Saint James History
The first evidence of Roman Catholics in Rocky Hill comes from around 1850. While it is unclear when the first Mass was celebrated in town, it is known that the "upper room" of Academy Hall, the present headquarters of the Rocky Hill Historical Society, was leased by the Rocky Hill Ecclesiastical Society, who in turn leased it for the celebration of Masses while the first St. James Church was being built on Chapin Avenue. From June 1877 to February 1880, the priests of St. Mary's Church in East Hartford ministered to the Catholics of Rocky Hill. Although the Chapin Avenue land was purchased December 3, 1878 from Ralph N. North for $300.00, construction of the church did not begin until 1880, when Fr. John D. Ryan became Cromwell's first resident pastor at St. John's Church and received jurisdiction over Rocky Hill. The corner stone for St. James Church was laid in 1880. The church was dedicated in 1882, but not used until 1883. From 1883 until 1946, St. James was the mission church of St. John's in Cromwell. In 1920, Fr. James E. Derwin became pastor of St. John's Church and in February 1945, he purchased land adjacent to the Chapin Avenue church. On November 30, 1946, Bishop Henry J. O'Brien established St. James Parish with Fr. Francis P. Heavren as its first pastor.
During the parish's first year, the St. James Men's and Women's Clubs were organized. Their members provided much support to the Church, from preparing church linen to refurbishing the basement of the church. In 1957, Fr. Heavren was transferred from St. James Church and Fr. Shea was assigned as pastor. By 1959, the community had grown not only in faith and works, but also in size. Some people still remember how worshippers stood outside open doors and windows at the overcrowded Masses. In response, Fr. Shea established a Campaign Committee in 1959. From early 1959 to the day of the groundbreaking, pledges of $305,000 were received, exceeding the $200,000 goal. Groundbreaking took place on October 4, 1959 on 9 acres of land that had been part of the farm purchased by Joseph A. Anulewicz in 1913 and was donated to Saint James for their building site.(A former home of Mr. Anulewicz still sits near the church's west driveway.) By the time building of the new church began, Masses were being held at the Center School, because there was not enough room in the Chapin Avenue building.
From the earliest days of St. James, the education of youths was of special concern to the faith community. Fr. Derwin met with youths at the old West School to instruct them in the faith. With parish volunteers and Sisters of Mercy, religious instruction was provided. In 1950, Ethel Sullivan and Genevieve Lytle approached Fr. Heavren to found a kindergarten in the Chapin Avenue Church basement. When kindergarten became a mandated public school program, St. James' program evolved into a nursery school, which continued until 2009. The youth of the parish have also been and continue to be participants in parish activities, such as the May crowning of the Blessed Mother, the Fife and Drum Corps, scouting, athletics, food drives, Bible school, Strawberry Festivals, a visit to the Pope in Denver, altar service, coffee hours, and many others. The youth, hand in hand with the adults, learn and practice their faith in daily life and give vitality to the St. James family.
The men and women, young and old, alone, in groups or in organizations have worked endlessly, sometimes unknown to others, and in various ways to provide services to the parish. As time passes, the laity continue to take on more responsibility within our faith community. A parish council was formed with many committees to address various needs. Not only have parishioners been involved in their faith community but also community activities. Parishioners became a major part of the very fabric of the Rocky Hill community.
In 1984, Archbishop John Francis Whealon responded to the growth of the community at St. James by establishing a new community, which eventually became the parish of St. Elizabeth Seton. This Mission of St. James celebrated its first Mass on June 23 of that year in a space lent to them by the Wiremold Corporation on Brook Street. In 1996, St. James joyously celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with much festivity. Shortly thereafter, the community undertook extensive renovations to the church building, worshipping in the Parish Center for many months until the work was complete. The evening of Holy Thursday in 2001 marked the first Mass in the new space. Today, the People of God continue to support their parish family through various ministries and activities.