WHEELING - In what the Rev. Julio Giulietti termed a glorious, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for two groups of people, officials from Wheeling Jesuit University and the Visitation Sisters at Mount de Chantal are in talks regarding the use of the Mount property by the university.
With the historic Mount de Chantal building as a backdrop, Giulietti and Sister Joanne Gonter, superior of the Visitation Sisters at Mount de Chantal, made an announcement during a news conference Thursday. Both parties spoke about what will happen to the longtime girls school since it closed its doors in May.
Giulietti, the president of WJU, said while no formal agreement has been signed, conversations are under way about renting space by Wheeling Jesuit for academic programs at the Mount de Chantal property.
Photos by Bethany A. Romanek
The Rev. Julio Giulietti, S.J., president of Wheeling Jesuit University and Sister Joanne Gonter, V.H.M., superior of the Visitation Sisters at Mount de Chantal, take part in a news conference Thursday at the former girls’ school.
According to both Giulietti and Gonter, the relationship envisioned may move toward wider collaboration in the future.
"Sister Joanne, in conversation with the other seven members of her community, have accepted to enter into a serious and loving dialogue with Wheeling Jesuit University that will lead to a relationship to sharing of space," Giulietti said. "The caring between both institutions goes back hundreds of years even before we were born, and will go on way after we are here."
Stressing that both the Mount and Wheeling Jesuit have been longtime neighbors rooted in faith, love and education, Giulietti said the cooperation between his university and the sisters is a continuation of that relationship.
"We would like to partner in use of space as we need it," Giulietti said. "We would also like to partner initially by renting space. We would like to do that to expand some of the programs that are successful at our institution to bring in more students and staff to be a greater service to humanity."
Gonter, who is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit College, said Thursday marked a very special day for not only her, but for the seven other sisters who will remain living at the Mount. She said each of the sisters is extremely happy about the plans with WJU and the facility's future.
"I want everyone to realize we couldn't be happier," Gonter said. "Every single one of us is extremely happy. Personally, this is really wonderful."
Giulietti said he thinks the best way to begin the expansion is to start when the time is right.
"Wheeling Jesuit is a university because we express and live a full educational experience," he said. "Our undergraduate programs will always be important and a major piece of who we are, but we also offer full-grown master's programs and full-blown doctorate programs. We have our eyes set on other programs."
A program known as the WJU Academic Resource Center - commonly referred to as the ARC - would be the first moved to the Mount, along with the university's nursing program, once plans are finalized. Such a move would free up space on the main campus of WJU.
"In order to expand and build on quality, we need more space. And with more space, we have the opportunity to bring in more faculty," Giulietti said. "Wheeling Jesuit has always focused on nursing for service and learning."
To keep up with expenses associated with the Mount, Giulietti said there are a number of outside sources already committed to funding the expansion.
Another option that may be used to heat unused portions of the Mount building would be to connect a pipeline from WJU's closest building.
"We are very wise to recognize the use of the building behind me is very delicate, and we have to pay close attention to that," he said.
Giulietti said that ultimately Wheeling Jesuit one day would like to make the best contribution to the area, the community and the region by constructing a new facility to be named the Mount de Chantal College of Health Care Sciences at Wheeling Jesuit University. If such a facility would be created, Giulietti said it would be located directly across from Mount de Chantal on what is now a soccer field.
While WJU has not made any concrete plans to purchase the Mount at this time, Gonter said should anyone outside of the Jesuit community offer to purchase her beloved building the answer would be, "No."
"I will say goodbye to any contractor who wants to buy the Mount," Gonter said. "I am not interested in anything like that. We are like Wheeling Jesuit - going forward. ... Until we (the sisters) are down in the cemetery, this is where we will stay."
Alumna Pat Buch, who graduated from the Mount in 1954, said she could not be more happy about the agreement between WJU and her alma mater. Buch's daughter, Annie Buch Hawkins, is also a Mount de Chantal alumna.
"Every alumni will be ecstatic - it's so wonderful," Buch said. "We were all so worried there would be a hotel built here. There are some sisters who are buried here, and now their graves will never be disturbed. This place is filled with history. Every alumni will just be so excited."