St. James History

St. James Catholic Church was established in 1906 under the guidance of Msgr. John W. Keyes.  At that time, St. James was located on the southern border of Kansas City (39th Street).  Now, though the address remains the same, the church is in the heart of Midtown.  Over the course of the past 100+ years, the parish has seen many changes in its people, structures and the surrounding community.

“St. James Parish has experienced a history that is rich in grace and rich in challenge.  St. James has seen feast and famine: more parishioners than the church could seat and so few that it almost closed its doors; enough resources to provide abundant ministry and so little resources that it was on the brink of extinction.”

- Deacon Ross Beaudoin, Pastoral Administrator

“The history of the parish is inspirational and a testimony to the hard work and authentic faith of your predecessors.  St. James has been a place where clergy, religious and lay faithful have drawn strength from the Holy Eucharist and collaborated in the spread of the Gospel.”

- Most Reverend Robert W. Finn, Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph

“To my mind St. James is the parish that refused to die!  By all measurements 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.”

- Most Reverend Raymond J. Boland, DD, Bishop Emeritus of Kansas City-St. Joseph

Read the complete letters by William Cardinal Baum, Most Reverend Robert W. Finn, Most Reverend Raymond J. Boland, DD and Deacon Ross Beaudoin offered on the occasion of St. James Parish’s centennial anniversary.

{insert link to .pdf file of letters}


Church and Rectory

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 southernmost neighborhoods of Kansas City.  A wooden crate served as a make-shift altar on the second floor of Walsman Hall, located at 38th and Woodland.  On Sundays, this dance hall was the site for the religious services of Baptist, Latter Day Saints and Catholics.  Three rooms above Brinkley’s Drug Store served as a rectory, parish office and chapel for weekday services.

The first church building was located on the northeast corner of 40th and Tracy.  This small wood-framed structure measured only 30 by 60 feet.  Fr. Keyes slept in the vestry.  The first Mass celebrated in this building was on Christmas eve in 1906.  In 1907, the church was cut in half and 30 feet were added in the middle.

The rectory, located at 3909 Harrison, was purchased in 1908.  This property would adjoin what would become the permanent location of St. James Church.

The current church building, located on the southeast corner of 39th and Harrison, was constructed in 1911-1912.  The church was built of limestone salvaged from an abandoned bridge project (called the Winner Bridge) that was to cross the Missouri River in Kansas City.  For the cost of dismantling the piers and moving them to the new location, Fr. Keyes was able to obtain enough stone to build St. James!  The first Mass in that building was celebrated on Christmas Eve, 1912.  The building was dedicated August 24, 1913.

The old church was converted into a gymnasium and used until it burned down in 1913.

School and Convent

A four-room school was built at 40th and Tracy in 1907.  Measuring only 53 by 57 feet, the school served 34 children beginning in September 1907.  The Sisters of Mercy from Omaha, who staffed the school, temporarily lived at 4034 Forest until a convent next door to the school was completed in the late fall of 1907.  Fr. Keyes also resided in the convent until the rectory was purchased in 1908.  The convent was expanded in 1910-1911, and a chapel was added.

The original school building burned down, and a new school was built in 1924.  The Sisters of Mercy operated the school until it was closed in 1972.  In 1976, the school building was torn down.  Stones from the school were used in the construction of a wall around the church property at 39th and Troost.


“In different eras throughout the century, people have been drawn to the warm spirit of the community at St. James.  At times this spirit emanated from a charismatic leader such as Fr. Keyes, or from a collective feeling of welcome found in the individual people assembled as Church, as Christ for each other. … We have also seen a spirit of loving one another, of learning to recognize Christ in the stranger, of trying to welcome all who enter.”

– Centennial Stories
(Click to Download Centennial Stories) Now you can read the entire publication of Centennial Stories, printed in 2006 on the 100th anniversary of St. James Parish.  This publication was realized thanks to the contributions of dozens of current and former parishioners and pastors.