Father James Coombs

on Jul 27th 2008

by Stuart Strothman, August 2002, at the rectory on Old Depot Rd.

Father James Coombs, who resided at the Catholic rectory on Old Depot Road, first came to Putney in 1942 for summer vacations.  His grandfather had lived in Vermont, working as a stonecutter in West Dummerston, and so his father was born here, and had come to know the area’s native beauty; in fact, all of Father Coombs’ brothers and sisters were born in West Dummerston.  By 1942 his parents were able to purchase a house on Old Depot Road, for the family to get away from New York City in the heat of summer, and for the fall foliage.  The young James Coombs felt at home here, and developing an interest in the priesthood, he came from 1948–1949 to attend the Society of St. Edmunds novitiate in, which was located near the depot in Putney, where the Putney Inn is now.  Though he has always come back to Putney, he has lived, studied, taught, and held Mass in many places, including St. Michael’s College, Fordham University, and in the U.S. Navy.  Occasionally, in the 1950s and 1960s, he held Mass at Our Lady of Mercy in Putney, when the pastor was unavailable.

When Windham College was first coming to be, it was located on Old Depot Rd., and Father Coombs worked with the Catholic students there, sometimes at ‘Newman’s Hall,’ the steel building in back of the rectory.  For years, he has assisted with the work at the rectory, and for the parish of Our Lady of Mercy; recently, he has been holding classes on religion for parishoners, which have been described as “very popular.”  He has also been working on developing a history of Our Lady of Mercy and the West River parishes, along with Douglas Labarr of Wardsboro.  It is clear from discussion with many who know him, that the town has benefited from his many years of conscientious dedication.

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