The History of St. James Parish
The City of Gadsden had its humble origin in a tiny community on the banks of the Coosa River, first named Double Springs. The first settlers were from the Carolinas and Georgia. They began arriving in the early 1840's. Largely first and second generation Scotch-Irish, their denominational preferences were Baptist, Presbyterian or Methodist. They lived off the land as farmers and a few merchants. An account of those early years notes that "Gadsden was a struggling little village of 150 citizens and three stores in 1857." The first mayor was not elected until 1877. The few Catholics in the area were, at first, ministered by priests from St. John The Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, AL. An early account from The Gadsden Times dated June 9, 1876, noted "Mass was offered in the home of James Lalland by Father Kerwin for the twenty Catholic members of the community." The whole of Alabama was a diocese for many years. In 1880, Bishop John Quillan established St. Paul's in Birmingham and appointed its first resident pastor. The missions were divided and Gadsden came with its own province.
The first St. James Church was a simple wooden structure at the corner of South 6th and Chestnut Streets. The site was donated by Col. R.B. Kyle and funds for the purchase of lumber were provided by the Baptist church. Nine priests from St. Paul's ministered to the growing number of Catholics between 1880 and 1912. In the latter year, Bishop Allen assigned Fr. Oswald P. Stahl, O.S.B., as the first resident pastor. In his first annual report, the new pastor stated there were 470 Catholics in the parish. A cotton mill was built in 1895 and a steel mill was built in 1905. Both of these industrial plants were located in Alabama City, then a separate municipality. These businesses attracted families from the North, many of whom were Catholic who helped swell the parish rolls. The present church structure was dedicated on Sunday, October 3, 1927. Although renovated several times internally, the exterior remains basically the same. A prefabricated house was erected as a rectory in 1916, to the east of the church. Many years later, it was moved around to the west side, adjoining South 7th Street. After a damaging fire in early 1970, a house was purchased in a nearby neighborhood and the old house was razed. Seton Hall was completed in 1976, in time to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the first Mass offered in Gadsden. The newest addition to our church has been the recently added St. Joseph House of Studies (located above the church offices) dedicated in honor of the Glory of God and in memory of Matthew Ryan Cook in 2011, which houses the classrooms for all Parish School Religion classes grades K-4 through 8th grade.
St. James School has been an integral part of the parish since 1912. Benedictine sisters staffed the first one on Walnut Street between 6th and Turrentine. Shortly thereafter, a building where Seton Hall is now located was erected and served as the school until 1960, when it was relocated to Rainbow Drive. The present site, formerly a public school building, was purchased, renovated and occupied in 1985. Following the Benedictines, Sisters of Divine Providence, Missionary Servants of the Blessed Trinity, Sisters of Mercy-Ireland and Daughters of the Holy Spirit staffed the school. Under the guidance and supervision of nuns of the Order of St. Benedict, lay teachers have provided scholastic excellence since 1975. Most recently we have been blessed to have the help of the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word in assisting with the religious teaching of our children. For more information about St. James Catholic School click here: