Establishment of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word
In 1866, Texas, an incredibly large state, was on the brink of burgeoning growth. The entire state was under a single Catholic Diocese with Claude Marie Dubuis serving as Bishop.
During long, tiring journeys on horseback throughout the state, Bishop Dubuis came in contact with illness, disease and poverty of staggering proportion. He turned to his native France to seek help for those who were suffering.
In his homeland, he issued a call for Religious Sisters to immigrate to Texas. In a letter to his friend, Mother Angelique, Superior of the Monastery of the Order of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament in Lyons, he wrote, "Our Lord Jesus Christ, suffering in the persons of a multitude of the sick and infirm of every kind, seeks relief at your hands."
Mother Angelique found three young sisters to answer the Bishop's call. On September 23, 1866, the three nuns received the habit of the new congregation-and the names, Sister Blandine of Jesus, Sister Joseph of Jesus, and Sister St. Ange. Two days later they left for Texas.
First Catholic Hospital in Texas: St. Mary's Infirmary
On their voyage across the ocean aboard the steamship Tybee, they endured weeks of 15- to 20-foot seas and a hurricane, but arrived safely in Galveston on October 25, 1866. Here in this growing city of immigrants and commerce, the three founded the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. On April 1, 1867, they opened Charity Hospital, the first Catholic hospital in Texas.
Only a few months later, Galveston was stricken with a major yellow fever epidemic, the worst in the history of the city. At the hospital, the three sisters worked day and night for their patients. As newcomers to Galveston, they were more susceptible to the disease than were those who had weathered earlier epidemics, but that did not cause them to spare themselves.
By the end of the hot summer, the epidemic had taken the lives of 1,150 residents including that of Mother Blandine, the superior of the small congregation of three. Sister Ange also was stricken with yellow fever but recovered.
Four more sisters who had been educated in Lyons arrived to join Sister Joseph, who then became the Superior. Together, the sisters cared for the sick, the aged, and orphans. Eventually, the name of Charity Hospital was changed to St. Mary's Infirmary.
Santa Rosa Infirmary in San Antonio
The increase in the congregation's membership and the urgent need throughout Texas resulted in an expansion of the sisters' works. In May of 1869, a cholera epidemic in the growing city of San Antonio prompted Bishop Dubuis to seek help from the Galveston sisters. Three sisters responded, Mother Madeleine, Sister St. Pierre and Sister Agnes. In March, 1869, they left Galveston by stagecoach for San Antonio, traveling more than 280 miles on roads that were essentially nothing more than wagon ruts. When they arrived, they found that one building intended for their use had burned to the ground.
Undaunted by the tragedy and fortified by their faith, the sisters set out to rebuild the burned hospital. With arduous effort, the two-story adobe structure was completed by the end of the year. Their hospital consisted of wards and private rooms for the sick, a small chapel, and apartments for use as a convent. It was named Santa Rosa Infirmary.
In a letter published in the San Antonio Daily Herald on November 18, 1869, Mother Madeleine gives the public an insight to the hospital which was soon to open, "We hope to meet the wants of the patients entrusted to our care by providing for them healthy rooms, good food and attentive nursing; and for this reason we take the liberty to solicit not only the assistance of the authorities entrusted with the welfare of the poor, but also the kind offices of the physicians of this place." She closed her letter by declaring, "The hospital will be open to ill persons without distinction of nationality or creed."
And so, in the cities of Galveston and San Antonio, the sisters established self-supporting orders. For this reason and because the vast distance between the cities was so great, the Congregations in Galveston and San Antonio became independent foundations. In 1872, Mother St. Pierre succeeded Mother Madeleine as superior for the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. In 1928, the Generalate of the Galveston Congregation moved to the Villa de Matel in Houston.
Over the next century, the two religious congregations continued to grow, and formed large, independent health systems serving the needs of communities in five states.
In 1999, to strengthen their ability to reach out to those in need and provide the best in health care, the two systems became part of CHRISTUS Health.
Sharing a common heritage and ministry, their mission-now the Mission of CHRISTUS Health-to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ, flows from the founding call and vision of Bishop Dubuis: "Our Lord Jesus Christ, suffering in the persons of a multitude of the sick and infirm of every kind... seeks relief at your hands."