Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio

By: Sister Josephine Kennelly, C.C.V.I.

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: March 5, 2019

The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word originated in Lyons, France, and was established in Galveston (1866), then moved to San Antonio (1869) by its founder, Claude Marie Dubuis, bishop of Galveston, whose diocese at that time comprised the entire state of Texas. The bishop made frequent trips to France to collect money and recruit priests and nuns for the growing needs of his vast diocese. The most pressing need of his 1866 visit was the procurement of nursing sisters. Dubuis succeeded in having three young ladies prepared for the Texas mission in the Monastery of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament in Lyons. They arrived in Galveston in late 1866 and formed the nucleus of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word while serving the sick in the little Charity Hospital, as it was then called (now St. Mary's Hospital, administered by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Galveston-Houston). Within a year of their arrival, their nursing skills were tested by severe yellow fever and cholera epidemics. In the meantime, other volunteers joined the monastery in Lyons to prepare for the Texas mission and for the dangerous voyage to Galveston, where they joined the original foundation. Bishop Dubuis had for some time nurtured the hope of building a hospital in San Antonio. He decided to go ahead with his plans, and at his request Sisters Louise (Mother Madeleine) Chollet, Jeanne Pierrette (Mother St. Pierrette) Cinquin, and Agnes, the pioneers of the new foundation, traveled from Galveston to San Antonio by stagecoach. As they were setting out from Galveston, they learned that the home which they would have occupied had been destroyed by fire. When they arrived in San Antonio in March 1869 they received hospitality from the Ursuline Sisters until a new house was built. On October 21, 1869, the Sisters of Charity moved into their new home, a combined convent and hospital, and on December 1 of the same year they opened the first hospital in San Antonio, known then as Santa Rosa Infirmary. Sister St. Madeleine was appointed superior and Sister St. Pierre her assistant. The small, two-story frame structure, which consisted of a few wards for the sick, a convent area for the sisters, and a small chapel, also served as the first motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio. The city was recovering at that time from a severe cholera epidemic, in which the sisters became pioneers in health care. The congregation continued to recruit members from France, Germany, Ireland, Canada, the United States, and Mexico. With the growth in membership came the need for increased housing. In 1897 the congregation moved to a residence and tract of 280 acres of land, which they purchased from George W. Brackenridge. Calling their headquarters Brackenridge Villa, they built a new motherhouse and chapel, which were ready for occupancy in 1900 and 1907, respectively. By 1891 the sisters' health care establishments included eleven hospitals in Texas, New Mexico, Iowa, and Missouri and a home for the aged in Monterrey.

By 1874 the sisters had established their first children's home, St. Joseph's Orphanage in San Antonio, and in 1875 the first school of the congregation was opened at the orphanage and called San Fernando School. The sisters' ministry in education grew until by 1891 they were teaching in twenty-two towns or cities in Texas, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Mexico. Through the course of the century a flourishing congregation developed, and with the growth in numbers and apostolic work came the division of the order into the four provinces of San Antonio, St. Louis, New Orleans, and Mexico in 1921. Later, the three United States provinces were combined. The work of the sisters was extended to South America in 1964, when Centro Santa Clara was erected in Chimbote, Peru, by the congregation as a missionary center to serve the poor. In 1969, when the congregation celebrated its centennial, the San Antonio Province was operating four hospitals, fifty-two elementary and secondary schools, and Incarnate Word College; the sisters also conducted St. Peter's and St. Joseph's Home for children and the Guadalupe Community Center. The Province of Mexico had grown to include eleven colleges, eight free elementary schools for the poor, eight hospitals, three schools of nursing, at least one home for children, and two community centers. The sisters of the St. Louis Province staffed four hospitals, sixteen elementary schools and a secondary school, and three homes for children. Sixteen years into its second century of humanitarian service in 1985, the congregation continued to respond to the needs of the times as sisters serve in new ministries such as counseling, parish ministry, helping battered women, and programs for recovery from chemical dependency. In 1986 a lay volunteer program was begun to assist the sisters in their work. The order's motherhouse chapel, erected in 1907 on the campus of Incarnate Word College in San Antonio, was repaired and renovated between 1987 and 1990. From December 3, 1993, to December 3, 1994, the sisters celebrated the 125th anniversary of their founding in San Antonio; the theme was "Year of Jubilee-Year of Grace." In honor of this event a resident historian, Sister Margaret Patrice Slatterly, was assigned to write a history of the 125 years the order. In 1994 the Sisters of Charity sponsored six institutions in San Antonio: Incarnate Word High School, Incarnate Word College, Incarnate Word Motherhouse and Retirement Community, Santa Rosa Health Care, Visitation House, and Volunteers in Mission. They were ministering not only throughout Texas but in Missouri, Illinois, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arizona, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Peru. There were 365 Sisters of Charity in the United States in 1994.

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Catholic Archives of Texas, Files, Austin. Sister Mary Helena Finck, C.C.V.I., The Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of San Antonio, Texas (Washington: Catholic University of America, 1925). Incarnate Word Generalate Archives, San Antonio.

  • Peoples
  • French
  • Religion
  • Catholic
  • Women
Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • San Antonio
  • Central Texas

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

Sister Josephine Kennelly, C.C.V.I., “Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 27, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 5, 2019

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