In 33 AD the Catholic Church was formed, a few 1800
years later St. James at Sag Bridge was formed. The site of St. James
Church is uniquely located on a hill overlooking the valley below and
was formed by glacial waters the later became the Des Plaines River and
the Sag Channel. This location has been inhabited for centuries because
of its importance as a lookout and was first inhabited by Indians and
later a French Fort was located at this site. In 1673 Father Jacques
Marquette along with Louis Joliet explored and traveled along the Des
Plaines River passing the site of St. James on three different
occasions. It is believed that Fr. Marquette came to the Sag and said
Mass at the French fort located here.
Louis Joliet himself recognized the importance of
linking the river to Lake Michigan. However, it wasn’t until a century
and a half later the Illinois & Michigan Canal was constructed to meet
the demands of a rapidly growing nation. Construction of the canal plus
the prospect of inexpensive land lured foreign settlers to the Sag
region and St. James Church was officially formed.
A rough log
cabin first served as the church building and was located directly on
the original Indian trail, which later became Archer Avenue. It is
recorded in 1833, Fr. Irenaeous St. Cyr the priest assigned to the
Chicago-land area, traveled to the Sag area every 3 o 4 months. He came
on horseback and his journey took an entire day. He offered Mass in the
original log cabin church of St. James.
The land on
which the Church and Cemetery are situated was purchased and later
donated by two early settlers John Sullivan & James Murphy. Their direct
descendants are still active parishioners today.
In 1853 the
cornerstone of the present day St. James Church was laid and dedicated
by Bishop Van De Velde. The church is constructed of limestone (Athens
marble) excavated from the nearby quarries. It took area settlers and
farmers six long years of back breaking work to haul enough stones to
the top of the hill. Those that did the most work were given cemetery
plots closest to the church. The original St. James altars installed
around 1858 were made of wood and painted with gold trim.
St. James Church was a mission church and did not have a resident pastor
until 1882. The first pastor Father Joseph Bollman had St. James Church
remodeled and enlarged. Numerous changes took place in the late 1890s
such as: the original clear-glass windows with square tops were
redesigned and arched with fully detailed stained-glass windows imported
from Germany; the eye of God Window was installed – an excellent example
of rose windows; the walls of the church were heightened; the pitch of
the roof was radically changed and the magnificent ceiling of Sitca
spruce from Alaska was installed along with wood paneling added along
the side walls all hand carved by parishioners; a new belfry was added
as well as the choir loft, plus the side Sacristies were built at this
Some unique features of St. James are: the urn-topped wrought iron gates
which were installed in 1914 and serve as the church entrance; the
buttresses that were added to the church building in 1919 when
dynamiting the Cal-Sag Channel weakened the foundation; the limestone
Stations of the Cross lining the church and cemetery walkway were
constructed in the 1920s and donated by parishioners in memory of
deceased family members; and the historic wrought iron entrance gates to
the St. James complex that were acquired from the Western Electric
Hawthorne Plant in 1976 and originally fabricated on 1905.
has undergone many changes over the years. In the early 1950s the church
interior was ornately painted with gold-leaf and vibrant colors. And
again the interior was changed in the late 1970s when the original
altars and altar railings were removed in keeping with Vatican II
guidelines. St. James Church and Cemetery suffered considerable tornado
damage in 1991. Many feared the parish would be closed. However a group
of dedicated parishioners banded together and formed the St. James
Preservation Society and this did not happen.
1990s St. James Church was once again restored to reflect its original
beauty and heritage. The new front altar and shrines are hand-craved of
wood and trimmed in gold and were fashioned after the original St. James
altars having similar spires, curves and arches. Among the improvements:
refinishing and repairing the ceiling, pews & choir loft: a pipe organ
was donated and installed: new carpeting: repainting of interior walls
including gold stenciling over the altar and windows: repairing and
repainting of the Stations of the Cross: all new lectern stand, altar
chairs, and tables: plus air conditioning, improving electrical wiring,
security alarm system, TV/video system. All upgrading and restoration
was completed in time for the 165th Anniversary of St. James
held in May of 1998. Cardinal Francis George rededicated St. James at a
special anniversary Mass.
The following links are a
collections for those seeking a further understanding of the history of St.
James at Sag Bridge.
August 16, 1984 both St. James Church & Cemetery were listed on the
National Register of Historic Places. Both are also listed as "historic
sites of outstanding significance" by the National Park Service which
lead to the establishment of the I & M Canal Heritage Corridor.