Restoration Work Continues as Campaign To Fund It Begins at St. James, Rockford
“A Lesson in Faith”
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
March 7, 2024

ROCKFORD—The campus of St. James Church here continues to be a busy place with workers all focused on restoring the damage from a lightning strike Aug. 8, 2022.

And as the work continues, the parish officially kicked off its capital campaign to fund the remainder of the work. 

Earlier this month, St. James pastor Father Jhonatan Sarmiento sent a letter to all parishioners with an update on the amount of money needed after insurance reimbursements to repair damage sustained from the fire and water.

“This campaign is about preserving and honoring our history, renewing the present and continuing our mission. Our old church will soon be new, and we need your help. Our campaign goal is much less than we expected. We need to raise $275,000. Insurance and advance gifts will cover the balance,” Father Sarmiento wrote.

What exactly will be accomplished with the Restoration Campaign in St. James Church?

In the early reconstruction planning phase at St. James Parish,  one of the discussions in the construction parish committee was the study of possible repairs and improvements in the church building that were not covered by the insurance and that were needed. In the aftermath of the study and discernment, the team identified and agreed on the primary upgrades and the work that was better to take place now rather than later. These primary upgrades and works guided the focus and the goal of the Restoration Campaign for St. James. According to information provided to the entire parish the weekend of March 2-3, this campaign will accomplish the following in addition to the demolition, construction and repair required because of fire and
water damage:

 Tuckpointing repair in front of the church
Lightning rod installation
New shoring support beams below the sanctuary area
Altar floor upgrade
Sacristy ceiling replacement
Sound system upgrade
Reinforced stairs in the sacristy
Lifts to the basement and main level from vestibule
Lifts to sacristy and basement from sacristy
Decorative corbels across church ceiling
Sanctuary paintwork and new sanctuary side doors
New confessional area, reception area and family bathroom

This amount, along with insurance and advance gifts from parishioners, will restore and bring the 163 year-old parish building up-to-code with its new roof system and accessibility  (See page 3 box).

According to Anna Deroucher, who serves on the Restoration Campaign Committee, “It took a while to get to where we could communicate our fundraising goal.
I am glad we were patient because insurance and generous early donations made our fundraising goal much more achievable.”

According to Father Sarmiento, the committee members working on the restoration have been very frugal and practical in planning for what needs to be replaced, the types of materials to be used and those things that need to be upgraded while the parish is under construction.  And because of their efforts, Father Sarmiento says, “we will soon have a new church inside a historic building.”

“During our faith journey, some moments challenged our perception of blessings, and the lightning strike on Aug. 8, 2022, that damaged our church is no exception. In
the moment, it became difficult to discern our blessings. Uncertainty loomed, and the fate of our beloved church, marred by fire and water, hung in the balance.

“Yet, guided by unwavering faith and fortified by patience, we persevered, and the best outcome we could have prayed for is here,” Father Sarmiento wrote in his letter asking parishioners to discern a gift to the restoration campaign.

Michael Schirger, one of the parishioners assisting in the St. James restoration project, agreed with Father Sarmiento, saying, “Not only is our spiritual home being restored and preserved, but the faith of a parish is being strengthened and reinvigorated.”

“We are so grateful for Father Sarmiento, our parish staff and volunteers, the firefighters who prevented a total loss of the building, the labor and vision of our contractors, and the good people at the diocese who have supported us every step of the way.  We are truly blessed,” Schirger said.

Schirger called the entire process at St. James “a lesson in faith.” 

“In the coming months a fully restored St. James will reopen.  This is a beautiful story and an important time in the life of this parish,” he said.

Deroucher agreed with Schirger that through the catastrophe, the parish has found many blessings.

“Nobody wants their church or home destroyed by fire and water, but we consider this a blessing. Our church building is old at 163 years, so you can imagine it needed costly plaster repairs among others. It didn’t have modern conveniences like a bathroom on the main floor. We are taking the opportunity to bring some of those things into our church during this process. We will have a new sound system and more space to maneuver caskets during funerals. The entire church will be accessible for all. And, of course, we’re installing lightning rods to reduce the chances something like this will happen again,” she said.

Deroucher said that when St. James celebrated 175 years as a parish in 2023 it was clear how many people “here and far away” have ties to St. James.

“Our hope is we’ll all play a part in financially supporting this campaign to restore our church so it can be around for 175 — and many more — years to be a faith home for generations to come. In a sense, we aren’t only restoring our church, we’re preserving our history and ensuring our future,” she told The Observer in an email.

The parish was founded in 1853 and currently is home to about 540 families. During restoration work the parishioners meet for regular Masses in Beauvais Hall across the parking lot from the church. Restoration work is still on schedule to be completed by Christmas of this year.

Anyone wanting to make a gift to the restoration campaign of the oldest parish in the city of Rockford can do so by going online to: or call the parish at 815-962-1214.



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