St. James Church: Heart of a Community

New St. James Church

Article Contributed by
Joan V. Cusimano Lindquist

Campanilismo: a wonderful Italian word that expresses the closeness, or better yet, the unity of parishioners who live within the sound of the same church bell. For those of us who lived in the residential areas that were part of Brooklyn Square–

Derby Street to the south, Harrison Street to the east, and those who lived in the Gifford and the Rogers Buildings in the Square itself, St. James parish on Institute Street was the heart of our spiritual community. How often we were called together by that church bell, the campana, summoning us to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, sounding out joyfully on special occasions, and tolling solemnly for the death of a parishioner. The sound of that bell was part of my childhood spent on Derby Street, just around the corner of Hanchette Place and Victoria Avenue.

Assigned by the Bishop of Buffalo to found a parish for the growing Italian American community living in neighborhoods adjacent to and beyond Brooklyn Square and what is now known as the Lost Neighborhood, Fr. James Carra established St. James Roman Catholic parish in 1910. The church itself went from a humble frame building on Victoria Avenue to a red brick church on the corner of Institute Street and Victoria Avenue, dedicated in 1915. In June of 1966, the old St. James church was demolished, and a modern, circular Romanesque church, built on the footprints of the old, was dedicated on February 11, 1968.

Old St. James Church

When I was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, St. James’s pastor was Fr. Pasquale Colagioia, later Monsignor, and the parish was very large with at least four to five Masses said every Sunday. Holy Days followed suit, and church traditions were followed closely and reverently during Advent and Lent, the present liturgical season. Frances D’Angelo, whose father, John D’Angelo, was a member of the all-male, all-Italian Imperial Band, recalls the solemnity of part of the Good Friday service when the band played dirges or marched to a single drum beat in a religious procession formed at St. James Church. The statue of Our Lady of Sorrows, the Sorrowful Mother dressed in black, was carried on a vara, a special platform to support the figure, by men and followed by women, all dressed in black and wearing shawls, silently praying—a visual expression of the sorrow of Christ’s death on the cross.

Tina Mallare recalled this procession and the overnight prayer vigil that was observed each Good Friday in the church where the statues were draped in purple cloth, only to be revealed again in the glory of Easter Sunday. She also recalled how the life-size replica of Jesus was taken down from the cross and placed in a glass casket, illuminated from the inside, and carried through the neighborhoods that surrounded Brooklyn Square by men from various Italian Catholic men’s societies, in particular La Societa di San Sebastiano, founded by immigrants from Tortorici, Sicily, whose patron saint was St. Sebastian. The route they followed began at Fenton Park, proceeded to Victoria Avenue, then to Foote Avenue and Allen Street, with a return to the church—solemn communal and spiritual gathering.

The moving and memorable personal experiences from those in St. James’s past will be carried with us through this Lenten season to the joy of Easter when we celebrate with all of the symbols of Rebirth and New Life that Spring brings us. Buona Pasqua.

To read Janet Walberg’s previous genealogy columns or to delve deeper into her writings and insights for searching out and recording your own family’s genealogy, please go to and visit Janet’s own web page.