WHEELING, W.Va. (WTRF)
This month marks 170 years since West Virginia Catholics had an official community to call their own.
The chancery of West Virginia’s diocese may look brand new on the outside but inside, its history extends far into the past.
A change in state boundaries, a Civil War and countless cultural changes later, the Diocese continues to serve the Catholic community of the Mountain State after 170 years.
Bishop Mark Brennan says it was formed when its first bishop realized the Diocese of Richmond covered too large an area to serve the faithful on what was then the west side of Virginia.
“He saw the need here, and that it was too much for one bishop, this huge diocese, and they made the sensible decision and Rome went along with it.”Bishop Mark Brennan, Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston
We may complain about the condition of the roads now, but believe it or not, traveling priests had it even harder back then.
“Transportation difficulties, remember, we didn’t have interstate highways back then, no railroads, just started”Bishop Mark Brennan, Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston
Since it was created in 1850, the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese has grown alongside its parishoners.
The bishop says West Virginia’s physical isolation and boundaries with several other states has led to differences between church communities.
While he thinks the diocese has had good relations with other faiths, Bishop Brennan feels Catholics don’t often share their beliefs because of the country’s Protestant tradition.
“So American Catholics have generally been reluctant to reach out and share their faith with other people. That’s not because they’re Catholic, it’s because they’re American.”Bishop Mark Brennan, Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston
As for the future, Bishop Brennan hopes that Catholics can put recent scandals behind them and remember what they’re supposed to be about.
While Wheeling-Charleston is a small diocese, he sees it as an opportunity to bring back those who have left the church, and keep a tradition going that spans longer than West Virginia itself.
“The hope is that if you can reach out to people who have walked away, they’ll come back and walk with us.”Bishop Mark Brennan, Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston
The Wheeling-Charleston Diocese serves around 75,000 Catholics across the state.