N 1866, TEXAS, a state of massive proportion,
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.”
Angelique found three young sisters to answer the Bishop’s
call. On September 23, 1866, the three nuns received the habit of
the new congregationand the names, Sister Blandine of Jesus,
Sister Joseph of Jesus, and Sister St. Ange. Two days later they
left for Texas.
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.
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
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
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 missionnow the
Mission of CHRISTUS Healthto 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
at your hands.”