July 19, 1850: Pope Establishes Diocese of Wheeling
On July 19, 1850, Pope Pius IX established the Diocese of Wheeling to oversee Catholic parishes in what was then Western Virginia. Previously, Catholics in the western part of the state had been under the care of the Archbishop of Richmond, Richard Whelan.
However, Whelan realized the population in Western Virginia was growing so quickly that the vast region needed its own Catholic diocese. Whelan moved to Wheeling and became bishop of the new diocese.
The Diocese of Wheeling originally covered much of present-day West Virginia—with the exception of the Eastern Panhandle—plus 17 counties in southwestern Virginia.
It consisted of about 5,000 Catholics, who were served by four churches, three chapels, and six priests. It wasn’t until 1974 that the Eastern Panhandle counties were transferred to the Diocese of Wheeling, and the Virginia counties were given back to the Diocese of Richmond. At the same time, the name of the diocese was changed to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, with a co-cathedral at Sacred Heart Parish in Charleston.
Today, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston consists of nearly 100,000 members, accounting for about one of every 18 West Virginians.