The first Mass in Davis (then Davisville) was offered in 1869, in the parlor of Maurice Reardon’s Hotel, on the northeast corner of Third and C Streets, by a priest who came from Sacramento. The hotel burned in 1890. Reverend Patrick Scanlon, who commuted from Sacramento, became the first resident priest in Yolo County in 1870. Father Scanlon and other priests offered Mass intermittently for the next several years, primarily in the Yolo schoolhouse in Davis.
The first Catholic Church in Davis was built in 1875 on the north-east corner of Third and I Streets. At that time, the pontifical annual reported there were 12 Catholic families living in Davis.Reverend Peter Kaiser of Woodland was pastor when the church was constructed.
The Diocese of Sacramento would not be created until 1886. The first diocese of northern California, which also included all of Nevada, Utah and part of Colorado, was the Diocese of Grass Valley — founded in 1860. The boundary was just north of Auburn, and at the Colusa County line. As such, Davisville was part of the Archdiocese of San Francisco; this is why, on June 10, 1881, Archbishop Joseph S. Alemany of San Francisco dedicated the church to the honor of St. James, as a mission of Holy Rosary Parish in Woodland.
With the creation of the Diocese of Sacramento in 1886, renamed from the Diocese of Grass Valley — respecting the fact that Sacramento was also the capital for California, all of the parishes and missions, in Yolo County now belonged to the Diocese of Sacramento. After the Church was dedicated to St. James the Young, Mass began to be said in Davis and in Winters on alternate Sundays. Mrs. Isaac Chiles, member of the pioneer Chiles family, donated an acre of land for a cemetery across from the church.
In either December of 1912 or January of 1913 a parish was established for the communities of Winters—Davis, with headquarters in Winters. Before that, both missions of Winters and Davis were the responsibility of the parish in Woodland. The first pastor for this new parish was Father John Quinn.
The first St. James wedding took place in 1916. June Rose Plant and Valente Francis Dolcini were the happy couple. Sadly, a fire of undetermined origin destroyed the church in July of 1934, but a new Church had already been built in 1931 because of the rapidly growing population. The new $12,000 brick Church was located on the Northeast corner of 5th and C streets. This church was dedicated by Bishop Robert Armstrong, the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento. Father James Grealy was pastor in Davis when the new church was dedicated.
ln 1938, with Davis population growing more rapidly than Winters, the pastoral center for the parish was moved from Winters to Davis, and a new rectory was built in Davis next to the brick church. Reverend Joseph Madden served as Pastor.
The first organization in St. James Parish was the Catholic Ladies Guild, later known as the Altar Society. The first couple to be married in the new Church were Audrey Chrisman and Lloyd Doneen on May 26 1933.
St. James Catholic Church 1875
St. James the Young
It is important to note that the Church is dedicated to St. James the Lesser, one of the 12 apostles, son of Alphaeus and Mary. There was another apostle also named James, who was the son of Zebedee. St James the Lesser is celebrated for his commitment to prayer and justice. He received the name of "the Just" because he was often found on his knees in the Church, worshipping the Lord and asking forgiveness for his people. It is said that St, James the Lesser as favored with special appearances of Christ before the Ascension. This same apostle is the author of the Epistle of James in the New Testament.
St. James the Lesser served as Bishop of Jerusalem and was a key figure at the council of Jerusalem where it was decided that Gentiles who accepted Christian teachings did not need to be circumcised. He was held in high repute because of his confidence in the Lord's strength. Unfortunately, this very fact, is is believed, is responsible for his death as he was fatally stoned in 62 or 63 A.D. after defending the power of his God.
Bishop Armstrong presented the charter establishing the California Aggie Newman Club in 1935. The ceremony was held in the green wooden campus gymnasium. With a growing Catholic presence at the new college, the pastor at St. James was also named the Newman chaplain.
With the deeding of the property on the corner of B and 14th Street, in 1950, a parish hall was constructed to afford a place for the growing social needs of the parish, and building up of the community. Two barracks from the now-closed Fort Beale were purchased, and through the labor of literally scores of parishioners, the barracks were combined to be one building. It was dedicated on October 7, 1951.
Many years of growth followed and the Parish was led by many honorable Priests, most were of Irish descendant. With continued growth in Davis, as well as the University, additional land was purchased at the current site of St. James in 1959. The new St. James site was part of a multi-million dollar development in 1962, with surveys documenting that there were 500 families now part of St. James. On May 14, 1963, in the midst of this planning, Father (later Msgr.) Andrew Coffey was assigned as pastor. He would spend the rest of his life here in Davis, dying on August 12, 2010, serving this community for nearly fifty years.
By 1964, the brick church was deemed inappropriate for worship needs. The parish hall on the new site was remodeled to be used for worship. Social and other events were still held in the hall by screening off the sanctuary. This did not last long, and by 1968, and the introduction of the new liturgy, the hall was used only for Sunday worship as a church. At that time, there were six Masses.
Realizing the necessity of providing for spiritual cultural and social needs of the Catholic students attending the University at Davis, the Diocese of Sacramento undertook the task of providing such ministry in the Davis community through the Newman center. The facilities of the old St. James Parish were turned over to the student ministry when it was decided to build the new parish facilities at the present site.
At this time, there was also a need seen for a parish school to be built as well. On September 7, 1965, the school opened with 90 students in primary grades, taught by three nuns from the Daughters of the Holy Spirit. (Today, while they are no longer served by women religious, their legacy of love and scholastic excellence continues as our school serves over 300 children, providing the finest in Catholic education.) The extended care program for students and current TK classroom, was the former convent, built in 1968.
In 1973, plans were made to build a new parish church. The new parish church, the church in which we currently worship, was dedicated on February 15, 1976 by Bishop Alden Bell, the sixth Bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento.
With a sanctuary capacity of 580, the Catholic population in Davis is served by six Sunday Masses (five in English and one in Spanish) with Masses at the Newman Center for the University of California, Davis, community. As well, the parish provides sacramental services to the migrant camp population of hundreds of agricultural workers who work in the fields for six months of the harvest season. To support and facilitate the scores of diverse programs of the parish (from faith formation, youth and young adult community-building activities; adult education and social justice collaboration; to sports, social, and civic events), a memorial center (which houses the parish offices, gym, and meeting rooms) was built in the mid-2000's.
With over 2,000+ registered families, the community of St. James gathers together as a Catholic parish, worshipping and giving praise to God, to lift up everyone in faith, hope and love. ALL are welcome.