History of St. James Church

St. James Catholic Church of Kansas City, Missouri, was established in 1906.  In those early days, the 20 families who made up St. James worshiped in a dance hall which they rented for $5 on Sunday mornings. Through the next ten years the parish grew steadily, and by 1919 St. James had 4,000 parishioners and held five Sunday masses. 

The growth and development of St. James was shaped by the century of American history that included two World Wars, a Great Depression, the creation of a robust middle class, and demographic shifts that resulted, in the 1960’s, in a racially-divided Kansas City.  In recent decades, the Church has witnessed the rise of social movements for racial and gender equality, and a political evolution marked by advances and retrenchment still being played out today. 

Msgr. John W. Keyes was the pastor from 1906 until 1950. It was Msgr. Keyes who famously arranged the purchase of the stones – originally intended for a bridge over the Missouri River – from which the present church was builtDuring his tenure, Keyes collaborated with other religious and civic leaders, and the political bosses who ran the city. In this way he shaped the parish mission to meet the needs of a growing metropolis filled with immigrant workers who built much of Kansas City.  

The parish continued to grow, becoming the second largest in the diocese, and adding a school in 1907 staffed by the Sisters of Mercy. What followed was a succession of dedicated clergy, religious brothers, sisters and laity, who helped St. James to anchor Midtown with ministries addressing the housing, education and food assistance needs of the surrounding neighborhood.  

St. James almost closed its doors at the turn of the Millennium, but a determined group of parishioners initiated a revival that increased membership, raised funds, and renewed ministries to serve Midtown.  In 2006 the St. James community marked its centennial with the refurbishing of the church building. The milestone celebration included former parishioners who had been baptized or married at St. James, and graduates from the school, who returned to commemorate their anniversaries. 

A vibrant St. James church continues to serve the neighborhood as a testimony to the faith of those who went before. and a pledge to the future by mirroring the global church, with current members from every continent.  

St. James has been proud to be called a “Vatican II church.” It is known as both a “Bridge Church” and an “All Are Welcome” presence in Midtown Kansas City.  Come and be part of our history and our future. 

Additional Resources

This Far By Faith:  A Popular History of the Catholic People of West and Northwest Missouri, 2 vols., by Fr. C. Michael Coleman, JCL

Further by Faith: Celebrating the Art and Architecture of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph by Fr. C. Michael Coleman, JCL

 The History of St. James’ stained glass windows and other paintings