However, after the sudden announcement over the winter that the school would close after classes ended this year, the community is now left with a vacant structure and no answers regarding the building’s future.
During the early 1950s, Wheeling had two Catholic high schools, but few students from Moundsville, McMechen and Benwood could afford to attend. In 1952, the Most Rev. John J. Swint, bishop of Wheeling; the Rev. Benjamin F. Farrell, pastor at St. Francis in Moundsville; the Rev. Joseph J. Daly, pastor at St. James Catholic Church of McMechen; and Rev. John J. Griffin, pastor at St. John Catholic Church in Benwood, formed a partnership to make the dream Bishop Donahue a reality. They purchased property adjacent to St. James Church, McMechen, midway between Moundsville and Benwood. The doors were first opened in September 1955 to an enrollment of 43 freshmen, who made up the first class of Bishops.
A few years later, 35 students became the first graduates in 1959.
During the first years of the school’s history, Sister Mary Gilbert and Sister Ellen Francis, both natives of Brooklyn and faithful Dodgers fans, taught all subjects to the new freshmen for the school’s initial two years.
Last month, Bishop Donahue graduated its final class, following the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s decision to close the school, announced in January. The historic building’s future is now uncertain.
According to Tim Bishop, marketing and communications director for the diocese, no decisions have been made regarding the McMechen structure. Bishop previously stated the diocese had no plans to sell the building, and said it would continue to be used for “educational” purposes.
“There are no current plans for use of the building,” Bishop said. “I know that the principal and many of the teachers are still in the building collecting paperwork and tying up loose ends.”
A sports uniform giveaway is also planned for June 8 from 6-8 p.m. at the school. It will be held on a first-come, first-served basis for student-athletes and alumni.
Some educators at Bishop Donahue already have moved on to find other employment. This past week, science teacher Jarett Kuhns was hired by the Diocese of Steubenville as principal of St. John Central Elementary and High School in Bellaire.
And Bishop Donahue guidance counselor and religion teacher Amy Granato will soon begin employment at Weirton Madonna High School as a religion teacher, but said she will never forget Bishop Donahue’s impact.
She said Bishop Donahue staff are currently archiving transcripts and records for storage, to be completed by June 30.
“They can shut the building, but they can’t snuff out the spirit of this community and family. It just isn’t going to happen,” she said. “Our kids are still going to be who they are and they will take Bishop Donahue with them wherever they are. They will bring the spirit of the school to all of those other schools.”
Keeping a Legacy Alive
Anna Lehew, a member of the Save Bishop Donahue Foundation, recently said students are making an effort to keep the school’s Blessing Box, an outdoor food pantry, open. It will remain stocked throughout the summer, as it is housed outside of St. James Church.
“This is a perfect example of what Donahue teaches — to be a vessel for God and to serve others,” Lehew said. “This was their concern (on the last day of school), to not leave the Blessing Box empty. This is what sets this school apart from others. They didn’t learn to serve from their shepherd in Wheeling, they learned this in between the walls of that tiny school.”
Graduating senior Junior Holmes said his last day at school was bittersweet.
“It’s somewhat difficult and somewhat peaceful,” Holmes said. “I’m moving on now into my life, but at the same time I’ll miss going through the halls and knowing who everyone is. I know most of the students aren’t going to have that at other schools.”
Soon-to-be junior Josie Purpura will attend The Linsly School this fall after spending two years at Bishop Donahue.
“It’s really sad,” Purpura said. “I’m friends with everyone here and we will be split up. There won’t be as much time to hang out with everyone.”