This article was graciously provided by Msgr. Robert Barcio, Archivist of the Erie Roman Catholic Diocese. It is a part of his book “Shepherds & Sheep,” the third volume in his history of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Erie.
The first Masses of St. James Parish were celebrated in Schweier’s pool room in Wesleyville in 1921. Under the leadership of Richard Ford, F. W. Schlindwein, and Henry Schloss a petition was sent to Bishop John Mark Gannon to appoint a priest to shepherd the new parish. At the time, there were approximately one hundred families who attended the fledgling church. Their request was granted by a young Bishop Gannon with the appointment of the Reverend Francis P. Coughlin, the assistant at St. Patrick’s, Erie.
Official groundbreaking ceremonies were held March 2,1922 by Bishop Gannon and the dedication of the original frame church on Sunday, November 26, 1922. A substantial contribution was given to the parish by the Catholic daughters of America in appreciation of Father Coughlin’s service as their chaplain. A home for the pastor and his future assistants was completed in 1926.
However, it was not until the late forties when sufficient funds were available to construct the present Gothic styled limestone church. Under the guidance of Father Coughlin and Father Walter Lohse, the church was completed and dedication ceremonies were held on October 3,1949. Father Lohse who had served as a chaplain in the United States Army during World War II had been assigned as assistant to Father Coughlin in May, 1946.
Soon, thereafter, in the early 1950’s, St. James school was constructed. At first a three story building was contemplated to be built behind the new church. But, limited playground space nullified this plan. Consequently, largely through the efforts of Father Lohse, land was purchased across the street from the church and rectory in 1955 where the school now stands. The architectural firm of Meyer, Krider and Werle designed and developed plans for the new school. On November 10,1956, the plans were approved and permission was granted by Bishop Gannon so construction could begin. S. Niebauer and Sons were the general contractors. The new school was completed late in 1957 at an approximate cost of $500,000. Official opening of the school had occurred on September 26, 1957 with an enrollment of 377 students. Bishop Edward P. McManaman, auxiliary Bishop of Erie, held dedication ceremonies on May 28, 1958. From its opening day, St. James School has been staffed by the Sisters of the Divine Spirit. In the fiftieth anniversary year of the parish in 1971, there were fifteen classrooms with 480 students and a faculty of nine sisters and seven lay teachers.
During the same month the school was dedicated, Monsignor Coughlin retired and was named pastor emeritus at the age of eighty-six! His health had been fragile in the late years, and it was the energetic young Father Lohse who was largely responsible for the parish expansion that took place during his twelve year tenure (1946-1958) as an assistant to Monsignor Coughlin. He was assigned to the pastorate of St. Walburga, Titusville in July, 1958.
About three years after his retirement, Monsignor Coughlin entered new life on January 16, 1961. Solemn Pontifical Mass was celebrated on January 19,1961. Burial took place in Calvary Cemetery, Erie.
Francis P. Coughlin was born in Belfast, New York on December 19,1874. He attended public schools from which he entered St. Bonaventure College and Seminary. He was ordained by Bishop Charles H. Colton of Buffalo on May 25, 1907. Earlier he was given an exeat from the Buffalo Diocese to work in the Diocese of Erie. Perhaps, this decision was influenced by the fact he was a cousin of the Cauley brothers who labored for several decades at St. Patrick Church in Erie. His assignments took him to Sharon, St. Joseph (July to October, 1907); Oil City, St. Joseph (October to November, 1907); Meadville, St. Brigid (November 1907 to June 1917); Erie, St. Patrick (June 1917-April, 1921). His last assignment was as founding pastor of St. James, Erie from April 1921 to May, 1958. He was honored as a Papal Chamberlain on January 24,1954.
In May, 1958, the Reverend Monsignor Francis J. Turner was appointed pastor with Father Robert Cohan as his assistant. Under their capable leadership, a parish debt of $476,000 was eliminated by 1969. In addition, several major improvements were made without incurring further debt. With plaster falling from the ceilings and walls of the rectory, the rectory was remodeled to make a more comfortable home for the pastor and his assistants. After thirteen years as pastor of St. James, Monsignor Turner resigned June 3, 1971 and was appointed pastor emeritus. He lived in residence at St. James rectory until March 28,1981 when he died at the age of ninety-two!
Francis James Turner was born February 8,1889, at Paterson, New Jersey. He studied Philosophy and Theology at St. Bonaventure Seminary, Allegheny, New York and was ordained at St. Bonaventure Church in Paterson, June 29, 1921 by Bishop John J. O’Connor for the Diocese of Erie. Father Turner served in several parishes as an assistant pastor before he succeeded Father Francis M. O’Connell as pastor of Immaculate Conception, Madera. Subsequent assignments found him in service to the churches of Saints Cosmas and Damian, Punxsutawney (1939-1957), St. Julia, Erie (1957-1958), and St. James, Erie (1958-1971). He was named a Papal Chamberlain in January, 1954 and a Prelate of Honor in December, 1970. Bishop Michael J. Murphy celebrated the Mass of Christian burial with his brother priests on April 1,1981.
With the resignation of Monsignor Turner, the Reverend Robert W. Cohan was appointed administrator of St. James Parish June 3,1970 until he became Pastor on September 13,1974. He has guided the spiritual and temporal welfare of the parish with unselfish dedication for more than a quarter of a century.
Robert W. Cohan was born January 18,1929 in Warren, Pennsylvania. He attended schools in Warren and Cathedral Prep and Gannon College in Erie. He studied for the priesthood at Christ the King Seminary, Allegheny, New York and was ordained May 19,1955 by Bishop Edward P. McManaman in St. Peter Cathedral. He was named a Papal Chamberlain with the title of Reverend Monsignor on January 13,1992.
There have been many organizations on every age level which have contributed to the maturing of the congregation as well as encouraging interest in parish activities. A parish council was formed September, 1969 in accordance with the directives expressed by Vatican II.
In recent years, some of the priests who served the congregation include the Reverend Monsignor James E. Sanner (1963-1965); the Reverend James McCullough, a Gannon University professor and the Reverend Monsignor William E. Biebel, rector of St. Peter Cathedral.
The St. James congregation has grown at a steady pace since the original one hundred families petitioned Bishop John M. Gannon for a pastor. Presently, there are between 1,100 and 1,200 families. When the school opened in September, 1957, the Sisters of the Divine Spirit had enrolled 377 students. Enrollment increased over the years until tuition costs rose to a point where some parents could no longer afford to send them to the school. Thus, the enrollment of 300 students in 1998 is less than when the school first opened its doors! St. James School nevertheless, is no exception to what has happened to many Catholic Schools throughout the country. They have established an endowment to help needy students. St. James Parish remained a very vibrant Catholic Community under the strong leadership of their pastor the Reverend Father James McCormick.
Parish History from the 1997 Directory
Saint James Parish had its beginnings in April of 1921 by the founding pastor, the Rev. Msgr. Francis P. Coughlin; it grew under his leadership until his retirement in May, 1958. The first congregation met for Sunday mass in the upstairs of Schweir’s pool room. At that time the parish consisted of 100 families who saw the fulfillment of their dreams in the building of Saint James Church on November 26, 1922, the day of its dedication. The lake Shore Visitor, in reporting the dedication, remarked that Bishop John Mark Gannon, “Vision Great Things For St. James.” How prophetic was this statement, for under the guidance of Msgr. Coughlin and Fr. Walter Lohse, his assistant, dedication ceremonies for the new church were held October 3, 1949.
Rev. Msgr. Francis J. Turner became pastor in May of 1958 when Msgr. Coughlin retired. Msgr. Turner’s assistant was Fr. Robert W. Cohan who came to St. James in July of 1958 and became administrator in June of 1970 upon Msgr. Turner’s retirement. September 13, 1974 saw the appointment of Father Cohan as pastor; then on February 22, 1992, he was given the honor of chaplain of his holiness with the title of Reverend Monsignor. August 1, 1994 he was appointed dean of Erie east.
It was during the last year of Msgr. Coughlin’s active tenure as pastor that Saint James School was built, and then Msgr. Turner was faced with the challenge not only of administering a new school but also of eliminating the parish debt of $470,000. With the energetic and capable assistance of Fr. Cohan, both of these accomplishments were achieved. Msgr. Cohan’s abilities were well-defined. He has kept abreast of the educational needs of the times, and of the necessity of furthering the expansion of Saint James School to maintain quality education for its students. Renovations were a must, this included excavations in the lower level in the early 1970’s to provide a large library area and additional classrooms. The next 12 years saw the opening of a kindergarten, and in 1993 a large computer room, wrestling room and workrooms were further added in the lower level. In 1995, the kindergarten area was expanded and a pre-school was opened.
Monsignor’s interests were not limited to the school per Se; He knew that the children of working mothers needed a place to be nurtured and to he cared for while their parent(s) were at their jobs. Therefore, a small house and property adjacent to the church grounds became available and a licensed Day Care center was established in 1990. The center is under the direction of Jane Olowin and her assistant, Marguerite Seippele with the aid of a devoted staff, Saint James School presently has 16 classrooms with a student population of 315 children staffed by 10 sisters of the Divine Spirit, 9 lay teachers and teacher specialists.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church…R334, #1322, States Baptism incorporates us more firmly into Christ, strengthens our bond with the church and helps us to bear witness to our christian faith in words accompanied by deeds. The Holy Eucharist completes christian initiation. Those who have been raised to the dignity of the royal priesthood by baptism and configured more deeply to Christ by confirmation participate with the whole community in the Lord’s own sacrifice by means of the Eucharist.” In view of this statement, it is noteworthy that 6,515 baptisms have been performed from 1921 to October 1 of this present year, 1996. Confirmations…4,252 (1922-1996); First Communions…4,669 (1941-1996). ‘The Sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the church. This sacrament has been in evidence at St. James Church since its beginnings in 1921, and from that time to the present a total of 1,894 marriages have been sanctioned. Since the Christian understanding of death is that it leads us into “The life of the World to come,” 922 faithful members of St. James Parish have joined the church triumphant, and these entrances into life have been entered into the church register books from May 27, 1922 to October 12, 1996.
From its origin of 100 families in 1921, St. James has grown to approximately 1200 families at present, this year of our 75th anniversary, and since its inception, it has had only three pastors. Our present pastor, Msgr. Robert W. Cohan, had been appointed Assistant to Msgr. Francis J. Turner in July of 1958 to June of 1963; again in June of 1965 until June, 1970 when he was designated administrator. He became pastor of St. James on September 13, 1974 and continues to serve in this capacity. He has had the assistance of many of his brother priests who have served our faith community as assigned.
Priests in residence enabling both pastor and people helping in the capacity of supply priests. Those who have served in the early days of Saint James Church to the present are:
- Rev. Paul Micheli—from February, 1941 to November, 1942
- Rev. Joseph T. Barry—Summer, 1940
- Rev. Walter H. Lohse—May, 1946 to July, 1958
- Msgr. Robert W. Cohan, VF—July, 1958 to June, 1963 and June, 1965 to present
- Rev. Msgr. John B. Hagerty—May, 1955 to September, 1956
- Rev. James F. Sanner—June, 1963 to June, 1965
- Rev. Gerald J. Sigler—August, 1963 to September, 1965
- Rev. James P. McCullough—June, 1957 to August, 1976
- Msgr. John M. Dollinger—December, 1984 to September 1985
- Msgr. William E. Biehel, VP—November, 1969 to July, 19845
- Rev. Mark A. Nowak—May, 1975 to August, 1983
- Rev. Patrick Gibbons—August, 1985 to February, 1994
- Rev, Mark L. Barichak—August, 1986 to September, 1987
- Rev. Stephen A. Anderson—September, 1987 to September, 1988
- Rev. James P. McCormick—September, 1988 to Present
- Rev. Paul J. DeSante—August, 1991 to September, 1992
- Rev. Scott T. Stroupe—January, 1995 to February, 1996
Indeed, Saint James parishioners have been blessed with dedicated, committed pastors and priests these past 75 years. They have and continue to tirelessly look to the spiritual condition and enrichment of the lives of their people.
The Catholic Church, as a Community of faith, concern and love, continues to change under the vision and reforms of the Second Vatican Council. An awareness for the need of various parish ministries became apparent; therefore, pastors were enabled to commission people to perform a special function for the members of their faith community. St. James Church has been growing in appreciation and utilization of many kinds of ministries, E.G.—”Special ministers of the Eucharist who help priests in the distribution of holy communion either at mass or another times when the Eucharist is carded to the home bound. New importance to the role undertaken by our ushers is carried through the ministry of hospitality.. The “Process of Welcome.” These men and women of the parish greet people in the name of the community, make them feel welcome, and help knit individuals into a community that celebrates and prays together. Dialogue between God and His people is the Ministry of Lector while all those actively engaged in the ministry of musicians … the organists, choir director, rancor(s), song leaders, and choir members make music for worship, and serve the needs of the assembly to praise the Lord in song.
Organizations within our parish that have been caring and beneficial in the services provided to parishioners, church and school are the food pantry established in 1991; The women’s society, formerly named the Rosary Altar Society, who among many of their contributions to the church, established an organ fund for the church in 1983 making it possible to purchase this instrument in November of 1989. This society sponsors the annual Christmas craft show and the spring card party. A very active and provident athletic association does much in and for the interest of our school and its students.
Other activities providing social and financial benefits to the parish are the Cash Galore (begun in ‘74), the Snow Blossom Ball, The New Years’ Eve Dance, St. James Casino Night with its famous “Buffalo Road Chili” and our annual parish festival.
Social activities for our seniors are held the third Tuesday of the month and our young people from the boy scouts to the girl scouts learn the meaning of what is to be committed to church and country under capable and dedicated leaders.
The parish council and finance council act in an advisory capacity to the pastor; they initiate and support activities favorable to the social, civic, and educational activities of the parish. Especially was their support appreciated when he called attention to improvements and maintenance needful to the church. Among these especially:
- Enlargement of the church parking lot in 1990
- Church renovation and central air conditioning in June 1992
- Church parking lot patched and sealed in 1993
- Church painted in 1994
- Church painted in 1995
May Bishop John Mark Gannon’s message made 75 years ago when he “Visioned Great Things For St. James” be fully accomplished by our people as we approach the coming millennium of our world. That, God willing, in the celebration of our 100th anniversary in the year 2021, we will bear out Ecclesiastes 3:1-11…For everything there is a season and daytime to every purpose under heaven…by fulfilling what our parish is about.