St. James Catholic Church
3909 Harrison Street
Kansas City, Missouri 6410
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The Parish was founded in 1906.
We, the people of the St. James community of faith, commit ourselves to building the Reign of God for all people, serving especially our neighbors in Midtown, Kansas City.
Our parishioners are diverse, hailing from 25 countries, speaking 15 languages, ranging from infancy to 100 years and having many other cultural, lifestyle and socio-economic differences. Yet we live and work as members of one family.
On August 26, 1906, the first Mass of St. James Parish was celebrated by Fr. John W. Keyes and a handful of Catholic families from the southern-most neighborhoods of Kansas City. Services were held on the second floor of Walsham Hall, a dance hall at 38th and Woodlawn. The church rented space on Sundays for $5 an hour, and the facilities were shared with Baptists and Later Day Saints. The altar was made of dry goods boxes nailed together and covered with a linen table cloth. In those early years, three rooms were rented over Brinkley’s Drug Store, one for the priest’s living quarters, one for an office, and one for weekday services. The first church building for St. James was a small frame structure at the northeast corner of 40th and Tracy. The first Mass was held there on Christmas Eve in 1906.
Construction of the present church began in 1911 and was completed in 1912. The building was modeled on St. James Episcopal church in London. It is made from Carthage limestone in an old English style with a red tiled roof. The limestone was salvaged from the 25-year old piers of the so-called Winner bridge project, which had been abandoned during the 1893 depression and never completed. Armour, Swift and Burlington did build a new bridge later at the same location. The first Mass in the 3901 Harrison building was celebrated on Christmas Eve 1912.
The new St. James church building was dedicated August 24, 1913.
By 1919 the parish had grown from its original 20 families in 1906 to about 4,000 families and was the second largest Catholic congregation in Kansas City. Msgr. John W. Keys, the founding pastor, served this parish from 1906 to 1950. In 1924, the church was extended to the east which enlarged the sanctuary and allowed for the relocation of the present-day altar and sacristies.
In 1917, Fr. Keyes mounted a U. S. flag at the northwest corner of the church. No other Catholic church was flying the flag at this time. The U.S. entered World War I that year and he did this so that Catholic citizens of the parish could express their patriotism. (Anti-Catholic and particularly anti-German and anti-immigrant feelings were common in the country at that time.)
St. James Catholic Church has played an important part in the lives of Kansas City Catholics throughout the Twentieth century and now, well into the Twenty-first. Over the years, St. James Church has served the larger and ever-changing community, especially as the area became more ethnically, racially and socially diverse. By the 1960s, as the neighborhood’s social make up changed, St. James evolved from a “suburban” to an “inner-city” parish. In 1967 the congregation numbered over 2,600 people. By 1974 that number had dropped to 1,800. And by 2006 the congregation had become no more than 160 families.
St. James’ facilities have been used over the years by neighborhood organizations, health care workers, and support groups. The Human Resources Corporation was housed at St. James in the 1960s and 1970s. The St. Vincent de Paul thrift store on Troost, located just next to the church, was opened in 1970. The food pantry and soup kitchen also opened in the 1970s. In the 1990s the Parish Center was re-opened as the Troost-Midtown Community Center. The food pantry became affiliated with Bishop Sullivan Center in 2002 and was renamed St. James Place. In 2006 alone, St James Place served more than 3,700 meals per month and provided food and emergency assistance to more than 650 families.
“To my mind St. James is the parish that refused to die. By all measures of parish viability-location, population and income- St. James became a candidate for closure not once, but twice in recent years. But it survived and is currently undergoing a mini renaissance which, God willing, will usher in an even greater future.”
—The Most Reverend Raymond J. Boland, DD, Former Bishop of Kansas City-Saint Joseph
The Stained Glass
I have not been able to learn who designed or manufactured the windows in St. James or precisely when all the windows were purchased and installed. As is often the case with older churches, the names of the designers and creators of these inspirational windows may be unknown and forgotten, but their creations continue to bring us joy and a sense of awe.
On the north sanctuary wall are windows depicting St. Matthew and St. Mark; St. Agnes; The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin; The Agony of Christ; The Visitation; and St. James the Younger.
On the south wall of the sanctuary are windows depicting St. John and St. Luke; Catherine of Alexandria; The Ascension of Christ; Jesus and St. Joseph; The Good Shepherd; and the Resurrection of Christ.
These original sanctuary windows are all designed in a consistent style and probably were installed at the time the church was originally built in 1916.
Newer stained-glass windows were installed in the north and south walls of the 1924 addition, where the altar is now located. These are: The Annunciation, The Nativity, The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, The Stripping of Christ’s Garments, The Crucifixion, and The Assumption.
Two beautiful newer windows have been installed in the small chapel on the south side of the sanctuary, just before the area of the altar, ambo and credence table. These are of a different style from the older windows in the rest of the church and probably were installed more recently than those in the 1924 addition.The images of Christ and of Mary are particularly beautiful.
Other, small windows have been installed on either side of the north and south sanctuary doors and in other areas as well.
Although this post is about the Stained Glass windows in St. James Church, behind the church, on the wall of the thrift shop, is a contemporary expression of the wish to honor and, perhaps, memorialize, four praiseworthy women who have contributed to and served our community: The Grandmothers of Manheim by Alexander Austin.
Lucielle Leaphart…Orissa Keli-Logan…Arvern Hughes…Dorothy Hawkins