From its earliest days of operation more than 170 years ago to modern day 2021, Wheeling Hospital has been known for its pastoral care for its patients and its staff.
It was in 1853 that Catholic Bishop Richard Whalen brought the Sisters of St. Joseph from St. Louis to Wheeling Hospital.
The hospital relocated from its Chapline Street property, then from a 15th Street location to the Sweeney mansion located on the bank of the Ohio River in North Wheeling. It was at the North Wheeling location that the nuns brought care to wounded troops from both sides of the bloody Civil War. The hospital became a U.S. Army General Hospital and remained in that capacity until 1865.
In 1871, the hospital was designated a Marine Hospital and through the early 20th century. Renovations and additional wings over the years resulted in more than 250 beds, modern operating rooms, maternity and X-ray departments, physical therapy, emergency room, intensive care unit and other updates. A nursing school also was established.
As the community and its need for expanded medical facilities grew, a new Wheeling Hospital was constructed on a 212-acre site in the Clator area of the city. The $25 million hospital was dedicated on June 1, 1975 with the first patients on site by June 21. Despite a devastating flash flood a month later, the hospital and its staff rallied back to health.
Today, the hospital has undergone additions and upgrades including a new partnership with WVU Medicine. Throughout the many changes and growth of the hospital, the Sisters of St. Joseph have been there, along with clergy, who continue to this day to embody the mission of the hospital to “provide compassionate care to people of all faiths in a loving, spiritual environment … through the human touch.”
Sister Mary Ann Rosenbaum, CSJ, has served as staff chaplain from 1990-1999 and director of pastoral care from 1999 to the present. And while the facility remains a Catholic hospital, an ecumenical group devised the mission statement.
“Our vision is to meet the needs of each person as a child of God regardless of their faith,” Rosenbaum said. ” Each person has a different desire based on their spirituality or religious background. But it’s not always about their faith … we promote pastoral care, meeting the person where they are.”
Rosenbaum’s pastoral staff includes Sister Karen Kirby and the Revs. Cyprian Osuegbu and Michael Nwokocha. While the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the daily celebration of Mass at the hospital chapel, the chapel is always open, Rosenbaum said.
Mass will resume when CDC guidelines dictate it’s safe to do so, she added.
Rosenbaum said the pandemic has offered challenges in their pastoral roles to meet the needs of patients, families and staff but they have remained steadfast in their dedication to the hospital’s mission of care. She said the sisters’ long tenure with the hospital has earned the public’s respect for their history.
“When there is a crisis, it doesn’t matter what faith you are, people expect to see us. It’s been hard not to be able to do all the things we want, but we are here for the patients and the employees. It’s about providing care for the patients, families and staff,” Rosenbaum added.
Rosenbaum said clergy of all faiths are welcome to provide pastoral care at the hospital. The hospital offers an online Pastoral Care Portal that provides an immediate notification to churches or ministers that a member of their church is a patient at the hospital. Patients, upon admission, have the option to have their church or clergy members notified of their hospital stay.
Rosenbaum said she welcomes area churches and/or clergy to contact her if they want to be included in the portal notification system. She can be reached at 304-243-3244.
She said the program was put in place to connect patients and clergy at their respective places of worship. This will continue as the hospital moves into its newest phase of care with WVU Medicine.