A History of Sisters in Rural Parish Ministry – Church of Wheeling-Charleston 1965-2010

This project was initiated by Sister Ellen Dunn, O.P., Delegate for Consecrated Life, at the beginning of 2010. Many records with pertinent information about the religious women who have served the churches in the rural counties of the Diocese were entrusted to the Office of the Delegate. These were to be prepared for proper storage in the Archives of the Diocese. Conversations with the Archivist, Mr. Ryan Rutkowski, led to the expansion of these materials and their re-organization for the sake of the history of post-Vatican II Catholic Church life in rural West Virginia. The project covers the years from 1965 until the present with the voices of the religious women who were the pastoral leaders in the rural parishes, working in collaboration with the clergy assigned by the Bishop.

The Story begins with the ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wheeling who responded to the invitation of Bishop Joseph Hodges to go to the rural counties and live and work with the people there. Eventually, additional Sisters from other religious congregations joined the Sisters of St. Joseph, adding to the presence of the Catholic Church, and keeping its presence alive, in the many rural counties of the state.

This Project, Sisters in Rural Parish Ministry in West Virginia, is not an exhaustive presentation. It does not cover every rural county or church; it does not mention every sister who was a pastoral leader during the past forty plus years. It does not have chronological exactness in its details. Rather, it is a story told in broad strokes of the pen, with sisters themselves who served here in years past, speaking in their own voices, recalling their lives of faith and their experiences of rural Catholic West Virginia in the years following the Second Vatican Council (1965 – 2010).

The Project covers a wide range of materials and information. There are first-hand accounts of individual religious women who served in these rural parishes who responded to our search and were willing to recall and relate events from those significant years in ministry. There are pictures and newspaper articles and other documents pertinent to these first-hand accounts. There are Minutes of Meetings and summaries of events which narrate some of the story of this group of Sisters in rural parish ministry. Some financial records are included which demonstrate how it all worked as they shared their talents and energies. There are personnel records and job descriptions; there are records of mediation sessions and the creation of a Process of Conciliation when it was needed. There are letters and other documents which contribute to the overall picture of rural parish life in Catholic West Virginia.

A final ‘chapter’ was added in late November of 2010: a live video interview with three sisters who were there in the rural counties in the late 1960’s and the 1970’s, as well as one sister who is currently serving in rural West Virginia now (2004 – present). The four religious dialogue with each other, recalling the way things were and responding to questions from the project’s managers.