Notes: Most of the data below was compiled from material written by Father P.J. O’Connor and published in several sources. See the end of this document for a list of sources. This is a work yet in progress. While the necessity of going to print for the September 7, 2002 alumni celebration, this will be an on-going history and I urge any of you who wish to offer suggestions, additions and especially to call attention to sources not yet used.
I dedicate this brief work to Father P.J. O’Connor who took the trouble over the years to record this history and provide most of the data used in the present version. I knew and respected P.J. as a youth in the school, but have come to regard him as a serious historian preserving important data about St. James Parish and the neighborhood of Dogtown/Cheltenham.
St. James opened as a mission of St. Malachy’s in 1860. In 1860 Henry Gratiot, son of Charles Gratiot who had the original huge land grant for this area, had donated property on the east side of Tamm (Road in those days) to the diocese of St. Louis.
The first pastor was Father John O’Sullivan, but he didn’t very last long, but he was able to get a first church built. He held political views on the Civil War and slavery that were at odds with those of Archbishop Kenrick, and O’Sullivan was sent packing.
Thus the second pastor, still in 1861, was Father Michael Welby. He opened a school in the basement of the church, but Father O’Connor isn’t clear as to when it was in Father Welby’s 5 year stay. Thomas Conway, an Irishman, taught at that school.
Father Kelly succeeded Father Welby and he too opened a school. It was first in the rear of the church and then held in the new rectory building which Father Welby had built. After the Civil War the United States suffered an economic depression and the school failed for economic reasons.
There is a bit of confusion in Father O’Connor’s account of this school. In his brief remarks on the school under Father Welby he explicitly states the school was in the basement of the church.
Yet in the treatment of the school under Father Kelly, he says it was the SECOND school, having first been in the rear of the church.
My suspicion is that Father O’Connor is referring to two different attempts at getting a school going by Father Kelly, and that the school of Father Welby is a totally different time and school. This is reinforced by Father O’Connor noting that the O’Gorman brothers, J.P. and Tom attended both schools. It is not likely they would have attended two schools under two different pastors which might well have been years apart. Nonetheless, from the documents I’ve seen this matter is not fully clear. While Father O’Connor does indicate that the school failed during the pastorate of the next Pastor, Father Kelly, he is vague as to when it actually closed. During the time it was opened, however, it was the only school in the village and was attended by Catholics and Protestants alike. By 1876 the Cheltenham area was incorporated into the city limits of St. Louis along with Forest Park and a public school came to the area. It was a brick school 1133 Graham Ave. and so the St. James School was discontinued.
Father Patrick J. McNamee became pastor in 1884. Father O’Connor says:
He realized that the faith could not long survive unless the parochial school was reopened. True, there were classes for Catholic children who went to the public school and the Sisters of Mercy and Loretto came in on Sundays to give Catechetical instructions from time to time, but these classes were poorly attended.
Father McNamee was dissatisfied that the catechetical lessons were so poorly attended, but recognized that the parishioners were quite poor and not willing to pay for a Catholic education. Nonetheless, he opened the school and “…named McNamara, who probably was an ex-ecclesiastical student to teach and at a later date when there were no funds he looked for an intelligent woman to teach and be housekeeper. Mary Forbes was glad of an opportunity to serve God in this capacity.”
This school seems to have failed because of some in-fighting among personalities in the parish and school. Father O’Connor describes the situation with clarity, but some delicacy:
At first Mary was patient and humble, as she became more necessary and useful, her labors multiplied and her sense of importance increased to a point where she had a hand in every parish activity. Justly or unjustly the parishioners accused her of being domineering and intolerant though all admitted her character was otherwise irreproachable. Father McNamee perhaps thought this also, but there was the empty treasury and the Catholic School for which he had made so many sacrifices, so Mary Forbes was not dismissed, The parishioners became dissatisfied and the school failed another time.
Despite the failed school Father McNamee deeply believed in the idea and was himself a hard worker to try to keep the school afloat. Father O’Connor reports:
Mrs. Ed Nixon states ‘Father McNamee taught as much in the school as did Miss Forbes and the children were delighted when he came into the room. He would talk and sing to them -- one song which he sang often was 'Guardian Angel'. He would also bring visitors to the school, among whom were Father Charles and Father Gaudentis. He often had picnics at Christian Brothers' College. One 'Veiled Prophet' night Father McNamee put a veil over another priest's head and said, 'Children, here comes the Veiled Prophet'. The children sang in the choir under the direction of Miss 'Mary' and she was patient with them.”
A later St. James document tells us that . “Fr. McNamee suffered deeply because of the closing of the school. It was a bitter disappointment for him. The school was a cherished dream of his."
When the plans were revealed for the World’s Fair in Forest Park the pastor Father Edmond Casey (1896-1916) realized that the parish would grow considerably. There was a spurt of building and homes and rooming houses were built for the workers. This growth gave Father Casey a reasonable hope of once again opening a Catholic School.
Just at the time when Father Casey was talking up this idea of a school, and the parishioners were getting interested someone else’s misfortune became St. James’ good fortune. A parochial school in Jonesburg, Missouri was closed. This school was run by four Dominican sisters.
… the four Sisters Catherine, Loyola, Louis and Bernadette, Dominican Nuns from St. Agnes Convent, New York, had, at the invitation of the pastor, Rev. M. D. Collins, opened their first house in Missouri. On a visit made by Father Casey to Jonesburg, where he had been at one time pastor, he met the Dominican Nuns and being informed that they intended closing the Mission there in June, he made application to Mother Thomas that these Sisters should come to St. James Church and open their first Mission in St. Louis.
Money was still a major problem and Father Casey didn’t withhold information of that score.
When making his application, he explained to Mother Thomas the difficulty there was likely to be in maintaining a school in the Parish at that time. He pointed out to her that the revenue for the year 1900 was less than $2,500.00 and that more than half of this amount had been raised from fairs and festivals. The Reverend Mother, who was noted for her missionary zeal, urged him to trust in God and assured him that she would let him have the Sisters at a reduced salary until such time as the Parish would be able to sustain them. Mrs. John L. Boland, Claverach, St. Louis County, removed further doubts when she offered to purchase from the Park Building and Loan Association a residence at 1354 Tamm Avenue for the Sisters. There seemed to be some misunderstanding about this gift. Father Casey presumed that Mrs. Boland would also furnish the Convent. This she was unwilling to do and when the Sisters arrived they found an empty house and make-shift furnishings. He immediately appealed to the parishioners for funds. The donations he received are herewith listed and give a fair perspective of the ability of the parishioners to sustain a school.
Father O’Connor thought it useful to even include in his book (1937) the list of donors for the convent.
Collection for Sisters' House
Mrs. Niesen, $10.00; Mrs. Benoist, $5.00; Mrs. Christy, $5.00; Mrs. Schwoerer, $5.00; Mrs. Inage Murphy, $5.00; Mrs. Dolan, $5.00; Mrs. Klein. $5.00; Mrs. Rieger, $2.00; Mrs. McCarthy, $2.00; Mrs. Titt, $2.00; Mrs. McKim, $1.00; Mrs. Schtazman, $1.00, Mrs. Hart, $1.00; Mrs. Murphy, $1.00; Mrs. Murphy, $1.00; Mrs. Schmitz, 1.00; Mrs. Houlihan, $1.00; Mrs. Koenecke, $1.00; Mrs. Saxton, $1.00; Mrs. John O'Hare, $1.00; Mrs. M. Hefele, $1.00; Mrs. John Schilds, $1.00; Mrs. Ed Cody, $1.00; Mrs. J. Hanly, $1.00; Mrs. Bayliss, $1.00; Mrs. Gross, $1.00; Miss Philibert, $1.00; Miss Ehle, $1.00; Miss Tracey, $1.00; Miss Mitchell, $1.00; Mrs. O'Gorman, $1.50; Mrs. Fahey 50c; Mrs. Saxton,50c; Mrs. Schields, 50c; Mrs. Hanley, 50c; Mrs. P. Manion, 50c; Mrs. Brady, 50c; Mrs. Gallagher, 50c; Mrs. O'Gorman, 50c; Mrs. Gibbons, 50c; Miss Rolves, 50c; Mrs. John Brady, 25c; Mrs. McCaffery, 25c; Miss Rooney, 25c. Total collections, $73.25; less money given by Mrs. Klein to Fr. Casey, $1.50; leaving a total of $71.74. Borrowed from Altar Society, $15.00; making grand total of $86.75. There were probably other donations of furniture by parishioners not listed -- amongst others by Mrs. McCarthy, sister of Mrs. Niesen and Mrs. Long.
He goes on to elaborate how the money was used!
Lammert, beds, $34.40; Kennard, shades, $17.64; Mrs. Lang, $8.00; Ringen. on account, $25.75; Lammert, on account, $10.00. Total, $95.79.
The St. James Convent as it was in 1912
There were 35 listed as Charter Pupils. The were:
Note: Father O'Connor only lists the 34 names above.
What I find fascinating about this list and helps us better understand the opening class of 1902, is that only 12 of these 35 students every graduated from the school. This often happened. Children would go to school for some years, then drop out for many reasons – family finances, the need for the children to work and so on. But it is important to understand that the list of alumni graduates, especially in the earlier years of the school, is only the tip of the ice berg of how many students attended St. James.
The charter members of the student body may have been there on September 8, 1902, but during that first school year the attendance doubled to 70. The classes were formed up to the sixth grade. Despite this, three students did manage to graduate in 1904, the first graduates, were:
Joseph Brady, Edward Cody and Joseph Gibbons
None of the three were in the charter student list, but may well have come into the school early in 1902.
There was no graduating class of 1905 and the next graduates, 1906 were: M. Eugene Donnelly, Annie Cody, Josephine Komoros, Helen C. Finn, Agnes Houlihan and William H. Hefele. Again, not a single one of these students is listed in the charter group.
The first two students of the charter group to graduate were Justine Mahon and Paul O’Gorman in 1907. The other nine graduates who were also charter members of the school were:
Raphael Dolan (1908), Hugh Gibbons (1909), Helen Dolan (1912), Patrick Flavin (1911), John LaGrace (1913), Genevieve Mahon (1908), Owen McVey (1912), Marie O’Gorman (1909), Francis Signaigo (1908) and Edward Signaigo (1909).
As I mentioned, the first graduating class was 1904, there were no graduates in 1905 and there has been a graduation class in every year since 1906.
Sister Loyola, one of the four nuns who came to St. James, describes in her "Fifty Years of Retrospect," the opening of St. James School and the hardships the nuns underwent. These are her words:
In September, 1902, the four Sisters who had been in Jonesburg were transferred to the school about to be opened in St. James Parish, St. Louis. But there was no school building awaiting them, nothing but a little cottage of six rooms, three of which they were obliged to convert into class-rooms. Here they huddled together seventy little children to receive the elements of Catholic education. The Sisters themselves were obliged to repair to the cellar -- then in an unfinished state -- to cook and eat. The earthen floor was so uneven that one Sister would be told off (sic) at meal times to hold the table steady while the others used their knives and forks. Through a misunderstanding, there was no furniture not even a bed -- in the house upon their arrival. It was a sorry quartette that sat on their trunks that first evening looking at one another and wondering if this venture was to have the same ending as had Jonesburg. For a week the Sisters slept on the floor, a prey to the stings of mosquitoes that swarmed from a noxious swamp in the rear of the property. The misunderstanding as to the furnishing of the house was due to the fact that the one wealthy woman of the parish had led the pastor to believe that she would supply all that was necessary for the needs of the Sisters, and he, having given her carte blanche, so informed his good people, who, had it been left to them, would gladly have procured for the Sisters every reasonable comfort. When the parishioners learned that the supposed benefactress had failed to do what was expected, they lost no time in remedying the neglect and in a short while the Sisters were very comfortable in their little home. The house became quite commodious when, in January 1903, the classes were transferred to the basement of the new school building.
Later on Father O’Connor (who wasn’t there in 1902, but who did serve under pastor Father Casey who was there) protests that Sister Loyola paints too dreary a picture and that the ordinary parish folks responded to the Sisters’ needs with great generosity.
Father O’Connor details this story:
Plans for a school were drawn and a drive for funds was made. Parishioners donated $1,136.00 and personal friends of Father Casey contributed $1,155.00. A loan of $5,000.00 was made of Mercantile Trust and by January, 1903, the basement of the school was ready for occupation. The building that was planned at this time was never completed. Father Casey intended it to be a two-story combination building of Church and School, a hundred feet long and fifty-four feet wide. The Church was to occupy the first floor and the school the second. After the basement was completed, there was a delay for lack of funds and the building that Father Casey left the parish was not completed until 1906. This was the front part of the present school. (1937) There are only two of the original rooms, those on the second floor, now being used for class rooms. The rest of the building was erected by Father O'Connor in 1919…
It is worthy of note that the school met in the convent in the first semester from September 1902 until Christmas break, then moved into the basement of the school in January. After the building was finished the school shared the building with the church until 1928. The small wooden church on the east side of Tamm which had been built in 1891 only seated 350 people and was just one large room.
From 1906-1928 most parish meetings and other functions were located on the first floor of the school/church building while classes were held on the second floor.
Help!!! At this time, this is the best (ONLY) photo I have of the "old" school. Anyone have a better one?
The photo says this was the school until 1952. This is definitely wrong. My class, the class of 1953 finished fifth grade in the Old School in June 1950. In September 1950 we opened class in the 6th grade with Sister Marie Michael in the "New School." As best I recall there were enough rooms in that "north wing" of the school to house the entire school, so I strongly doubt the photo's claim that it "old" school was in use as the school until 1952.
Father O’Connor reports: (with no small dose of disappointment, almost bitterness)
The school was his one great ambition in life. He used to say to the parishioners, "Let us take care of the school and the school children later on will take care of the parish." He presumed those who would be given an opportunity of a Catholic education would remain and help to build it up. This might be expected in most parishes but it is far from being true in St. James, Those who were educated in the school, as a rule, were given an urge to improve their condition in life and as will be seen from the list of graduates, very few of them remained. Most of them have moved to the west end and are helping to build up the new parishes in which they have their homes and St. James keeps up its effort to continue the school and give a Catholic education to every poor man's child regardless of what advantage might accrue to the parish in the days to come.
St. James school is built upon the side of a hill. The architect had been rather too sanguine that the grade of the land would afford sufficient drainage. It did afford drainage, but it was into the building, with the result that walls, furniture, children and teachers were a state of chronic perspiration, while the floors fairly reeked with dampness. One can readily appreciate that the effect upon the health of human beings exposed to such conditions was not quite as medicinal as that of a European spa. Before long, rheumatism and kindred ailments manifested themselves in the Sisters. This was the only time that Sister Catherine ever seemed to completely lose courage, the devil, no doubt, multiplying the obstacles to prevent a work destined to promote, in a remarkable degree, the salvation of souls.
Father Casey finally overcame his great reluctance to go into debt and took the loans necessary to build the school. Four large classrooms were ready for the opening of school in September 1906. The sisters were able to run a full eight grade school from that time on.
Father O’Connor seemed always plagued by money worries. It is significant how much he worries about financial issues even some 35 years after the opening of the school when he wrote his history. He tell us:
Maintaining a parochial school is one of the big items of expense that keeps pastors worrying. The salary of the teachers is the least of it. There is the initial expense of a site, and construction. Insurance, repairs, heating, lighting and janitor service for school and convent follow. Brother Justin may have encouraged Father Casey to complete the school as Sister Loyola states he did, after the school was well established in 1906. Father Casey had to go it alone and meet as well as he might the cost of operation. He had a debt of $17,200.00 on the school and an annual interest bill of $1,032.00, with cost of renewal every three years and a demand for a substantial reduction each year on the principal. There is little pleasure for a pastor who knows that the nuns teaching in the parochial school are half starving, especially when he sees no way to create funds to give them a sustenance.
While St. James had a church which had been built in 1891 and stood at least until the early 1950s, it only seated 350. The church and school shared the “old school” building after 1906. The parish was working toward building a new church (the current existing church which opened in 1928). However during the early discussions of the church the issue came up of what to do about a school. In a 1925 planning meeting a consideration was given to building a portable school until such time as a proper school could be built, but that was rejected.
Let’s Go magazine reports that “Mr. Dolan said it would be a waste of money and an unnecessary delay to a Church. “The School is already erected; we are occupying a part of it for Church purposes; let us get out, and there will be plenty of room for the children.”
A fully equipped and properly directed kindergarten will be a feature of the school this year, the biggest and best room will be utilized and a chair will be provided for each of the little ones.
Expert advice has been sought about the advisability of dividing the day between the kindergarten pupils and the first grade, each taking a three- hour session; the prevailing opinion seems to be that the majority of pupils in these grades can acquire as much knowledge in three hours as in a full day. The adoption of this suggestion will eliminate congestion in the other rooms and give a splendid opportunity to the teacher to pay special attention to each pupil, it is estimated there will be less than forty children to a room and ample space for 350 pupils.
Many contemporary teachers will certainly shutter at the suggestion that the teacher would have a “splendid opportunity” to pay special attention to each child in a room of 40 of more students!
Not only was a kindergarten added in the newly freed space made available when the parish ceased using the school for church purposes, but renovations were made as well. The September 2, 1928 Let’s Go reports:
Immediately after the temporary church, which is a part of the school building, was abandoned, the work of alteration and repairs was begun. John Newport repaired the gutters; the Missouri Roofing Co., the roof; several workmen began at the top of the building to remove defective plastering and were followed, by plasterers who restored plaster from the ceiling to the basement. Carpenters under the direction of Mr. Joseph Crotty put up partitions and erected five rooms in the former church with such celerity that before the end of the first week the lathers had completed their work. A corps of workmen under the direction of Father O'Connor, supervises] Mr. Edward; Cody installed new sewer, and a draining system in the school yarn, which was later graded to a level under a contract by Mr. A. Stevens, local excavator. Mr. Thomas Banks tuckpointed a part of the building and a retaining wall was constructed along the driveway leading to the boiler room, the space between the school and drive was leveled and covered with a cement floor. It is expected that before the end of the week a foundation of rip rap stone will cover a considerable portion of the school yard to be later surfaced with macadam.
Painters have beautified the greater part of the building, the: rooms upstairs are to be retained in use and are unusually attractive, a: tire the corridors and stairway, which also were stained with oil polish.
A new desk was installed for every pupil and the kindergarten is thoroughly equipped, nor were the Sisters forgotten; in each room there was built a combination book-case and closet, a stand for the teacher's desk, a new deck and chair. An Evans Wardrobe is a part of the equipment of each room and some of the pews taken from the recent church have been set in place along the walls in the basement.
The parishioners and the children will undoubtedly appreciate the extent and the attractiveness of the alterations and will realize that the successful Carnival which made possible this work was a permanent benefit to the whole congregation.
There are nine rooms in the school building. The ones down stairs by the vestibule or the former church will not be utilized for class rooms, but will be availed of for assembly and special classes. They will also be used as rooms for Catechetical instruction for public school children on Sundays and Friday evenings.
Will the school be ready to open Tuesday September 4th? (sic) is a question asked by many parishioners: Yes, and there was never a better-or-bigger school in St. James parish. If you are a Catholic and have children be sure to send them on the first day when registration will take place.
These renovations lasted twenty years (1928-1948) until there was a sense in the parish that a new and larger school would have to be built. Meetings were held and Father O’Connor once again reactivated his “Let’s Go” bulletins in order to raise money for the “new” school. A parish meeting was held and an overwhelming vote of confidence for the concept of a new school was given on March 30, 1948.
After a great deal of discussion and planning, it was decided for economic reasons, especially to keep the debt low, to build the school in two sections. The ceremonial cornerstone laying and building began on Dec. 8, 1949. The first wing of the school opened for the school year in September 1950.
This architect's drawing, without the gym added on Wade, looks much like the actual school I see out my front window everyday. However, I could certainly use a nice photo of the REAL school and the gym as well. If anyone takes any, please keep me in mind.
On Sunday, March 4, 1962 at 2:00 p.m., His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Ritter, came to the parish to dedicate the new addition to St. James school. He had done this for the first section of the school about ten years before and it was through his choice that he returned for the additional blessings.
While the planning and funding of the northern wing was under the leadership of Father O’Connor, he died in 1952 and was succeeded as pastor by Father Harry Lambert. The church bulletin of 1962 reported that:
This growth (to the school population) necessitated an addition to the school. It was under Father Lambert's leadership that the additional eight classrooms, the spacious gymnasium, a meeting room, and a magnificent kindergarten room were constructed. Father Lambert always took great pride in the kindergarten room. That St. James children would be educated from kindergarten through the 8th grade was Father Lambert's ardent desire.
While there is not reason to doubt Father Lambert’s leadership and passion for this final wing of the school, we should keep in mind that the plans, dreams and activities toward that goal hard back to the 1948 parish meeting and the leadership of Father O’Connor.
Another major change in the structure of the school came in 1996 when present principal, Ms. Karen Battaglia took over that job from Sr. Suzanne, with a one-year temporary principal, Sister Jeanne Granville, BVM sisters. Ms. Battaglia is the first lay person to hold that job and has been principal for the past six years.
Another change of significance in 1996 is that the Sisters of St. Dominic from Sparkill, NY who ran the school from 1902 until 1996 had the last Dominican teacher leave the school.
At the current time St. James School employees 14 people on the teaching staff. For the opening of the 2002-2003 school year the faculty are:
In his 1937 book Father O’Connor maintains that the St. James Alumni Association was the first one of its kind in the St. Louis area:
Very likely the first Parochial School in St. Louis to organize an Alumni Association was St. James. With a formal Banquet following Graduation Day, those who have gone before welcome and promise to assist those just passing from the school room into the business world or into the higher places of learning. The sociability of class-mates and the spirit of Alumni relationship should thus be continued throughout life. St. James Alumni Society offers are: Mr. William Hefele, Jr., President; Mr. Hubert Ward, Vice-President; Miss Virginia Pursley, Secretary; Miss Mary O'Connell, Assistant Secretary; Miss Florence Wilson, Treasurer; Mr. John Coad, Chairman of Entertainment and Mr. Norman Fehrensen, Secretary of Entertainment.
Note: Each nun who taught at St. James should be listed below. The list is in alphabetical order and each nun listed just once. However, several taught at St. James at more than one time, have left and returned. I would like to eventually list the YEARS in which the sisters taught at the school. Any data anyone can provide will be appreciated.
If the nun's name is highlighted, then there is a link to some other place on my web site where there is a photo of the nun, either on a class photo or some of location. Little by little I'm hoping to have links to photo of most of the sisters.
|Sr. Ann Dominic|
|Sr. Ann Francis|
|Sr. Ann Marie|
|Sr. Ann Patrice|
|Sr. Ann Paul|
|Sr. Anne Maureen|
|Sr. Anne Vincentta|
|Sr. Catherine Jerome|
|Sr. Catherine Patricia|
|Sr. Catherine Peter (Sr. Kathleen)|
|Sr. Catherine Virginia|
|Sr. Celeste Marie|
|Sr. Dismas (Sr. Patricia)|
|Sr. Ellen Marie|
|Sr. Helen Patrice (Sr. Mary Ann)|
|Sr. James Marie (Sr. Anne)|
|Sr. Jane Marie|
|Sr. Jean Carol (Sr. Catherine)|
|Sr. Jeanne Clare|
|Sr. Jeannine Marie|
|Sr. Joan Marie|
|Sr. Johanna (Sr. Patricia)|
|Sr. John Frances|
|Sr. Julia Marie|
|Sr. Kathleen Marie|
|Sr. Kathleen Therese|
|Sr. Loretta Marie|
|Sr. Loretto Rose|
|Sr. M. Carolyn|
|Sr. Margaret Ellen|
|Sr. Marie Audrey|
|Sr. Marie Cecelia|
|Sr. Marie Louise|
|Sr. Marie Michael|
|Sr. Mary Carol|
|Sr. Mary Elizabeth|
|Sr. Mary Jane|
|Sr. Mary Lorettine (Sr. Loretta)|
|Sr. Mary Mark|
|Sr. Mary Patrice|
|Sr. Michael Joseph|
|Sr. Miriam Catherine|
|Sr. Miriam Thomas|
|Sr. Patrick Mary (Sr. Sheila)|
|Sr. Paul Joseph (Sr. Pauline)|
|Sr. Richard Marie (Sr. Joan)|
|Sr. Rita Mark (Sr. Ellen)|
|Sr. Rose Eileen|
|Sr. Stella Martin|
|Sr. Terence (Sr. Patricia)|
|Sr. Theresa Marie|
|Sr. Thomas More|
|Sr. Virginia Marie|
This is an on-going project. This history, in whatever form it has in the future may be found on Bob Corbett’s History of Dogtown web site at:
I welcome new material, suggests, photographs and the like to improve on the accuracy, scope and quality of this history.
|Bibliography||Oral history||Recorded history||Photos|
|YOUR page||External links||Walking Tour|