By Lisa Palmeno
St. James Church, the only Catholic Church in
Belvidere, is slated to be replaced by a new, larger
facility to accommodate a growing parish. While many
that worship at the 125-year old Gothic have donated
funds and support the move, others are against it.
In March, Robert and Dan Casey, two brothers
who grew up at St. James, submitted letters with
strong language to Bishop Thomas G. Doran of the
Rockford Diocese. In those letters, they addressed
their displeasure with the project Bishop Doran and
Father Brian Geary, who came to St. James in 2008,
deem necessary to meet the growing needs of the
The Casey brothers say they are disappointed that
they and other parishioners were not allowed to vote
on the decision and that the beautiful Gothic “elements”
of the church will be but a memory when the new
Romanesque-style church is completed.
This year marks the 125-year anniversary of the
church, located at Caswell and Church streets, which has
undergone many changes. Those changes have included the
renovation of the sanctuary and basement after a fire in the
1960s, new furnishings and more throughout the years.
However, the congregation has grown right along with
the population in Boone County. The flock has grown from
711 families in 1979 when Father Miller was there to more
than 2,000 families.
The new church will have enough seating to accommodate
1,000 people at each of the eight masses held at the church;
an expanded narthex; a choir/music section for 50; four
confessionals (everyone’s favorite spot); special inside
features; and an expanded parking lot.
The church brochure, “Building On our faith Capital
Campaign St. James Catholic Church,” shares much
information about the project, complete with artist renditions.
The brochure opens with a letter from Father Geary, who
states that “Bishop Doran has directed that we may initiate
a capital campaign to build a new church for St. James in
Belvidere. I enthusiastically support the effort to build a
new church to meet our present and future needs.”
He said that the small church accomplishes quite a bit:
it offers eight masses each week; teaches 180 students at
the school; puts more than 800 members through Catechism
each year; and outreach is growing.
Geary added in the letter, “Everywhere you look there
are signs of growth and vitality. God is doing great things
through us and now God is calling us to do even greater
things in His holy name.”
Plenty is included about the finances, interest rates, and
the Master Site Plan, Phases One and Two, with diagrams
of what it will look like from an artificial aerial view, from
side views, and from the entryway toward the sanctuary.
The brochure ends with a campaign prayer.
While Robert Casey said he knows the lack of space is
“putting pressure on attendance,” he said other options could
be pursued. He offered alternatives, such as lengthening
the church and building a wing to the north, “with similarcolored
bricks and make it really nice. But those ideas
were shot down immediately,” he said. He also brought up
issues about financing, down-payments on the project, and
Dan Casey talked about the “Rainbow Club Raffle,” that
he organized 27 years ago to save the school. Since founding
the event, he has raised $270,000-$300,000 in funding from
the raffle. He and his brother Robert are hoping that others
who are disagree with the new plans will come forward to
express their feelings and that, just maybe, Bishop Doran
and Father Geary will change their minds about tearing St.
Dan Casey said that, although he will still attend St.
James because it’s where he has always gone, he will not
support the church financially if they continue with their
plans. However, he said his wife will continue to support
His most memorable event at the church was his wedding
on Dec. 1, 1973. His four siblings were married there, as
were his parents and uncles and aunts; he added that his
98-year-old aunt is also very displeased about the plans to
tear down the existing structure. However, he said some
of the other long-time members are very supportive of the
new church and that he has no doubt they will get the funds
they need to finish the project.
Dan Casey said, that in one of the meetings called to
inform parishioners of the new plans, several members
told dissenters to sit down and be quiet. Dan said all the
meetings were “post design,” and that no one got a chance
to vote on the issue and that he and his brother, and about
40 others with whom they have spoken, feel that they as a
members should have had some input.
Dan Casey also said that some of the neighbors in
the nine or 10 houses that will have to be torn down to
accommodate more parking might have something to say
when they find out the parish wants to buy them.
Most of all, both brothers expressed their feelings
about the beauty of the church that is already there; the
stained-glass windows with the names of the families that
donated them back in the 1880s on them; the Stations of the
Cross, which Father Miller had repainted in the 1980s; and
particularly the depiction of the Last Supper.
Dan Casey said, “I’m not against expansion, I’m for
expansion if it’s done in the right manner.”
Robert Casey said, “I could buy into an addition, I can’t
buy into this destruction.”
Father Geary’s return call was missed by the author of
this piece last week, and he has since been busy with other
obligations when calls were attempted. However, attempts
will be made to speak with him about the plans. Contact
with Bishop Doran is still pending.
St. James Church is located at 535 Caswell Street.
For more information, call the church at 815-547-6397,
or visit www.stjamesbelvidere.org.
The above is taken from page 4 of April 22, 2011’s Boone County Journal which is available free of cost at merchants across the county or can be viewed on the internet at: http://boonecountyjournal.com/news/2011/Boone-County-News-04-22-11.pdf#page=3