Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate

By: Sister M. Emmanuel Cahill

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: September 28, 2020

The community of religious women known as Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate was founded in 1893 in San Antonio, Texas, by Margaret Mary Healy-Murphy, a native of Ireland. In 1887 Mrs. Murphy, the childless widow of John B. Murphy, former mayor of Corpus Christi, directed her compassion to the plight of San Antonio's Black population, the result of a directive given by the American Catholic Bishops and advocated by a local priest, Reverend Maloney, to serve and educate Blacks. She built a church dedicated to St. Peter Claver, the "Apostle of the Negro," a three-room schoolhouse, and a residence for its teachers. The church and school opened in September 1888. Unable to gather more than irregular voluntary help from the community, Mrs. Murphy, with the aid of Bishop John Claude Neraz, organized a group of young women willing to join her in dedicating their lives to the education and social uplift of the poor. In 1892 she and three others became the nucleus of the Sisters of the Holy Ghost, the first title adopted by the fledgling community. On May 21, 1896, in a ceremony at St. Peter Claver Church, presided over by Bishop John A. Forest, the women took vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, and the Servants of the Holy Ghost became the first Catholic community of religious women founded in Texas. In the summer of 1896 Mother Margaret Mary went to Ireland in order to recruit more members. Subsequent trips were made in 1899, 1902, and 1906. The first charter granted to Mother Margaret Mary was issued by the state of Texas in 1897 and gave the group no title. A second charter issued in 1910 bestowed the title Servants of the Holy Ghost and Mary Immaculate. In 1975 an amendment changed the title to Sisters of the Holy Ghost and Mary Immaculate, and in 1986 an amendment changed the title to Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate.

Until 1922 the headquarters of the community were on Nolan Street in downtown San Antonio. That year the sisters moved to Yucca Street. The group flourished until by the mid-1980s it owned thirty-four acres of land near its headquarters and the campus and buildings on Nolan Street. St. Peter Claver Academy closed in 1971, and the campus then became Healy-Murphy Center, an alternative school for troubled youth of all races. The center also operated two nearby child-care centers for the children of mothers, mostly teenagers, who attend the school. In 1934 the sisters began managing and ministering in a nursing home for aging poor, the Mother of Perpetual Help Home, in Brownsville, Texas. In 1942 they became the home's owners. From 1934 to 1965 the sisters owned a convent in Ireland, where they encouraged residents to join the sisters in Texas. Since 1965 all candidates for the community have been United States citizens. The sisters minister in seven dioceses in Texas, five in Louisiana, two in Mississippi, and in the diocese of Oaxaca, Mexico, one of the first places Mother Mary Margaret assigned personnel in 1901. In the early 1990s the sisters also ministered in Zambia, Africa. In order to support their ministries in schools, parishes, private hospitals, and clinics and as social workers in church-related facilities, the Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate receive a modest stipend from those they assist. Members also cooperate with fund-raising drives and seek federal, state, and private grants. Membership reached its peak in the 1950s, at 250. By the mid-1980s the number had decreased to 180. The sisters are part of an international network of various groups of like-minded Catholic women who meet every four years to elect new leadership and to discuss important issues. The sisters continue to be governed by constitutions which oblige them to "live together in simplicity, humility and love to manifest the compassion of Jesus to the poor."

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Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate Archives, San Antonio. Sister M. Immaculata Turley, S.H.G, Mother Margaret Mary Healy-Murphy (San Antonio: Naylor, 1969).


  • Religion
  • Catholic
  • Women

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

Sister M. Emmanuel Cahill, “Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 18, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 28, 2020

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