For over one hundred years, the people of Madison have wholeheartedly supported St. James School. On May 20, 1905, St. James Parish was incorporated in response to the needs of Catholics in west Madison. The cornerstone for the school was laid on October 8 and the school was opened on February 5, 1906. The first building was a combination of church and school; the first floor was the church, the second floor a school of four classrooms. The first year’s enrollment was 86 with six grades being taught. Seventh and eighth grade were added the following years.
By 1921 the number of families had tripled; the school could no longer accommodate the 260 children who sought admission. The basement of the new church was built for worship space allowing the first floor church to be converted to classrooms. The church building was completed by July 1924. By 1955 enrollment in the school was 384. In December of 1957 Monsignor Koelzer, the pastor, presented the financial facts and building plans for a new school. The building was originally to be built in 1959, but pressure was exerted to move even sooner. The people contacted Bishop William O’Connor for support and help. He commended the parish for its willingness to undertake this building project. His appeal gave impetus to the building progress.
An important factor in the building of the new school was the willingness of the Beth Israel Center to make their classrooms available to St. James School children until the new school could be completed. Thanks to Rabbi Max Lipshitz grades 2, 3, 5 and 8 attended Beth Israel for the morning; grades 1, 4, 6 and 7 attended afternoon sessions from September 3 to December 19, 1958. St. James School has a long-standing tradition of welcoming families outside the Catholic faith, and an ecumenical spirit is integrated into the fabric of the school.
The new school was the result of group action and is a monument to each member of the parish and the committees who worked so hard to make it a reality. St. James School continues to be supported by the St. James families; the parish and the people who work on many committees continue to be the strength of our parish school.
The School Sisters of Notre Dame of Milwaukee staffed the school from the beginning and served the school through the 1980’s. Sisters of other communities (Franciscan, Dominican & Schoenstatt) joined the faculty over the years. Throughout the years many dedicated Christian women and men joined the staff. Today the eighteen member staff includes a Sinsinawa Dominican sister as the Student and Faculty Spiritual Advisor. The staff continues to be dedicated to Catholic education and is a source of inspiration for both children and families.
Generations of families have attended St. James School. Their belief and commitment continues today. The parish neighborhood has changed from many single family homes to mostly university housing. Originally a parish neighborhood school, students are now recruited not only from Good Shepherd Parish but from all over the city and the surrounding communities. The school today has 138 students in Pre-kindergarten through eighth grade; and Principal McCabe is guiding a 5-year enrollment management plan to increase the enrollment to 200 students by 2020. Students come from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. About half of our school is of color; families are from different religious traditions as well. Diversity adds richness to our school community. There are one hundred school families at St. James School this year.
St. James started as one of many schools in downtown Madison; the school is the last Catholic school in downtown Madison, just 13 blocks from our state capitol. Today, as in days past, St. James is a place where faith-formation of children is our first priority, where excellence in academics is always a daily expectation, where diversity is our strength, and volunteerism a given.
We celebrate our rich past and we go forward with hope!