St. James celebrates 100 years!

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On Sept. 23, Cardinal George is scheduled to celebrate Mass and join in a reception at St. James Church, participating in the 100th anniversary celebration of the parish. Our Catholic community is proud to join in the celebration of the long history of this parish and its faithful members.

Recently, Fr. Tom Baldonieri shared some of St. James’ history with the community:

“In 1907, Reverend James D. O’Neill, pastor of Immaculate Conception in Highland Park, celebrated Mass for Catholics in the old Highwood City Hall on Waukegan Avenue. Earlier, Catholic settlers attended religious services at Fort Sheridan. But in 1912, ground was broken for a new church. St. James was constructed as a frame church at the corner of Funston and North Avenues. It 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. Italians had moved to Highwood in the early 1900s, and were active parish members. As the parish grew, a school was opened in 1925, led by the Sisters of Loretto. By 1938, the Parish had grown to 350 families; many if not most at the time were Italian. After WWII, Highwood and St. James continued to grow, necessitating additions to the classrooms of St. James, along with a convent and a chapel on North Avenue. Costs of these improvements were estimated at $150,000. Over the years there continued to be improvements to keep up with the increased demands of the parish membership. In the 1980s, Spanish Mass was added on Sundays for the new immigrant population.”

But a church of course is not made up of its building and amenities. A church is made up of people who then make the church what it was and is today. In Italian culture, for centuries the church was at the center of the lives of its constituents. From birth to death, and all the sacraments in between, a family celebrates their joys and shares their grief in the community that is our church.

Looking back at the charming hilltop villages that dot the Italian landscape, at their center is always a church and its bell tower calling to prayer its parishioners. In many ways, Italian Catholics have long seemed connected to their faith as part of their culture, in fact, the two are intricately entwined. Think of the rosaries murmured by young girls modestly dressed, their heads covered with lace. Solemn altar boys, processions, men, women and children who demonstrated their honor to their Roman Catholic religion in consistent ways throughout the centuries.

As these Italian immigrants came to Highwood, they continued their reverence, devotion and commitment by participating in choirs, holiday celebrations, rosaries, women’s clubs and the St. James Sacred Heart Guild. And while not everyone in Highwood was Italian, Italians placed their mark on this parish over the last 100 years. We wish them well on their continued journey of faith, and celebrate the joyous occasion of their 100-year anniversary!

Thank you to Fr. Tom Baldonieri for his historical contribution.

If you have a story to share about our North Shore Italians, please contact me at I’d love to share it with others.

About Elisabetta (Liz) Hawari

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