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Marist Presence in the Missions of West Virginia since 1902

West Virginia Mountains

It was daunting territory in the early 1900s. West Virginia, especially in its central part, is a rugged mountain state. The priests had to be resourceful and as rugged as the country itself.

Lack of quick and sure communication in a mountainous country, as well as the scattered and isolated condition of Catholics in these sections gave rise to most of the problems and difficulties encountered by the pioneer priests in the early days.

Two diocesan priests, Fathers Gormely and DeLoan, were appointed successively to take care of all the Catholics who were sprinkled over a rough and then roadless territory of about 4,000 square miles.

Around the turn of the century, Bishop Patrick J. Donahue entrusted pastoral care for the territory of Buckhannon and Richwood, an area almost twice the size of the State of Delaware, to the Marists. For first appointments to the district, the Society of Mary recommended the Reverend Nicholas Hengers. Hengers was a native of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. He joined the Society of Mary and came to the United States of America, where he was ordained a priest on June 21, 1901.

On December 15, 1902, Father Hengers, poor in missionary experience, poorer in cash, but rich in hope and apostolic zeal left Wheeling for Buckhannon.  He was joined, after a short time, by Father John Glodt as assistant and later by Father John Capesius.  After a year or so, Father Joseph Delaire succeeded the latter.

The first Mass ever offered in the territory was celebrated by Father DeLoan of Weston on January 1, 1902. At the close of 1903 a church was built by the congregation. The building was soon found too small for the congregation. During the summer and autumn of 1905 a church and a small rectory were built.

Two important factors contributed to the success of the pastoral work in Richwood and Buckhannon: the establishment of Catholic schools and of Catholic hospitals.

Holy Rosary, Buckhannon, WV
Holy Rosary, Buckhannon, WV

In 1920 Buckhannon had a Catholic population of ten families. In May 1920 St. Joseph Parish was founded with Pickens and Century as its principal missions.The memory of the Pallotine Sisters' success with building a hospital in Richwood led Father Hengers to consider their founding one in Buckhannon. A renovated mansion was opened as St. Joseph's Hospital on March 28, 1926.The Pallotine Sisters were not only engaged in the operation of their hospital but they also opened a one-room school in the rear of the church.

Upon leaving Buckhannon Father Hengers was named pastor of St. Vincent's Parish, Wheeling, in 1936.He served there until his death on July 7, 1939. In Buckhannon Father Hengers was succeeded by Marist Fathers James Palmowski, James Reilly, and Matthew Faschan.  Today Holy Rosary Parish in Buckhannon is served by Father Ronald Nikodem, S.M., and Brother Roy Madigan, S.M.