The youngest of the 28 Jesuit institutions of higher education in the United States, Wheeling Jesuit University is situated in the eastern part of Wheeling. It was founded by the Most Reverend John Swint, bishop of what was then the Diocese of Wheeling. In 1951, Bishop Swint asked the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus to help him realize his dream of a Catholic college of liberal arts for West Virginia. Three years later, in September 1954, the college was incorporated, its cornerstone laid. On September 26, 1955, Wheeling College opened its doors to students. In 1988, its name was changed to Wheeling Jesuit College. It assumed university status in 1996.
In the beginning there were three modest two-story brick buildings, a student body of 90 men and women, three Jesuit administrators, nine teachers (eight of them Jesuits), and a handful of lay people as support staff. Because Swint had provided the $2.75 million start-up costs, the new college was debt free. Tuition was $215 per semester. The college had no endowment and no residence halls. Though chartered by the state of West Virginia, it had no accreditation.
By 2010, the 60-acre campus included six residence halls, nine additional buildings, and several athletic fields. Fall 2009 headcount enrollment was 1,317. A substantial long-term debt, a result of the building boom of the previous 15 years, was balanced by an endowment of nearly $21 million. Wheeling Jesuit University is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and other agencies.
Two modern buildings, the Erma Ora Byrd Center for Educational Technologies and its companion, the Robert C. Byrd National Technology Transfer Center, represent the university’s attempt to complement its traditional mission—‘‘to integrate learning, research and economic development with classical knowledge and Christian revelation’’—by new initiatives to develop the regional economy in partnership with government and business.
Between 1955 and 2010, eight Jesuit presidents served the institution. Lawrence R. McHugh, S.J. (1955–59) nursed Bishop Swint’s vision to a joyful first commencement in June 1959, when 20 women and 31 men graduated. William F. Troy, S.J. (1959–66) guided the school to national accreditation in 1962. His successor, Frank R. Haig, S.J. (1966–72), presided through the turbulent years of the Vietnam era. The fourth president, Charles L. Currie, S.J. (1972–82), introduced new programs, many curricular changes, and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Rev. Thomas Acker, S.J. (1982–2000) inspired—and sometimes goaded—Wheeling Jesuit College forward. The present campus is a monument to his effort and to the substantial support of his educational initiatives by Sen. Robert Byrd and Congressman Alan Mollohan. The Reverend George Lundy, S.J., became president in 2000, and was succeeded by the Reverend Joseph R. Hacala, S.J., in 2003. On Hacala’s resignation in 2006, the Reverend Julio Giuletti was appointed president.
In 2009, the board of trustees ousted Giuletti, and Davit McAteer, who was not a member of a religious order, succeeded him as interim president. He was followed by Sister Francis Marie Thrailkill, who was the first woman to lead the institution during her tenure as interim president. Richard Allen Beyer, a non-Jesuit, was installed as president in September 2011. Beyer resigned in 2013, and the Reverend James Fleming was named the new president.
Nineteen academic departments offer 32 baccalaureate degree programs, eight pre-professional programs, six master’s programs and a doctorate in physical therapy. An Adult-Evening Division offers a bachelor of liberal arts and a bachelor of science in business administration.
In 2010, instruction was provided by more than 70 full-time faculty members and a large staff of adjunct professors. Most instructors hold the doctorate or appropriate terminal degree for their disciplines. Class size was an average of one instructor per every 14 students.
There are 16 intercollegiate sports programs. Choral performances, plays, musicals, lectures, and debates keep the Troy Theater stage occupied year-round. Twenty-two campus organizations cater to activities as diverse as wilderness camping, inner city tutoring, and celebrating African heritage. The 545-acre Lantz farm is the university’s nature center, environmental research station, and meeting center.
Fees for room, board, and tuition are close to the national average for private colleges and universities, although higher than the comparable fees at West Virginia’s public colleges. But, in keeping with its specific mission to Appalachia, the university’s level of student aid exceeds national averages by about 30 percent. Almost all applicants for admission qualify for assistance, and almost all receive it.
The student body is a diverse one. In recent years between 31 percent and 37 percent of students have been West Virginians, and about two-thirds of those who acknowledged a religious affiliation were Roman Catholic. Of its 8,000-plus alumni, more than 2,000 live and work in West Virginia.
In its annual surveys of America’s best colleges, U.S. News and World Report consistently ranks Wheeling Jesuit among the best universities in the southern region.
Wheeling Jesuit University website
Written by Paul Orr
Fact Book: 2000-2001. Wheeling Jesuit University Archives.
Wheeling College Catalog: 1956-1957. .
America's Best Colleges-1999. U.S. News & World Report, 8/31/1998.