The History of CHRISTUS Health
In 1846, French priest Claude Marie Dubuis, was recruited by Texas Bishop Jean Marie Odin to serve as a missionary to the southwest frontier settlements near Austin and San Antonio. The young priest worked diligently, traveling on foot and horseback to respond to the needs of his vast parish. Along the way, he witnessed terrible suffering caused by harsh living conditions, disease, and poverty. By 1866, Father Dubuis was Bishop of Texas and facing a deadly cholera epidemic. Unable to persuade American religious congregations with trained nurses to establish a presence in Galveston, Bishop Dubuis looked to France. He wrote to his friend, Mother Angelique Hiver, Superior of the Order of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament in Lyon, France requesting her support. In his letter, Bishop Dubuis wrote his founding call, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, suffering in the persons of a multitude of sick and infirm of every kind, seeks relief at your hands.” Three volunteer religious nurses serving in the Hospital of the Antiquaille in Lyon answered Dubuis’ call to serve. These women would become the first Sisters of the new Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. With only a week’s preparation, Mother Blandine Mathelin (first Superior of the congregation), Sister Joseph Roussin and Sister Ange Escude set sail for Texas and opened the Charity Infirmary (renamed St. Mary’s Infirmary) in Galveston, the first Catholic and first private hospital in Texas. The following summer, Mother Blandine and Sister Ange contracted yellow fever during the 1867 epidemic which crippled Galveston. Mother Blandine died from the fever, leaving Mother Joseph to take over as Superior of the fledgling congregation. In 1869, another cholera epidemic was ravaging the frontier city of San Antonio. Once again Bishop Dubuis sought the help of the Sisters to respond to the needs of the community. Bishop Dubuis did not have to look far for help. He called upon the assistance of Mother Joseph Roussin, Superior of the congregation in Galveston to recruit Sisters for the new foundation. Bishop Dubuis selected Mother Madeleine Chollet (first Superior of the congregation - pictured standing), Sister St. Pierre Cinquin (second Superior of the congregation - pictured seated) and Sister Agnes Buisson from the Galveston community to go to San Antonio and establish the Santa Rosa Infirmary. The three Sisters traveled the 280 miles from Galveston to San Antonio by stagecoach to find that the newly constructed hospital and convent had been destroyed by fire. Eventually, the Santa Rosa Infirmary was rebuilt and the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of San Antonio was established.
Thus, in Galveston and San Antonio, the Sisters established two independent congregations. In 1928, the Galveston congregation moved to Houston. 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 health care, the two systems merged to form CHRISTUS Health.
Nine years after Dubuis’ original call, a Polish noblewoman Frances Siedliska founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth in Rome in 1875. Born into a wealthy and powerful Polish family in 1842, she felt called to dedicate her life to God in the service of others. Mother Frances encouraged the Sisters who joined her in ministry to model their lives in the spirit of the Holy Family and reflect the unity and love which reigned in Nazareth. In time the congregation grew and by 1885 Mother Frances and 11 pioneer Sisters set out for Chicago, Illinois where they had been invited to minister to the needs of Polish immigrants, children and families.
Mother Frances and the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth arrived in New York on July 4th amid Independence Day celebrations. They immediately boarded a train for Chicago to begin their U.S. ministry. Within two months of their arrival in Chicago, they were staffing two schools and an orphanage. The congregation continued to grow and soon the Sisters were able to expand their services to include health care, child care and care for the elderly. In 1937, 16 Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth arrived in Tyler, Texas to open the new Mother Frances Hospital. The hospital was scheduled to open on March 19. Unfortunately, tragedy struck on March 18 and Mother Frances Hospital was called to open its doors early to care for the victims of the catastrophic New London school explosion in nearby Rusk County. The Sisters rose to the challenge and permanently established their place in Tyler history. In 2016, the hospital system, now named Trinity Mother Frances joined the unified health care ministries of CHRISTUS Health and the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth became the third sponsoring congregation.
The collaboration of three congregations to strengthen the mission of CHRISTUS Health is a tremendous achievement and the enhancement of a new “one-ness” in the world – with an emphasis on faith and family. Experts joining experts – in the mutual, undiminished dedication to improving lives – allow us to help and heal in enthusiastic new ways, and create strong relationships. Our story shows that we can do more together than apart. The focus of our spirituality and our charisms are consistent and complementary. They demonstrate the making of a powerful partnership, poised to guide our health system to do even more good in the world together.