St. James Catholic Church
No house of worship in the city of Grand Rapids is more architecturally beautiful than the Catholic church of St. James. Owing to the rapid growth of the western portion of the city during the years just following the outbreak of the late Civil war, the late Rev. James C. Pulcher, then pastor of St. Andrewís with the zeal and energy that had always been characteristic of that enlightened clergyman, conceived the idea of organizing a congregation and erecting a church for the accommodation of the faithful Catholics of that portion of the city. The subject was submitted to the bishop of Detroit, under whose jurisdiction Grand Rapids then was, and that dignitary designated the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth wards of the city as the parish of St. James, with Rev. J. C. Pulcher as pastor. The lamented deceased had, however, already begun the work of building a church, and the action of the bishop greatly stimulated the work, as the people rejoiced in the fact that they were soon to have a parish and church of their own. The foundations were built, in 1869, by Thomas Berry; Patrick OíNeil was the contractor for the brick work; Smith & Grady were awarded the wood work, and a Mr. Warden the painting and decorating. The corner-stone was laid 21 July 1870, Bishop Borgess presiding, and during the next year steady progress was made by the builders, as 1 July 1871, William G. Robinson, the architect, reported the work completed. The dedication, however, did not take place until 25 July 1875, when Bishop Borgess again presided.
The architecture of St. James is of the Romanesque style, with Gothic gables and tower, the exterior combining symmetry with utilization of space. There are eighteen stained glass windows, presented by members of the congregation in memory of deceased relatives, and one large window purchased by the congregation. The frescoing and interior finishing are remarkably rich in design and the workmanship and the subjects well selected. The cost of the edifice was $38,000, which, with the value of realty and other church property, makes an aggregate of $50,000.
Father Pulcher, to whose untiring zeal St. James church was brought from incipiency to maturity, was at its completion transferred to the church of Our Lady of Help, at Detroit, and Rev. Gustave Limpins, a native of Ghent, Belgium, pastor of that church, was placed in charge of St. James. The death of this reverend gentleman occurred 25 January 1881, and two days later his remains were interred in the Grand Rapids Catholic cemetery. Father Pulcher was at once recalled to St. James, and 5 February 1881, resumed his pastoral duties, but his health failed, and in December, 1897, he was relieved from his charge and the church was placed under the ministration of Rev. Robert W. Brown.
Rev. James C. Pulcher was born in Jefferson county, NY, 21 March 1843, studied for the priesthood at Mount St. Maryís of the West, Cincinnati, then in Belgium, and was ordained over thirty years ago, 23 December 1866. His devotion to his faith and promotion of the welfare of his congregation and the glory of his church were remarkable and probably never excelled. When relieved of his charge of St. James, he sought relief in various sanatariums, including those of Cincinnati, also in the far south, at Rome City, Indiana and at Battle Creek, but all in vain. The end came at Detroit, the night of 14 August 1899; the remains were brought to Grand Rapids, and here interred in St. Andrewís cemetery, on the 18th, Bishop Richter officiating at mass in person, assisted by numerous clergymen, and attended by a large concourse of laymen to the final resting place, but the limited scope of this volume will not permit of a detailed recount of the obsequies.
Rev. Robert W. Brown, the pious and able successor of Rev. Father Pulcher to the pastorate of St. James, has proved his worthiness by his successful management of the affairs of the congregation, both spiritual and temporal, during the protracted illness of his predecessor. He was born in Chester Township, Ottawa county, Michigan, 9 December 1859, and reared on his fatherís farm until eighteen years of age, in the meantime attending the common schools, and at the age of seventeen entering graded school at Lisbon, in his native county.
On leaving his home young Robert Brown began teaching public school in Alpine township, Kent county, and at the termination of one returned to Ottawa county and taught three consecutive years. In 1881 he entered upon an elective course in the Grand Rapids high school, beginning there in the junior yearís work and graduating in 1883, after which he taught one more term, and this wound up his career as a pedagogue.
In the spring of 1884 Father Brown entered St. Vincentís college at Latrobe, PA, under the Benedictine Fathers, there completed a classical and theological course in 1889, and on the 29th day of June, in the same year, was ordained priest by the Right Rev. Bishop Richter at Grand Rapids, and at once assigned as assistant pastor at St. Simonís, Ludington, Michigan. After serving six months in this capacity, Rev. Father Brown was appointed pastor of St. Simonís, but after four years of zealous and successful labor his health became impaired, and at his own request he was transferred from the humid atmosphere in the vicinity of the lake to the more salubrious air of Saginaw county, where he was appointed pastor of the Hemlock missions. Later, the missions were divided, and Father Brown was given charge of the church at Merrill, in the same county, where he assiduously labored, accomplishing much that was beneficial to his flock, until January, 1897, when he took up missionary work with Rev. E. H. Youman, C.S.P., and labored in the diocese of Grand Rapids until 7 February, 1898, when he relieved the late Father Pulcher, whom he has succeeded as pastor of St. James.
Father Brown is broad-viewed and liberal minded and while his devotion to the church and its work it paramount to all things else, he is not seclusive, but affable and agreeable in his manner and conversation, and the parishioners of St. James, whose affection he has won, are well pleased that he has become their pastor, rather than that any other might be called to succeed Father Pulcher.
The priestís house, or parsonage, adjoining St. James church, is a handsome modern edifice, erected in 1873. The parochial school house was built in 1886, and an elegant hall, having a seating capacity for about 500 persons, was erected in 1896. The school in in charge of seven Sisters of Notre Dame, who have 325 pupils under their instruction. The societies connected with St. James are the League of the Sacred Heart, St. James Aid society, the Ladies Sewing society, and a branch of the C.M.B.A. Ė all in a most flourishing condition.
Created: 28 April 2006