The histories of Kenosha and St. James Church are twin chronicles born in the 1830’s when Wisconsin was still in the territorial stage. As settlers moved west to discover the shores of new lands around Lake Michigan, their religious faith came with them. Irish Catholics settled in Pike (now Kenosha) and only had Masses when missionary priests would pass through the area. Because of their firm belief and zeal, St. James Church became the fist Catholic congregation in Kenosha and the origin of all the other parishes now in the city.
In 1834 Father Martin Kundig of Detroit was the official missionary for the village then known as Southport, saying Mass in his room when he was in the area. At a meeting of 51 Irish Catholics on February 6, 1839, an appeal was signed for the formation of a congregation. During the following years, other priests served the congregation, helping it to grow and to begin soliciting funds for the erection of a Catholic church in Southport.
In 1843 Father Kundig, who was then the traveling Vicar General from Milwaukee, visited the congregation and took charge. He became the first pastor. Church lots were purchased at the cost of one hundred dollars, located where the present rectory stands. The parish incorporated under the name of St. Mark. The first Mass was celebrated in the partly finished church on September 29, 1844. The building was completed and dedicated on August 15, 1846.
When the building became too small for the congregation, a new church was built on the southeast corner of Wisconsin and Congress Streets, (now 58th Street and 10th Avenue). The parish was renamed St. James in honor of the patron saint of Father James Cleary, pastor at that time. The first Mass in the new church was celebrated on May 10, 1884. The dedication was held on June 22, 1884. The present rectory was built on the site of the old St. Mark’s Church and completed December 31, 1886.
In 1858 the first St. James school building was erected. The second school building was completed in 1892. It was destroyed by a fire in 1922 and the present school building was then erected on the site of the old school in 1924. Lay teachers conducted the school until 1870. At that time Dominican Sisters arrived and took over the school, remaining until the school closed with the last graduating class in May, 1973.
The school building was leased to the Kenosha Unified School 1975 - 2011. The present convent was completed in 1961 and, after the Sisters left, it has been home to Hispanic ministry, now located at St. Marks, and an assisted living facility. St. James also has a beautiful cemetery located at 7002 7th Avenue. The cemetery is enhanced by a statue of the Resurrection which stands inside its gates, a reminder to all who pass that Heaven is our destination.