Sisters of St. Joseph To Mark 165 Years in Wheeling

Photo by Heather Ziegler Standing at the Heritage Port marker noting the landing of the first Sisters of St. Joseph in Wheeling, from left, are members of the congregation and auxiliary Sister Mary Palmer, CSJ; Lisa Werner; Sister Christine Riley, CSJ; Sister Mary Ann Rosenbaum, CSJ; Tammy Poppe and Lynn Comerci.

WHEELING — It’s been 165 years since four brave nuns stepped ashore in Wheeling, having traveled by flatbottom boat to their new home and adventure in a town that was not so friendly to them at first sight.

The West Virginia Auxiliary of the Congregation of St. Joseph will celebrate and recognize the humble beginnings of the founding Sisters of St. Joseph from Carondelet.

The auxiliary has been raising funds to meet special needs of the sisters of the congregation at Mount St. Joseph in Wheeling for 28 years, according to Tammy Poppe, auxiliary president. This year, in conjunction with the 165th anniversary of the congregation’s service to the community, the auxiliary’s activities will include a 165+ Club featuring monthly monetary drawings, a Summer Cash Raffle, as well as its premier event, the annual Gala and Reverse Raffle in October.

“Plans are underway to make this year’s Gala extra special in recognition of the arrival in 1853 of the sisters to Wheeling. Their contributions to education, health care, and community involvement have been remarkable,” Poppe said.

The auxiliary’s efforts over the past 28 years have resulted in the purchase of items that have supported the comfort and care of the sisters residing at Mount St. Joseph. Included among these items have been a golf cart that allows the sisters more access to several areas of the property, installation of sidewalks and a marble encased concrete base for the statue at the sisters’ new cemetery section at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Wheeling, new landscaping at the commemorative site of the sisters’ arrival in Wheeling located at Heritage Port, shared funding in the cost of a new handicap-accessible prayer labyrinth at Mount St. Joseph.

The additions also include the purchase of a new table and four chairs for the second floor kitchen, new outdoor furniture and a new audio system for the chapel and downstairs meeting room to accommodate sisters who are hearing-impaired.

Sister Mary Palmer, CSJ, said when the first four nuns arrived in Wheeling at the riverfront, they were taken by stagecoach to where they were to stay with a local woman.

“When the woman saw them dressed in their habits and realized they were four nuns and not four siblings, she refused to have them in her house,” Palmer said.

The sisters were relegated to a home on 15th Street in the city where they lived in the attic for a time. These same nuns came to establish a hospital and have served the sick at Wheeling Hospital since Civil war times.

Sister Christine Riley, CSJ, remarked about those early settlers of sisters who brought their faith and service to Wheeling and the state, especially their care for the sick.

“They were amazing women who made the courageous trip on the river at the request of their bishop.”

Riley said the sisters served with dignity and respect. She recalled a time in 1950, when three black nurses were hired at St. Francis Hospital in Charleston, a Catholic hospital.

She said 20 white nurses and several doctors opposed their hiring and walked out of the hospital. However, Sister Helen Clare Bauerbach, hospital administrator, held firm on the black nurses’ employment, declaring there would be no racial discrimination in the Catholic hospital.

“Sisters came from all over to help out during the protest. It showed the dignity and respect the sisters and the Church has for all races,” Riley said.

The Sisters of St. Joseph have served as nurses and in other capacities at Wheeling Hospital since Civil War times, coming to the aid of soldiers on both sides of the war.