St. James at Sag Bridge Church
and Cemetery, Lemont, Illinois

The Self Guided Walking Tour of St. James at the Sag Cemetery
New Edition (2023) Now Available.

40 pages, softbound, 4 x 6 inch Pocket Book

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The Illinois and Michigan Canal
The First Catholic Church in Joliet, Illinois
The First Chicago Church Records, 1833-44
St. James at Sag Bridge Catholic Church and Cemetery
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Self Guided Tour of St. James
at Sag Bridge Cemetery

Self-Guided Tour of St. James at Sag Bridge Cemetery is a walking tour of the historic cemetery that includes asampling of descriptions of people and their tombstones found there.

"The booklet is a two-part walking tour circuit with each part an hour long. The cemetery visitor uses a map to follow 38 written entries describing the tombstones and the people who are laid to rest there," Thornton said. "The booklet does not contain a listing of all the burials because there are thousands of people buried there," she said. The booklet also contains a general history of the cemetery and church and poems about the historic site that Nancy Thornton gathered while doing research.

A new improved 2023 edition is now available.
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The Founding Families
St. James Catholic Church at Sag Bridge is said to be founded by Irish immigrants working on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. But is there any evidence of this? How does one know? One way is to read the epitaphs on the oldest gravestones. The lots in the cemetery are for the most part owned by the descendants of the pioneers of the parish. During the 19th century the Irish custom was to inscribe the county and parish of origin on the gravestones. Click this link for a list of places and names found on gravestones in 1987. Are you related to these founding families of St. James? Obituaries and Gleanings taken from Old Newspapers have been added here.

St. James Records
On August 22, 1988, the LDS Church (its genealogical unit) filmed several record books from Lemont churches including St. James. You can view these books online at or by ordering Film number 1571873 from any Family History Center at a LDS church and pay a small rental fee. The records on the film are:

St. James Sag Baptisms from 1857 to 1873.
Confirmation 1889
Pew Collections from 1878
Cemetery Fence Collection started 1880
Pew Rents from 1878
St James Sag Lemont Baptism 1854-1873.
Pew rents 1876, 1877, 1878
Baptismal registry 1857, 1858, 1859, 1860, 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, started by Fr. Michael Hurley.
Starting in February 1864, baptisms by Rev. J. Mackin, 1865, 1866, 1867, 1868,
Starting in June 1868, Rev. A. Eustace, to May 1869
Marriages starting in Sept 1883 by Rev. J.A. Bollman. 1873, 1886, 1887, 1888, 1890,
Then back to baptisms, 1869, by Eustace, 1870, 1871, 1872, 1873.
Michael Murphy affidavit 1937, for his bap in 1875.
Confirmation class 9-11-1889
Starting July 1882 baptisms by J.A. Bollman, 1883 to Sept 1903.
Starting in Oct 1903, Paul J. Rosch, baptisms, 1904, 1905, 1906, to Nov. 1907
Starting in Feb 1908 C.P. O’Neill O.S.A. and March
Then Rosch again Aug 1908 , to June 1909,
Then starting in Oct, 1909 Vincent Brummer, 1910 to Nov 1915
Marriages starting Sept 1883, Bollman to March 1903.
Marriages by Rosch Oct 1903, to Feb 1909
Marriages April 1910 to Vincent Brummer to Nov 1914
Confirmation June 1902,
St. Alphonsus, records, 1867-1879. (in Latin)
St. Alphonsus records, 1880-1912, (in Latin)
St. Alphonsus records, 1912-1915
St. Patrick 1880-1915 starting with records of J.E. Hogan
St. Genevieve (Chicago)
SS Cyril and Methodius 1884 confirmations
Ditto, records 1882-1889 in Latin
Ditto 1889-1915
Ditto marriage 1884-1915
Ditto confirmation 1907
Ditto deaths 1889-1915

Cemetery Renovation
A few years after moving to the small community of Lemont, Illinois (located about 25 miles southwest of Chicago), the small Roman Catholic parish Nancy Thornton attended decided to hold a sesquicentennial celebration. In preparing for the event the pastor researched and published a cookbook which included bits of anecdotal history about the church and the cemetery which surrounds the church building. The 150-year celebration in 1983 started Nancy on a personal quest to discover more of the history of the little Irish church and cemetery, now called St. James at Sag Bridge Parish.

Nancy was a newspaper reporter at the time and with her talent for writing and researching, she started gathering the documented local history and a picture gallery of gravestones. However, it was difficult to research facts about the earliest history of the Chicagoland area because the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 destroyed much of the governmental and private records stored prior to that year. Nevertheless, Nancy pursued the quest for facts as best she could.

The origin of St. James at Sag Bridge Church and Cemetery dates back to the building of the Illinois and Michigan Canal in the 1830s. The workers who built the canal were largely Irish and later settled in the area of the canal. Because they were mostly Roman Catholic and were duty bound to hold regular church services and bury their dead in only hallowed ground, cemeteries were among the first plots of land to be set aside for public purposes. Churches were among the first public structures to be built. During her research Nancy concluded that the historic significance of St. James Church and Cemetery was so great, as far as Northeastern Illinois settlement history was concerned, that she prepared the nomination papers to list the site on the National Register of Historic Places. The church and cemetery were listed on the National Register on August 16, 1984.

When a renovation project started at the cemetery that was supposed to clear away the old and damaged nineteenth century tombstones, Nancy voiced her objections. Many of the oldest tombstones were lying flat and when the workers brought in trucks and large "bobcat" mowers they did more damage to the gravestones than had been done by weather, vandals, and neglect, etc., in the previous 100 years of the cemetery's existence.

With the help of several organizations and a dozen volunteers, Nancy was able to do some preservation work in the cemetery. The Upper Illinois Valley Association, now known as the Canal Corridor Association, hired noted gravestone preservation expert Lynette Strangstad and the group worked feverishly repairing gravestones during a three-day period in June 1987. Then the Archdiocese of Chicago decided that liability concerns were too great to allow any more preservation work. All gravestone preservation work came to a halt. The cemetery now looks better kept than it ever did, maintenance-wise, but many historic gravestones were buried in the "renovation" process and are only seen today in Nancy's marvelous collection of photos of gravestones at St. James at Sag Bridge Cemetery. In 2008, the active parishioners created their own St. James Church Web site, Please be advised that some of the old history on the site is incorrect, and should not be taken as "gospel." Nevertheless, it is wonderful to see the activity and enthhusiam that the present-day parishioners have for their historic church. — Nancy

Copyright 2008-present Nancy Thornton

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