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Diocese of Wheeling

In West Virginia

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Wheeling, Diocese of (WHELINGNENSIS), Comprises the State of West Virginia except the following counties, which are in the Diocese of Richmond: Pendleton, Grant, Mineral, Hardy, Hampshire, Morgan, Berkeley, and Jefferson; also the Counties of Lee, Scott, Wise, Dickinson, Buchanan, Washington, Russel, Grayson, Smyth, Tazewell, Carroll, Wythe, Bland, Floyd, Pulaski, Montgomery, Giles, and a portion of Craig Co., in Virginia; square miles in West Virginia, 21,355; in Virginia, 7,817; total 29,172. The Diocese of Wheeling was formed from the Dio-cese of Richmond by Apostolic letters dated July 23, 1850. The Rt. Rev. Richard Whelan, D.D., at that time Bishop of Richmond, was transferred to Wheeling as the first bishop of the newly-created see. He had been consecrated the second Bishop of Richmond, March 21, 1841. The earliest record preserved in the Wheeling chancery sets forth that Rev. Francis Rolf was appointed pastor of Wheeling in 1829. He records a baptism performed by him on November 3, 1828. There is evidence of priests having visited Wheeling at an earlier date. Wheeling was established as a town in 1795, and one vague tradition has it that it took its name from a certain Father Whelan, a Catholic priest, who came occasionally to minister to the spiritual wants of the members of his flock. The western part of Virginia, which in 1863 became the State of West Virginia, had never many Catholic settlers, nor does it appear to have had many professing any religion. In 1912 the Catholic population was estimated at about 50,000, and the total population at 1,000,000. A letter preserved in the archives of the Diocese of Wheeling dated Baltimore, April 13, 1832, and signed James Whitfield, Archbishop of Baltimore, states the inability of securing a priest to be stationed at Wheeling, but the letter goes on: “I desired the priest who attends a congregation, on the way to Wheeling, about 40 miles on this side (Brownsville if I remember), to go and give Church once or twice a month.—He seems to say that he would comply, as far as he could, with my wish.”

From February, 1833, to January 1, 1844, Rev. James Hoernerwas in charge of the Catholics in the Wheeling district. He was succeeded by Rev. Eugene Comerford, who was in Wheeling till the arrival of Rt. Rev. Richard Whelan, Bishop of Richmond, in November, 1846. The bishop took charge of the missionary work in the Wheeling portion of the Richmond See till he was transferred as the first Bishop of the new Diocese of Wheeling. The zeal of Bishop Whelan in laboring under the most difficult and trying circumstances for a period of twenty-four years is still remembered by many of the faithful, and often referred to as a striking example of genuine saintly piety. He did much manual labor in addition to the other duties of his episcopal office. The present Wheeling cathedral was planned by him, and built under his supervision. He was architect and supervisor, and did much of the actual work in building the edifice. He also established a seminary of which he took personal charge, and some of the priests who were educated by him are still laboring in the diocese. St. Vincent’s College for laymen was also instituted under his auspices. Bishop Whelan had among his self-sacrificing clergy one especially conspicuous for his saintly life, the late Rev. H. F. Parke, V.G. This servant of God met a tragic death by being crushed under the ruins of a falling building, April 9, 1895. Bishop Whelan (d. July 7, 1874) was succeeded by the Rt. Rev. John Joseph Kain, D.D., who was consecrated the second Bishop of Wheeling, May 23, 1875. In 1893 Bishop Kain was appointed coadjutor to the Archbishop of St. Louis, Missouri, and became archbishop of that see, May 21, 1895. He died on October 13, 1903. During the eighteen years of Bishop Kain’s administration, the work, so well begun by his able predecessor, was continued and made rapid progress. He was consecrated at the age of thirty-four and devoted his talents and energy to the increase of clergy, the establishing of new missions, and the building of churches and parochial schools, so that, at the time of his transfer, the diocese was well established, although it was still greatly in need of priests, about thirty-five of whom covered an area of 29,172 sq. miles. The Catholics were much scattered and there were but few points at which the necessary support of a pastor could be obtained.

Rt. Rev. P. J. Donahue, D.D., was consecrated the third Bishop of Wheeling, April 8, 1894. At the time of his appointment he was rector of the cathedral at Baltimore. During the eighteen years of Bishop Donahue’s administration the number of clergy has been doubled, many new missions established, and the following institutions founded in the diocese: Home of the Good Shepherd, situated near Wheeling, where 200 wayward and homeless girls are provided for the sisters in charge conduct a large laundry and sewing school; the Manual Training School, near Elm Grove, W. Va. (West Virginia), six miles east of Wheeling, conducted by the Xaverian Brothers, and St. Edward’s Preparatory College, Huntington, W. Va., in charge of the secular clergy of the diocese, of which the Rev. John W. Werninger is the first president. Besides these institutions two large additions have been built to the Wheeling Hospital, and a new orphanage for boys at Elm Grove, W. Va., a large addition to St. Vincent’s Home, Elm Grove, W. Va., St. Joseph‘s Hospital at Parkersburg, W. Va., and St. Mary’s Hospital at Clarksburg, W. Va., have been erected. Prior to 1895 there was one religious order of priests, the Capuchin Fathers, and three religious orders of women, the Sisters of St. Joseph, Visitation Sisters, and the Sisters of Divine Providence. Since then, the Marist and the Benedictine Fathers have been introduced, as also the Good Shepherd Sisters, Sisters of St. Francis, and the Felician Sisters. There are academies for girls at Mt. de Chantal (near Wheeling), Parkersburg, Wytheville, Wheeling, and Clarksburg. There are a Catholic high school at Wheeling, and 16 parochial schools in the diocese.



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