Letters from Fr. Bekeh Utietiang

1307636068Utietiang_BekehApril 8, 2015

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Good afternoon! I hope the blessings of the Easter season continue to warm your hearts with Christ’s love. It has been a difficult journey for us since the fire at St. John’s, but we have found comfort and hope by coming together as a community of faith. In my homily on Easter Sunday, I talked about what we know God will do for us: God will give us something new. God will renew our spirit. God will renew our faith.

As I mentioned to you on Monday, Mrs. McWhorter and I started evaluating alternatives for classroom space for SS. James & John School. Because we cannot anticipate having utility service at our current school building, Fr. That Son Ngoc Nguyen of St. Francis Xavier in Moundsville kindly offered us the use of his former school building on the corner of 6th and Jefferson Streets in Moundsville. On Tuesday, I visited that location and took a tour with Fr. That Son. The parishioners have done a remarkable job in preparing the school. I believe this will be the best option for our students and faculty as we look to complete our school year on schedule.

Therefore, we will reconvene SS. James & John School next week in Moundsville at the former St. Francis Xavier school property. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Fr. That Son and the parishioners of St. Francis Xavier. I have been very impressed by their spirit of generosity,
and I believe our students, teachers and school families will experience the same hospitality that has been extended to me.

Starting today, school teachers and staff will be organizing their classroom supplies, furniture and instructional materials so they can be sent to Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration for treatment to eliminate the scent of smoke. Student belongings will also be treated and, after Panhandle concludes their work, all items will be transported to Moundsville for our use. Please note that we cannot allow parents or students to enter the school due to ongoing safety concerns at the church. I appreciate your cooperation in this matter. Our teachers will do a great job in pulling all of our students’ belongings out of their respective classrooms under the supervision of safety personnel.

By Friday afternoon, I will distribute another message to you regarding the start date for school next week.

Tentatively, on Monday and Tuesday we are scheduling our teachers and staff to prepare their new work and learning spaces, followed by an invitation for you to visit the school in Moundsville with your children so they may find their classrooms, desks and supplies. School will reopen on the next day. I will announce these specific dates as soon as we can certify that the building is ready for occupancy.

Thank you so much for your patience and understanding as we move forward. We hope and trust that these updates have helped ease your mind during this difficult time. Our students are our hope and our promise, and Mrs. McWhorter and I are dedicated to making this transition
as easy as possible on your children. While we cannot predict the overall outcome of the fire, we can take steps each day to regain a sense of normalcy while handling each new challenge that comes our way.

Please know that you and your families continue to be in my prayers. I am grateful for you, your children and your enduring support of SS. James & John School.

Your Brother in Christ,

Rev. Bekeh Utietiang, Ph.D.


April 6, 2015

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Happy Easter to you and your loved ones! I trust that you and your families had a wonderful Holy Week and that your children are now enjoying Spring Break. I greatly enjoyed seeing so many of you in attendance at our Holy Week liturgies at St. James Parish. This week, as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, let us also begin to think about how SS. James & John School can be ready to operate again next Monday.

After the devastating fire at St. John’s one week ago, two structural engineering firms began an assessment of the remaining church building and the impact of the fire on the entire physical plant, including the grade school. While it is too early to determine whether the church can be saved, we do know that all utility services have been rendered inoperable. Because the electricity, heat and other utility services for the school originate on the church-side of the property, we will not be able to reopen the SS James & John School building when class resumes on April 13. In addition, we are still waiting for information from our structural engineers regarding the strength of the walls of the church building, which will impact the use of the school building. That may take much longer to determine.

It is evident that an alternative plan will need to be developed in order for classes to resume on schedule. I have been consulting with Bishop Bransfield, the Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Mrs. McWhorter, and our school leadership to consider the different options that are available to us.

Today, Fr. That Son Ngoc Nguyen, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Moundsville, contacted me with a very generous offer to use the former school building at his parish. After his morning Mass today, Fr. That Son and several parishioners began cleaning their school’s classrooms and offices in order to show them to us. I am interested in exploring this and other options and will share more information with you as soon as possible. We are indeed grateful for this act of Christian charity by the people of St. Francis Xavier Parish.

Please know that you and your families continue to be in my prayers. While there are many obstacles to overcome as a result of the fire, we do have many blessings in our lives for which we can be very grateful. I am grateful for you, your children and your enduring support of SS. James & John School.

Your Brother in Christ,

Rev. Bekeh Utietiang, Ph.D.


March 31, 2015

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

The terrible fire at our beloved St. John Parish in Benwood has shocked our Catholic family and the community of Benwood. Never could we have realized this tragedy, and I join you in praying in thanksgiving to the Lord that nobody was injured as a result of the fire. However, we must realize that, in the spirit of Holy Week, hope is just a heartbeat away. Let us draw upon our faith to persevere as a community of joy and love for another.

Due to the fire, and with safety being the primary concern, the campus at St. John’s Parish, which includes the church, rectory and SS. James & John School must remain closed at this time. We are contracting with a structural engineer who will test the integrity of the church walls and overall structure. This investigation could take many days to complete, and until we receive approval from the structural engineer, we are not permitted to use any of the buildings on our campus. I do apologize for this inconvenience, however, it is in our best interests and everyone’s safety to remain cautious.

For the Easter Triduum, I am announcing the following schedule of liturgies:

  • Wednesday 6:30 pm Penance Service at St. James Parish in McMechen.
  • Holy Thursday 7:30 pm at St. James Parish in McMechen.
  • Good Friday 7:00 pm at St. James Parish in McMechen.
  • Holy Saturday 8:00 pm (moved from St. John’s) at St. James Parish in McMechen.
    10:00 pm Easter Vigil at St. James Parish in McMechen.
  • Easter Sunday 8:00 am at St. James Parish in McMechen.
    10:00 am Mass with First Communion at St. James Parish in McMechen.

Let us celebrate Holy Week and then Easter together as a parish family. We will need each other more than ever as we work to overcome the obstacles this fire has presented. As I challenged you last Sunday, this week is about Jesus and we will suffer with Him by offering up our pains, challenges and inconveniences. Our community has been handed a heavy cross, we will bear it with Christ this week as we celebrate the Sacred Triduum. I thank you for your patience, faithfulness and flexibility.

We are in the midst of Holy Week, and with spring break already scheduled for next week for SS. James & John School, we are working on many contingency plans related to the school’s operation. As we receive information from the structural engineers, more information will be made available in the days and weeks ahead. We will complete our school year.

Please know that you and your loved ones remain in my thoughts and in my prayers. I am so fortunate to be your pastor, and I sincerely appreciate your prayers and best wishes.

Your brother in Christ,
Rev. Bekeh Utietiang, Ph.D.
Pastor of St. John and St. James Parishes

© 2015 Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston