CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health System

Since 1869

Our History

In March 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 May 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 structure. After eight months of arduous effort, the hospital was finished and named Santa Rosa Infirmary.

On November 25, 1869, Sister Madeline submitted an announcement to The Weekly Express informing the public that San Antonio's first private hospital would be open to "all persons without distinction of nationality or creed." On December 3, the day of the hospital's opening, the nine-bed hospital admitted eight patients.

Santa Rosa Infirmary has undergone many changes and additions since its inception. A clinical pathological laboratory was established in 1910. In 1918, Santa Rosa became the first hospital in Texas to devote a separate unit for the care of crippled children. In 1930, five years before it became the first Texas hospital to install air conditioning, the Santa Rosa Infirmary was renamed Santa Rosa Hospital.

Incarnate Word Pioneered a Health System

Gradually, the concept of a complete system of health care began to emerge. In effect, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word pioneered the idea of a total system of medical care that would offer the latest preventive, diagnostic, and treatment facilities to care for the mind, body, and spirit of all the inhabitants of San Antonio and South Texas. To this end, the Sisters opened a children's hospital in 1959. CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children's Hospital is dedicated to the treatment of children who suffer from chronic illnesses and cancer. With a solid base of acute hospitals for children and adults, specialty centers, and technological advances began to rapidly increase. Today, the people of CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health Care reach out to the people of San Antonio with new medical technology and high standards of excellence, a mission of caring is planted firmly in the efforts of the founding Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word.

Galveston Storm

On Sept. 8, 1900, Galveston, Texas was struck by a hurricane of such destructive force that it remains one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.

The water and wind killed more than 6,000 men, women, and children. Among the dead were 90 children and 10 Catholic Sisters at the St. Mary's Orphanage. Only three boys and a hymn, "Queen of the Waves," survived from the orphan's home.


Prior to the Great Storm, St. Mary's Orphan Asylum stood on a beautiful beach just three miles west of the city of Galveston. Established by the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, the orphanage was home to 93 children and the 10 Sisters who cared for them. The orphanage itself consisted of two large, two-story dormitories with balconies facing the gulf. Between the dormitories and the gulf were large sand dunes supported by salt cedar trees.

On the morning of Sept. 8, 1900, rain fell and winds increased. The island community had experienced many gulf storms before, but this one was to change Galveston forever. Around noon Sister Elizabeth Ryan, who had gone into the city to collect provisions, returned to the orphanage. She had declined pleas from the Sisters at St. Mary's Infirmary, a hospital also founded by her Congregation, to stay there until the storm passed. By mid-afternoon, the waters of the Gulf had eroded the sand dunes and approached the front steps of the dormitories. The Sisters brought all the children into the girls' dormitory because it was the newer and stronger of the two. To calm the children, the Sisters had them sing "Queen of the Waves," an old French hymn.

The water continued to rise, eventually entering the dormitories. The Sisters took the children to the second floor and continued to sing. By late afternoon, the water-filled the first floor of the dormitory.

In an effort to protect the orphans, each Sister tied herself to several of the children. They heard the crash of the boys' dormitory next door as it fell under 150 mph winds and a 20-foot storm surge.

The Sisters and children sang once more before their own building, the girls' dormitory, collapsed.

Three boys escaped the disaster of the orphanage: Albert Campbell, Frank Bulanek Madera, and William B. Murney.

The rest, 10 Sisters and 90 children died in the storm. The bodies were found still tied together.

Despite this great loss, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word continued their mission and one year later opened a new St. Mary's Orphanage within the city limits. It continued until 1965 when orphanages began giving way to foster homes.

Today, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word have spread their ministry to communities throughout Texas as well as to Louisiana, Arkansas, Utah, and California. The Congregation also maintains ministries in Ireland, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Kenya.

On September 8, no matter where they are, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word sing "Queen of the Waves" to remember the Sisters, children, and all those who faced the Great 1900 Storm.