The Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word is the name of two Roman Catholic religious institutes based in the U.S. state of Texas. They use the abbreviation C.C.V.I. (Latin: Congregatio Caritatis Verbi Incarnati).


Houston Order

The Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Houston is a religious institute of women begun in 1866, at the request of French-born Claude Marie Dubuis, the second Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Galveston, which then included the entire state of Texas. Texas was suffering from the ravages of the Civil War, coupled with the tragedy of a rapidly spreading cholera epidemic. In 1866, Dubuis contacted his friend Mother Angelique Hiver, Superioress of the Order of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament in Lyons, France.[1] The Sisters could not fulfill his request since the Order was cloistered and was committed to the ministry of education. Bishop Duibuis then applied for the admission of three young women who had volunteered. They were received into the monastery for the purpose of receiving formation and the rule of the Order, with the understanding that a new order was being formed. For a long time, the Lyons community continued to direct and support the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, as the new community came to be known.[2]

Logo of the now-defunct St. Mary's Hospital, Galveston.
Logo of the now-defunct St. Mary's Hospital, Galveston.

Sisters Mary Blandine, Mary Joseph and Mary Ange arrived in Galveston, Texas, and started Charity Hospital, the first Catholic hospital in Texas. This would later become St. Mary's Infirmary & St. Mary's Hospital. Later, as a result of the yellow fever epidemic that struck Galveston, the St. Mary's Orphanage was started, first in the hospital, and was later moved just outside town, away from the epidemic. This epidemic also struck two of the sisters: Mother Mary Blandine would die of yellow fever on August 18, 1867; Sister Mary Ange also contracted yellow fever but recovered and returned to France. In 1867 and 1868 other sisters, educated and professed in the same convent at Lyons, came to offer their assistance.[3]

Sister Mary Joseph would become Mother Joseph and would continue the work in Galveston. In the early part of the 20th century, with the rapid growth of the City of Houston, the institute's headquarters were relocated from the Island city to Houston.

Today the Sisters have missions in Ireland, Guatemala, El Salvador, Kenya and the United States.

They are involved in ministries in health care (as part of CHRISTUS Health and Dignity Health), education, and social justice. They are also involved in fighting illiteracy and AIDS.

San Antonio Order

The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio is the largest group of religious women in Texas.

The institute was founded in San Antonio in 1869, as a sister house of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Galveston, Texas. In 1869, Bishop Dubuis chose three from the Galveston community, Sister St. Madeleine Chollet, Sister St. Pierre Cinquin, and Sister Agnes Buisson to begin a new house in San Antonio and open the first hospital in the area. He named Mother St. Madeleine superior of the new community. Three years later, he appointed Mother St. Pierre Cinquin as her successor, and she remained in office until her death almost twenty years later. In 1870, Bishop C.M. Dubuis erected this new community as an independent centre, on the occasion of vesting the first postulants admitted into the San Antonio novitiate.[3]

Sisters Madeleine Chollet, Pierre Cinquin and Agnes Buisson came to help the people of San Antonio who were being ravaged by a severe cholera epidemic. It was just after the Civil War and San Antonio had a population of 12,000; however, there were no public hospitals. When the three Sisters arrived, they founded the institute of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. They also founded San Antonio's first public hospital,[4] known today as Christus Santa Rosa Hospital.

Previous to 1874, the sisters had been solely occupied in caring for the sick, the aged, and orphans, but following the counsel of Rt. Rev. A.D. Pellicer, first Bishop of San Antonio, they began to engage in educational work.[3] In 1881, the Sisters founded the Incarnate Word Academy, known today as the University of the Incarnate Word.[5]

In 1885 the Sisters opened a school in Saltillo, Mexico.

By 1891 the Sisters had founded St. Joseph's Infirmary in Fort Worth, Texas. They also administered seven railroad hospitals scattered throughout Texas, Missouri, Iowa, and New Mexico.[1]

They are involved in ministries in health care (as part of CHRISTUS Health), education, care for the elderly and social justice.

The Village at Incarnate Word is a not-for-profit corporation, established by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of San Antonio in 1988, to provide a retirement community for people of all faiths.[6]

The sisters work in United States, Mexico, Peru, and Zambia.[7]

Saint Mary's Orphanage and The Galveston Hurricane

The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 was one of the most destructive hurricanes ever to hit the United States. More than 6,000 people died - one-sixth the population of Galveston, Texas.

The Saint Mary's Orphan Asylum housed at that time 93 children (ages 2 to 13) and 10 sisters. The hurricane arrived quietly on September 7, 1900. The full force of the Galvestion Hurricane of 1900 would not be felt until the next day, September 8 and began to erode away the sand dunes that surrounded St. Mary's Orphanage. The sisters in charge decided to move the children into the girl's dormitory, as it was newer and stronger (and thus potentially safer) than the boy's dormitory.[8]

The sisters led the children in singing (in English) the old French hymn, Queen of the Waves. Eventually, the boy's dormitory failed and collapsed into the sea. When the waters started to fill the first floor of the girl's dormitory, the sisters moved the children to the second floor, and again led in singing Queen of the Waves. The sisters put clothes line around their waists and connected themselves to six to eight children each in an attempt to save the children. Three of the children (older teens) were left loose.[8]

Finally, the girl's dormitory collapsed. All ten sisters and ninety children perished; only the three teenaged boys survived: William Murney, Frank Madera and Albert Campbell.[8]

As a result of this tragedy, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word across the world sing Queen of the Waves every year, on September 8, and remember the sisters and the children that died in Galveston that fateful day.

On September 8, 1994, a Texas historical marker was placed at 69th Street and Seawall Boulevard, marking the site of the former orphanage.

See also


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

[Six Sisters of Charity Sacrifice Lives Saving Children of Orphanage 1912]