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St. James Catholic Parish
Mequon, Wisconsin
1845-2005
 

 

Some time during the mid-1800’s, a group of people left Trier, Germany, chiefly because of crop failure and bad times. They arrived in America and settled in the lower part of Ozaukee County (then called Washington County). They named the place the “Mekaian Settlements.” (mĕk’-kây-ŏn)

 

In May of 1842, Mr. Peter Backes opened his nearby home to a visiting priest, Father Martin Kundig of Milwaukee, and hosted the first Mass celebrated in the area. Three years later, in 1845, a parish was organized and a log church was built. For several years, the congregation had various missionary priests.

 

In 1848, the Reverend Xavier Obermueller of Fussville, Wisconsin took charge of St. James Parish. A log schoolhouse was built, and it stood until 1881, when a stone structure was built to accommodate the 50 pupils attending the school. This stone school survived until 1954, when it was destroyed by fire.

 

Under Father Xavier, a stone church replaced the wooden log church in 1855. In 1869, the parish received its first resident pastor in the person of Reverend Casper Scharttin. Parish membership peaked that same year and numbered over 60 families. Subsequently, parish membership declined until in 1889 it could no longer support a resident pastor and was made a mission of St. Catherine’s of Alexandria Church of Granville, Wisconsin. In spite of the declining membership, the old stone church structure was razed and a new frame church was erected in 1891, under the direction of Father Bernard July. This comparatively new structure was struck by lightning and destroyed by fire in 1902. Undaunted by the catastrophe, the willing parishioners, under the guidance of Father John Theisen, promptly erected another frame church.

 

This church was the scene of a centennial celebration on October 14, 1945. The Rev. Herbert Waldkirch, a priest-son of the parish, offered the solemn high Mass of thanksgiving and the Most Rev. Moses E. Kiley, Archbishop of Milwaukee and a fine gathering of clergy and laity assisted at the ceremonies. The Right Rev. William Groessel delivered the sermon. The anniversary was concluded with a centennial dinner in the Mequon Hall for the clergy, members and friends of the parish.


The total congregation size was reduced when St. Cecilia Catholic Parish was organized at Thiensville in 1918. At that time, St. James Parish retained about thirty families and was attended by priests from St. Catherine’s Church. This arrangement continued until 1954. So, St. James was considered a mission church for approximately 35 years.

 

Father Joseph Wamser of St. Catherine Parish was in charge of St. James for thirteen years until 1954. He was then succeeded by Father Carroll Gunther, who had taught Religion at Messmer High School in Milwaukee. He remained in charge of St. James until 1956 when Father James Fleming was appointed as resident pastor. Father Gunther then became the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Mayville, Wisconsin.

 

Now an independent parish after being a mission of another church, St James was faced with the same problems that faced the City of Mequon, namely, suburban sprawl. Membership was increasing. Consequently, plans were made in 1958 to erect a building for a temporary church and school. On November 5, 1958, a building permit was issued to St. James for the construction of a school and temporary church at a cost of $330,000. Ground was broken for this building on Saturday, November 1, 1958, by the Rev. Alex Reuter, pastor of St Joseph parish in Grafton and a former member of St. James parish. The cornerstone was laid by the Rev. Leopold Gleissner, O.F.M., also a son of St. James parish.

 

The committee that supervised the construction of this building and also the other buildings constructed around this time was comprised of Chairman Charles Rowan, James Johnson, Joseph Donahue, Thomas Leisle, Michael Moriarty and Mrs. Francis McElligott. Trustees on the committee were Francis O’Reilly and William Meer, who was succeeded by Arthur Kuranz of 2424 W. Mequon Road in 1967.

 

The chapel facility was used for the first time at the midnight Mass of Christmas in 1959. The old frame church was used for daily Mass until the St. James School opened in September of 1960.

 

A brick convent building was begun in 1961 (for which a permit was issued on August 22 for $82,000) and occupied in the spring of 1962 by three School Sisters of Notre Dames.

 

A building permit was issued on June 21, 1967, for a new parish hall and house at a cost of $100,000. This replaced the parish house at 2737 W. Mequon Road which had been purchased from Herbert Boesch in 1956, and sold to Elizabeth Johnson on January 28, 1968, according to public records.

 

Statistics for 1973 showed that the 200 families of 1956 grew to a total of 650. Approximately 235 youngsters attended the parish day school while a total of 560 students took part in the parish religious education program, grades 1 thru 12.

 

In 1974, the St. James Parish Council concluded that a new church/all-purpose structure was needed. On March 21, 1976, members of St. James assembled for a groundbreaking ceremony. By Christmas 1976, 800 families gathered at the midnight Mass for the first liturgical celebration in the new facility.

 

In 1984, the St. James School merged with St. Cecilia School in Thiensville to form the Sts. Cecilia and James Catholic School, Inc., a corporation separate from each Parish, but sponsored by both. In 1991, the St. Cecilia Christian Formation program merged with St. James Christian Formation and became the Sts. Cecilia and James Christian Formation program.

 

Under Fr. Thomas D. DeVries, St. James Catholic Church, St. Cecilia Catholic Church, the School and all programs merged to become one corporation...Lumen Christi Catholic Church, on July 1, 2005.