In 1867, just a year or so after the end of the Civil War, Father B.J. Wormers, pastor of St. Andrew’s, purchased three acres of land at the juncture of Bridge and Cadwell streets for the sum of $1,000. It was a swampy plot of land, and according to the older residents of the parish there were vociferous complaints about the “mud-hole” that had been bought for a church.
When Father Wormers was succeeded on October 6, 1868, the new pastor, the Rev. James Claude Pulcher, immediately took an interest in the project of excavating for the new West-Side parish on Bridge Street. The 6th, 7th, and 8th wards of the city were erected into a new territorial parish.
Since the parish was a predominantly Irish one, the first choice of a patron was St. Patrick. Father Pulcher is said to have favored Our Lady Star of the Sea, but strong sentiment favored honoring Father Pulcher himself in some way. His patron, St. James the Greater, the apostle and close relative of our Lord, was finally chosen.
Work on the foundation of the present St. James Church was begun in 1869 by Thomas Berry. Sufficient stone was found on the land to build the foundation, and most of the work was donated by local farmers. Contractor for the brickwork was Patrick O’Neill. The firm of Smith and O’Grady contracted for the woodwork. The architect was William G. Robinson.
The cornerstone was laid on July 20, 1870. The Daily Democrat gives the following description of the event: “The procession of priests and other dignitaries accompanied by the Bishop in canonical robes, approached the site of the foundation. After the chanting of the introductory services, as prescribed by the rubrics, the Bishop consecrated the cornerstone and sprinkled it with holy water. The sermon was given by Father Limpens…In the cornerstone was deposited a tin box containing the date of the ceremony and a description of the proposed edifice.”
In the spring of 1872, the Rev. James P. McManus was sent from Detroit to assist Father Pulcher at St. Andrew’s. Father Pulcher was given his choice of remaining at the older parish, or going to St. James as pastor. He chose “St. James and the poor people,” he said, and in June of 1872, he was made pastor of the newly erected West-Side parish. On July 21, 1872 the new church structure was completed at a cost of $38,000. Bishop Borgess performed the dedication ceremonies, and after the blessing, the first Mass in St. James followed.
The church has been renovated over the years to meet contemporary liturgical requirements. The parish has worked to adapt to changes in its neighborhood. It has also focused on community outreach, founding the West Side, now City-Wide, Food Drive among other activities. As our mission statement says, The people of St. James Church, united in the Body of Christ, welcome all and serve in the broader community.
St. James Church Location
733 Bridge NW
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49504
St. James Church Parish Offices
654 Davis Ave NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504