The Most Reverend Patrick James Donahue was born April 15, 1849 in Little Malvern, Worcestershire, England. He studied in private schools before attending both St. Gregory’s College and the University of London. After graduation from the University in 1869, he taught English and mathematics, then decided to immigrate to the United States in 1873. Settling in Washington, DC, he enrolled at George Washington University’s law school and passed the bar in 1876. He was a practicing lawyer until 1883 when he entered St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland. Two years later, on December 19, he was ordained.
After working in the Archdiocese of Baltimore for a number of years, the Most Reverend Patrick James Donahue was consecrated the third Bishop of the Wheeling Diocese on April 8, 1894. During the twenty-eight years of Bishop Donahue’s administration, the Wheeling Diocese entered a period of tremendous growth and development. The development of West Virginia’s abundant natural resources and the creation of thousands of jobs accompanied this diocesan development. The greatest source of labor for the newly-created, blue collar positions came from immigrants who, more often than not, had been recruited with little idea of where they were going or what to expect in their new homes. Consequently, they relied heavily upon the Church for support.
The greatest challenge presented to Bishop Donahue was how to minister to this growing number of non-English speaking immigrants. In response to their need, the Bishop began a recruitment campaign, targeting priests from European countries who could speak the native tongues of the immigrants. As a result of the Bishop’s recruitment efforts, the number of clergy serving in the diocese more than tripled and twenty-three new parishes were established. He also recruited several new religious orders that still maintain a presence in the Wheeling area including the Marist Fathers, the Sisters of Our Ladies of Charity, the Ursuline Sisters, the Dominican Sisters, and the Xaverian Brothers.
On one of his many cross-Atlantic recruiting trips, Bishop Donahue met Miss Sara Tracy, who noticed the Bishop after he bested a boastful German officer at a game of chess. Tracy would become a close friend of Bishop Donahue over the years and one of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s greatest benefactors. Through her continued generosity, the Diocese was able to engage in many projects that benefited the local area.
Earning his appellation as the “Great Builder,” Bishop Donahue was also responsible for the building of the Home of the Good Shepherd, the Manual Training School, and Saint Edward’s Preparatory College. His time as bishop saw two large additions to Wheeling Hospital, the construction of an orphanage for boys in Elm Grove, West Virginia, and the construction of Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Parkersburg. In addition, Donahue was responsible for the establishment of Wheeling Central Catholic High School.
Since his arrival in 1894, Bishop Donahue grew a small diocese of 20,000 parishioners into a vibrant religious community of over 62,000 Catholics. With his death on October 4, 1922 of heart complications, the Diocese lost one of its greatest and most generous leaders.
Information compiled from:
Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston Website (www.dwc.org)