Sunday, April 4, 2010

96. St. James (CLOSED)

NOTE: It seems as though this church was closed and shuttered in 2014 and merged with the nearby church of St. Joseph (Chinatown) much to the sadness and dismay of its parishioners. Then, in 2015, as part of the Archdiocese of New York's great closings & mergers of that year, this combined parish was closed down and merged into the Church of the Transfiguration.  Only Transfiguration will remain open for regular Masses and other events. This combined parish is called Parish of Transfiguration and of St. James/St. Joseph.

(church info last updated 04/07/2016)
Address: 32 James St. (Rectory at 23 Oliver St.)
Phone: 212.233.0161
Constructed: 1835-1837
About the Organ
Sacrilege at St. James in NYC
St. James
St. Joseph (Sister Church)


"In 1835, Father Varela purchased property for a new church on James Street, and the name was changed to St. James Church. Built from 1835-37 and dedicated by Bishop Dubois in 1836, St. James Church has the distinction of having the second oldest Roman Catholic church building extant in Manhattan. No one is certain who designed the noble Greek Revival edifice, although its pedimented facade is similar to designs published by architect Minard Lafever. As originally built, the fieldstone building had a domed cupola above the roof, and the facade included the inscription "D.O.M. S. JACOBO DEO OPTIMO MAXIMO" (To God, the Best and Greatest). In 1966, the church was designated by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Since its founding, the church has been home to many notables, including Alfred E. Smith, who served as an altar boy before becoming Governor of New York State and the first Roman Catholic candidate for the presidency. In the 1880s, Smith described the church as the "leading Catholic parish in New York, not excepting the cathedral itself."

The Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish fraternal organization, is also associated with St. James Church, as their first chapter in the United States was established in 1836 at this church. The Hibernians organized in response to the burning of St. Mary's Church on Grand Street, and other acts of violence against Irish clergy and property. In 1983, the Hibernians financed the restoration of St. James Church after city officials ordered it closed when the roof was in danger of collapsing."
I was told a few weeks ago by Tali, the organist of St. James, that I should make sure to include this church on my journey. Of course, it was always on my list, but she intrigued me further by saying, St. James is "the oldest surviving Catholic structure in the city and state of New York in original condition (Old St. Patrick's and St. Joseph on 6th Ave that had disastrous fires that gutted them, being officially older.)"

Something else that recently interests me about St. James is a pilgrimage I have followed via the website, It is the journey of the Camino, or "Way of St. James," that follows a path through Northern Spain to the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostello, where St. James the Apostle is apparently buried. Even though states "Legends have sprung up that James evangelized Spain before he died but these stories have no basis in historical fact," the Camino has captured my attention and imagination, and I think, realizing that my pilgrimage (because, that is in fact, what it is) of New York Churches is at an end, someday I'd very much like to do something like this. Perhaps the last 60 kilometers that many thousands of pilgrims travel each year, or even, if I'm feeling exceptionally ambitious, the 480 kilometers from France.

Due to a miscommunication between the staff at St. James and their parish, nearly all the parishioners of St. James attended the 10:30am Easter Sunday Spanish Mass today or the vigil at St. Joseph last night, and almost no one was present for the 12pm service.

But I was there, and almost as soon as I entered the place and started snapping pictures an older guy named George pulled me aside and asked me if I liked the place. Sure, I said, hesitating a bit. Good, he responded, then I'll show you around. Before I knew it he was leading me in and out of doorways, through the stairwells and balcony and showing me this church. It's a very old place that requires a lot of renovating and George is the one in charge of most of the work.

Slowly, day by day, bit by bit, molding by molding, George and staff are working to replace glass that is broken, repaint fading walls, fix leaks and continue to make this church more and more beautiful. Not that it's not already a site and pretty to begin with, but George showed me all the work to be done. He's very devoted and intent on his work, but most of all, he loves his church.

Everyone I talked to here at St. James was so friendly and welcoming: George, the priest, I think I even met Tali, the organist. (By the way, the music sounded great, the organ was terrific and the cantor had a strong elegant voice - really great church song that brought the Liturgy alive for me.)

Because there were so few of us in attendance, the priest delivered a more intimate sermon than (what I assume) is usual. He interjected thoughts and reflections during the readings, tied in the words of Paul with today's social justice issues and immigration, and really brought the Good News.

I'd definitely consider coming here regularly if it wasn't so far away.

Later in the day, I celebrated Easter with friends: the brightness of the day and the newness of life.

Meanwhile, things with my girlfriend are not all right. We are both hard people to be with. I think I'm terrible at this. Maybe always have been, maybe always will be. It's anyone's guess whether we'll be together in the end. Or if we should be. But she knows how much this church journey has meant to me, knows what I have been doing and she handed me a card today, an Easter card, congratulating me on completing this journey. It meant a lot, more than can be imagined. As does she.

"Why does she sing
Her sad songs for me? I'm not the one
To tenderly bring
Her soft sympathy. I've just begun
To see my way clear and it's plain if I stop I will fall.
I can lay down a tear for her pain, just a tear and that's all.
What does she want me to do?
She says that she knows that moments are rare.
I suppose
That it's true.
Then on she goes to say I don't care and she knows
That I do.
Maybe she just has to sing for the sake of the song.
Who do I think that I am to decide that she's wrong?

She'd like to think that I'm cruel
But she knows that's a lie for I would be
No more than a tool
If I allowed her to cry all over me.
My sorrow is real even though I can't change my plans.
If she could see how I feel then I know that she'd understand.
Does she actually think I'm to blame?
Does she really believe
That some word of mine
Could relieve
All her pain?
Can't she see that she grieves just because she's been blindly deceived
By her shame?
Maybe she just has to sing for the sake of the song.
Who do I think that I am to decide that she's wrong?

Nothin's what it seems.
Maybe she'll start someday to realize
If she abandons her dreams,
Then all the words she can say are only lies.
When will she see that to gain
Is only to lose?
All that she offers me are her chains,
And I've got to refuse.
It's only to herself that she's lied.
She likes to pretend
there's something that she should defend
With her pride.
I don't intend to stand here and be the friend
From whom she must hide.
Maybe she just has to sing for the sake of the song.
Who do I think that I am to decide that she's wrong?
Maybe she just has to sing for the sake of the song."
(Townes Van Zandt)


  1. Dear Andrew,

    Thank you so much for your nice comments - though I am so sad you did not stay afterward. I wondered if that might be you when I saw you up near our Roosevelt Organ taking pictures, but I was so rushed to prepare to begin the music. For so long, I had been awaiting your arrival and I had worried that you might come on one of those rare times when I was not there. I hope you might be back sometime again.

    We struggle for our existence at St. James - slowly the English Mass has been building up insofar as numbers who attend. I also volunteer playing the organ at four other churches besides St. James, those being St. Joseph around the corner for the Saturday, 5:30 Mass, St. Francis de Sales for the 8:00PM Sunday Mass, Holy Innocents for the two Masses at 12:15PM and 1:15PM on Fridays and my one and only Protestant-Episcopal, Church of the Mediator in the Bronx on Sunday Mornings at 10:00AM.

    However, it was the St. James Roosevelt Organ that started everything. The organ had not worked in 50 years and I was able to have it revived. I also garnered a very prestigious Organ Historical Society "Citation" for this precious instrument - making it only the fourth organ in Manhattan to be so awarded.

    With all best wishes and many thanks for your site, Tali

  2. Tali -

    Thank you right back for your own kind words. Sorry I didn't stay, I'm a bit shy. You have a beautiful church which I will plan on stopping by again someday. Thanks for the note about the organ - very interesting.

  3. Is St. James closed now? I tried to find mass times and I couldn't.

  4. Not sure if it's closed or not, haven't been there in awhile. I hope not. :(


  6. Too bad it's gone now as the decree from the Cardinal says it is going to be "suppressed".

  7. It is a shame that the diocese came to such an agreement. I heard its all about property and money. Where are the people going to go if there are no church to attend mass? Even just to have a peaceful moment of silent prayer in a church...what has come to the higher ups in ROME to make the decision which church stays and which church goes. Is that what their all about???

  8. I remember going there in 1962 and thought it was the most beautiful church I'd ever seen.

  9. Where are the Parish records now? I would like to ask for a copy of a Baptismal certificate from 1867.

  10. I have a question, my relatives were baptized at St. James the Apostle Church, 23 Oliver St. New York, NY.10038. Can you tell me if this is in Manhattan or Brooklyn? I have written to the church and do not get replies, so I am not sure if it is still open. I live in California and am not sure where the church is located. Thank you John

    1. This church is in Manhattan, but it is closed now. There may also be a St. James church in Brooklyn as well.

  11. I too have relatives baptised at St. James The Apostle Church and have learned that the rectory was located at 23 Oliver St but the Church is at 32 James Street.

  12. I went by the closed church today and wanted to go in. It is so sad that it is closed. It is the oldest RC church in tact. I sure hope they do not tear this church down.

  13. I visited the church and took photos of the exterior. Would love to get inside and take photos while the building is still standing. It's a great example of Greek Revival architecture.