History of WU

Wheeling University, formerly Wheeling Jesuit University, (then Wheeling College), was founded in partnership between the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and the Society of Jesus of the Maryland Province in 1954.  Wheeling Jesuit, the youngest of the nation's 28 Jesuit institutions, incorporated as Wheeling College on Sept. 25, 1954. Workers laid the cornerstone for Donahue Hall on Nov. 21, 1954. The College, staffed by 12 Jesuits and four lay professors, opened its doors to the first class of 90 freshmen on Sept. 26, 1955. Formal dedication ceremonies for Wheeling College were held on October 23, 1955 with more than 2,000 people in attendance.   Archbishop John J. Swint turned over the deed to all college properties and buildings to the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus on February 11, 1957.   Wheeling Jesuit University is the only Catholic institution of higher learning in West Virginia, and has a special educational focus to seek and find God in all, in chapel and classroom, in liturgy and laboratory.


  • October 8 - The idea of a college is revived by Bishop John Swint, who asks the Maryland Province to begin a two-year feasibility study. He offers to provide the grounds and physical plant for the college if the Maryland Jesuits agree to operate and staff it. The study is initiated by Fr. Clifford M. Lewis.



  • July 4 - The Jesuits approve Bishop Swint's plans for a college. The Bishop purchases the land on which Wheeling University is to be built from Mt. de Chantal later that month.



  • In the early part of the year, Fr. Lewis, the first Jesuit to take up residence in Wheeling, arrives to confer with Bishop Swint and others working to establish the college.
  • November 24 - The groundbreaking ceremony for the college is held. Construction of Swint Hall, Donahue Hall and Whelan Hall began in the spring.


  • Summer  - A Jesuit organizing committee sets up a temporary college center in the former St. Michael's rectory and church on Edgington Lane. 
  • September 25 - The college is officially incorporated. Father Lawrence R. McHugh, S.J., becomes its first president a day later. 
  • November 21 - The cornerstone is laid for Donahue Hall, named after Bishop Patrick J. Donahue, the third bishop of the Wheeling diocese. It was a legacy left to Donahue that was eventually used to finance the building of Wheeling College. 

  • September 26 - Wheeling College, with a staff of 12 Jesuits and four lay professors, opens its doors for the first time. The first class consists of 90 students, who are offered 25 courses in 12 majors. The original opening date was set for September 11, but it was pushed back to allow for "the completion of roads and sidewalks." 
  • October 23 - Formal dedication ceremonies for the college are held with more than 2,000 people in attendance. Festivities begin with a Solemn High Mass at St. Joseph's Cathedral, followed by a colorful procession from Swint Hall to Donahue Hall, where the dedication took place. Speakers at the ceremony include Archbishop Swint and Fr. William F. Maloney, S.J., of the Provincial of Maryland Province. 
  • November 18 - After a week-long campaign, the first student government election is held. "Neotian Party" candidate J.D. Graziano is chosen as class president with Roger Smith as his vice president, Barbara Creamer as secretary and Charles Michaels as treasurer. 
  • November 22 - The first issue of  The Spokesman , the student newspaper, appears. The name refers to the helmsman of a riverboat, and indicates the paper's desire to reflect and guide the thought of the new college. 
  • December 6 - The Cardinal is selected as the symbol of the college by the student body, and crimson and gold are chosen as the school colors. Along with Cardinals, other nicknames which received support were Lancers, Pioneers and Amalgamated Book Worms. 
  • December 14 - The Wheeling College Glee Club gives its first public performance at the college Christmas party in Donahue Hall. Thomas Carrigan is the first club chairman.

1st President - Rev. Lawrence R. McHugh, S.J.
Presidency: September 26, 1954 - July 31, 1959

The Reverend Lawrence R. McHugh came the Wheeling in 1954 from Georgetown University. He originally assumed the position of vice-rector of the burgeoning Jesuit community, but soon discovered that he was to be the man responsible for creating what would later become Wheeling College.

Working with Bishop John J. Swint, Fr. McHugh was entrusted with the task of creating a college from 61 acres, three partially completed buildings, a handful of associates, and a budget of two million dollars. Building the college was not as an easy task, as costs mounted above the $2 million budget. McHugh and Swint consistently disagreed about priorities for the project. While McHugh insisted on modern, fully equipped laboratories, the Bishop thought a gymnasium would be more beneficial.

Ultimately, McHugh's mission was successful and the college accepted its first 91 students (a year after McHugh's arrival) on Sept. 26, 1955. McHugh was named the first president and vice rector of the college by the Rev. John Baptist Janssens, S.J., the Father General of the Society of Jesus on Sept. 25, 1954, the college official incorporation date. At the first commencement on June 1, 1959, 20 women and 31 men graduated. The speaker was Rev. Edward Bunn of Georgetown University. Fr. Bunn told McHugh, "Fifty years from now, in the history of Wheeling College, you will be remembered as its first President...however, only the ones who have borne the heat and burdens of the daily struggles will know all that went into its founding." On July 31, 1959, McHugh was succeeded as president by Rev. William F. Troy, S.J.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 11, 1907, McHugh graduated from Loyola University in 1927. On August 14, 1927, he entered the Society of Jesus novitiate at St. Andrews-on-the-Hudson. McHugh also earned a Master's degree in Philosophy from Woodstock University and served as regent (teaching scholastic) at St. Peter's Preparatory School in Jersey City. He began his theology studies in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1936. Three years later, he was expelled by the Nazis, shortly after their annexation of Austria. He saw Adolph Hitler first-hand at a Nazi victory parade in Innsbruck in 1938.

After ordination as a Jesuit priest on June 21, 1939, he completed his Licentiate in Scared Theology, the highest degree available in the study of theology. McHugh served as counselor at Georgetown University until the outbreak of World War II. During the war, McHugh had a distinguished career as a Navy chaplain on two aircraft carriers in the Pacific and flew dive-bombers at Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Florida. After his discharge from the military, he returned to Georgetown as director of admissions and assistant dean of studies of the undergraduate schools.

Once his mission at Wheeling College was completed in 1959, he became director of the Greater St. Joseph's Scholarship Fund and assistant to the president at St. Joseph's College in Philadelphia. From 1959 to 1969, he served as vice president for college relations at St. Joseph's before becoming chaplain at Philadelphia's Miserecordia Hospital.

McHugh retired in 1983 and died on April 8, 1988 at the age of 80 in Philadelphia.


  • Wheeling College admits its first military veterans after an amendment to the Federal G.I. Bill allows veterans to receive aid while attending a school still unaccredited. The work of Fr. Lewis was instrumental in gaining the amendment.
  • February 3 - The "Ole Piano Role," Wheeling College's first formal dance, is held at the Oglebay Pine Room with a "Gay Nineties" theme and entertainment by the Hal Curtis Orchestra.
  • February 12 - The Caviar Club, the college's dramatics society, holds its first public performance, a series of one-act plays: "Wurzel-Flummery" by A.A. Milne, "Lithuania" by Rupert Brooke and Pyramus and Thisbe," a scene from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
  • Spring - The college holds its first Gambol musical.
  • October 1 - The first practice is held for the Wheeling College basketball team under the direction of coach Edward Coyne. Twenty-nine players try out, all but five of them freshmen. Practices are held in parking lots and on outdoor asphalt courts. The Cardinals play their first game December 1, 1956, losing 92-71 to a West Virginia University freshman team which includes future NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West. Wheeling College's biggest win of the season is a 69-65 overtime triumph over Duquesne University.



  • February 11 - Bishop Swint turns over the deed to all college properties and buildings to the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus.  
  • November 4 - A committee appointed by the West Virginia Board of Education recommends that Wheeling College be approved as a degree-granting college.
  • A dangerous hillside slippage problem is discovered which causes Donahue Hall to slowly creep forward, destroying a parking lot, snapping electric and water lines, flooding the building's first floor and caving in some foundation blocks. A local contractor is called in to remove the hill and strip-mine the coal beneath it. Giant chunks of rock are placed along Wheeling Creek and the college is left with a $25,000 bill. In 1959, Jim Reilly, vice president of the Hanna company, discovers that Mount de Chantal has a rich field of fine quality coal, enough to bring the Academy a net profit of $25,000. The overburden removed while mining Mt. de Chantal was used to cover the rocks by Wheeling Creek, lessening the danger of flooding and giving the college graded athletic fields for football, tennis and baseball. More than 25 acres belonging to the college were seeded and graded, and the resulting athletic area was named Hanna Field.
  • February 11 - The first Founder's Day is celebrated, commemorating the first anniversary of the formal gift of the college to the Jesuits.
  • June 10 - Entertainer Danny Thomas gives a benefit performance at the Capitol Theatre in Wheeling, with the proceeds helping to fund a dormitory project at Wheeling College.
  • September 18 - Fr. McHugh announces the official opening of a $4.5 million campaign for long-range development to finance the college "both for the present and foreseeable future."


  • April 8 - Wheeling College students set a world record for phone-booth stuffing as 33 boys squeeze into a booth outside the cafeteria. The effort is sponsored by the "Pacemaker Party" on the night before student elections.
  • June 7 - Wheeling College graduates its first class. Fifty students receive degrees, including Clayton Hudnall, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and a Rhodes Scholar finalist. Half the Class of '59 goes on for further degrees. Archbishop Swint receives the college's first honorary degree.
  • Fall - The college's first residence halls open: McHugh, with room for
  • 158 male students, and Sara Tracy, which can accommodate 100 female students. Females had originally stayed at Mt. de Chantal, then moved into residential homes in the area known as Della Strada, Avila Hall and Siena Hall. Male students had been staying with families who agreed to take in boarders, as well as in sections of Swint Hall and Whelan Hall. In September of 1958, the Jesuit community temporarily moved out of Whelan Hall and into the former St. Vincent's Orphanage in Elm Grove. They return when the dormitories are completed.