St. James Catholic Church

St. Jean-Baptiste, date and photographer unknown. [Image: Duluth Public Library]

721 N. 57th Ave. W. | Architects: Hill & Bray  | Built: 1903 | Extant

One of the first acts of Bishop James McGolrick after he was installed as the Diocese of Duluth’s first bishop in 1890 was to see to the needs of Catholics living in communities located west of Duluth’s ore docks, the unofficial border between the West End and West Duluth. The Duluth Diocese purchased land for a church in 1890—before a congregation was even established—to serve the estimated 250 Catholic families living between West Duluth and Fond du Lac. Later that year a small, wood-framed church was constructed at 715 North Fifty-Seventh Avenue West. Its modest sanctuary could seat 315 worshippers. While the initial congregation was dominated by Irish families, it included French, German, Slovenian, and Polish worshippers as well, and would later welcome Italians and Serbians.

Reverend William T. Roy served as its first pastor. By 1903 the church had become too small to accommodate the growing congregation. Father John Feehely, who came to St. James in 1899 when he was just twenty-six years old, led the effort to build a new church on a site north of the 1890 facility. The diocese hired I. Vernon Hill and William Bray to design what is considered the oldest English Gothic church in Duluth. Faced with red-orange brick trimmed in sandstone, St. James’s most dominant architectural feature is its large square corner tower, crowned with castellations but absent a steeple. Other Gothic elements include lancet windows and tower buttresses. A large Gothic-arch along the central Fifty-Seventh Avenue West façade contains several small windows, and instead of a large stained-glass rose window it is filled with a brownstone carving of angel’s wings. Its sanctuary holds 650 worshippers.

McGolrick and a host of Catholic officials dedicated the new edifice on July 24, 1904—the eve of the Catholic feast of St. James the Great, the church’s namesake (“Great” distinguishes the apostle as being older or perhaps taller than St. James the Less, also an apostle of Christ). Each of the congregation’s three hundred families donated between $5 and $50, depending on how much they could afford to give. They paid off the mortgage in 1912.

At some point the entrance façade along Fifty-Seventh Avenue West was significantly altered and is completely out of character with the rest of the church. But that architectural alteration hasn’t stopped St. James from serving West Duluth Catholics to this day.