Joseph Howard Hodges, the second West Virginia native to serve as Bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling, was born on October 8, 1911, in Harpers Ferry. The Hodges family moved to Martinsburg, West Virginia, where he attended St. Joseph’s High School. Following his graduation from St. Joseph’s, he attended the seminary at St. Charles College in Catonsville, Maryland. Six years later, he completed his studies at the North American College in Rome where he was ordained on December 8, 1935.
After his ordainment, Hodges spent 17 years working in the Diocese of Richmond, working mainly with a mission band that traveled to regions of the state not served by priests. In 1952, Pope Pius XII named Hodges auxiliary bishop of Richmond, Virginia. He served as pastor of St. Peter’s Parish in Richmond until May 1961, when Pope John XXIII appointed him coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling under Archbishop Swint.
In 1962, Hodges was asked to represent the Diocese at the Second Vatican Council. While Hodges was attending the first session of the Council in 1962, Archbishop Swint died, and Hodges returned to the Diocese to preside over the funeral ceremonies for the Archbishop. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed as Swint's successor, making him the fifth man to serve as Bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling.
Hodges returned to Italy several times over the next three years and participated in the remainder of the Second Vatican Council. This experience would prove to be a defining moment in his life and lead to his becoming a major source of renewal and reform for the diocese. Until his death in 1985, Bishop Hodges led the Diocese through a remarkable series of changes, most inspired by the mandates of the Council. Possibly the most notable change was the establishment of new boundaries for the Diocese of Wheeling in 1974. These new boundaries resulted in the Diocese being formally renamed the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
As part of the Second Vatican Council's mandate, Hodges began to use the moral authority of his office to challenge the social, economic, and political injustices inherent to Appalachia at that time. He publicly voiced his support of the civil rights movements, he urged local parishes to begin social outreach programs, and he inspired the foundation of numerous social ministry programs from soup kitchens to elderly-assistance programs. He actively promoted and supported the landmark pastoral letter, "This Land is Home To Me," published by the Roman Catholic Bishops of Appalachia.
In 1976, Hodges established the Samaritan House in Wheeling as an emergency shelter, and, he initiated a women's counseling and referral center in the city. Two years later, the Madonna House in Wheeling for unwed mothers opened. Additionally, in 1981, he built the Pope Paul VI Pastoral Center in Wheeling. In recognition of his work in caring for the sick, elderly, and disabled, Hodges was awarded honorary doctoral degrees from Wheeling Jesuit College and West Virginia Wesleyan. In 1970, Wheeling Jesuit College dedicated its library in his name, and, 1984, Wheeling Hospital dedicated its continuous care center in his honor.
After his death on January 27, 1985, it was noted, "Bishop Hodges was a man of vision, a wise leader, a deeply prayerful person, a man of dauntless courage, a servant of Christ ever ready to reach out in loving service to others. He knew West Virginia so well. Its history, culture, mountains and valleys were in his heart, in his very blood and at the core of his vision and plans."
Information compiled from:
Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston Website (www.dwc.org)
Faith in the Mountains: A History of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston by Tricia Pyne
Mount De Chantal Website (www.visitationsisters.org)
Ohio County Public Library Website, Wheeling Hall of Fame
Wheeling Intelligencer, January 28, 1985
Wheeling New Register, January 28, 1985