Incarnate Word Academy

By: Sister Belinda Delaney

Type: General Entry

Published: February 1, 1995

Updated: March 31, 2017

Incarnate Word Academy of Houston, the oldest Catholic school in that city, was founded in 1873 and is located on Crawford Street. It was established by the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, who came to Texas in 1852 at the request of Bishop John M. Odin, first bishop of the Diocese of Galveston. The sisters brought from their native France an educational competence acquired in more than two centuries of a teaching tradition. In 1989 the school had continued for 113 years without interruption the work of Christian education for which it was established, on its original site in the center of Houston; despite advice to the contrary, the administration chose to remain in the inner city to serve the people there. In 1985 the academy was the only school in the downtown business district of Houston.

The school facilities have served boarding and day-school pupils, and its educational programs have at different times included kindergarten through senior high. In the mid-1980s the academy was a four-year high school for girls. Religion in practice and theory has first place in the school's curriculum. Its course of studies provides a comprehensive three-track program designed for college-bound, noncollege, and business students. Seventy percent of the graduates enter college, and many of them have achieved distinguished careers in medicine, banking, writing, science, and art. In ethnicity, the student body reflects that of Houston.

In 1984 a building renovation project was completed. The new school building, designed by McKittrick, Richardson, and Wallace, Incorporated, is a four-story structure combining functional and aesthetic features. A red-brick building constructed in 1905 and designed by Nicholas J. Clayton has been retained to provide a blend of old and new architecture. The design of the new school was selected by the American Association of School Administrators in 1981 and the American Institute of Architects in 1982 as a representative school design. A notable feature of the new facility is its Learning Resources Center, which houses more than 15,000 volumes and some 10,000 audiovisual materials.

In 1878 the school was granted a state charter, renewable in ninety-nine years, which allowed it to confer diplomas. The state bestowed this charter on the academy in perpetuity in 1926. Later the school was accredited by the Texas Education Agency. Since 1952 it has been a member of the Southern Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges. It is also affiliated with the National Catholic Education Association. A board composed of school patrons and the administration organizes the school's finances. Students pay tuition, but their payments do not cover the annual budget. Fund-raising projects and donations help to make up the deficit. The IWBS sisters and alumnae administer memorial scholarships to aid students who cannot afford full tuition. With the exception of Title IV appropriations to the Learning Resources Center, the academy receives no federal or state assistance.

The state placed a historical marker on the site of Incarnate Word Academy in 1973 to commemorate the centennial year of the school. On January 14, 1982, the Harris County Commissioners Court, through the courtesy of County Judge John Lindsay, commended the academy for its contribution to the growth of the community. Enrollment in 1990–91 was 217.

  • Architecture
  • Other Structures
  • Education
  • Religion
  • Catholic
Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Progressive Era
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

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

Sister Belinda Delaney, “Incarnate Word Academy,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 01, 2022,

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February 1, 1995
March 31, 2017

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