There are several interesting facts in the history of West Virgina that highlight the footprints of the Catholic Church in the most mountainous state east of the MIssissippi. The first is a tradition handed down from the eighteenth century that the state’s original capital, Wheeling, was named after a Father Whelan, an Irish missionary priest who sometimes toured the area providing the sacraments for settlers. Even the Protestant frontiersmen so admired Father Whelan that they joined the Catholics in naming the settlement town after him. It was later officially founded as Wheeling in 1795. On the other hand, the city’s historians claim that the word “Wheeling” was an anglicized version of the local Indian word for “place of the skull.” No one knows whose skull. If the Father Whelan story is true, as the first Jesuits in Wheeling believed it was, then it is a remarkable coincidence that the first bishop of the Wheeling diocese was a Richard V. Whelan.
The second is the story of the conversion of the Livingston family from Cliptown. This family’s farmhouse was frequented by souls from Purgatory who taught them the Catholic Faith. This astounding story, verified by Father Demetrius Gallitzin who was assigned to investigate the preternatural happenings, is related on our website (see Father Gallitzin and the Cliptown Exorcisms).
The third fact is equally fascinating. The city of St. Mary’s, West Virginia, was founded by a visionary and named in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The story is (and it actually appears on the city’s web site) that while traveling down the Ohio River, the city’s founder, Alexander Creel had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She told him that there was going to be a “happy and prosperous” city built at the intersection of the river and Middle Island Creek. The visionary bought the land that marked the spot, built roads and houses, and ten years after, in 1849, gave it the name St. Marys.