About our Parish
“What good is it if one has faith, but does not have works?” (James 2:14)
The Church: The first Catholic Church in the Lee area was St. Mary’s, built at Twin Grove (two miles east of Lee) in 1864. As a mission, a priest came once a month for Mass from Mendota. Prayer services were held when a priest was not available. By 1875, the population of the area had increased and permission was granted for a parish in Lee. Local labor built the present building and St. James was dedicated on June 17, 1878 in the, then, Diocese of Chicago. Both St. James and St. Mary’s were made missions of St. Patrick’s in Rochelle. In 1906, St James was made an independent parish with St. Mary’s as its mission and its first resident pastor, Fr. Henley, was appointed. In 1908 St James became part of the new Rockford Diocese. When St. Mary’s church building became unsafe, sometime between 1912 and 1924, it was abandoned and members became part of St. James Parish.
The church building has undergone many improvements and renovations since its dedication in 1878. The first renovations were in 1906, when a heating plant was added to the church and shelter sheds for horses were added to the west of the church. In 1949, a fire destroyed these shelter sheds, and caused grave concern for the beautiful stained glass windows on the west side of the church. In the 1960s, major changes were made in accordance with Vatican II. A new forward altar was added, retaining the back altar. Repairs were made, and a building fund was established. In 2003, while the sanctuary and nave were totally repainted and trimmed and new carpeting laid, services were held in the parish hall. In 2004, the sanctuary was renewed, utilizing the backdrop from 1960, and the artist Dean Olson-Ramos completed a painting that represents the Holy Land at the time of the Crucifixion over the altar. Elements included are a representation of the Temple and a local farmhouse belonging to the family that donated the 1960 backdrop. He also repainted all the statues. In 2011, a handicap ramp was added to the building and the bathroom made handicap accessible.
The Rectory: In 1906, land adjacent to the church was purchased for a rectory. It was soon finished and included an office for the pastor and, at times, rooms for parochial education classes. Repairs and extensive remodeling were completed in the early 1960s, and fresh interior decorating was done in 2000. A home on County Line Road was purchased in 2005 to serve as a rectory so that the former rectory could serve as the church office building and additional classrooms.
The Parish Center: In time, the parish recognized the need for a facility to house the religious education program. In 1973, the center was completed and dedicated on September 16th, housing a full kitchen and capability for eight class rooms. It is also used for meetings, Bible studies, and parish events.
Cemeteries: St. James maintains two cemeteries: Calvary Cemetery in Lee and Twin Grove Cemetery at the site of the former St. Mary’s. The latter, which had fallen into disrepair, was renovated by volunteers over a two year period.
Parish Family: St. James Parish includes a wide geographic area with members from Lee, Paw Paw, Shabbona, Steward, and Waterman communities and two school systems. Many serve as religious education teachers, sacristans, Eucharistic ministers, servers, lectors, ushers, musicians, song leaders, choir members, linens and altar flower helpers. Parishioner involvement with the N.I.C.E. Center Food Pantry and the Shabbona Nursing Home is part of our outreach ministry. A Thursday morning prayer group is active along with phone and e-mail prayer chains.
Religious Education: Classes for grade school students from kindergarten through ninth grade are held from September through May, teaching them about their faith, preparing them for First Communion through Confirmation and a life-long Christian commitment. The Youth Ministry focuses on helping high school students complete Confirmation and prepare for adult life as a Catholic Christian. Bible study sessions are held for adults who want to more intently study the Bible. For adults who are interested in knowing more about the Catholic faith, whether they have been away from the church for a long time or because they are considering becoming Catholic, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults is offered as needed.
Organizations: St. James parishioners are active in three organizations. Milan Catholic Ladies is the remaining active circle of five Catholic ladies’ groups that were formed beginning in 1925 under Father Charles Kelly. All the ladies of the parish are members of the Altar and Rosary Society, which promotes the Rosary and cares for the needs of the altar in the church as well as other church needs. The group also assists families with funeral dinners. In 2010, the first St. James Local Council of the Knights of Columbus under Father Bonaventure Okoro was formed. The founding principles of the organization are Charity, Unity, and Fraternity. In addition to their charitable activities, the men have increased storage space in the center and improved the kitchen.