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Diocese gifts $5 million to Wheeling University

WHEELING — The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston is gifting $5 million to Wheeling University over the next five years in a move the bishop said would give the embattled school “a chance” to come back from its financial and enrollment challenges.

But at the same time they revealed the $5 million plan, diocese officials said the university has not yet begun drawing down a $2 million allotment that was approved last summer by the diocese. That seems to reflect progress by WU in handling its finances, they noted.

“I just couldn’t bring myself to pulling the plug,” the Most Rev. Mark Brennan, bishop of the diocese, said in an interview before announcing the gift Friday morning. “I wanted to give them a chance.”

The university will receive $2.5 million for next school year and $1 million the following year, the diocese said. There will then be three payments of $500,000 over the final three years, ending after the 2024-25 school year.

This the second financial gift the diocese has made to the university in the past seven months. In early August, with the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission withholding the university’s annual re-authorization, the diocese gave the school $2 million to shore up its financial situation.

The university also received nearly $13 million three years ago from former bishop Michael Bransfield’s secret non-profit Bishops Fund Inc. that gave donations to various Catholic causes.

Brennan said the donations from the diocese will end with this $5 million gift.

“We’re not going to give more,” Brennan said. “It should stop after five years.”

Brennan said he hopes this recent donation will provide the university financial stability and give incoming or current students the confidence they will be able graduate from the school. However, he said school officials must show they have a viable financial plan to keep the university operating in the long-term.

“I did not want to pull the rug out from under them,” Brennan said. “They would struggle to get students through.”

Bryan Minor, the director of Diocesan Administrative Services, said the university appears to be on a better financial path and has yet to process the $2 million gift from August.

“I don’t want to paint a rosy picture (but) they’re doing much better,” Minor said.

He said the diocese plans to work with university President Ginny Favede and set benchmarks to “keep a close eye” on the school’s progress.

“We’re going to work closely and stay in touch,” Minor said. “We’re in the same (Catholic) family, so we need to help each other out.”

University officials could not immediately be reached for comment Friday morning.

In March, the university’s board of trustees declared “a financial exigency” and announced the layoffs of 20 faculty members at the close of last school year and the elimination of all philosophy, theology and liberal arts programs.

The university’s affiliation with the Jesuits was terminated after the school year, and the board announced in July it would rebrand the institution as Wheeling University.

Michael Mihalyo, who was elected the university’s president in August 2018, and Senior Vice President Joseph Petrella were placed on administrative leave last August, and both were eventually terminated. Favede, who previously served as board chairperson, was elected president in October.

(Jones can be contacted at mjones@theintelligencer.net)

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