History of Saint Francis Xavier Parish *
Prior to 1785, Virginia (which
then included present West Virginia) had a state church, the Protestant
Episcopal. Roman Catholic immigrants
were barred from the state. Priests
had to sneak in at night, ever alert of danger, to minister to the few
Catholics who had cloaked their religious affiliation and settled in the
after 1815 the first Catholic family, the Josephs, arrived in the area and
settled in the southern part of Wood County near Belleville. They became the nucleus of a small
Catholic settlement, which developed along the North Fork of Lee Creek.
1836 an Irish priest Father James Reid began making regular missionary visits
to the faithful at Lee Creek. Father
Reid of the Diocese of Cincinnati had as his mission the entire area along
the Ohio River from Cambridge, Ohio to Wood County.
to census figures there were no Catholic families residing in the town of
Parkersburg until the early 1840’s.
1841 In September 1841, the new Bishop of Richmond Richard V. Whelan pays his first visit to
the Catholics in Wood County.
Bishop Whelan dispatches Father Joseph Plunkett on a
missionary journey through the western portion of the diocese. He visits as far as Parkersburg.
Bishop Whelan on June 1, 1845, appoints the Rev. Austin
Grogan, the great “Pioneer Priest of West Virginia”, to minister to the
Catholics in Parkersburg and several surrounding counties. He serves until 1849.
On April 28, 1847, Bishop Whelan purchases the present
church lot Market Street from Beverly and Catherine Smith for $306.00 to be
paid over a three-year term.
The scattering of Catholics along the Ohio River have until now been ministered from Wheeling. Father Robert J. Lawrence is appointed to serve this area. Bishop Whelan decides to make Parkersburg a center of missionary
activity. The bishop states in a diocesan report for 1849, that “a neat brick chapel is being erected at this point, which many circumstances indicate as one likely to become prominent on the Ohio River.” A notation in the archives of the diocese states that the cornerstone for this first church was laid on October 27th, 1849. Father Lawrence moves his missionary headquarters to Parkersburg and becomes the first resident pastor.
The small brick mission church measuring 30 x 60 is completed at a cost of $1,600.00. When built the parish consists of six families residing in Parkersburg and six
families in the surrounding countryside. On occasion, the 30 Catholics in neighboring Pleasants County swell their number. On July 19th, the Diocese of Wheeling is created, being partitioned from the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia.
The parish boundaries include the entire area from St.
Mary’s to Charleston ad as far east as West Union. Visits are also made to the Catholics in neighboring Washington
On May 1, the railroad line from Grafton to Parkersburg is
completed drawing a huge influx of railroad workers who are predominately
Irish-Catholic immigrants. The
Catholic Church in Parkersburg is given the name St. Mary’s. Rev. Thomas Sheehan is pastor.
Additional lots adjoining the church are purchased for the
erection of a school and rectory, which are built in the early 1860’s. Bishop Whelan appoints Rev. Henry Parke as
pastor. A parish census taken August
1, 1858 shows a total of “303 souls.”
The parish is officially named in honor of St. Francis
June 20, 1863, the state of West Virginia is born.
On August 6, eight Sisters of the Visitation arrive at the
invitation of Father Parke to begin an academy for girls. The “Visitation Academy” would later
become known as DeSales Heights. In
the parish the sisters teach Sunday school and organize sodalities.
The Civil War ends.
In August, Father Parke and the congregation begin
construction of a new church to replace the old church which had become
inadequate to meet the needs of the growing Catholic population. Patrick Charles Keely of New York is
selected as the architect. Lysander
Dudley of Parkersburg is awarded the contract for the construction. Meanwhile, at Lee Creek the faithful there
begin construction of a small frame church.
With financial help from the European community through the
Propagation of Faith Society the church is completed and dedicated to the
honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and named the “Church of the Immaculate
Conception.” It becomes a mission
church in the care of St. Francis Xavier.
1869 On May 9, the
new cornerstone is laid for he present church edifice.
1870 On October 2, the substantially completed
church is dedicated. The final cost
of its construction is $59,930.05.
An associate pastor of St. Xavier, Father Thomas Quirk,
begins publication of “The Catholic Messenger” the first Catholic newspaper
in the state.
St. Xavier Catholic Cemetery is established at 14th
and Dilloway Streets.
New stained glass windows and skylight are installed to
replace those damaged by nitroglycerin blast.
First major renovation program on church is completed by
Father Hickey. Church re-opened on July 19.
In the spring of this year a group of Pittsburgh business
parties make an offer of $170,000 for the church and rectory. Father Hickey purchases options on
property at 9th and Avery Street to build a new St. Xavier’s. The church is spared the wrecking ball
however when the deal fails to go through.
Bell tower is domed and a bell is installed. This bell, dedicated to St. Catherine
weighs over 3,000 pounds. The bell
tower dome is designed by Dietrich Kruger and built by Joseph Simpson Higgs.
Two more bells are added to tower. They are consecrated in honor of Saints Brigid and Patrick.
The Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus come to Parkersburg to
reestablish the parish school.
New Stations of the Cross installed.
Second major renovation program commences and is completed
by Father John O’Reilly. Much of the
renovation program is devoted to structural reinforcement of the church. (Completed in 1949).
The parish community builds a new parish school at 9th
and Juliana Streets and establishes Parkersburg Catholic High School.
The Canadian organ builder Casavant builds and installs a
new pipe organ in the church at a cost of $27,000.
Ordinations of priests are generally held a the diocesan
Cathedral in Wheeling but two native sons of he parish, Robert Park, and Ed
Sadie are ordained on June 1 by Bishop McDonnell at St. Xavier. Both will go on to do exemplary work in
the diocese in the fields of youth work education and social ministry.
On November 29 the first of many changes in the liturgy begins as the directives of Vatican II are implemented. A new altar that faces the congregation is placed in the sanctuary and the Latin Mass gives way to a liturgy predominately in English. The Council would usher in a series of reforms in virtually every area of the Church for the next several years. The Council concluded in December 1965.
Parish celebrates centennial of the church on October 8th.
Massive restoration program begun by pastor, Auxiliary
Bishop James Michaels to restore church to original grandeur. Church is added to National Register of
Father Thomas Rafferty, a native son of the parish,
celebrates his Golden Jubilee (50th anniversary) as a priest with
a special Mass with his parish family.
Father Rafferty distinguished himself as chaplain at St. Joseph
Hospital for many years.
A new vehicle of bringing converts into the faith is begun
in the parish called the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). This process, used in the ancient days of
the Church, better prepares candidates for Catholicism. The highly successful program also serves
parishioners as a continuing religious education program.
A new slate roof in installed on the church by the Tri-State
Roofing Co. The slates, imported from
Spain, are complimented with all new copper flashing and guttering.
Father Michael O’Reilly commissions for the most extensive
and elaborate restoration work ever on the church ceiling decorative artwork
and murals. The two-year project,
which costs in excess of $300,000.00, brings together a host of art
conservators, restorers and building preservationists. Their work and skill brings the famed interior
decorations of our church back to their original vibrant hues and clarity.
1997 Parish purchases additional property lots
up 6th and Market Streets for future parish needs.
The former Kresge building located at 609 Market
St. is purchased by the parish for use as a parish hall.
1999 Beverly Hoffman,a parishioner, takes her vows as a
Sister of Charity in Kentucky.
The Great Jubilee and the 150th Anniversary of the erection of the Diocese of Wheeling are celebrated. Due to St Xavier's significance in the history of the Diocese, Bishop Schmitt selects the church as a pilgrimage site for the faithful of the Diocese bestowing special graces to all who visit and pray at the church.
The parish advances technologically. In May, the parish website (www.stx-pburg.org) goes on-line. The website contains parish information, schedules, pictures, history, and links to other church-related websites. E-mail is used to notify parishioners of news and upcoming evernts.
Renovation work on the parish center, which began in 1998, is completed. Among the improvements are a new facade and sidewalk that greaty improve the front appearance of the building. Across from the center, three dilapidated buildings are demolished and a concrete parking lot for the use of the parish is constructed. Renovations to the church are made to improve accessibility. A wheelchair ramp and entry are added at the rear entrance behind St. Joseph's altar. Accessible restroom facilities are added to the sacristy area and in the right front vestibule area of the church.
Parish celebrates the 150th anniversary of its establishment.
Father Casey Mahone is appointed pastor.
Father Mahone begins a series of lectures on the Catholic faith at the Parish Center beginning in May. The popular lectures attract a wide audience of both Catholics and non-Catholics. The topics include “Separated Brethren” which examines various Protestant denominations. “The Gospel of John” and “The Book of Revelation” complete the lecture series.
April 2, 2005 Pope John Paul the Great dies and is succeeded by Benedict XVI.
The Children’s Liturgy of the Word begins during the 10:30 AM mass. This catechistical program introduces young children to the importance of God’s message in the Scriptures.
On May 25, Father Soosai Arokiadas is appointed associate pastor. He is a member of a Indian missionary order the "Heralds of the Good News". This era would see many priests from this order coming to the diocese and receiving their initial training at St. Xavier
Additional property on Market Street is purchased for a planned expansion of the church parking lot.
Bishop Michael Bransfield appoints Father R. Eric Hall as pastor of St. Xavier and St.Monica's parishes.
On October 26th, Father Tim Grassi celebrates a Tridentine Mass for a capacity crowd at St. Xavier’s. This form of the Mass was used prior to 1965 and Vatican II.
On March 25th, the funeral Mass of West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Joseph Albright, a life-long, active member of the parish, is broadcast state-wide via television and internet. It is the first broadcast ever of a service at St. Xavier.
A downtown soup kitchen, “Stone Soup Kitchen” is opened at the Parish Center to meet the needs of many displaced persons in Parkersburg.
As part of the ongoing capital improvements, additional property is purchased by Father Eric Hall to augment expansion of the church parking lot, and a major overhaul to the decades-old wiring of the church is completed.
Father Hall commissions a new altar of sacrifice, which was hand crafted by parishioner Michael McKay. The first Mass on this new altar was celebrated on April 25.
Father John Rice is appointed pastor. A Franciscan missionary from India, Father Vincy Illickal, is appointed associate pastor.
The parish is instrumental in bringing a new evangelization/educational tool to the area. Catholic Radio WOUX FM 105.3 begins broadcasting on September 18th. Affiliated with St. Paul Radio and EWTN the station offers 24/7 programming to a wide area in both West Virginia and Ohio.
Father John "jump starts" the church renovation plans which had begun in 2007 as part of Father Casey's "Preserving our Past, Preparing our Future Campaign". He unites parishioners behind an ambitious makeover of the church. In January a temporary worship area is arranged in the parish center as work begins on the long awaited floor replacement of the church. New porcelain tiles with intricate designs and craftsmanship are installed throughout the church, vestibule and sacristy areas. The church floors are taken down to the joists, leveled and rebuilt complete with new and improved fiberglass insulation underneath. More than 100 parishioners physically help in the renovation at one point or another.
The renovation becomes a stunning transformation with a refurbishing of the interior chandeliers, a new Children's gathering space, improved wheelchair access, and a state of the art speaker system with audio/visual capabilities is installed. In addition, sacristy areas were remodeled and the vestibules painted.
Parishioners "go rejoicing to the house of the Lord" on Pentecost Sunday.