About St. James:
On May 20, 1881, land was secured for the first Catholic church in Orlando. Bishop John Moore, then second bishop of St Augstine made the purchase. Bishop Moore bought block 33 on the plan of Orlando known as Robert P Reid’s addition, for $1,050.
Shortly after the land purchase, the population of Orlando began to blossom. In 1880, Orlando numbered 200 residents, with a 2000% increase in 1885 to over 4,000. To put this in context, Orange county only had a growth of 20% from 1990 to 1999.
Due to the efforts of Father Felix P. Swembergh and the increased population, the cornerstone for Orlando’s first Catholic church was set on January 23, 1887. The church celebrates its beginning date as 1885, the arrival of Father Swembergh, Orlando’s first resident Catholic priest. Sadly, Father Swembergh did not live to see the church completed, Bishop Moore dispatched him to Tampa.
At the time, an epidemic of yellow fever had broken out, and Father Swembergh administered to the sick. Father Swembergh fell ill himself, and died on October 31, 1887 of yellow fever.
St James church was completed in June, 1891, under the guidance of an interim pastor, Father Joseph J. Creed. Measuring 40 feet by 70 feet, it was designed by Kurz and Allison’s Art Studio of Chicago. The 240 seat wooden structure was of American Gothic design, had a steeply pitched, 50 foot high roof and exposed buttresses. The bell tower at the front entrance was 15 feet square and 45 feet high.
This church was the home for the parishioners of St James until a new church was built, and completed in January 20, 1952. The new church took 14 months to compete and had expanded seating for up to 1000 parishioners.
Beginning in the late 1970’s St. James underwent a period of great change when in October of 1976 a fire destroyed St. Charles Borromeo, the original Cathedral of the Diocese of Orlando. One year later, on November 20th 1977 Bishop Thomas Grady dedicated St. James as the new Cathedral for the Diocese. From 1979 to 1985 the parish life center and Blessed Sacrament Chapel were constructed while the Cathedral itself underwent more renovations that dramatically altered the look and feel of the building.
More than 20 years later the most recent round of renovations was undertaken. Beginning in July of 2009 the Cathedral was closed and the celebration of Holy Mass moved to the social hall in the parish life center. When the Cathedral was re-dedicated on November 20, 2010 by Archbishop Wenski it bore little resemblance to the old building. Much of the original architecture, including the stone front and rose window were restored. A new eastern transept was added, increasing seating to nearly 1200, the giant Wicks organ was renovated and expanded and the choir loft was also enlarged.