Rev. Ronald E. Scarlata succeeded Fr. Ouletta and became pastor. During Rev. Scarlata's time, the interior of the church was renovated. During this time, Hispanic immigrants began moving into the area and a Spanish Mass was added on Sundays. In 1994, Fr. James O'Malley, who had been pastor of St. Joseph the Worker in Wheeling, came to serve as associate pastor. In 1997, Rev. Scarlata retired from St. James Parish and REv. O'Malley was asked to be pastor.


In 2002, another O'Malley made St. James hlis home. Rev. Timothy OIMalley, an associate at St. Agnes of Bohemia in Chicago, was assigned as pastor of St. James. Rev. O'Malley renovated the church courtyard, remodeled the altar, and made the washrooms handicapped accessible. In 2007, Rev. Timothy O'Malley was reassigned to St. Church in Round Lake.


Rev. Thomas F. Baldonieri, an associate at St. Raymond de Penafort in Mount Prospect, was assigned as pastor of St.James in July of 2007. Generous estate gifts were received from Dante and Linda Amidei and Ernest and Virginia Gherardini. Rev. Baldonieri was able to renovate the parish hall in April of 2010, and later that year, St. James opened a Food Pantry to serve the parish and its surrounding communities. A Parish Council and Commissions were established to help guide St. James Parish for generations to come.


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