Founding Pastor: Fr. Edward M. Tearney led the parish from 1892 to 1910, except for 1897-99 when he served as rector of the cathedral in Richmond. Fr. Dennis O'Kane, S.J., who, with other Jesuit priests, came for 18 years to the Falls Church Mission to say Mass every third Sunday, was responsible for naming the parish “Saint James” in honor of Cardinal James Gibbons, the primate of Baltimore.
Parish Founded: 1892
Church Dedication: 1902; original mission church dedicated in 1874
Additional Dates of Importance:  1905: Saint James School [original building] built by Father Tearney. 1906: Sisters of Perpetual Adoration arrive to staff the school. 1907: First convent for the sisters completed; sisters also begin a boarding school for girls called Academy of Perpetual Adoration. 1923: Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) take over administration of the school (chosen by Father van Ingelgem). 1930: IHMs begin a boarding school for girls entitled Villa Maria Academy. 1948: Current Saint James School building replaces the original building, which was demolished. 1949: Marianita Kindergarten building houses first kindergarten classes at Saint James. 1952: Church enlarged with new transepts added to the original stone edifice, new stained-glass windows commissioned, new marble altar with carved pergola installed, and rectory building moved and enlarged to make room for new church construction. 1955: Primary wing with church hall added to the school complex. 1963: New convent built for the sisters. 1964: Old convent demolished.  1977: Saint James Parish celebrates 75th anniversary of its founding. 1977: Bell carillon installed in bell tower in honor of Monsignor Heller, who retired that year. 1992: Saint James Parish celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding. 1999: The Joseph B. Knecht gymnasium complex dedicated. 2017: Saint James Parish celebrates the 125th anniversary of its founding.

School Information:

Saint James Catholic School
Founded: 1906
Founding Pastor:  Fr. Edward M. Tearney

The Sisters of Perpetual Adoration came from New Orleans to teach at Saint James School in 1906. Tuition was $1 per month. The school quickly gained enrollment; by 1919, the Sisters had to turn away applicants. Economic and canonical issues forced the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration to return to their motherhouse in 1923. Father van Ingelgem quickly identified another teaching order, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM), to ensure that the school would open that September, with 92 students. The school flourished from the able efforts and resources of the IHM sisters.

In 1930, to bolster finances during the Depression, the sisters opened a boarding school for elementary-aged girls named Villa Maria Academy, which moved to Lynchburg in 1957. The sisters also worked tirelessly to provide religious education to children in Saint James Missions all over Northern Virginia. In 1948, Father Mullarkey built a new school to replace the original 1906 school, which was demolished. Marianita, the kindergarten, was established as a school facility in 1949.

Father Mullarkey added another wing to the school in 1950. By the early '50s, enrollment had rocketed, and Saint James was the largest Catholic school in Virginia. The sisters conducted separate morning and afternoon sessions with 50-60 students per class (three classes per grade) in each session. Father Heller added another wing in 1955, including an auditorium that has hosted school functions (e.g., kindergarten graduations), parish events, and overflow Masses. In the late 1990s, Monsignor Cosby oversaw renovation of school facilities, adding a new library, music room, art room, science lab, resource rooms and a state-of-the-art computer room, as well as a new gymnasium with facilities for meetings.

Saint James School was awarded the National Blue Ribbon of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education in 1999, 2014 and 2020 for its academic excellence, parental involvement and community support. Saint James is a member of the National Catholic Education Association. In order to keep its accreditation status current, Saint James' faculty and staff completed the VCEA Design for Excellence Self-Study. The visiting team recommended full accreditation in the spring of 2018. The principal and steering committee will submit the documents for the follow-up procedure, planning for excellence. Saint James' students continue to excel in academics, reach out to community needs, support various charities and witness to gospel values of peace and justice. In celebrating 100 years of service to the community, Saint James School remains a model for education and Catholic principles.

Cemetery History:
Saint James Cemetery
The cemetery at the corner of West and Fowler Streets in Falls Church predates the establishment of Saint James Mission in 1874. Several people were already interred there (Margaret I. Burke, 1866; Bennett Carroll, 1868; and possibly several Sewalls) when Sebilla Sewall sold the land in 1873 for the consideration of $1 to the Saint James Mission to build the first clapboard church. After the Gothic church was built in 1902, the wooden church was demolished, and the property became a cemetery exclusively. 
Interred:  There are more than 600 people interred there.

Saint James Cemetery has a rich history of parishioners buried there from the mission years to the present, including priests, sisters and many well-remembered family members and friends. Father van Ingelgem placed a large wooden Crucifix mounted on a concrete altar in the middle of the cemetery in memory of his brother Armand, who died in WWI. Many Memorial Day Masses were offered there, as well as a special commemorative Mass to honor parishioners of the past on All Souls Day 1991, in preparation for the parish's 100th anniversary in 1992. In the 1970s, a new section opened after the old mission rectory was demolished; the Crucifix and altar were later removed.

What Makes This Parish Unique?

An historic and vibrant parish founded over 125 years ago, Saint James is also a mother parish to many of the Catholic communities in Northern Virginia. In 1892, when Saint James became a parish, it was the only Catholic church between Saint Mary in Alexandria and Saint Peter in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. In 1902, the original Gothic stone church was built at Park Avenue and Spring Street; in 1905, the first parochial school was built.

In 1952, the Church was enlarged and embellished with beautiful stained glass windows, marble altar and altar rail, and many other features that give great glory to God. The statue of the pilgrim Saint James commissioned by Father O'Brien greets all who enter the church, reminding them that they are all pilgrims journeying home to God. Located in the heart of historic “tree city” Falls Church, Saint James Parish still manages to feel like a neighborhood church. Saint James Parish continues to be blessed by the presence of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) as an integral part of the life of the parish and school. They administer the three-time National Blue Ribbon School and parish religious education program (PREP). Their hard work and devotion over the past 100 years have helped shape the life of the parish and the Diocese at large.

Parish History:

In the late 1700s, the majority of Catholics in Virginia lived in Alexandria, Norfolk, or wherever railroad tracks were being laid. Until 1873, Catholics in Falls Church traveled to Alexandria or Georgetown to attend Mass, except for rare occasions when a Jesuit priest made the trip to Falls Church to say Mass in the Sewall home. When the people petitioned Bishop James Gibbons of Richmond for a church, he established Saint James as a mission of Saint Mary Parish in Alexandria in 1873. For the next 18 years, Jesuit priests traveled from Saint Mary by horse or train every three weeks to celebrate Mass in a white clapboard mission church built by parishioners in 1874-complete with a 66-ft. steeple.

In 1892, Saint James was formally established as a parish, with Fr. Edward V. Tearney as its first pastor. In 1902, Father Tearney built the Gothic sandstone church on Spring Street to replace the mission church; he built the original school in 1905. Funds for these projects were donated by Ida Fortune Ryan, wife of millionaire Thomas Fortune Ryan. Father Tearney invited the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration to administer Saint James School in 1906. The following year, Father Tearney blessed a new convent for the sisters, who had been living in temporary quarters. The last thing Father Tearney did in 1910 when he left for his new assignment in Lynchburg was to sell his horse “Doc” to his successor, Fr. Joseph van Ingelgem.

Father “Van” inherited not only a burgeoning parish but also a web of missions assigned to Saint James: El Nido (Saint John the Beloved), Leesburg (Saint John the Apostle), Herndon (Saint Joseph), and Purcellville (Saint Francis de Sales). He also rode a circuit on horseback to the Shenandoah Valley-in 1910, Saint James Parish covered 2,000 square miles-from the Potomac River to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Father Van supervised the building of the first church for Saint John in McLean (1913), Saint Francis de Sales (1921) and Saint Joseph (1931). Father Van's quick action identified the IHM Sisters as a replacement for the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, who were forced to leave in 1923. The IHM Sisters also catechized children at Saint James missions in Northern Virginia in the first half of the 20th century.

Fr. Edward Mullarkey, pastor from 1931 to 1953, used war bonds he received at his 25th ordination jubilee to build a new school building in 1948. Additional classrooms were added in 1950, as the post-WWII boom hit Northern Virginia. He also enlarged the church, pushing back the sanctuary wall, adding large transepts, new stained-glass windows and a new marble sanctuary and altar. Fifty years after the original church was consecrated, Bishop Ireton laid the new cornerstone on October 12, 1952. Father Mullarkey died of a heart attack six months after the remodeled church was completed. He is buried in Saint James Cemetery.

When Father Heller became pastor of Saint James in 1953, the parish and school were continuing to grow beyond the limit of its facilities. Saint James required two sessions per day (with 50-60 students per class per session) to accommodate an enrollment of 2,295. In 1955, Father Heller built another wing onto the school with nine classrooms and a parish hall, today known as “Heller Hall.” He also moved forward Father Mullarkey's dream of building a Catholic high school in Arlington. Classes at Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High School convened for the first time in 1957. Father Heller was named a monsignor in 1961. He retired as pastor in 1977 but remained as pastor emeritus until his death in 1982.

As pastor from 1977 to 1980, Msgr. Justin D. McClunn supervised renovations to the church interior to reflect liturgical directives of the Second Vatican Council. Fr. Robert C. Brooks served as pastor from 1980 to 1990, Msgr. William T. Reinecke from 1990 to 1992, Fr. William J. Schopps (parish administrator) from 1992 to 1994, Msgr. Cosby from 1994 to 1999, Fr. Cornelius O'Brien from 1999 to 2006, and Fr. Patrick L. Posey from 2006 to 2019. The current pastor, Fr. Paul D. Scalia, ministers to a parish of more than 3,000 families, with a very active Hispanic community and religious education program. For more information, see Doers of the Word: 125 Years of History at St. James, by Carol Anne Jones, 2017.

For more information about Saint James, please visit: https://www.stjamescatholic.org/