An avid historian, a dedicated priest, and a skilled administrator, the Reverend Father Clifford M. Lewis was one of the founders of Wheeling College. A long-time resident of the Wheeling area, he was known for his efforts as an educator, author, and lecturer, in addition to his work on behalf of the Catholic Church.
Born in Meadville, Pa., in 1911, Father Lewis began his education in a one-room schoolhouse. He attended Meadville High School and Allegheny College, where he received a Bachelors degree in English in 1932. After completing his studies, he began a teaching career as a social science instructor in the Erie County (PA) school system. Subsequently, he obtained a master's degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin and worked as a newspaper reporter in Meadville. He later became a journalism instructor and director of publicity at West Virginia Wesleyan. In 1938, he became director of publications at Penn State University.
Even though he was reared as a Baptist, he converted to Catholicism in 1937, and he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Wernersville, Maryland five years later. While he pursued his theological and philosophical studies, he also served as the head of the sociology department at the University of Scranton. He was ordained a priest in 1951 at Woodstock College.
The very first Jesuit to take up residence in Wheeling, Fr. Lewis was sent to the city by the Maryland Province to begin a two-year feasibility study on establishing a Jesuit college in the area. He arrived early in 1953 and began conferring with Archbishop John J. Swint and others interested in the construction of the school. As the plan for Wheeling College was developed, the price tag for constructing the bare essentials was over budget by $1 million. Archbishop Swint declared the cost too expensive for the effort to continue, but the Jesuits persisted. Father Lewis was largely responsible for raising that $1 million, as well as additional monies for the operation of the college.
After the college was established, Fr. Lewis remained on campus as assistant to the president and remained closely connected with the school over the next 30 years. The college archivist at the time of his death, Lewis had the distinction of being the first faculty member of the school. He also served as the first director of public relations, of alumni relations and of development. The historic portrait of Sara Tracy that currently hangs in Tracy Hall was salvaged by Fr. Lewis after being lost for several years. The Wheeling Jesuit golf team also won the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship under his direction.
A passionate amateur historian, the Wheeling area provided Father Lewis with ample opportunity to contribute to historical preservation. He became president of the West Virginia Archaeological Society and the Wheeling Area Historical Society. In 1968, he was appointed to the West Virginia Antiquities Commission, and that same year, he launched "The Upper Ohio Valley Historical Review." He also played a central role in acquiring federal funds for the restoration of West Virginia Independence Hall and served as a director of the Independence Hall Foundation. His interest in historic preservation was also demonstrated by the instrumental role he played in the designation of Wheeling's Suspension Bridge as a national historical engineering landmark.
After Fr. Lewis's death on March 17, 1983, the WJU Alumni Association named its highest award in his honor. Presented to the alumnus who best exemplifies his spirit, the award honors extraordinary service and dedication to Wheeling Jesuit University. Each year, the award is given to an individual who, like Fr. Lewis, is true "person for others."
Information compiled from:
Ohio County Public Library Website, Wheeling Hall of Fame
Wheeling Jesuit University Chronicle, Spring 1994
Wheeling Jesuit University Website (www.wju.edu)
The Wheeling Intelligencer, March 18, 1983
The Wheeling News Register, March 18, 1983