Catholic Health Care

By: Sister M. Loyola Hegarty, C.C.V.I.

Type: General Entry

Published: December 1, 1994

Updated: September 12, 2019

The Texas Conference of Catholic Health Facilities is a state-wide organization of Catholic hospitals, systems, and long-term-care facilities, and their sponsoring religious congregations. It exercises the ministry of healing within the Catholic Church and the broader society through programs of education, facilitation, and advocacy. The extant health-care facilities named in this article belong to the TCCHF.

In 1971, in order to adapt to changes in health-care delivery and to improve coordination of its sponsored health-care facilities, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in Houston established the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word Health Care System of Houston. The SCH System, one of the largest Catholic health care systems in the United States, operates eleven acute-care and four long-term-care centers. Six of these centers are in Texas. In 1867 St. Mary's Hospital, Galveston, the first Catholic hospital in Texas, was established by Bishop Claude M. Dubuis and by the recently founded Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, who were trained in France and came to Texas specifically to start a hospital. The original thirty-bed hospital developed by 1994 into an acute-care facility with 322 licensed beds. The sisters so impressed the citizens of Galveston with their dedication and service during a yellow fever epidemic that the city council recommended turning over the city hospital to them in 1868. In 1887 St. Joseph Hospital, Houston, was opened by sisters from St. Mary's in Galveston. For over a century St. Joseph's has provided health care and health education to the citizens of Houston. In 1994 St. Joseph Hospital, licensed for 840 beds, was a full-service, acute-care facility. In 1962 St. Elizabeth Hospital, Beaumont, became the third hospital operated in Beaumont by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, having been preceded by the Hotel Dieu (founded in 1897) and St. Therese Hospital (1934). By 1994 St. Elizabeth's had grown from the initial 200 licensed beds to 497, and was widely recognized for medical and surgical services. It is a major referral center for a large area of Southeast Texas and neighboring Louisiana. St. Mary Hospital, Port Arthur, began as a 150-bed acute-care facility in 1928. In 1994 it had 278 licensed beds and offered a full spectrum of medical and surgical services. The Bishop Byrne Wellness Center, Port Arthur, opened in 1985 and is a central facility for outpatient services. St. John Hospital, Nassau Bay, formerly a United States public health facility, became a member of the SCH System in 1981. It is an acute-care facility, licensed for 141 beds. The SCH System acquired the Regis and St. Elizabeth centers, Waco, from the Catholic Diocese of Austin in 1985. The Regis offers living units for 196 independent retired persons. St. Elizabeth provides 179 beds for long-term care.

In 1981 the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio, established Incarnate Word Health Services as a multi-hospital system charged with providing leadership and services to its members. The Texas members of IWHS are Santa Rosa Health Care, San Antonio; Spohn Health System, Corpus Christi; St. Anthony's Hospital, Amarillo; and St. Joseph's Hospital and Health Service, Paris. Santa Rosa Health Care, a 1,098-bed complex, includes Santa Rosa Hospital, which developed from the original 1869 facility. In 1924, Santa Rosa Hospital won a four-year battle against the city of San Antonio when the Texas Supreme Court ruled that this and all Catholic-run hospitals were tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations. Santa Rosa offers a full range of services. Its component units include Santa Rosa Long Term Hospital, which houses patients requiring extended hospitalization; Santa Rosa Children's Hospital; Santa Rosa Northwest Hospital and Santa Rosa Rehabilitation Hospital, both located in the South Texas Medical Center; and Villa Rosa Hospital, San Antonio's first and largest free-standing, private psychiatric hospital. Included also is Yoakum Community Hospital, a forty-six-bed facility in Yoakum. Spohn Health System, Corpus Christi, comprises Spohn Hospital (founded in 1905), licensed for 560 beds, the leading general acute-care hospital south of San Antonio; Spohn Kleberg Hospital, Kingsville, a 100-bed hospital serving Kleberg County and surrounding areas; and Spohn Hospital South, a full-service, 120-bed, acute-care facility. In 1901 St. Anthony's Hospital, Amarillo, became the first Catholic hospital in the Panhandle. With 336 licensed beds, it is the Panhandle's premier tertiary-care center and is a major referral hospital. St. Joseph's Hospital and Health Center, Paris, was originally established in 1906 by the Sisters of Mercy and known as St. Patrick's Infirmary. The hospital passed to the San Antonio Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in 1911. In 1994, with 212 licensed beds, St. Joseph's offers comprehensive health service to Paris.

In addition to the health-care facilities sponsored by the Incarnate Word Sisters, the Daughters of Charity National Health System, West Central Region, administers several major health-care institutions (see DAUGHTERS OF CHARITY OF ST. VINCENT DE PAUL). St. Paul Medical Center, founded in 1896, the oldest, private, nonprofit hospital in Dallas, is a 600-bed, full-service, acute-care facility. St. Paul's opened its first free clinic in 1908 and another in 1920 in a Hispanic neighborhood. In 1923 another branch, the Marillac Clinic, opened its doors. It is also a teaching hospital, providing education for sixty resident physicians in four specialties. St. Joseph Hospital, Fort Worth, was founded in 1883 as a hospital for railroad workers. From 1885 until 1991 it was sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio. The Daughters of Charity assumed sponsorship on October 5, 1991. St. Joseph, with 475 licensed beds, is the oldest hospital in Fort Worth and the only Catholic one. Waco's first hospital, now Providence Health Center, opened in 1903, amid a barrage of anti-Catholic sentiment. Because the hospital had few private patients to cover the costs of treating the indigent, the sisters contracted with the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad to treat sick railroad employees. Through the care of more than 3,000 such patients over seven years, the hospital's reputation flourished. In 1994 its four divisions included the medical-surgical area, DePaul Psychiatric Center, Providence Home Care, and St. Catherine Center (a center for the elderly that includes an Alzheimer's unit). The health center campus features a 136-bed acute-care hospital and an ambulatory-services building for outpatients. The Daughters of Charity Services of Austin includes Seton Medical Center (founded in 1902), Seton Northwest Hospital, and Seton East Community Center. Seton Medical Center, with 503 licensed beds, is the largest medical and surgical acute-care center in Austin. Seton Northwest Hospital, with eighty-two beds, provides acute-care services in northwest Austin. Seton East Community Center offers primary health care at reduced rates, social services, and health education for residents of east and south Austin.

Other Catholic orders and institutions have served health care in Texas. Holy Cross Hospital, Austin, was established in 1940 by Father F. R. Weber, pastor of Holy Cross Church, and the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. Its mission was to offer care to African Americans who had difficulty getting quality service at other hospitals. The sisters originally had twelve beds, six bassinets, and one second-hand operating table, located in an old two-story school building. Supplies and equipment were so limited that the staff had to use pressure cookers and kitchen pots to sterilize instruments. Under the direction of Sister Celine Heitzman, M.D., who became the resident physician in 1942, the hospital improved. During the 1940s, Sister Celine instituted a racially mixed staff. Through intensive fund-raising a new facility was built in 1951 with a fifty-bed capacity. The hospital was closed in 1989. Bethania Regional Health Care Center, Wichita Falls, was opened by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth as a thirty-five-bed hospital in 1935. In 1994 it had 258 licensed beds and managed an additional sixty-five beds at three regional hospitals. Mother Francis Regional Health Care Center, Tyler, which opened in 1937 as a municipal hospital operated by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, was purchased by the sisters in 1947. In 1994 it was a 358-bed acute-care facility that offered a full spectrum of services. Since 1937 it has been committed to caring in a special way for the family, in cooperation with the Tyler Health District. St. Joseph Hospital and Health Center, in Bryan, originated as Bryan Hospital in 1912. The Sisters of St. Francis from Sylvania, Ohio, purchased the hospital in 1935 and reopened it in 1936 under its present name. The original twenty-five-bed hospital, now a regional medical center with 196 licensed beds, is the largest hospital in Bryan-College Station. Trinity Community Medical Center of Brenham was founded on March 1, 1989, by the consolidation of St. Jude and Bohne Memorial hospitals. This seventy-three-bed acute-care hospital is also sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis. The organization operates at the St. Jude and Bohne Memorial locations under a single board of trustees and a single administrative team. Mercy Regional Medical Center, Laredo, sponsored by the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas (St. Louis Province) originated when three Sisters of Mercy opened a twelve-bed hospital. Within five years, a twenty-bed hospital was in operation. In 1955 ground was broken for a new hospital at the present location. Through the 1970s and 1980s, facilities and services continued to be added or expanded. In 1994 the 420-bed acute-care center celebrated "a hundred years of community health and the wellness of generations to come." St. Mary of the Plains Hospital, Lubbock, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, California, originated as the Plains Hospital and Clinic of Lubbock, built by a group of physicians. It was acquired by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange in 1939 and renamed St. Mary of the Plains Hospital. In 1994 this full-service acute-care hospital had a bed capacity of 434.

Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). Catholic Archives of Texas, Files, Austin. Sister Mary Loyola Hegarty, C.C.V.I., Serving with Gladness: The Origin and History of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Houston, Texas (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1967).

  • Health and Medicine
  • Hospitals, Clinics, and Medical Centers
  • Religion
  • Catholic
  • Homes and Orphanages
  • Organizations
  • Central Texas
  • Austin
  • San Antonio
  • Waco
  • East Texas
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • Beaumont
  • Galveston
  • Houston
  • North Texas
  • Wichita Falls
  • Panhandle Region
  • Amarillo
  • South Texas
  • South and Border
  • Laredo
  • Southeast Texas
  • Gulf Coast Region
  • Corpus Christi

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Sister M. Loyola Hegarty, C.C.V.I., “Catholic Health Care,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994
September 12, 2019

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: