Pope Francis has bestowed several honors to 13 West Virginians — including two priests — for their service to the Church and society.
The Holy Father named Ronald Violi, Robert Fitzsimmons and Richard Preservati Knights of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great. The Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross has been awarded to the Very Rev. Donald X. Higgs and the Very Rev. Paul J. Wharton. The Benemeriti Medal has been awarded to Jim and Linda Bordas, Matthew Bowles, Robert and Jody Contraguerro, James Gardill, Dr. Judith Romano and Bernard Twigg.
Each was nominated for the honor by the Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. A liturgical celebration will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 17, at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling to honor the recipients.
“The Holy Father has offered a wonderful gift to Msgr. Borgmeyer and to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston,” Bishop Bransfield said. “Msgr. Borgmeyer has served as a trusted leader in our diocese throughout his ministry. He serves our diocese as the Vicar Forane for the Charleston Vicariate, chaplain at Marshall University, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic School and St. Joseph Central High School and is integral in promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life. I am very pleased that the Holy Father has chosen to recognize Msgr. Borgmeyer for his many accomplishments.
“I am also pleased,” the bishop added, “that the Holy Father has recognized the efforts of Very Rev. Donald X. Higgs and Very Rev. Paul J. Wharton, two priests of our diocese who have shown their willingness to take on many tasks and respond beautifully to the pastoral needs of our faithful throughout the state.”
Of the distinguished West Virginians being honored, Bishop Bransfield said, “Pope Francis has chosen 11 very worthy individuals for these honors, and I am so grateful to him for distinguishing them for their service to the Church in West Virginia. They truly represent a model of leadership, faithfulness and loyalty that we can all emulate. I look forward to celebrating these papal honors at special Masses in both Wheeling and Charleston.”
Chaplain to His Holiness
A pontifical honor conferred exclusively upon secular or diocesan priests in recognition of their dedication and exemplary service to the Church, monsignors are honorary members of the Pontifical Family, appointed by the pope himself. There are three grades of monsignor in the Catholic Church: Protonotary Apostolic Supernumerary, Prelate of Honor to His Holiness and Chaplain to His Holiness.
Monsignor Dean G. Borgmeyer
Msgr. Borgmeyer, 66, is a native of St. Charles, Mo. He is the son of Rolland and Georgina. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston June 6, 1981. Msgr. Borgmeyer served as vice-rector of the Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Charleston from 1981-83; associate pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Martinsburg, W.Va., from 1983-85; pastor of St. Peter Parish in Welch, W.Va., and Christ the King Parish in War, W.Va., from 1985-87; chaplain for the United States Navy from 1987-90; pastor of St. Mary Parish and St. Ladislaus Parish in Wheeling from 1990-94; pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Nitro, W.Va., from 1994-2002; pastor of St. Mary Parish in Star City, W.Va., from 2002-06; pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Weirton, W.Va., from 2006-12; and pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Huntington from 2012-present. He has served in the Presbyterate of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston for 36 years. Msgr. Borgmeyer is immediately entitled to all the rights and privileges that come with this honor.
The Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great
Pope Gregory XVI established the order on Sept. 1, 1831, by the Papal brief Quod summis. It is awarded in four classes, with military and civil divisions. The Order is currently awarded for conspicuous service to the Catholic Church, without regard to religious affiliation. Membership in the Order of St. Gregory the Great does not carry the religious obligations of the military orders, making it the preferred award of merit for individual service to the Catholic Church. Since 1994, women have been appointed as “dames” in the same class as men.
Ronald L. Violi is co-founder and co-owner of R&V Associates, Pittsburgh, Pa. Since 2006, Violi has served as CEO of Wheeling Hospital. During his tenure, Wheeling Hospital became the Upper Ohio Valley’s premier hospital, earning numerous regional, state and national recognitions, accreditations and certifications for many of its services — most notably for its comprehensive cancer care, cardiac services and women’s services. His leadership has helped the hospital become the largest employer in the Northern Panhandle with more than 2,400 employees. Violi planned and completed the $53 million construction of Tower 5, an addition to the hospital. The seven-story tower houses a state-of-the-art Emergency/Trauma Center, Pediatric Unit, Critical Care Unit, private patient rooms and physician offices. Violi is also currently overseeing the construction of the new Continuous Care Center scheduled to open this Spring.
Robert P. Fitzsimmons is a lifelong resident of Wheeling and attended Wheeling Central Catholic High School. As a devout Catholic, he is the principal benefactor of his parish church, Corpus Christi Parish in Wheeling. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa. Bob then went on to attend the University of Baltimore School of Law, where he graduated with highest honors and was inducted into the Heusler Honor Society while achieving his Juris Doctorate degree. A leader in the local community, Fitzsimmons has a strong reputation for fairness and justice among litigators nationally. Together with Dr. Julian Bailes and Dr. Bennet Omalu, he founded the Brain Injury Research Institute (BIRI), which is now located at NorthShore University Hospitals in Chicago. These three individuals together with Dr. Jenn Hammers presently serve as co-directors of the institute, whose purpose is to study and examine the effects of head trauma and concussions, specifically including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a permanent and progressive disease that can be caused as a result of concussions and head trauma.
A native of Framingham, Mass., Richard Preservati is an executive in the mining and construction industry located in Princeton, W.Va., and a devout Catholic and family man. Early in his professional life, he began a demonstrable commitment to philanthropic efforts especially directed toward his parish church and toward the good work of Catholic Charities West Virginia. Preservati took an active role in planning and overseeing structural improvements to his parish church and its sanctuary. He also spearheaded the purchase of much-needed land adjacent to the parish church and, by his generosity, enabled the parish to extend several sponsored ministries. Recently, Preservati recognized the growing need for charitable ministries to the poor in his local area and took the initiative. He made a significant financial commitment to find an appropriate building to purchase and renovate for a Catholic Charities outreach center in the Princeton area.
Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice
The Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice decoration is a Papal Award also known as the “Decoration of Honor.” The medal was established by Leo XIII on July 17, 1888, conferred for distinguished service to the church by lay people and clergy.
Very Rev. Donald X. Higgs
Higgs, 57, is a native of Parkersburg, W.Va. He is the son of Harry and Mariellen. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston May 28, 1988. Higgs served as associate pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Clarksburg, W.Va., from 1988-91; associate pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Follansbee, W.Va., from 1991-93; pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Mannington, W.Va., from 1993-98; pastor of St. Peter Parish in Farmington, W.Va., from 1995-98; pastor of St. John University Parish in Morgantown, from 1998-2007; pastor of St. Brendan Parish in Elkins, W.Va., and St. Patrick Parish in Coalton, W.Va., from 2007-16; and rector of the Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Charleston from 2016-present.
Very Rev. Paul J. Wharton
Wharton, 61, is a native of Parkersburg. He is the son of Robert and Kathleen. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston April 24, 1982. Wharton has served in the Presbyterate of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston for 35 years. He has served as associate pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Clarksburg from 1982-85; associate pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Weirton from 1985-86; pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Williamson, W.Va., from 1986-89; Dean of Logan Deanery from 1987-89; pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Mannington from 1989-93; pastor of Ascension Parish in Hurricane, W.Va., from 1993-98; Dean of Charleston Deanery from 1996-97; Pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Montgomery, W.Va., and the Shrine of St. Anthony in Boomer, W.Va., from 1998-2007; Pastor of Sacred Heart in Bluefield and Sacred Heart Parish in Princeton, W.Va., from 2007-13; pastor of St. Leo Parish in Inwood, W.Va., from 2013-15; and pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Beckley, W.Va., from 2015-present.
Meaning “well merited,” the Benemerenti Medal is an honor awarded by the pope to members of the clergy and laity for notable service to the Catholic Church.
Jim and Linda Bordas
Jim and Linda Bordas are both attorneys located in Wheeling. As devout Catholics, both are committed to their family and the local community. Both are graduates of Charleston Catholic High School and moved to Wheeling after their marriage in 1972. Since that time, the Bordas’ have remained committed to Catholic education—raising their children in the faith and enrolling them in Catholic schools. The Bordas’ continue to donate, often anonymously, to local Catholic schools, especially St. Michael Parish in Wheeling and its neighboring parish, St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Wheeling. There are many examples of their acts of charity, which have enabled underprivileged children to participate in extracurricular activities and enable whole schools to attend a special event or field trip. Their charity also extends to several community efforts, especially benefitting the programs run and administered by Youth Services Systems and by the local YMCA. The lives of the young people in the Wheeling area are greatly improved by Mr. and Mrs. Bordas and their generosity to local agencies. The Bordas’ are also strong supporters of the Catholic Charities Neighborhood Center in Wheeling, supporting the various fundraising events of the Center which provides thousands of meals each month to shut-ins and serves hundreds of homeless individuals each week. Jim and Linda have two children, both of whom live in Wheeling.
Robert and Jody Contraguerro
Robert and Jody Contraguerro have been selfless residents of Wheeling for nearly 60 years. Since 1977, the Contraguerro family has owned and operated one the premier cleaning and restoration companies in the area. Mr. and Mrs. Contraguerro have exhibited great generosity to St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Wheeling and its Parish School as well as to their alma mater, Central Catholic High School in Wheeling, where they met. Robert serves on the high school’s Board of Directors and they both contribute many hours of service to the school. They also support a number of other Catholic institutions, while also providing service to the diocese and local parishes. They support a great number of charitable works in the diocese, especially the important work of the Catholic Neighborhood Center and a great number of charitable organizations throughout the state. Robert and Jody have four children who all live in Wheeling.
James Gardill is the managing partner of Phillips, Gardill, Kaiser & Altmeyer and focuses his practice on banking law, commercial law, tax law and estate planning. He has extensive experience in bank regulatory matters and in bank mergers and acquisitions. He has been associated with WesBanco Inc. and its various affiliate banks in providing legal services for the past 30 years. He served as chairman of WesBanco Inc. from June 1, 1990, to Aug. 31, 2003, and as a member of the Board of Directors of WesBanco and its principal affiliate bank, WesBanco Inc. from 1980 until Aug. 31, 2003. During his professional career, he has helped the diocese establish the West Virginia Catholic Foundation, which helped parishes to pool the grants and bequests they receive in order to receive a larger return on their investments. He is very dedicated to his parish church, St. Jude Parish in Glen Dale. He assists the parish in a number of ways and serves the local community as a magistrate on a weekly basis. Gardill is a well-known leader in the local community and has a strong reputation for fairness and justice among attorneys admitted to the Bar in West Virginia. He is actively involved in the education of lawyers, especially at his alma mater, West Virginia University’s School of Law.
Matthew Bowles is an attorney located in Charleston and a devoted Catholic and family man. Indeed, his maternal great, great uncle, the Most Rev. John Joseph Swint, D.D., the fourth Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, serves as a model and inspiration for Bowles’ religious life and dedication to community service. Bowles served as the chair of the Board of Directors of Catholic Charities West Virginia where he was instrumental in reorganizing the organization, especially in the southern tier of the diocese where some of the greatest poverty exists. Under his leadership, the organization grew to more ably address the needs of the poor and underserved throughout the state. Bowles also has enhanced the recognition of the work of Catholic Charities West Virginia among the priests and the lay faithful of the diocese, enabling it to successfully seek donations in support of their charitable mission, most notably during the extensive flooding which occurred in June 2016 and the recovery efforts which are ongoing. Matthew and his wife, Jenna, have two children.
Dr. Judith Romano
Dr. Judith Romano is a leading regional expert in pediatric medicine and pediatric healthcare. She helped to establish the Wheeling Hospital Center for Pediatrics and worked to develop programs for substance-exposed infants, pediatric rehabilitation services, and autism diagnostic services while expanding primary pediatric care and in-patient care. A national speaker and noted leader in the area of early childhood illnesses, Dr. Romano quickly grew Wheeling Hospital’s Pediatric program, eliminating the need to transport children out of the region and away from their families and allowing the region’s children to be treated close to home. Among the programs she began, Dr. Romano’s autism program has benefitted a great number of young people. She is an active member of the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Wheeling and is a noted leader within the local and state community.
Bernard Twigg is a Glen Dale, W.Va., resident and devout Catholic. As an officer of WesBanco Bank, he has greatly assisted the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and its parishes with advantageous financial instruments that have allowed the economical funding of major capital projects. Twigg is also a generous benefactor to Catholic Charities West Virginia and to the annual Catholic Sharing Appeal, while volunteering his own time in many community organizations. He has served as chair of our annual Catholic Charities Gala and, as chair, worked to ensure that it was a record year for the number and total amount of donations. Twigg has shown great commitment to the support of the Church’s charitable work which provides thousands of meals each year to the homeless and to the homebound. Twigg is an active member of St. Jude Parish in Glen Dale and is a noted leader in the local community.