The Story of the Church of
St. James the Lesser
CHAPTER ONE: FROM HOLY FAMILY TO ST. JAMES
St. James Parish began its history as the Holy Family Mission of St. Joachim’s Church on Butler Street in Trenton for the growing number of Sicilian immigrants and their families in North Trenton. In 1916, the Reverend Griffin, Pastor of St. Joachim’s, realized there was a growing spiritual need among the ever-increasing number of Italian immigrants in North Trenton. In 1918, he brought this matter to the most Reverend Thomas J. Walsh, the third bishop of Trenton. Bishop Walsh recognized the need and purchased a property on East Paul Avenue. He purchased the closed Berkley Theater located on East Paul Ave between Nassau and Dexter Streets. Part of the property is now the Rossi Memorial Park. The bishop had the theater converted into a chapel and named the mission church Holy Family. The mission was overseen by priests from St. Joachim’s church.
With the growing Italian Community in North Trenton, the Holy Family Mission became an independent
parish in March of 1919. The Reverend James A. Bulfin was appointed as the first administrator. The first baptism in the new parish was held on March 23, 1919. Marguerita Gaudiosi, her brother Vincenzo and Maria Bellezza were received into the church. On April 20, 1919, Vincenzo LaMarca and Giovannina Vizzini were the first couple wed. When Father Bulfin was transferred to Sacred Heart in Vineland, NJ, the Reverend Louis Guzzardi became administrator on July 3, 1919, and shortly after became the first Pastor of Holy Family. He rented a house at 606 Brunswick Ave to serve as the church rectory.
Soon, the converted movie theater chapel became insufficient to meet the needs of the community. It was decided by the Bishop and the Holy Family community to build a new church. Property was purchased on East Paul Avenue that stretched from Chase Street to Princeton Avenue.
Mr. and Mrs. Frank Curran made a donation to fund the construction of a new church. With the funding of the construction of a new worship space at Chase and Paul Avenues donated, the bishop agreed to change the name of the parish to honor the Curran’s son, James, who died in World War I.
The construction of the first St. James church began at the end of 1920. Bishop Walsh presided over the laying of the cornerstone on December 20, 1920. Construction on the brick building moved quickly through the early months of 1921. The Church was opened for services on March 19, 1921. One day later, on March 20, 1921, the parish celebrated its first baptisms in the new building. Lillian Davis, Francesco Persico, and Rosario Vaccarro were baptized into the community. On April 3, 1921, Guiseppe Russo and Giuseppina Modica became the first couple married in the church.
Three weeks after Easter, on April 17, 1921, the church was dedicated by Bishop Walsh assisted by Pastor Fr. Louis Guzzard. The church was named and dedicated to St. James the Less. St. James was an apostle of Christ. He is acknowledged as the author of the Epistle of James and as the first Bishop of Jerusalem. The term “Less” is used to distinguish him from the other Apostle -- James. “Less” may refer to James being younger, shorter or having been called to service later.
Throughout the 1920’s, the Community of St. James grew. The church established several vibrant societies in the parish. According to Erasmo S. Ciccolella’s 1986 book, Vibrant Life: 1886-1942 Trenton’s Italian Americans, the parish had a very active social life in the 1920’s. One of the earliest activities noted in Ciccolella’s book was an Euchre party held on May 23, 1923. Euchre is a early card game similar to bridge. His research goes on to identify other events in 1923 -- a Young Italian American Club Dance, a lawn festival, and a Carnival. In 1924, they planned a St Patrick’s Day Eve Celebration that reflected the mix of Irish and Italian parishioners. On August 30-31, the parish held a festival in honor of St. Joseph; in September, the parish celebrated the feast of San Calogero.