St. James Parish was established in 1904 to support Denver’s first suburb, the East Denver neighborhood of Montclair. Fourteen years earlier, in 1885, Baron Walter B. von Richthofen, a German adventurer and land speculator (and the uncle of Baron Manfred von Richthofen, the World War I flying ace nicknamed “The Red Baron”) established Montclair promoting it as the “Beautiful Suburban Town of Denver.” By 1904, Montclair was annexed to the city of Denver, and had grown from a few homes, farms, and ranches to a viable community. Catholics in Montclair, along with the neighborhoods of Park Hill, Aurora, and the areas around the Phipps Sanitarium (now the Lowry neighborhood) and Fairmount Cemetery had to travel the four miles to attend Mass at the Denver Cathedral Bishop Nicholas Matz established a parish with boundaries of Colorado Boulevard on the west, Cherry Creek on the south, St. Augustine’s parish in Brighton to the north, and St. John’s in Yuma to the east. Prior to founding St. James Catholic Parish, the only other congregation east of Colorado Boulevard was St. Luke’s Episcopal Church at East 13th Avenue and Poplar Street, which today is a designated Denver Landmark. A young Irish priest, Hugh L. McMenamin, the chaplain of Mercy Hospital, was tasked to organize the parish. He rounded up thirteen Catholic families from the neighborhood and said Mass in the Montclair Town Hall at 1426 Oneida Street. Father McMenamin, prior to being transferred from St. James to Cathedral Parish, purchased four lots at 13th and Newport for $360.
Father James M. Walsh succeeded Father McMenamin as chaplain to Mercy Hospital and St. James pastor in January 1905. Four years later, he resigned as chaplain of Mercy moved to Montclair to live with a Catholic family at 1205 Oneida Street. He also initiated catechism classes taught by the Sisters of Mercy from Mercy Hospital, in the town hall.
Living in Montclair, Father Walsh built a one-story stone church at the northeast corner of East 13th Avenue and Newport Street. Bishop Matz dedicated the church on November 7, 1909 naming it for St. James the Lesser. In 1920, Father Walsh acquired a large frame house at 1284 Newport as the parish rectory. He stayed with the parish until his death on March 9, 1937. MToentcxlatir and St. James experienced little growth until after World War II. Blessed Sacrament Parish was established in Park Hill in 1912 and Aurora received its own parish, St. Therese’s, in 1926. Reverend Mark W. Lappen was pastor from 1937 to 1938 and was followed by Reverend Charles M. Johnson from 1938 to 1940).
In 1940, Father William V. Powers was named pastor for the St. James Parish. As World War II ended, Denver and Montclair experienced a building boom and St. James’s became one of the fastest growing parishes in the diocese overwhelming the tiny stone church. At one time, Masses were so crowded that children at Sunday Mass had to sit on the altar steps. Father Powers and Archbishop Urban J. Vehr recognized the need for a larger church and asked the Civilian Production Administration, the World War II federal agency that controlled building materials, for permission to build a $166,000 church and school. These requests were denied until August 26, 1946 when approval was given and Architect John K. Monroe designed a three-story school, red brick school building with a garden level church. The new church had room for 550 worshipers, compared to the old church, which accommodated only 180.
The new school and church were completed in 1948. In order to house the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet who taught at the school, Fr. Powers purchased the old house at 1205 Oneida Street, where Father Walsh had first lived, for $15,000 to serve as their convent. After spending $25,000 for remodeling and an addition, it became home for as many as thirteen nuns.
During this time Montclair added many new Catholic families, which caused school enrollment to increase to over 800 students. By 1955, the school was so crowded that Father Powers bought the bungalow at 1327 Oneida Street and converted it to additional classrooms. Even so, many of the classes had as many as 50 students. In 1956, St. James bought the block of land between Oneida and Olive streets and East 8th and 9th avenues as a high school site. After its purchase, the block was converted to an athletic field. In 1958, a new garden-level church was constructed on the north wing of the school and a combined gymnasium and auditorium added on top of the church in 1964. A new rectory at 1314 Newport Street was completed in spring 1968.
In order to finance expansion of his parish of more than 1,200 families, Father Powers started bingo, with profits as much as $4,000 a night. In recognition of his building efforts, Father Powers was promoted to monsignor before his retirement on May 25, 1969.
Following Monsignor Powers’ retirement, Monsignor William H. Jones served as pastor for three months, when Father Clement DeWall was named pastor and carried through parish plans for a new church. Groundbreaking on the new church occurred on January 15, 1974. Architect Victor Langhart designed a low-ceilinged red brick contemporary church reminiscent of the catacombs. The new church could easily accommodate a small number of worshipers on a weekday or 600 parishioners for Sunday Mass. The first Mass in the new church was celebrated on September 25, 1975. After completing the building project, Father DeWall resigned as pastor in 1976 and was replaced by Father Michael F. Kavanaugh. With lay teachers replacing the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet as instructors at St. James school, the last nuns left the convent in 1975 and it was sold for $140,000 to the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and the land bought for a high school was sold to the city in 1978 and became Kittridge Park.
Father Robert Harrington was named pastor in 1981. During his short time at St. James, Father Harrington (he was afflicted with cancer and died an untimely death in 1986), completed the stained glass windows in the church and vestibule. He was also a strong supporter of the school, initiating an annual fall carnival and twice weekly bingo games to subsidize its operation. Michael W. Gass, a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, and a 1977 graduate of Denver’s St. Thomas Seminary, became the tenth pastor of St. James’s in 1987. During this time Montclair added many new Catholic families, which caused school enrollment to increase to over 800 students. By 1955, the school was so crowded that Father Powers bought the bungalow at 1327 Oneida Street and converted it to additional classrooms. Even so, many of the classes had as many as 50 students. In 1956, St. James bought the block of land between Oneida and Olive streets and East 8th and 9th avenues as a high school site. After its purchase, the block was converted to an athletic field. In 1958, a new garden-level church was constructed on the north wing of the school and a combined gymnasium and auditorium added on top of the church in 1964. A new rectory at 1314 Newport Street was completed in spring 1968. In order to finance expansion of his parish of more than 1,200 families, Father Powers started bingo, with profits as much as $4,000 a night. In recognition of his building efforts, Father Powers was promoted to monsignor before his retirement on May 25, 1969.
Father Gass formed the St. James Pastoral Council meeting in 1989. A year later he formed a stewardship committee to promote tithing and sacrificial giving, and in November 1991, St. James became a stewardship parish. On June 16, 1993, Father Brian Morrow was appointed the eleventh pastor for St. James Parish. Father Morrow’s vision and energy led to a rejuvenation of the parish, with children’s Masses and transformation of the school building into a 1993 host for World Youth Day and Pope John Paul II’s visit to Denver. In August 1995, the St. James Hispanic Community was formed when 50 families met at St. James and a Spanish Mass was offered Sunday afternoons. In fall 1996, St. James School offered a full day preschool to accommodate working parents. Also, the St. James Endowment Fund was incorporated as a not-for-profit foundation with the mission of providing funds for staff development, tuition assistance, and long-term strategic planning. In November 1995, St. James Parish acquired the house north of the church and converted it into the parish offices. The following year, St. James broke ground on the new parish hall. The 8,200 square foot addition is directly connected to the church sharing the same façade. The parish hall has a meeting hall with a seating capacity for 300 with a large kitchen. The renovation also added a new sacristy, bathrooms, storage closets, and an expansive basement. Archbishop Charles Chaput blessed the $1.2 million parish center on April 16, 1997.
In 1999, Father Morrow was reassigned to St. John the Baptist Parish in Longmont and Father David Allen was assigned as pastor of St. James. Father Allen brought the ideal of pilgrimage to St. James Parish. In 2000, Father Allen, an avid bicyclist, let parish cyclists, and a contingent of parishioners who traveled by car and by bus on a 250 mile trip to San Louis, Colorado and the Stations of the Cross that overlook the town. In 2004, Father Allen led a group of parishioners to Northern Spain, where they cycled or walked the Camino d’Santiago, the historic pilgrimage route that originates in France and ends at the Cathedral of St. James at Santiago d’Compestella in Northwestern Spain. Father Allen invited the Knights of Columbus to form a Council at St. James parish and in early 2000 Council 12800 was created.
Father Allen had a special interest in the parish youth, leading them on work missions to the Lakota Sioux reservation and to Hammond, Louisiana where they renovated homes and helped the families improve their lives. He also led the St. James Youth Group to the 2002 World Youth Day in Toronto, Canada. Father Allen supervised an expansion the education programs at St. James School, including adding a three year old preschool and a 4 year old junior kindergarten and expanding the middle school program. He also led a renovation of Powers Hall to make it more suited for school activities.
Father Allen led the St. James community in its celebration of the parish’s 100th anniversary on May 2, 2004 when Archbishop Charles Chaput dedicated the Prayer Chapel with a painting of St. James, the Lesser, in the side chapel to the church and celebrated the Anniversary Mass. Following the service, the parish had a catered meal for all parishioners and guests. On August 11, 2004, St. James Parish celebrated its freedom from debt, when the debt incurred to build the parish hall was paid in full.
In June 2006, Father Allen was reassigned to St. Mary’s Parish in Breckenridge, Colorado and Father Felix P. Medina Algaba was assigned as administrator for St. James Parish. Father Medina was born in Cordoba, Spain and traveled to Denver, Colorado to attend Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary. He was ordained on December 4, 2004 and served as a parochial vicar at Church of the Risen Christ until his assignment to St. James Parish. In June 2007, Archbishop Chaput named Father Medina as the pastor for St. James Parish. Among Father Medina’s first activities was to complete the parish wide survey asking all parishioners their opinions on key parish activities that Father Allen had initiated earlier in the year. The results of the survey were communicated to both the English and Spanish parish communities in fall 2006, and were used by the St. James pastoral council to improve parish services.
Father Medina has led the parish to expand its spirituality by adding new ministries and services for the parish’s communities. With the expanded Spanish-speaking community, in 2007, St. James offered bilingual religious services for the major feast and holy days, enabling all members of the community the opportunity to worship in their familiar language. During Lent in 2007, the Knights of Columbus started a Friday night fish fry preceding the Friday night Stations of the Cross and lecture. Each Friday, a different St. James ministry sold deserts to raise money for their projects. Additional ministries were initiated in 2007 included the St. Vincent de Paul Society to assist the poor and the Gabriel Project to assist unwed mothers in their pregnancy and delivery. St. James has continued to be a stewardship parish periodically contributing 10% of the offertory collection for missions and special purposes. The Pastoral Council and Father Medina developed a new parish mission statement and published it in November 2007.
St. James, the Lesser, who gave his name to the New Testament Letter of James, continues to speak to us today in his words, “For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (2:26). These inspired words motivate and lead us in our daily lives.