Our History

As early as 1758, a Jesuit priest, Father Ferdinand Steinmeyer (Father Farmer) traveled on horseback into Basking Ridge on his way to and from Philadelphia. Stopping at the private homes of Catholics who had settled in the area, he would hear confessions, baptize, celebrate Mass, and perform marriages. His personal journal with sacramental records refers to the area as “Bascon Ridge.”

By 1846, Basking Ridge Catholics were under the care of the priests from Saint Vincent the Martyr Church in Madison; Seton Hall College; and the Church of the Assumption in Morristown. Catholics had to walk to great distances when the priest was not able to come to say Mass in their homes.

The first church property, located on South Maple Avenue and Henry Street, was purchased in 1859. It included almost a third of an acre and a 125-year old carpenter shop, which was renovated into a church to seat 85 people.

“There was quite a bit of excitement in Basking Ridge when it was learned that the Catholics had acquired title to property for a church. In those days because of the spirit of intolerance, property for a Catholic Church had to be purchased through a friendly Protestant because if it were known or suspected for what purpose the property was to be used it could not be bought. Mr. Drummond was a non- Catholic at the time he purchased the place. He, later on, became a Catholic.” (McGuiness)

The Church of Saint James was incorporated October 20, 1864 by the Most Reverend James Roosevelt Bayley, DD., a second cousin of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and also a cousin of the 20th century Saint Mother Elizabeth Bayley Seton. Reverend Lawrence A. Hoey of the Church of the Assumption was listed as pastor.

Saint James remained a mission of the Church of the Assumption in Morristown until 1873. We shared a pastor, chalice, buckboard wagon, horse and harness with Saint Joseph’s Church in Mendham, NJ. In 1898, the parish became a mission of the newly-established Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Bernardsville, NJ.

In 1948, Saint James was re-established as a parish with Reverend Edward J. Draus as its pastor. He was assigned two missions: Our Lady of the Mount in the Mount Bethel section of Warren, and Blessed Sacrament in Martinsville. Father Draus inspired the formation of the Rosary Altar Society, the Saint James Players, and the Holy Name Society, and began to raise funds for a new church property.

When Father Joseph Wade was appointed as pastor, he found the church and rectory in great need of repair. During his pastorate (1957-1981), land on South Finley Avenue was purchased; a new church and rectory were completed in 1958. The Federal design was chosen to conform to the character and history of the town. The original church on South Maple Avenue at Henry Street was demolished as part of the sale agreement. The new church, seating 450, was consecrated on May 4, 1980 by the Most Reverend John C. Reiss, Bishop of Trenton.

In 1962, Father Wade purchased a second tract of land, including the white mansion, barn, and carriage house on 15 acres. Men of the parish renovated the rooms in the mansion and women stocked the kitchen and household items for the Felician Sisters, who arrived in 1965 to open Saint James School in the carriage house. The present school building was opened in 1968. The gymnasium was added in 1990.

 

When Father Joseph Wade was appointed as pastor, he found the church and rectory in great need of repair. During his pastorate (1957-1981), land on South Finley Avenue was purchased; a new church and rectory were completed in 1958. The Federal design was chosen to conform to the character and history of the town. The original church on South Maple Avenue at Henry Street was demolished as part of the sale agreement. The new church, seating 450, was consecrated on May 4, 1980 by the Most Reverend John C. Reiss, Bishop of Trenton.

In 1962, Father Wade purchased a second tract of land, including the white mansion, barn, and carriage house on 15 acres. Men of the parish renovated the rooms in the mansion and women stocked the kitchen and household items for the Felician Sisters, who arrived in 1965 to open Saint James School in the carriage house. The present school building was opened in 1968. The gymnasium was added in 1990.

In 1981 Saint James became part of the new Diocese of Metuchen and Monsignor William J. Capik was appointed pastor. This was a time of great enthusiasm in our parish. Many new ministries were established for parishioners of all ages. At the same time, Bernards Township experienced a decade of tremendous growth in population. During these years, the number of weekend Masses increased to six with standing room only crowds at each Mass. Monsignor Capik headed the effort to expand the church. A committee was formed, plans were developed, and ground was broken in September 1998 for the construction of a new worship space costing $7.6 million. The new church, seating 950, was dedicated on December 12, 1999 by Bishop Vincent DePaul Breen. The church which was built in 1958 is now called our chapel and is used for daily Mass, weddings, funerals and smaller liturgical services. The chapel is connected to the larger church by a spacious narthex.

In 2005, Monsignor Capik celebrated his 50th Anniversary of Ordination and retired from active ministry, although most would agree he is no less active today, assisting parishes throughout the diocese, as he was during his pastorate at Saint James. Monsignor Capik was succeeded by Father Glenn Comandini, who made many wonderful improvements to the property, including the relocation of the parish offices from the rectory to the pastoral center in the lower level of the church complex. Father Glenn also shared his talent for teaching by opening adult education mini-courses to parishioners, and teaching foreign languages and religion in Saint James School. Monsignor Sylvester Cronin was appointed as pastor in 2015.