Born Dec. 15, 1879, in Pickens, West Virginia, the Most Reverend John James Swint was the son of immigrants from Central Europe. The Swints were one of the first Catholic families to settle in Randolph County and were instrumental in establishing the Church's presence in that region. Growing up in a devout Catholic family, Bishop Swint discovered his vocation at an early age. At fourteen, he entered St. Charles College in Ellicott City, Maryland to begin his studies for the priesthood.
Swint completed his studies at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore and was ordained to the priesthood in 1904 by Bishop Patrick J. Donahue. His first assignment was at St. John's Church in Wellsburg, WV, but, after a short time, he was transferred to the Apostolic Mission House in Washington, DC for training as a missionary. Unfortunately, Swint was called back to the Diocese of Wheeling before completing his training. Swint was named rector of St. Patrick's in Hinton, WV, and given responsibility for serving the Catholic communities in three of West Virginia's largest counties (Fayette, Raleigh, and Sumner). Even with his large workload, he still found time to establish the Diocesan Apostolic Mission Band in 1906 and left St. Patrick's.
As a member of the Apostolic Mission, Swint traversed the state, often on horseback or on foot, holding services in halls, courthouses, and private homes. He was known for engaging any opponent in debate over Catholic doctrine and brought Mass and the sacrament to the scattered Catholic families of the state. Still later, Swint was recalled to St. Patrick's in Hinton and initiated an aggressive building plan for construction of a new church and school.
Impressed with Swint's devotion and talent, Bishop Donahue appointed him as Auxiliary Bishop on Feb. 22, 1922. Swint succeeded Donahue as the fourth Bishop of the Diocese in December of 1922. He would serve in that role for the next 40 years, longer than any other bishop in the history of the Diocese. During that time, Swint oversaw tremendous growth and challenges to the Catholic community in the Wheeling area. The Great Depression and rising anti-Catholic sentiment, embodied by the Ku Klux Klan, troubled the Diocese for many years.
Despite these challenges, Archbishop Swint initiated an aggressive building program to meet the needs of the diverse and growing Catholic population. At the time of his death on November 23, 1962, close to 100 churches, a new cathedral, five hospitals, 43 elementary and secondary schools, and one preparatory seminary had been founded under his leadership. Wheeling College (now Wheeling Jesuit University), a project of which Swint was particularly proud, was also established as a co-educational liberal arts college in the Jesuit tradition.
Numerous honors were bestowed upon Bishop Swint over the course of his career, including honorary degrees from Georgetown University and West Virginia University. On the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, the announcement was made that Pope Pius XII had conferred the title of Archbishop "ad personam" on Bishop Swint in recognition of his years of service to the church. The title of Archbishop is traditionally conferred on Bishops whose Dioceses have been declared an archdiocese, and it is highly unusual for a Bishop of a Diocese to receive this honor.
Without the vision, dedication, and wisdom of Archbishop Swint, Wheeling Jesuit University would still be a dream. He was the driving force behind transforming 60 acres next to Wheeling Creek into Wheeling College. His memory continues to be honored throughout the school and Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
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
The Wheeling Intelligencer, November 24, 9162
The Wheeling News Register, November 24, 1962