After 18 years as a mission from Alexandria, St. James was formally established as a parish in 1892. Father Edward V. Tearney, the first chancellor for the Richmond Diocese, came north at the direction of Bishop Augustine van de Vyver to be the first pastor. The only priest between Alexandria and his home town of Harper’s Ferry, Father Tearney also inherited missions in Fairfax Station and Leesburg. Father Tearney led St. James until 1910, except for two years (1897-99), when he was rector of the cathedral in Richmond.
Father Tearney built the new stone church on Spring Street in 1902, and the original schoolhouse in 1905. At his invitation the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration from Louisiana opened the school in September 1906. In 1907, Father Tearney blessed the new convent the Sisters built. The next year, he wrote to the bishop about the plight of the Catholics in the Ballston/Clarendon area who could not afford the 20-cent trolley fare to Falls Church or the pew rents at Holy Trinity across the river in Georgetown. He was concerned also for the Catholics at Ft. Myer and in the “little hamlet” of Ingleside, all of them numbering around 232. “These people are like sheep without a shepherd,” he wrote, “…living within my boundaries but living beyond my reach.” Father Tearney thus planted the seed for St. Charles Borromeo, the first daughter parish of St. James. Before he left St. James for Lynchburg where he died in 1935, he sold the new pastor his horse.
Father John J. Bowler, a native of Ireland who grew up in Harper’s Ferry, had a short tenure at St. James (1897-99) and left little history here. He became Bishop van de Vyver’s vicar general in 1903 and administered the diocese following the bishop’s death in 1911.