History of the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater

1829 – 1907

Around 1829, discharged servants of the Hudson’s Bay Company settled on the Cowlitz Prairie and in the Willamette Valley.   The majority of them were French Canadian Catholics.  The people began writing petitions to Canada in 1834 asking for priests.  They wrote again in 1835 and in the spring of 1838.

In November 1838, two priests arrived from Canada and Mass was celebrated for the first time in the region then known as “lower Oregon”.  This began the Quebec Mission to Oregon country.  On November 25th they celebrated Mass in the Fort Vancouver school house.  Fathers Blanchet and Demers made the fort their home base and eventually set up a chapel in an old store.

First Priests

Standing: Rev. F.X. Leclerc, Rev. Van Holdenberker, Very Rev. Louis Shram V.G. Seated: Bishop Junger


1st. St. JamesOn May 31, 1846, the first church outside the fort was dedicated. The first St. James measured 83 feet long by 36 feet wide and 20 feet high.  The brick, stone, and mortar church could accommodate about 500 people.St. James Church became a cathedral, in 1850 when the diocese of Nesqually was formed.   Most Rev. Augustine Blanchet was named Bishop of Nesqually with residence in Vancouver, Washington Territory.


1st Cathedral
1st St. James Cathedral

In 1856 Mother Joseph and the Providence Sisters from Montreal arrived in Vancouver.

In 1884 the cornerstone was laid for the new cathedral.  Mother Joseph was heavily involved in the building of the cathedral.   The brick was made in Vancouver by the Hidden Brick Company.   The cut stone came from Camas and the stained glass windows were designed and made in San Francisco.  The columns are Philippine cedar and the interior is plaster with fir wainscoting.

Mother Joseph
Mother Joseph, born Esther Pariseau, was one of the founders of the Sisters of Providence in the Pacific Northwest.
Taken about 1890, this photo shows St. James (in the background) and the surrounding area.
Completed in 1885 under the direction of Bishop Junger, the second bishop of Nesqually, St. James was the centerpiece of the Diocese of Nesqually.  Measuring 145 feet long and 60 feet wide, St. James can accommodate approximately 800 people.


In September 1907, the the territorial See was officially transferred to Seattle. The title of St. James Cathedral was transferred to Seattle with the bishop, and our St. James became a parish church.

Silent film. St. James Mission centennial Mass was celebrated by the Most Rev. Gerald Shaughnessy on November 24, Thanksgiving Day. Celebrants and Knights of Columbus process from the rectory to St. James Church, and out of the church after the Mass.



View of St. James from the bell tower of the Providence Academy.

Missions attached to St. James were St. Mary, Pioneer (Ridgefield), 1867; St. John, Glenwood (Orchards), 1868; Sacred Heart, Battle Ground, 1877; St. Thomas, Camas, 1881 & Washougal, 1901; St. Joseph, Vancouver, 1952; Our Lady of Lourdes, Vancouver, 1955.

Knights of Columbus prepared for Mass celebrating the centennial of the arrival of the Sisters of Providence to Vancouver, Washington, 1956. Taken outside St. James Church.
Procession at St. James celebrating the centennial of the arrival of the Sisters of Providence in Vancouver, Washington, 1956
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From Chronicles on Providence Website: “At half-past ten his Excellency, our Most Rev. Archbishop Connolly, entered the St. James former-cathedral, preceded by thirty-five priests, Rt. Rev. Monsignori and Father Abbots, and the Most Rev. Edward J. Howard, Archbishop of Portland in Oregon, who was the occasional speaker for the Mass. Sister Eloise’s high school Choral Club sang magnificently and added to the solemnity of the occasion. The Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus formed a dignified Guard-of-honor to His Excellency, Archbishop Connolly who pontificated. The Most Rev. Archbishop Howard spoke of the heroic sacrifices made by our pioneer Sisters under the leadership of Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart.”


Banquet for women religious and guests following the centennial Mass. Held in the Providence Academy auditorium.

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Dinner for the clergy following the centennial Mass at St. James.