The white clapboard church with a 66 foot bell tower would be at home in any New England town. But this one was in a small southern village, recovering from war, in an area where land was cheap and railroads and sawmills attracted workers. St. James had been named a mission from St. Mary’s in Alexandria in 1874; Father Dennis O’Kane, SJ, came to say Mass in the home of the Sewall family on West Street and in the Taylor home.
Mrs. Gibson (Victoria) Terrett began soliciting funds for the church in May 1873, encouraged by the bishop of Richmond, James Gibbons. By September, Mrs. Terrett had collected $126.00 to hand to Father O’Kane. Construction began that same year on a field the Sewall family gave to Bishop Gibbons for a dollar. That land is the present site of our cemetery on West Street, where the earliest graves are dated 1866 and 1868. Bishop Gibbons dedicated the little church on October 18, 1874. The railroad ran a special train to bring people from Alexandria, Georgetown and Washington to join the local community for the event. The Catholics of Falls Church had a home in St. James!
It’s a mystery! Why are the earliest graves in our cemetery dated before St. James was even named a mission? According to cemetery records, Margaret I. Burke died in 1866 at age 19, and Bennet Carroll was 70 when he died in 1868. Both are buried in St. James Cemetery.