There is no certain knowledge regarding the time when the first Catholic settlers established themselves within the present limits of Saint James Parish. It is known, however, that if there were many members of the faith residing there prior to the formation of Saint Mary's congregation, Rockport, whose original boundaries included the present city of Lakewood. They must have attended services in old Saint Mary's in the Flats, founded in 1839. The Rev. Peter McLaughlin, first pastor of this church, made frequent journeys through the territory, spanning from Lakewood to Avon, where a parish had been already established in 1833. During this time, it is estimated that few Catholics resided in this area.
In 1854, Saint Patrick's, West Park, was dedicated, and four years later, in 1858, Saint Mary Parish, Rockport, was established. During this time, the Catholic population in the area continued to grow. These two parishes were more accessible than Cleveland. With the extension of the street railway to the city limits, Saint Rose of Lima Parish was established in 1899 to help serve the growing population. The parish territory included the village of Lakewood. As the street railway continued to be extended down Detroit Avenue to Rocky River, new housing allotments were opened to accommodate the increasing population. Many Catholics at that time took advantage of this opportunity, which resulted in a consistent and extensive growth in the faith community.
Saint Rose Parish quickly expanded and developed into proportions, which indicated the necessity of establishing another parish community westward. This action, which became imperative only nine years after the formation of Saint Rose Parish, was an eloquent testimonial of the remarkable growth of the Catholic Church within the city of Cleveland. The families which formed this parish and the new parish of Saint James, soon to be established, were the pioneer settlers and their offspring who had previously been associated with various parishes nearer to the heart of the city. Commercial expansion had either transformed the older neighborhoods into business districts or rendered them less desirable through possible encroachments.
In 1908, it was necessary to establish a new parish within the Lakewood Village. Bishop Ignatius F. Horstman designated Rev. Michael D. Leahy to undertake the formation of this new congregation and act as its first pastor. However, the Bishop died in Canton before the appointment became effective. The diocese administrator, Msgr. Felix M. Boff, officially appointed Fr. Leahy as pastor, effective July 1, 1908, which canonically established the new parish that was later placed under the patronage of Saint James the Greater.
Fr. Leahy, supported by the newly formed Saint James Charter Guild, located an empty storeroom in the O'Donnell Block at 15607 Detroit Avenue. Here, equipped with folding chairs and benches, and a temporary altar, the first Mass was offered on July 5, 1908. As parish membership grew, additional Masses were said in Miller Hall, located at Belle Avenue and Detroit. Property was acquired at the corner of Granger Avenue and Detroit on March 19, 1912. Â On June 28, 1913, work began on a permanent parish plant, and initial work was completed on October 12. On November 8, 1914, Bishop John Farrly spoke at the dedication: "This is your house, your home. This is the place where you are to acquire strength for the lives you live. Here birth, marriage and death will bring you."
The census taken during the fall of 1920 showed a total number of 4,269 parishioners, and a school enrollment of 517 students. In 1922, the ever-increasing number of Catholics in the area dictated a division of the parish in Lakewood and the creation of three new parishes: Saint Luke, Saint Clement, and Saint Christopher in Rocky River. Saint James embraced the area bordered by Madison Avenue on the south, Lakeland Avenue on the east, and stretching westward to the Rocky River boundary.
In 1925, under the guidance of Fr. Leahy, the current church began construction. The Sicilian Romanesque style was chosen and modeled after the Cathedral of Monreale of Palermo, Sicily. Formal dedication of the completed structure took place on May 21, 1935, with Bishop Joseph Schrembs in attendance. After Fr. Leahy's death in 1941, Msgr. Daniel Gallagher was appointed as pastor and completed the beautiful artwork of the interior of the church. Much growth deemed it necessary to convert the lower church into classrooms and build a new convent for the Sisters of the Holy Humility, who were instrumental in educating the pupils at Saint James School.
Msgr. Gallagher, loved by parishioners for his administrative ability, his sense of humor and his Irish wit, was forced by ill health to become Pastor Emeritus in 1969. Rev. Edward Murphy served as pastor until 1971, when he was appointed Chaplain of Saint John Hospital. Rev. William Andrews was appointed on July 26, 1971 and served until retiring in August 1985. Rev. John Weigand was appointed as Saint James Parish's fifth pastor and served until he retired in June 2010.
Under the spiritual guidance of these pastors, the parish community continued to grow in faith and service. With the new guidelines of the Sacred Vatican Council, parishioners took on a more active role in the life of the parish, especially the liturgical life. Similar to other parishes, Saint James had a number of organizations and sodalities that not only promoted parish life but also expanded out into the broader community.
Through the 1980's and 1990's, the Lakewood community began to experience a shift in population. Many Catholic families began to move further west. Fr. Weigand, along with the pastors of Saint Clement and Saint Luke, desiring to preserve Catholic education in Lakewood, worked together to form Lakewood Catholic Academy. With the hard work of so many, the doors were opened in 2005 on the campus of the closed Saint Augustine High School. With a current enrollment of over 600 students, Lakewood Catholic Academy offers our parishioners an opportunity to have a faith-based learning environment that challenges and empowers the students academically and spiritually.
In 2007, because of population shifts, fewer clergy, and financial costs, Bishop Richard Lennon began the task of consolidation. All parishes within the diocese were asked to participate. This was a very difficult process for many parishes. In March 2009, Bishop Lennon released the results of the consolidation. Fr. Weigand was informed that Saint James Parish was to close. This was an unexpected announcement that led to much anger. Requests for reconsideration were presented to the Bishop and subsequently denied. A group of parishioners formed Save Saint James (later called Friends of Saint James, Inc.) and following canonical procedures, made an appeal to the Vatican.
Despite these efforts, on Saturday, June 26, 2010, Bishop Lennon held the formal closing Mass at the overflowing Saint James Church. People wept openly, mourning the loss of their parish family and the spiritual home that had sustained them through the many joys and sorrows of their lives. The following day, Fr. Weigand held the final Mass, closed the bronze front doors and locked the church.
Due to the appeal, the diocese was not permitted to do anything with the property. Many prayers and committed people kept the hope alive that their parish would be reinstated. On March 7, 2012, the media broke the story that the Congregation for the Clergy had upheld the appeals of 11 churches in the Diocese of Cleveland, stating that there were both substantive and procedural problems with the closures. This was an unprecedented decision. Bishop Lennon, after review of the congregation's findings, decided not to appeal and to reestablish these parish communities. Parishioners were overjoyed, and with the canonical appointment of Rev. Joseph G. Workman on July 23, 2012, Saint James the Greater Parish began anew.
On July 25th, the Feast of Saint James the Greater, the people gathered again to celebrate Mass with the doors wide open to welcome new and old parishioners.
This is a new chapter in Saint James Parish history. Sharing a pastor with Saint Clement Parish, the forming of new finance and parish councils, and building new committees, opening a previously closed parish has brought with it challenges and blessings. A large number of people have been working hard to clean, renew, and reestablish the Saint James Parish community. Many programs have been reestablished with a renewed spirit that have not only touched the lives of the parishioners but have also reached the whole Lakewood community.
The continued history of Saint James Parish is in the hands of God. There is a great opportunity for us to listen to the Holy Spirit and to continue the mission that has been entrusted to us by our profession of faith. Working together, as from the beginning, we will overcome the challenges and celebrate a newness of spirit that is becoming Saint James Parish.