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While "The Mount" and Wheeling Jesuit have been neighbors since the University was established in the early 1950s, the two institutions have been linked to the arts and to one another for centuries through their religious orders - the Sisters of the Visitation and the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).

The Catholic Church, the Jesuits and the Arts

Music had been integral to Jesuit education since the mid-16th century with the establishment of the first Jesuit colleges. According to T. Frank Kennedy, SJ, in The Jesuits & the Arts, the Jesuits used music liturgically, in dramatic productions, in academic assemblies and with student groups. In their attempts to impart to students what is true and good about the human person, the Jesuits taught poetry, painting and dance along with their extensive use of music.

Conceived at the Second Vatican Council II in 1965, Gaudium et Spes declared, "The Church, which has at all times given most generous encouragement to the arts, today again hails their importance."

And in like fashion, the Jesuits wrote to all who were teaching at their schools around the world that "the arts provide a special pathway to the human heart [and] that in times past under the patronage of the Society, many outstanding artists, not a few of them members of the Society itself, have achieved greatness in poetry, music, the theater, and architecture...This tradition lives on even in the Society of today."

Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy

In 1848, at the request of Bishop Richard Whelan of Wheeling, eight Sisters of the Visitation came to Wheeling from Baltimore to open a convent school for girls. The Wheeling Female Academy, as Mount de Chantal was first known, was to be on the order of two already existing Visitation convent schools, in Baltimore and Georgetown, near Washington, D.C. The school was located downtown Wheeling in a mansion owned by Henry Moore, who earlier had petitioned the Jesuits to open a college in Wheeling. In 1865, The Visitandines left downtown for Washington Avenue, "high upon a slope majestic" in the bucolic Wheeling countryside, on the Steenrod farmland purchased by Bishop Whelan.


Within its first few years of operation, the school became known for its impressive music program, led by the famous Sr. Mary Agnes. Born Louise Gubert and hailing from Philadelphia, Sister gave up a promising singing career in 1856 to become a Vistandine nun and was sent to Wheeling. Under her tutelage, and that of Sr. Eulalia Pearce in the instrumental division, young women received the finest musical instruction available anywhere in the country, and rivaling any in the world. This instruction was over and above the challenging and progressive course of academic studies designed by the dedicated Visitation Sisters.

Wheeling Jesuit University

In 1951 Archbishop John J. Swint of the Diocese of Wheeling began negotiations with the Jesuit, offering to provide the buildings and grounds for a college if they would operate and staff it. The offer was accepted, and in 1952 the Archbishop purchased 60 acres of pastureland from the Sisters of the Visitation for the construction of Wheeling College, which would open in 1954 as West Virginia's first and only Catholic liberal arts college.

The strong bond between the Jesuits and the Visitation Sisters is part of the rich history of the 20th-century Wheeling. The two religious orders educate students side by side on Washington Avenue for more than 50 years and enjoyed fine reputations for preparing young people for life, leadership and service and promoting the Catholic faith in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

The Arts

The role of the arts in our lives was captured well by Jacques Barzun in his book From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, when he wrote that the arts are one form of the deepest possible reflection on life. "The arts convey truths; they are imagination crystallized; and as they transport the soul they reshape the perceptions - and possibly - the life of the beholder. To be sure, all art makes use of conventions, but to obey traditional rules and follow set patterns will not achieve that fusion of idea and form which is properly creation."

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