James Sag Church & Cemetery
The church at St. James at
were the first white men to see this area later known as the Sag Ridge.
The intervening high ground on which now stands the church, rectory and
cemetery was formed about 10,000 years ago during the last Ice Age.
When the French first discovered this area, in 1673, local Indians had
been using this site as a burial ground.
present St. James parish was established not by the French but by Irish Catholic
farmers and workers on the
early as 1816 a campaign had begun for the building of a waterway link between
the Great Lakes and the
first water traffic began travel on the route from Bridgeport
April 17, 1833, Bishop Joseph Rosati of
described the first church as a simple log cabin, which stood in a field close
to the north side of the road leading to the station of the Chicago & Alton
Railroad and the Chicago & Joliet Electric Lines.
The cabin had been the home of Michael and Bridget Ford.
They moved from her around 1850 to a farm in
the earliest priests to serve the Sag community was the Rev. William Brennan,
succeeded by others including Rev. Hypolite du Pontavice, Rev. John Ingoldsby
and Rev. Denis Ryan who was appointed pastor of St. Dennis Church in 1846.
Until this time Sag Catholics were being cared for from
1906 picture of St. James
Rev. Ryan’s death on September 18, 1852, Rev. Michael O’Donnell was
appointed pastor of Lockport
and it was under his leadership that construction began on the present day St.
James Church. The cornerstone that
was laid on October 19, 1853. A Mr.
Roughnot who owned and operated a quarry donated the stone for the church.
The church was constructed out of pale, yellow Lemont limestone that
apparently has some curious qualities. Other
structures built from that same limestone include the
first resident pastor, although only briefly, was Rev. T. D. O’Sullivan.
However it was Rev. Joseph A. Bollman who directed the construction of
the first parish rectory, a frame structure, together with a parish hall and
barns on two acres of land opposite St. James Church on August 8, 1882.
The present steeple was added to the church in 1890.
In 1912, Rev. Vincent Brummer, then current pastor, directed the
construction of Saginaw Hall just down the road from the rectory.
1930, John Carroll of Oak Park,
the cemetery is completely filled up or, as the cemetery officials like to say,
bought up. It holds approximately
5,000 to 7,000 graves on approximately eight acres of land.
The oldest grave is that of Michael Dillon, born in 1799 and who died in
1816. Two years before
devastating tornado tore through Lemont and St. James Church on March 27, 1991
that took the roof off the church. Since
that dark day, almost $200,000 was raised from individual donors to restore the
church and today it’s as beautiful as it once was.
area has gained a reputation of being quite haunted that the pastors and many do
not believe. The first reported
ghost story dates back to September 30, 1897 and was reported in the Chicago
Tribune. Two musicians Professor
William Looney and John Kelly had given a performance and after finishing around
1 a.m. decided to stay in the dance hall overnight rather than attempting the
long journey back to
an hour later, Looney was awakened by the sounds of hoofs on the gravel road.
He looked out the window and saw a carriage.
It came up the road to the entranceway, stopped and turned around.
He saw what appeared to be a girl in a white robe just appear out of
nowhere. She got into the coach with
the driver. They turned around again
and just as they passed the archway, the coach, driver and everything simply
was said by old timers that the ghosts were those of a young assistant to the
priest and a young housekeeper at the rectory who fell in love in the early
1880's. They fought against their
feelings until they finally decided to elope.
Late one night he hitched up a team of horses and a wagon and told her to
wait for him halfway down the hill so they would not be seen.
As he approached she called out “come on”.
The horses bolted as she boarded, turning over the wagon and killing them
both. They were buried together in
an unmarked grave in St.
James has acquired the name “Monk’s Castle” because it has been
said that if unwanted visitors were caught trespassing out here at night, the
monks would apprehend and force them to kneel down on ball bearings all night in
prayer. There were never any monks
stationed here. It’s another of
the several folk legends, which has attached itself to St. James.
Other versions of the story tell of a monk who chased children from the
cemetery with bellowing shouts and a blazing light.
The “mad monk” was most likely the Rev. George Aschenbrenner who was
known to have chased would-be vandals from the grounds using a flashlight and a
One of the first tells the story of a procession of figures dressed in black monk robes roaming the field just east of St. James at night carrying candles and chanting in a language that sounds like Latin.
Aschenbrenner was a bit of a skeptic when it came to the many ghost stories
associated with St. James, however in an article for the Lemont Centennial book
in 1973, he wrote, “Then there are many legends and tales about the Sag which
whet the appetite of the historical minded.
Who was the pastor who put a curse on the parish (or did he) because of
the wickedness of the people here and then walked away from the parish in
And what about the apparitions of ghosts at St. James, some sixty or seventy
years ago? There are a number of
such tales we have come across in questioning the old timers.
Many such legends are doubtlessly born from the dearth of authentic
historic accounts of the past. And
yet the authentic accounts, if we can unearth them, could well prove more
fascinating than the legends.”
very interesting encounter came from a Cook County Police Officer and a two-page
report submitted by him. The event
occurred on the Friday before Thanksgiving in 1977.
The officer was on patrol about 2:30 a.m. when he drove past the
cemetery. As he looked through the
opened gates, he observed eight or nine hooded figures dressed in monk-like
habits walking slowly up the hill towards the church and rectory.
there should be no one in there at that hour of the morning, he called out to
them to come out and be arrested for trespass.
The figures just continued to walk to the top of the hill.
He then grabbed his shotgun from the car, called for back up and began to
pursue these individuals himself. The
figures quickly entered into the pitch-black cemetery and all the while being
chased by the police officer that was stumbling over tombstones and unleveled
terrain. The group of strange
figures however was not having any difficulty at all.
In fact they appeared to be silently gliding up the hill in unison!
police officer arrived near the top of the hill within seconds of the others,
but no figures could be seen or heard anywhere.
He immediately ran down the other side of the ridge towards 107th Street
but still found no one. After a
thorough search of the region with canines, no clues as to the identities of
whereabouts could be ascertained. He
later believed that what he pursued that evening were not human beings but some
form of ghostly monks or phantom manifestations.
He based his conclusions on the lack of effort used to climb the hill in
almost total darkness, his inability to hear a footstep or even a rustle of
leaves blanketing the cemetery grounds, their complete and total disappearance
and the inability of trained tracker dogs to pick up even the slightest essence
of a trail. He filed these and other
findings in his now famous, two-page report.
are scattered reports by people in the recent past who were actually chased out
of the graveyard by dark figures. One
person swore that he talked to these individuals whose faces were covered with
scars and were dressed entirely in black! During
that same evening, this same group of people claimed they were being watched by
a group of people seen in the rectory windows.
Ploszynski confided to friends just before his death that he could often look
out his rectory window at night and see the ground raising and falling as if the
earth itself was breathing! On many
occasions, he noticed strange hooded figures wandering the graveyard at night.
And perhaps some of these figures were not spirits at all but a nearby
group of Satanists! The cemetery has
been plagued by grave robberies and desecration over the years and much of that
could be the work of cultists that reside nearby.
Reports of monks seen roaming the area at night carrying books and
candles and chanting in a language that resembles Latin was common in the
reports include a phantom black stallion seen galloping through the grounds at
night and the face of the devil appearing in rectory window.
The large statue located on the top of the hill has been seen to move or
change positions from time to time and isolated reports of ghost lights bobbing
among the tombstones.
most current phenomena reported are strange floral scents, which are smelled in
the dead of winter when no flora is in bloom.
It is a cross between lilacs and honeysuckle.
There have been a number of unusual photographs taken at St. James
throughout the years however if you decide to visit; better go incognito.
I’m not sure the pastor would be too happy if he knew you were looking
for ghosts. They should be easy to
Ghost Research Society (www.ghostresearch.org)
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