Bishop Donahue holding graduation ceremony pending closure appeal

By Shauna Johnson in News
McMECHEN, W.Va. — Bishop Donahue High School’s graduation ceremony Tuesday could mark the end of the school, at least for now.

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston announced in January to close the school because of declining student enrollment and resources being devoted to Bishop Donahue and Wheeling Central Catholic High School.

Wheeling Central Catholic is more than five miles from the Bishop Donahue campus.

“Hopefully it’s not the last graduating class,” said Norm Stenger, president of the Save Bishop Donahue Foundation and a 1966 graduate of the private school.

“We all know those students who’ve had four wonderful years at Bishop Donahue, excellent education, academics, sports, extracurricular,” Stenger said.

The Save Bishop Donahue Foundation was formed after the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston announced the pending closure of the school in January. Beginning this fall, plans call for Bishop Donahue students to attend Wheeling Central Catholic.

Diocese officials have called the closure the “fiscally and academically responsible decision.”

The closure was recommended in 2010 after a study from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Catholic Education.

Declining enrollment was one factor cited. Total student enrollment at Bishop Donahue was just above 100 this school year, with only 15 students in the freshman class.

Stenger’s roots run deep at Bishop Donahue. “I represent all the alumni, the Donahue community, the current students, ones yet to come, everybody — the whole Donahue family,” he said.

Mary Sue Rodriguez, a Bishop Donahue Alumni Council chairperson and 1973 graduate, said Tuesday’s ceremony is going to be a “very sad graduation.”

“We feel that it doesn’t really need to close,” she said.

Rodriguez mentioned they tried to keep the school open.

“We started the save the school foundation, and it raised a lot of money really fast,” she said. “We had a lot of pledges to keep the school open.”

The closure was appealed to Rome with help from Philip Gray, a canon lawyer and president of the St. Joseph Foundation. That appeal was still pending Tuesday and there was no timeline for a decision. Friday is the last day of the school year at Bishop Donahue.

“We’re as optimistic today as we were the first day when we filed the appeal,” Stenger said. “We think we have a very good reason to keep it open. We’ve really never been told why it’s closing.”

Rodriguez said Bishop Donahue’s story will not end when classes conclude, noting alumni events such as class reunions.

“People will get together because that’s how it is,” she said. “Whenever anything happens in the community or in the school, you can always count on your fellow alumni to be there.”

The graduation ceremony is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at St. James Church in McMechen.

Alex Thomas contributed to this story.