History and Heritage

This history is a document proclaiming the creation of Bishop Donahue High School. A special note of thanks to Carol Adamiak Yarnall who gathered and published this information on the occassion of the 50th Anniversary.

We apologize if people’s names have been misspelled or we have published incorrect information. If you would like to make additions or corrections please email Tom Wise at twise76@bishopdonahue.org.

If there are other graduates who have passed away, we would like to know their names to include them in our prayers and this history. Please help us make this an accurate living document.


Our History and Heritage ….1955-2005

Published On the Occasion of our 50th Anniversary…..September 2005
Bishop Donahue Memorial High School was chartered by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling, West Virginia, in conjunction with the Dominican Sisters of St Catherine, Kentucky. The Sisters of St Joseph have contributed in the past and still work for the school. The School is now operated with the support of Marist Brothers and Marist Sisters in the tradition of St. Marcellin Champagnat. Numerous Lay faculty and staff have been instrumental in the School’s successful history.

“Enter to learn Christ, Exit to serve Christ”


In Appreciation

This history acknowledges in a special way the school’s founders, Archbishop John J. Swint, Rev James Daly, Rev. John Griffin, Monsignor Benjamin Farrell and the members of their respective Parishes, St. James, St. John and St Francis Xavier. Bishop Donahue’s existence is built on their vision, courage, and dreams. To all past and present pastors and parishioners of Our Lady of Peace Parish and St. Jude’s Parish we also give sincere thanks.

To Retired Most Reverend Bishop Bernard Schmitt we owe a debt of gratitude for his strong support of catholic education and especially Bishop Donahue.

To the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s new Bishop, the Most Reverend Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, it is our greatest hope that the Diocese will continue to assist Donahue to continue to provide and foster the gospel values as it continues to educate students for 50 more years and beyond.

To the Sisters of St. Dominic, the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Marist Sisters, and the Marist Brothers who have provided leadership and religious example and formation to many students, may God continue to bless each of your congregations for many years to come.

To lay faculty and staff, and Partners in Education, we thank you for walking with us on what has been a great and fruitful journey.

To alumni, you are Donahue’s successful past and are critical to its future. Please remember it with your talent and treasure so that future students can enjoy the kind of teachings that you experienced from this wonderful school.


Impact of Donahue Graduates

Even though it is a small school, Bishop Donahue graduates have had a significant impact on the community and the nation. The school has graduated 1828 young people (1959-2005) who are responsible citizens and wonderful human beings.

Many graduates have lead extraordinary lives. Donahue graduates have served in government jobs, politics and the military. They have become doctors, business owners, nurses, teachers, coaches, radiologists, pharmacists, microbiologists, physical therapists, managers, respiratory therapists, salespersons, medical technologists, accountants, engineers, bankers, attorneys, counselors, secretaries, speech therapists, fire fighters, juvenile probation officers, state troopers, hotel managers, newspaper writers, a priest and a nun. A Donahue graduate has been the Vice President/Publisher of a national magazine, a University facility supervisor, an aircraft maintenance supervisor for a national airlines, a town administrator, insurance agency administrator, Human Resource Vice President for a major tire company, and President/CEO of a mid-size Defense Contacting company. A Donahue Graduate was an Assistant Attorney General for the State of WV and one was the chief of police of Glen Dale. Another graduate was in the U.S. Secret Service, Uniform Division stationed at the White House. One of the first female graduates became an Air Force Colonel and is the current chair of the Board at Wheeling Jesuit University. A graduate is a President/CEO and Chairman of the Board for an upper Ohio Valley Regional Banking Corporation. A Donahue Graduate has been an assistant City Clerk for the city of Benwood and another was the City Clerk, Recorder and Treasurer for Benwood. A Donahue Graduate was the national director of sales for a major tire corporation. Many graduates have become responsible parents who have supported the school with their time and talent. Many have sent their children to the school. Graduates have become the Donahue Principal, the St Francis Xavier Grade School Principal and the President and members of the Donahue School Board. One Graduate has devoted over 20 years to Bishop Donahue in many positions–as teacher, coach, counselor, development director and alumni director. A 2004 graduate brought home a gold medal for high jump from a national track and field event. In one recent Wheeling Jesuit University graduating class, the number one and two graduates were from Bishop Donahue. The Class of 2004 had 21 graduates and 20 went to college and one joined the Army. The current Mayor of Wheeling is a Donahue graduate.

Many Donahue graduates still live in West Virginia, but others have moved across the U.S. to states like Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.


The Formation Years

Three parish priests and the Bishop of Wheeling had a dream and with financial pledges from parishioners made it come true. In the early 1950s, Wheeling, WV had two Catholic High Schools (Central Catholic for males and the Academy for females). However, because of distance and financial reasons, few students from Moundsville, McMechen and Benwood (Marshall County) could afford to take advantage of those Catholic High Schools. In 1952, The Most Reverend John J. Swint, Archbishop, Bishop of Wheeling, Rev. Benjamin F. Farrell, pastor at St. Francis in Moundsville, Rev. Joseph J. Daly, pastor at St. James, McMechen and Rev. John J. Griffin, pastor at St. Johns in Benwood formed a partnership to make the dream of a catholic high school in Marshall County a reality. They purchased property adjacent to St James Church, McMechen, mid-way between Moundsville and Benwood. As a result of their untiring efforts, today stands Bishop Donahue Memorial High School. The doors were first opened in September 1955 to an enrollment of 43 freshmen, dubbed co-founders, who constituted the first class. Each year brought another class, until the freshman became seniors and 35 students became the first graduates, in 1959.

The school involved new construction and renovation of a portion of St James Grade School. In December 1952, the three pastors announced the preliminary plans for a Catholic High School in Marshall County. On January 25, 1953, Bishop Swint said,”Catholic Education is the most important work that the church could undertake at this time in the Benwood, McMechen, and Moundsville area. This school will be a tribute to our youth.”

All of the work to raise the $275,000 needed to build the school was done by committee members, with the generosity of parents and parishioners from St. James, St. Johns and St. Frances Xavier. Through their generosity, Bishop Donahue High School stands today as a monument to the strength and unity of the Catholic people of Marshall County.

The school’s reputation and standards for excellence were soon recognized in the Ohio Valley. Leadership, faith, academics, and athletics became the cornerstone of a Bishop Donahue education.

The Sisters of St Dominic from St Catherines, KY, agreed to take charge of the school and provide a principal and faculty. From the first day the students had a rich exposure to studies, social skills and sports. During the first year two nuns, Sr. Mary Gilbert and Sr. Ellen Francis, both natives of Brooklyn, NY taught all subjects to the new freshman. That was the year that the Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series and since both of the first two nuns were from Brooklyn, the students got to watch the games in class. The second year, Sr. Mary Thomas came as principal and she and Sr. Mary Brigid, taught the sophomores. During their junior year, additional faculty was added: Sr. Mary Michael, for business classes, typing and shorthand and Sr. Carmelita for Chemistry, Biology and Spanish. By the senior year, a basketball team was formed and Mr. Ed Bentz taught American History, English, and civics. He initiated and coached a football team which began regular season after the first class graduated. Joe Blaha taught the boys physical education and became basketball Coach. In 1959, Donahue won the catholic high school basketball tournament in Huntington the first time it entered—a major feat!! A bus load of cheering students were there to celebrate. Mrs. Finnegan served as librarian and Stella Plychuck and Mrs. Urneck cooked and ran the cafeteria and Mr. Reilly was custodian. Students attended daily mass and said rosary in the church after lunch every day. During the freshman year, Arthur Murray School of Dance came every Friday afternoon and the students learned the box step and all kind of dances for 25c per week. Ms Rose Chiazza taught the girls’ physical education and folk dancing—recall Cum Baya? A chorale was formed from the whole school and Christmas and St Patrick’s Day concerts were given. Three act plays were performed. Scrabble hops were held on Friday evenings and the two nuns showed the students how to play the game. Elvis Presley was the rage, but his records were not allowed to be played at sock hops because his movements were considered vulgar. The school colors were chosen as green and gold. The first class wrote the alma mater and named the yearbook “Veritas”, Latin for “Truth”.