Sauk Village and St. James Parish, located between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River in northeastern Illinois, is but a small dot on the map. Yet the story of its coming into being and the lives instrumental in shaping it, makes fascinating reading.
In 1830 this area was the hunting ground of the Sauk Indians under Chief Black Hawk. They were forcibly removed from here by a treaty in 1833 but they still made a yearly journey along what is now called Sauk Trail. They traveled from Rock Island, Illinois to a trading post in Detroit, Michigan, to receive a payment which was provided for by the treaty.
Sometime in the 1830s the first European settlers arrived here. They were mainly Germans from Strassburg and AlsaceLorraine, fleeing political turmoil in their homeland. Fourteen families came to homestead on land made available by land grants of the U.S. Government during the terms of Presidents Jackson, Harrison, Van Buren, Tyler, Filmore and Pierce.
They called the area New Strassburg after their hometown, and the pioneers of this area bore names like Baumer, Miller, Schulte, Kalvelage, KJaude, Klein, Reichert, Sauter, LeDoux, Schaller, Scheidt, Veauner, Greiving, Kloss and Weishaur. We have streets named after them and descendants still living in the area.
The settlers were predominantly Catholic and at first arranged to have Mass celebrated in their homes. The earliest Mass we have on record is 1839. All the families were large and it became obvious that a church and school were needed. In 1842, the families of Jacob Theobold, Joseph Wolf and Milton Reichert set aside four acres each to be used for this purpose. The property was located just north of Sauk Trail at the intersection of what is now Illinois Route 394, and it became the site of the Catholic church, school, and cemetery of St. James (Jakob).
After eight years of planning, a church was built in 1847 and called St. Jakob. The first pastor was Father Francis Fischer. A school was also constructed and land set aside for a cemetery, which is still in use. It is the oldest Catholic cemetery in Cook County. Photography had just barely been invented, and we have no picture of the original church.
St. James (then St. Jakob) is the 7th oldest parish in the Chicago Archdiocese. It is five years younger than the city of Chicago and one year older than the Archdiocese itself. When the early settlers arrived, this area was part of the Diocese of Vincennes (Indiana), which covered the whole state of Indiana and the eastern third of Illinois. There were only two priests to serve that entire area! Bishop Hailandiere was in office when St. Jakob was founded. That same bishop is credited with the establishment of the Sisters of Providence in Terre Haute,
Indiana, who staffed the parish for many years.
In 1847 and 1848, the Catholic Directory states that the parish was “visited occasionally from Chicago.” In 1849 the Directory mentions a Rev. Carius attending the parish. One account states that a frame church was built on the donated site in 1853. In 1871 it was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Rebuilt, it was again destroyed by lighting in 1874. The third building was erected and occupied the site from 1874 to May 24, 2002. This one featured lightning rods, so it sustained only slight damage when lighting struck for the third time.
During the 1850s and 1860s, missionaries from Notre Dame, Indiana, and Rev. Bernard Voors, pastor of St. John, Indiana, cared for the little flock. Chicago parishes of old St. Mary’s and St. Michael’s in Old Town sent priests to help when needed.
In the 1850s the Monon Railroad that runs north of the village was built by Germans who also came from Alsace-Lorraine and settled in Dyer. There was much interaction and camaraderie between the people of Dyer and New Strassburg.
In 1876, a one room school accommodating 15-20 pupils was built west of the church. After the school was completed, Father Bernard Heiderer was named the first resident pastor. In addition to celebrating Mass and ecuating the children, he farmed the land around the church. Every day the teacher, Miss Martha LeDoux, rode to school on her bicycle from Burnham Avenue.
When Father Heiderer left in 1882, it was decided that the parish would again become a mission. In the 1880s, the Catholic Directories are clear that St. Jakob was cared for by St. John Church in Joliet. From 1894 to 1895, it was a mission of St. Nicholas in Chicago, and from 1895 to 1901 it was attached to St. Anne in Richton Park. Every Sunday, a priest came to New Strassburg to celebrate Mass for the 20 families of the parish. The men of the parish took turns conveying the priest back and forth with a horse and buggy.
From the records, we have a list of priests who cared for the Catholics in New Strassburg during the 19th Century: Franciscus Anti 1871-1873; Fr. Schreiber 1173-1876; Bernard Heiderer and Antonius Rueter 1876-1882. The Franciscan Fathers from Joliet served St. James from 1883-1892. They included Eugene Puers, W. Dieters, Anslem Puetz and Pater Maternus. Rev. C. A. Danz was assigned to St. Jakob from 1895-1902.
From 1880 until the turn of the century, the area between Chicago and Springfield, Ill., became more densely settled. Catholic directories from the 1880s indicated that St. James in New Strassburg was cared for from St. John Church in Joliet, Ill. From 1894 to 1895, it was a mission of St. Nicholas Church in Chicago, and from 1895 to 1901, it was attached to St. Ann Church, which had been erected in Richton along the Sauk Trail in Park Forst, Ill.
Following the destruction of St. Anne Richton by fire, Archbishop Patrick A. Feehan authorized Rev. J. Rempe to establish the new parish of St. Liborius in Steger, Ill. Dedicated on March 2, 1902, St. Liborius became the “mother church,” with New Strassburg and Richton as missions. St. Jakob remained a mission of St. Liborius from 1902 until 1949. Priests serving in Strassburg were Fr. Ott, Fr. John Rengel, Fr. Schilkin, Fr. Gross, Fr. Schmitz, Fr. Plomin, Fr. Weidner, Fr. Hutt, Fr. Hagemaier, Fr. Starr, Fr. McWilliams, and Fr. DeMuth.
After 1900, the school was operated as a public school under the name Strassburg School. It was leveled by an explosion and fire in 1940. The church sheds, built to protect the horses while their owners were in church, were hastily converted for use as classrooms and served this purpose for many years.
During World War I, 1914-1918 the name of St. Jakob was changed to St. James. During that time, many of the German names were Americanized. Around 1917, the Lincoln Highway was built. It followed Sauk Trail from the Indiana State Line near Our Lady of Mercy Hospital (now St. Margaret Mercy) in Dyer through New Strassburg (now Sauk Village) all the way to Chicago Road, then turned north to 14th Street in Chicago Heights. There it turned west along the present location of Route 30.
In 1919, the Army sent a convoy on the Lincoln Highway to determine if they could travel from coast to coast. When they came to a bridge that could not hold the weight of the heavy trucks, they would rebuild it. Kalvelage bridge, just north of Sterks Grocery Store on Sauk Trail, is one of those bridges and crosses a ditch there. Anyone living in Sauk Village has probably crossed it hundreds of times without being aware of its history.
During the Depression, St James mission was short of funds and in need of added revenue. Area Catholics responded in 1938 with pioneer spirit: they dug by hand a basement under the church, transforming it into a parish hall that could be rented out for income. They then held Bingo parties to raise money, and the prizes offered were products of the land and the women’s handmade items. On November 11, 1940, a tornado struck the church, knocking down the steeple and causing considerable damage to the roof. Men of the congregation pitched in and rebuilt the structure.
When the Joliet Diocese formed in 1949, St. James became a mission of St. Ann in Chicago Heights, which was staffed by the Conventual Franciscan fathers. With the building of the Calumet Expressway (Illinois 394) completed in 1956, Southeast Cook County began to develop rapidly. Farms were sold to become housing developments. The area was incorporated as Sauk Village in 1957. The residents wanted it to be called New Strassburg, but were told by the US Post Office that the name was already in use elsewhere in Illinois. The name Sauk Village was decided upon because Sauk Trail went through the center of town and not because it had once been a Native American village (which it indeed had not been).
At the time of Sauk Village’s incorporation, the St. James Cemetery was home to gravestones with inscriptions so old and weather-worn they could not be read. Some dates went all the way back to the 1700s. The State’s plan to build a cloverleaf at the intersection of Illinois 394 (Calumet Expressway) and Sauk Trail had to be abandoned when it was discovered that there were Native American graves in St. James Cemetery. By law, Indian graves cannot be disturbed. Without this property, there was not enough space to construct the interchange. Sadly, in the 1960s the cemetery was vandalized and many of those ancient stones were destroyed. Near the same time, the stained glass windows in the church were damaged by rocks.
In 1960, Rev. Dennis Herbst, a Franciscan from St. Ann, rented a house in the Village at 1823 E. 222nd Place and took up residence on weekends. He was instrumental in the formation of St. James as a stand-alone parish, rather than a mission church.
On June 9, 1961, “The New World” announced the appointment of Rev. Paul L. Didier, former assistant at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Chicago, to form a “new” parish located east of Chicago Heights in a new development of more than 3,000 homes. On July 1, 1961, St. James was canonically erected as a parish.
When Fr. Didier began his work in Sauk Village, there were four masses celebrated on Sundays in the Old St. James Church with standing-room-only crowds. He quickly gained the support of the congregation to build a new church and school. The developer of the Indian Hills section of Sauk Village, Talandis Construction, donated land which had been part of the Kloss farm. In February 1962, Fr. Didier moved into a duplex at 22244 Torrence, which had been converted for use as a rectory, and on June 25, Fr. James E. Wilbur joined him as assistant pastor.
The groundbreaking for a new combination church/school took place on April 8, 1962, with a cornerstone laid August 5 of the same year. The people of the parish pitched in and did most of the internal finishing. Using parishioner-donated materials, Fr. Didier built the main altar, two side altars, the wooden part of the large crucifix, the canopy, and the altar rail. The wrought iron ornamentation was made by Ray Skalski.
Christmas Midnight Mass was the first Mass celebrated in the present church. The parishioners had worked hard to get it ready. Everything was in place for the Mass except the large crucifix that was to hang over the main altar because the hand-carved figure of Christ had not arrived from Italy. The men’s choir led by Gene Pope sang Gregorian chant in Latin accompanied on the organ by Celeste Klein. His dream come true, Fr. D1d1er, overcome with emotion, wept.
A convent was completed in August of 1963. The Dominican Sisters from Springfield, Illinois, opened St. James School that September 1963. Sr. Janice Greenwood, OP was the first principal, and Sr. Mary May Peter, Mrs. Evelyn O’Hern, and Sr. Coletta were the staff. The combination building was designed in such a way that the church was flanked on both sides by classrooms. When classes began in 1963, only four of the eight classes were in use for two first grades, one second grade, and one third grade. Each year another grade was added until there were eight grades.
The dedication of the new church, school, and convent took place June 7, 1964, and the Sacrament of Confirmation was celebrated at the same time. The dedication had been delayed because of Archbishop Meyer’s busy schedule, due in part to his attendance at the many sessions of Vatican II held in Rome. At that time there were 500 Catholic families in the parish. In September of the same year, the management of St. James Cemetery was transferred to Assumption Cemetery at 195th and Cottage Grove Avenue.
In 1970, the Archdiocese of Chicago donated the old church of St. James and approximately five acres of land to Sauk Village, and on October 19, 1975, the old frame structure was rededicated as the Sauk Village Community Center. The bell from the old bell tower was removed and mounted in front of the new church.
Over these years, many assistant pastors left their own unique marks on St. James. Rev. James Wilbur, the first assistant pastor, brought much vigor and enthusiasm to the task. He greatly improved the music ministry, took charge of the choir, the altar servers, high school Christian education, and the varied duties of sacristan. He was followed by Fr. James P. Murphy from 1967 to 1973. Besides his regular parish duties, Fr. Murphy taught at Marian Catholic High School, was active as a counselor, and served on the board of Respond Now. When Fr. Kenneth Emerson took the reins from 1973 to 1978, he became active in the yearly fundraiser shows, “Moments of Memories.” Fr. Michael J. Cronin came from 1978 to 1980 and formed the very successful Teen Program and moderator of Jr. Holy Name. But when illness necessitate a move closer to his home, Fr. Thomas Kelly replaced him and was with us from 1980 to 1986. Fr. Kelly devoted much effort to the High School CCD program and to the training of altar servers. He was replaced by Fr. William T. O’Mara, who stayed only a short time, and then became pastor of his own parish. Fr. Michael Ivers served here from January to June of 1987.
In June 1980 Fr. Didier celebrated his 45th anniversary as a priest. He retired several months later, having served St. James for 20 years. Rev. John C. Cain became the second pastor of the parish in January 1981 and celebrated his 25th jubilee in April 1983. Fr. Cain remained with us until 1992.
David DesMarais was ordained our first Permanent Deacon in 1972, followed by Matthew Teolis, who had been ordained in 1975 and came to St. James in 1978. In 1986, Thomas McCarthy was ordained a Permanent Deacon. Also in 1986, St. James celebrated its silver anniversary as a parish in the Chicago Archdiocese. A year of special activities culminated with a dinner-dance at the
Holiday Inn in Matteson in June of 1987. At this celebration, Fr. John Hannigan was introduced as the new assistant pastor.
With the arrival of Franciscan Sisters Amy Kenealy and Madonna Jungels, new ministries were added to enhance parish life: Ministers of Communion, Ministers of Care, and a Ministry of Praise. The Eucharistic Ministry made it possible for parishioners to have Communion under both species, bread and wine, for the first time. An adult choir and Liturgy Committee formed, and a parish-wide spiritual growth program called “Renew” began. The Helping Hand Ministry and Share/Food also started.
When the steel mills closed and there was much corporate downsizing, the resulting unemployment greatly affected the Village. People lost their homes and there were many boarded up houses. Mayor Roger Theisen worked very hard to improve the situation and things soon started looking up. The Village started growing again, and new people were moving in.
Father Hannigan moved to Central Illinois to care for his mother in 1991. Another assistant was not assigned, but Fr. Ron Kondziolka, chaplain at St. James Hospital, resided here and helped with weekend Masses from 1991-1993, until he moved to Chicago to devote more time to studies. Fr. Cain served two six-year terms, which ended in 1993. Thomas A. Schroeder was also ordained a Permanent Deacon April 28, 1991.
Father Didier passed away on January 15, 1993. That same day Father Thomas P. Conde was appointed third pastor of St. James. Fr. Conde had been told to be sure and bring his tools. When he arrived, the roof was leaking terribly. the heating plant needed to be replaced, and the parking lot was badly in need of repair, among other things.
In 1994, the renovations began. In the process of repairing the roof it became clear that to provide sufficient pitch for allowing water to drain to gutters, the building needed to be “squared up.” Three additions were constructed to handle the problem. New parish and school office space was built, as well as a new conference room, computer center, a multi-purpose room, and the Klein Memorial Library. When the building was completed, a new altar and sanctuary furnishings were added to replace the originals. They were designed and crafted by parishioner Stanley Jewula. Many parishioners donated money in memory of their loved ones, and the new pieces were dedicated to them. In the spring of 1998, Bishop John Gorman consecrated the new altar and the furnishings. In September 1998, Archbishop Francis Cardinal George blessed the new rooms and a set of restored Stations of the Cross, which he remembered having seen as a young boy in St. Francis Hospital in Evanston.
In 1994, two Sisters of Providence, Sr. Lucy Nolan and Sr. Mary Keusal joined the staff. During their tenure, they added a children’s choir and two handbell choirs. The Religious Education Program (CCD) was renamed A.W.A.R.E. (Applied Worship and Religious Education) to reflect the increased involvement of our youth in the liturgical life of the parish. In 1997, the Dominican Sisters of Springfield regretfully withdrew from St. James to consolidate their ministerial presence due of a lack of vocations.
In the year 2000, the oak crucifix that dominates the sanctuary was modified to match the altar furnishings. The mission cross hanging in the back of church has its own story. Back when the old church was turned into a community center for the Village, all of the church related items were removed. Fr. Tom had heard a rumor that some items still remained in the attic, so he went with Trustee Dick Derosier and people from the Village to look. The space appeared empty but then he spotted something hidden in the rafters and found the old mission cross from 1885. Ken Hughes restored it to its original color and finish. The crucifix in the sanctuary and the mission cross in back of church tie together the old and the new.
In 2001 a new kind of war began after the terrorist attack on September 11. While the people tried to return to normalcy, the economy was greatly affected. Unemployment was high and times were difficult. For economic reasons, including declining enrollment, the decision was made to close the school in 2002. At the time the parish itself was still very much alive with 1270 families.
HELP WANTED: ARE THERE ANY ST. JAMES PARISHIONERS OUT THERE WHO CAN FILL IN THE HISTORY OF THE PAST TWO DECADES? Please contact [email protected].
In 2020, we found out that St. James would be going through the Renew My Church program in a grouping with our neighboring parishes of St. Ann in Lansing and St. John in Glenwood. Representatives of all three parishes spent months assessing all of our strengths and weaknesses under the direction of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and it was ultimately announced that we would become a new parish with a new name together with the other two churches. July 1, 2021, St. James merged with St. John and St. Ann. St. John Church was permanently closed, with St. Ann and St. James remaining open as worship sites, and St. Ann hosting the administrative functions and parish records for all three former parishes. In October 2021, Cardinal Blaise Cupich determined that our new name would be All Souls Catholic Parish. He recognized that the name is truly Catholic, or universal, and includes all of the souls in heaven, in purgatory, and in hell, as well as all sainted, blessed, and venerable souls, thus making it truly inclusive of all.