As the only Catholic and Jesuit university in West Virginia, our mission emerges from a conviction that a faith-based institution can, and must, intentionally address the civic, cultural, and educational issues facing the place where it exists, in our case the rust belt of the Ohio Valley. This contemporary expression of the historic public purpose of American higher education adds the dimension of service as an articulation of the Catholic faith and the Jesuit tradition to be men and women for others. Our faith-based institution can, and must, serve an area that historically has been “mined” in terms of natural resources, its people, and its way of life to serve those outside the region. The ongoing degradation of our region has resulted in poverty, waste, and increasing cycles of hopelessness—socially, economically, and intellectually.
In their 1975 pastoral letter on powerlessness in Appalachia, “This Land is Home to Me,” signed on our campus, the Catholic bishops of the region emphasized the focus of who we are and who we serve, grounding us in the scriptures and calling us to service. We are called to support “the goal which underlies our concern ... fundamental in the justice struggle, namely, citizen control, or community control. The people themselves must shape their own destiny.” Our mission to educate the children of Appalachia for life, leadership, and service, the basis of our founding more than 50 years ago, compels us to consider how our students and our graduates can shape the destinies of their communities when they leave our campus. The university, one of the largest employers in an economically depressed area, functions as a significant financial and human resource, both on campus and in the larger community.