Mother Margaret Mary Healy, foundress of the first congregation of nuns in Texas with the mission of serving the "poor and dark races," was born to Richard and Jane Healy in Cahirciveen, County Kerry, Ireland, on May 4, 1833. Her father, a doctor, tended the needs of the impoverished people of prefamine Ireland. After his wife died, Healy took his family, except the youngest girl, Jeannie, who was left to be raised by family members, to America on May 4, 1839. After settling in West Virginia, Margaret and her brothers were sent to school. Healy died moving the family to Texas, and Margaret, two aunts, two uncles, and two brothers continued on to Matamoros, Tamaulipas. From 1846 to 1850 Margaret assisted her aunts in operating a hotel there. One of her uncles was shot by desperadoes at the front of the hotel, and her remaining uncle and two brothers went to California in search of gold.
On May 4, 1849, at the age of sixteen, Margaret was married to John B. Murphy, who had been a volunteer in the army of Gen. Zachary Taylor. Upon leaving the army he set up a commercial business in Matamoros, where he and Margaret met. In 1850 Mrs. Murphy moved with her husband to Texas. They owned a large piece of farmland in San Patricio County. John set up a law practice in Corpus Christi, where they lived at Water and William streets. When yellow fever struck the country, Margaret worked tirelessly nursing the victims. She adopted a homeless Hispanic girl, Delphine, and a daughter of a dear friend who died asking Margaret to care for her daughter, Minnie. Later they adopted a third daughter.
In 1873 three Sisters of St. Mary of Namur arrived in Waco to assist Bishop Claude Marie Dubuis. One of these was Sister Angela, formerly Jeannie Healy, the sister who had been left in Ireland. After the hurricane in 1875 Margaret and three friends purchased a center for the homeless that later became known as "Mrs. Murphy's Hospital for the Poor." Everyone was welcome regardless of creed or color. John B. Murphy, who served Corpus Christi first as a lawyer and later as mayor, gave full support to his wife in all of her charitable endeavors for the poor of San Patricio and Corpus Christi. His death on July 4, 1884, was a great loss for Margaret Mary.
Mrs. Murphy determined to use the wealth left by her husband to aid the poor and neglected of society. After hearing a sermon which inspired her to work for black people, she purchased a piece of property and built a church, convent, and school in San Antonio. The project was besieged by prejudice and stunted by a shortage of dedicated teachers. After it became clear that the only way to continue operating was to form a new congregation of religious sisters, the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Ghost (presently known as Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate) was established, the first such community to develop in Texas. Because she was the foundress and first superior of the congregation, Margaret Mary was named Reverend Mother Margaret Mary Healy-Murphy. She worked unflaggingly for the success of her congregation. She died on August 25, 1907, in St. Peter Claver Convent, at 203 Nolan Street, San Antonio, the birthplace of the congregation.
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Southern Messenger, August 29, 1907. Sister M. Immaculata Turley, S.H.G., Mother Margaret Mary Healy-Murphy (San Antonio: Naylor, 1969).
Activism and Social Reform
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Sister Bernice Mallory, S.H.Sp.,
“Healy-Murphy, Margaret Mary,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 26, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
January 1, 1995
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: