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DeSales Heights


On July 25, 1864, a colony of eight Catholic nuns set out for Parkersburg from Washington, D.C., and Frederick, Maryland. Led by Mother Superior Mary Appolonia Diggs, the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary, a teaching order, did not arrive at their destination until August 6. The turbulent Civil War delayed their railroad journey three times.

In 1867, the sisters established a benevolent school for poor children within the city. On July 16,1900, they took possession of a new home and school located on the outskirts of Parkersburg on Garfield Avenue. They named the red and brick monastery DeSales Heights, in honor of St. Francis DeSales.

For 75 years, the sisters ran a boarding school for young women at DeSales Heights until they closed the academy and opened the first Montessori school in West Virginia. During this time, the teaching mission of the order required the sisters to work in the secular world daily, but live in cloistered quarters in the Catholic tradition. After the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) liberalized church rules, the sisters could choose between the cloistered or uncloistered life. Talk of closing DeSales Heights began in the early 1990s mainly because it was too big and expensive to be maintained by the declining number of able-bodied sisters. In December 1992, DeSales Heights was closed and the building was later put up for sale. After vandalism and a fire, the building was demolished in 2002.

Written by Jacqueline G. Goodwin


  1. Goodwin, Jacqueline G. Faith and Works: The Sisters of DeSales Heights. Goldenseal, (Winter 1990).