Our History

History of St. James Roman Catholic Church

1865 - 2017


The Catholic Community of Saint James Roman Catholic Church enjoys a long and rich history dating back to 1865. The Community's ongoing vibrancy and Catholic presence represents over 150 years of growth and progress since its founding.  Despite lacking a resident, full-time pastor, the Catholic community flourished because of lay support, involvement and commitment.

In the early years of St. James, the Catholic community in northern Columbia county was first called St. Patrick Church. Irish born Father James Smyth O’Sullivan was the first priest ordained in the new Diocese of Albany in 1847. In 1854, he became pastor at St. Mary Catholic Church, Hudson, with Chatham and Copake as missions.  The parish community continued to grow and flourish. A new church, organized under the name of St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church, was built in 1865. This 300 seat wooden church with steeple stood on Church Street, opposite the entrance to the Chatham Fairgrounds.  A church cemetery was located on the same site. It appears from early church records that cemetery land was purchased long before St. Patrick Church was built. The cemetery remained there until all remains were transferred to the newer cemetery in Ghent, New York.

As the congregation grew, the Reverend James M. Moriarty was welcomed as the first resident pastor in 1865 and remained until January, 1884.  During his administration, a new sacristy was added, a rectory was purchased and the church structure was enlarged. The community continued to realize congregational growth and financial health. Between 1884 and 1892, the parish was served by four different priests.

Reverend James J. Walsh, the fourth resident pastor, served from January 1892 until 1905.  During this time period, the name of the church was changed from St. Patrick to  St. James.  A site for the new church was purchased on the corner of Hudson Avenue and Coleman Street. A new cemetery site in Ghent, New York was also purchased.  The old church building on Church Street was demolished in 1897 and the new church edifice of St. James was begun on May 25, 1897.  Its construction advanced until 2:14 a.m. March 19, 1904, when a fire of unknown origin gutted the church.  Despite this setback, construction began again, and the new church was dedicated on June 18, 1905 by the Most Reverend Thomas Burke, D.D., Bishop of Albany.  The church was completed on July 29, 1905. Father Walsh became pastor of St. Mary, Hudson on July 31, 1905.

Father Cornelius E. Linehan succeeded as pastor, and served for 15 years until his death in 1920.  Father John J. A. O’Connor served as administrator until January 16, 1921.  Succeeding pastors, Fathers Michael F. English, John J. Finn, and  David Foran continued to support and develop the local Catholic community as did their predecessors.

The untimely death of Father Foran resulted in a six-week interim appointment of Father James G. Hart.  In January, 1941, Reverend Charles J. McCormack was named as pastor, and served until his death in 1968.  His assistant, Father Joseph L. Halloran, served briefly as administrator. 

Father Joseph M. Siniskey, appointed in June 1968, served until 1992. During his pastorate, the Second Vatican Council (popularly known as Vatican II) was called by Pope John XXIII to meet the challenges of the contemporary world. No longer were the laity to be passive in worship or ministry. Priests now said Mass in the language of the people. Altar tables were placed in the midst of the congregation. Catholics were no longer spectators or bystanders, but full participants in the life of the church. All of this was reflected in the renovation of St. James Church, when the worship space was redesigned in 1974 to reflect Vatican II teachings. This renovation also included the additions of a Gathering Space and a Blessed Sacrament Chapel for daily Mass and small group prayer.

In 1992, Father Gary P. Gelfenbien was named as pastor by Albany Diocese Bishop Howard Hubbard. Under Father Gary's leadership, the Catholic Community of St. James continued to flourish based on its past achievements and Vatican II commitment. The parish community thrived in faith and action. Parish lay ministry was enhanced and religious education programs were expanded. St. James gained a reputation as a welcoming parish community open to committed Catholics and all seekers. Through enriched liturgies, choirs, outreach,  faith development programs, the arts, and relevant preaching, St. James became a church home for many where diversity was welcomed, friendships flourished and faith was supported.

With congregational growth, the 1974 building renovation needed updating. Another renovation took place in 1999.This renovation included the addition of nine classrooms, a parish library, a renovated parish hall, air conditioning, new Lady Chapel for daily Mass, Reservation Chapel, Baptistry,  Reconciliation Room, new and enlarged Gathering Space, and a renovated Church worship site. A beautiful hybrid pipe organ was installed in 2010.

The parish continues to be a unique, vibrant community, with a beautiful and functional worship space as its base for proclaiming the love and compassion of Christ.

Following the retirement of Fr. Gary in 2014, Fr. George Fleming became our newest pastor and is assisted by Fr. Dan Quinn, the Associate Pastor.  Fr. George is also the pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Valatie and St. Joseph Church in Stuyvesant Falls and Stottville.  Together, we make up the Catholic Community of Northern Columbia County.