WJU, Sisters to Establish Mount de Chantal Conservatory

Officials of Wheeling Jesuit University have joined with the Sisters of the Visitation to announce plans to establish the Mount de Chantal Conservatory of Music at the university.

In establishing the conservatory, Wheeling Jesuit will honor the legacy of the sisters and continue their educational mission by providing WJU students with fine arts instruction in the revered tradition of Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy, which closed its doors in Wheeling in 2008.

“The idea of creating the Mount de Chantal Conservatory of Music at Wheeling Jesuit University is built on a friendship that has flourished for centuries between the Visitation Sisters and the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), and locally for more than 50 years between Mount de Chantal and WJU,” said Wheeling Jesuit President Richard A. Beyer.

The initiative includes renovating a 5,000-square-foot space in the WJU Center for Educational Technologies, transforming it into the new home of the university’s Department of Music. The space will house a recital hall, a study lounge, multiple practice rooms, an artist-in-residence studio, a director’s office and the Sisters of the Visitation Art Gallery, which will showcase Mount de Chantal antiques and archival materials, along with WJU student art.

Wheeling Jesuit has already received $550,000 in gifts toward the $3 million fundraising goal for the conservatory. This includes a leadership gift of $250,000 from the Sisters of the Visitation, which was matched by an anonymous local donor.

The sisters contributed an additional $50,000 to establish an education fund that will provide scholarships, beginning in the fall of 2013. Each year, an incoming fine arts student will receive a $10,000 Mount de Chantal Scholarship, renewable annually for four years. In addition to these gifts, the university has committed $350,000 to support the programs as they develop.

“We are tremendously happy to entrust our legacy – the legacy of Mount de Chantal – to Wheeling Jesuit University,” said Sister Joanne Gonter, VHM, former teacher at Mount de Chantal and superior of the Wheeling sisters. “We are fully confident in the university’s plans to expand its reach into the fine arts by establishing the conservatory and we look forward to its growth in the years to come.”

A 1952 graduate of Mount de Chantal, Gonter also has the distinction of being a WJU co-founder as a member of the first graduating class of Wheeling College in 1959.

In addition to their financial support of the conservatory, the Visitation Sisters have donated various items including the Mount de Chantal front door, three beveled glass panels that surrounded the door and two chandeliers from the front hall and the Parents’ Parlor. These items will be incorporated into the design of the new space. The Mount’s 800-pound bell, which hung for 150 years in the school’s tower, will be given a place of prominence at the entrance to the conservatory.

Archival items donated by the sisters will be on display in the Sisters of the Visitation Art Gallery, such as photographs, music and publications including an 1858 book titled “The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” which belonged to Sister Mary Agnes Gubert. In the mid-19th century, Louise Gubert gave up a promising international singing career to join the Sisters of the Visitation and brought fame to Mount de Chantal’s Department of Music.

WJU faculty have approved four new majors within the Department of Fine Arts: music, art, film and theater.

Currently, WJU offers students a variety of co-curricular music opportunities including three choirs, the WJU Chorale and a pep band.

The university will enhance its fine arts curriculum and instruction with money raised through this initiative, supplement the curriculum with concerts and lectures, enlarge the symphonic band, further develop its partnership with the River City Brass and support its underwriting of the College Concert Series of the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra. In addition, the university will establish an endowed chair of fine arts and host an artist-in-residence each year.

Fundraising efforts will continue throughout 2012 and 2013 as the university develops its plans. It expects to have the conservatory ready for student use in the fall of 2013. For more information about the conservatory, contact Kathryn Kelly in the WJU advancement office by email at kkelly@wju.edu.