Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word
The Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Houston is a religious institute of women begun in 1866, at the request of French-born Claude Marie Dubuis, the second Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Galveston, which then included the entire state of Texas. Bishop Dubuis made this foundational call to his native France in 1866, asking for sisters to join him in assisting the ill:
Our Lord Jesus Christ, suffering in the persons of a multitude of sick and infirm of every kind, seeks relief at your hands.
Three sisters came from France to Galveston, Texas, and started Charity Hospital (the first Catholic hospital in Texas) in Galveston (which would later become St. Mary's Infirmary & St. Mary's Hospital). The sisters were Sister Mary Blandine, Sister Mary Joseph and Sister Mary Ange.
Later, as a result of the yellow fever epidemic that struck Galveston, the St. Mary's Orphanage was started, first in the hospital, and was later moved just outside town (away from the epidemic). This epidemic also struck two of the sisters: Mother Mary Blandine would die of yellow fever on August 18, 1867; Sister Mary Ange also contracted yellow fever but recovered and returned to France.
Sister Mary Joseph would become Mother Joseph and would continue the work in Galveston. In the early part of the 20th century, with the rapid growth of the City of Houston, the institute's headquarters were relocated from the Island city to Houston.
San Antonio Order
The institute was founded in San Antonio in 1869, as a sister house of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Galveston, Texas. In 1866 three young French women responded to the call of Claude Marie Dubuis, Bishop of the Diocese of Galveston, to come to Texas to care for the sick and the orphans. After a very short period of preparation in the cloistered monastery of the religious institute of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament in Lyons, they left for Galveston to open a hospital and found a new apostolic institute, the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. Additional groups of Sisters followed. In 1869, Bishop Dubuis chose three from the Galveston community, Sister St. Madeleine Chollet, Sister St. Pierre Cinquin, and Sister Agnes Buisson to begin a new house in San Antonio and open the first hospital in the area. He named Mother St. Madeleine superior of the new community. Three years later, he appointed Mother St. Pierre Cinquin as her successor, and she remained in office until her death almost twenty years later.
Sisters Madeleine Chollet, Pierre Cinquin and Agnes Buisson came to help the people of San Antonio who were being ravaged by a severe cholera epidemic. It was just after the Civil War and San Antonio had a population of 12,000; however, there were no public hospitals. When the three Sisters arrived, they founded the institute of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. They also founded San Antonio's first public hospital, known today as CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital.
In 1881, the Sisters founded the Incarnate Word Academy, known today as the University of the Incarnate Word.
Saint Mary's Orphanage and The Galveston Hurricane
The story of the Saint Mary's Orphan Asylum run by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word became an integral part of the story of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 (and indeed, a part of Texas history). This hurricane was so destructive that it remains, more than a century later, not just the most destructive hurricane ever to hit the United States, but the most destructive natural disaster ever to befall the United States. More than 6,000 people died - one-sixth the population of Galveston, Texas.
The orphanage housed at that time 93 children (ages 2 to 13) and 10 sisters. The hurricane arrived quietly on September 7, 1900. The full force of the Galvestion Hurricane of 1900 would not be felt until the next day, September 8.
The story of the hurricane and of what happened at the orphanage remains a central story of the hurricane itself. On September 8, 1900, the hurricane eventually began to erode away the sand dunes that surrounded St. Mary's Orphanage. The sisters in charge decided to move the children into the girl's dormitory, as it was newer and stronger (and thus potentially safer) than the boy's dormitory.
The sisters led the children in singing (in English) the old French hymn, Queen of the Waves. Eventually, the boy's dormitory failed and collapsed into the sea. When the waters started to fill the first floor of the girl's dormitory, the sisters moved the children to the second floor, and again led in singing Queen of the Waves.
The sisters put clothes line around their waists and connected themselves to six to eight children each in an attempt to save the children. Three of the children (older teens) were left loose.
Finally, the girl's dormitory collapsed. All ten sisters and ninety children perished (ironically drowned by being tangled in wreckage by the clothes line); only the three teenaged boys survived: William Murney, Frank Madera and Albert Campbell.
As a result of this tragedy, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word across the world sing Queen of the Waves every year, on September 8, and remember the sisters and the children that died in Galveston that fateful day.
The Sisters of Charity created an audio CD titled Queen of the Waves: Centennial Remembrance of The Great Storm of 1900, and MP3 audio files are available from the official 1900 Storm Remembrance Site. This CD tells the story of the Saint Mary's Orphanage during the 1900 Storm and includes the song Queen of the Waves.
- Serving with Gladness: The origin and history of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Houston, Texas by Mary Loyola Hegarty (ASIN B0006BRX2Q)
- Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio, Texas
- Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Houston, Texas
- Story of the Orphanage told by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word
- Queen of the Waves: Centennial Remembrance of The Great Storm of 1900
- "Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.