Our Lady of Lebanon, at 2216 Eoff Street in Wheeling, is the only Maronite church in West Virginia and one of only 54 Maronite parishes in the country. It is the spiritual and cultural center for many citizens in the Northern Panhandle of Lebanese descent. The Maronites observe their own special rite, adhering to the eastern branch of the Roman Catholic Church. The patriarch of Antioch is head of the church, under the pope.
Maronites claim descent from the first Christians who received their faith directly from the Apostle Peter, founder of the church at Antioch. Followers of St. Maron, a fourth-century Syrian monk, these early Christians remained separate from both Rome and the Eastern Orthodox Church, retaining the Syriac culture as well as Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. This sect remained culturally isolated for so long that members believe it most closely resembles the liturgy and theology of the early Christians.
The first Lebanese immigrant to settle in Wheeling was Roger Saad, about 1888, although an immigrant named Bechalani may have lived in Wheeling for a time about 1854. The southern Lebanese Christians began emigrating at this time, and into the 20th century, because of persecution and political upheaval at the hands of ruling Muslims. During a revolution against Turkish rule in 1860, thousands were killed. Nearly half of the remaining population of Maronites perished during Turkish rule during World War I.
The number of southern Lebanese Christians in Wheeling at that time was about 300. In 1906, Father Paul K. Abraham offered the first liturgy for the new congregation. By 1922 a second, larger church was built on its present site. On December 19, 1932, a tragic fire destroyed the 1922 church building, yet it also provided the occasion for a perceived miracle. According to a report in the Wheeling News-Register, ‘‘While the rest of the church was engulfed in a raging inferno, the firemen recalled, the life-sized portrait of Our Lady of Lebanon, which was then hanging above a side altar, remained untouched by flames. When firemen attempted to spray water on the portrait, the stream of water parted and did not touch the work of art.’’
This Article was written by Cheryl Ryan Harshman
Last Revised on October 08, 2010