History of St. James Parish
Belvidere was a mission church as far back as 1838 when a visiting priest of the Chicago diocese would offer Mass in a Catholic home. When Father McMahon became the first pastor of Donnelley’s Settlement (which later became Hartland) in 1844, he traveled on horseback over the trails offering Mass in pioneer homes. Belvidere was on his route and he said Mass here regularly up to 1850.
Since the town was on the route from Chicago to Galena, Bishop Van de Velde passed through it frequently; he noted in his diary that on September 18, 1851, “a lot has been purchased for the erection of a church.”
Father John Hampston, newly ordained, was appointed pastor of Belvidere in the autumn of 1851 with the neighboring towns in his charge. Actually he lived with Father Brady for awhile in Hartland until he had an opportunity to look over the territory. He decided upon Belvidere as the seat of his labors since it was conveniently located between Rockford and Marengo. Father Hampston built the first St. James Rectory at Lincoln and Burgess Street but lived in it a very short time as Rockford was growing faster than the neighboring communities. By 1853 he had moved to Rockford where he established St. James Parish.
Belvidere continued as a mission church of Rockford until 1864 when Father Patrick McGuire became the first pastor and built the present rectory in 1872. The church cornerstone was laid in July 1886 and the completed church was formally dedicated on March 28, 1889 by Archbishop Patrick Feehan.
Between 1907 and 1909, Father J.C. Murphy remodeled the rectory and installed a steam heating plant, put a new roof on the church and redecorated the church. Cement walks were laid and the parish debt was greatly reduced.
In 1909 Father Joseph Joyce was appointed pastor and built a four-room parochial school costing $25,000 and purchased a convent for the School Sisters of Notre Dame of Milwaukee who were engaged to teach.
Father John Egan renovated the church and rectory during his pastorate from 1936-1946. In 1954 Father John Connolly became pastor and under his care the basement was excavated and a parish hall which now bears his name was created. He also built a four-room addition onto the school in 1958 and a new convent at Main and Logan.
Father Charles McCarren renovated the church in 1967, removing the old high altar and moving the remaining altar out closer to the people in keeping with the guidelines of the Vatican Council of 1965. Shortly after the renovation, a fire damaged the sanctuary and basement. Both required extensive work and air conditioning was added at that time.
During Father McCarren’s pastorate a Spanish Mass was added. He is long remembered for his devotion to the sick and dying and for his care of victims of the 1967 tornado in Belvidere. He refused to rest for many hours as he cared for the people.
Father Robert Miller was appointed pastor in July 1979. In his twelve years as pastor many more changes came about. The stained glass windows were cleaned, releaded, and covered with Lexon; a new roof was put on in 1981; the interior underwent a complete renovation including all new sanctuary furnishings and interior redecoration. The newly remodeled church was ready for Easter, 1982. The school also received a new roof, windows and doors in 1983. In 1984, the lot behind the church was paved for parking. In the summer of 1985 the church was sandblasted to remove 99 years of accumulated soot and dirt. In October a new sign was installed in front of church.
Father Richard Russo became pastor in July 1991. Under his direction and care, St. James built our present Parish Center with a large multipurpose room, parish offices, Library-Resource Center, Liturgy and Music Room, prekindergarten, kindergarten, small-group meeting rooms, and a beautifully furnished commercial kitchen. The Parish Center was ready in the spring of 1994.
Father Bernard Mullane was assigned pastor in September 1995 and quickly devoted himself to St. James. The people in turn devoted themselves to our parish.
Father Tom Brantman, a Mundelein native, studied theology at Pope John XXIII National Seminary for Delayed Vocations in Weston, Mass. and did his post-graduate work at Loyola University in Chicago. Father Tom served St. James for 4 years, bringing new focus to technology and theology.
St. James has experienced tremendous growth in the last ten years. We have grown from 711 families in Father Miller’s pastorate to 2000+ families. May we continue to grow in the Lord’s favor.
Father Brian Geary joined St. James 7/1/2008. After eliminating the parish debt he began a Capital Campaign to build a new Church. After a few years of dedicated work, the current church was built and dedicated on December 18, 2014 by the Most Reverend David J. Malloy. The new church is a blessing to all!