So much goes on across our Diocese during this time of year, with many parishes celebrating First Holy Communion and the Sacrament of Confirmation, our young people graduating from Kindergarten, Elementary School, High School, and College, and families, schools, and parishes preparing for the joyful time of summer vacation. Of course, wedding season is about to begin as well, which brings its own joy to many of our parishes and families. I enjoy visiting our parishes during this time of year, as I get to see all that is going on in each community.
I have spent two weekends in the Charleston Vicariate in May, celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation at several of our parishes. Most recently, I travelled to St. Joseph Parish and to Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Huntington for Confirmations. While travelling to St. Joseph Parish, I met a woman who told me that she too was headed to St. Joseph for Confirmation, attending the first of three Confirmations that she would be going to this summer. A dedicated grandmother, she was looking forward to travelling up and down the East Coast for these celebrations. I took great joy in pointing her out during the Mass: it is always so wonderful to see many generations of a family gathered together for these celebrations.
The next weekend, I was in the Eastern Panhandle of our Diocese to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation in several parishes there. I stayed at our Priest Field Pastoral Center which is very beautiful at this time of year, especially in the perfect weather we enjoyed that weekend. The staff at the Pastoral Center work very hard to make it a beautiful and peaceful place, and Spring brings a real grandeur to its grounds. This Pastoral Center is a wonderful place for a parish retreat or gathering and I encourage you to visit, if you have not been there.
This year, I was very pleased to have a large number of Hispanic Catholic families gathered at St. Joseph Parish in Martinsburg for the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation. The growth of the Hispanic Catholic Community in this region of our Diocese has been exciting for me as your Bishop. We now have two priests celebrating Mass and preaching in Spanish for this community, and they had been joined by deacons who are ministering to the community with them. We are also very fortunate to have religious women working hard for this Hispanic Community. I want to especially thank the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Word who have established a house in St. Joseph Parish, Martinsburg. These Missionaries have been a tremendous help in bringing our Hispanic families together and I am so very grateful for the wonderful pastoral care that they are providing to these families and the beautiful way in which they bring the community together for Mass and the Sacraments. I have seen a pastoral team approach develop in Hispanic ministry in our Martinsburg Vicariate and am thankful for the success they are having in reaching people in need of pastoral care.
My travels in these weeks have renewed in me a sense of gratitude for the priests, religious, and lay men and women who provide such wonderful pastoral care to our people who are receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation and making their First Holy Communion. These celebrations are always such beautiful and faith-filled events for the individual, the family and the parishes. It is a moment of grace for all and a sign of the Resurrected Christ at work in our parishes.
Along with these joyful moments, there are many bittersweet ones, especially as young people graduate from high school and prepare to move on to college, often far from home. Graduation was especially poignant for this year’s seniors of Bishop Donahue Memorial High School, who will be the School’s last graduating class. After over 60 years as a wonderful Catholic High School in the Diocese, originally founded by Archbishop Swint to handle the swelling number of students overcrowding Wheeling Central Catholic High School, it became necessary to close the School and to merge its students back into Wheeling Central Catholic High School, just a few miles away. The realities of the demographic changes in West Virginia were the overriding factor in that decision: this past year saw only 15 students in the freshman class with little prospect of future enrollment being more encouraging. Because of this, our Catholic Schools Office and Diocesan Finance Office took a closer look at the already high and escalating cost of maintaining this school with little hope of sustaining the student body at a level conducive to the educational experience. The reality that Central Catholic High School is just a few miles away and offers new STEM Labs, modernized, interactive classrooms, and a strong Catholic education also offered in the Marist tradition made the decision easier. Catholic high school education will continue to be available to these families in a way that it is not possible in so many parts of our Diocese.
I am keenly aware of the many lives that have been affected by these decisions. I am aware also of my serious obligation to make Catholic Education available and sustainable in our local communities and throughout the State of West Virginia. Indeed, there are several more populous areas of our Diocese that do not have a Catholic high school and would like to have this option for their children, among them the Morgantown area and the Eastern Panhandle. I have always made Catholic School education a priority in my time as Bishop. Indeed, it was because of my commitment to Catholic Education that I decided to confront the serious financial problems at Wheeling Jesuit University, which threatened its stability and future. While it was a difficult decision to take on financial problems created by others, I felt that it was important to save the only Catholic University in our Diocese, whose mission and ministry continues to be so very important for the economic health of our State and the formation of our young people. I know that these decisions can sometimes be very difficult to understand, especially when it is one’s own Alma Mater that is closing. My prayers are with those students and families at this time. I ask for your prayers and understanding of the many challenges that face us in our Diocese and State at this time.