The year 1866 was a year that saw many in the United States suffering from the cruelty and ravages of war; southern states, including Texas, were especially affected by disease and extreme poverty.
It was because of these conditions that the young Bishop of Texas, Claude Marie Dubuis, appealed for help to his friend in France, Mother Angelique Hiver:
“Our Lord Jesus Christ, suffering in the multitude of the sick and infirm of every kind, seeks relief at your hands.”
Three young woman responded to his plea, and with only three days of preparation, set sail for Galveston, Texas. In the ensuing months, others followed, and in 1869, Bishop Dubuis sent three women from Galveston to San Antonio to tend to cholera victims. Before Sisters Madeleine Chollet, St. Pierre Cinquin and Agnes Buisson could reach San Antonio, the place being prepared for them to live and work, burned to the ground. Arriving in San Antonio in March of 1869, they took refuge with the Ursuline Sisters and lived with them until they took possession of their new home in October of that same year.
The new building, called “Santa Rosa Infirmary” in honor of America’s first canonized saint, held both the convent and hospital. It was a two-storied adobe structure, consisting of a few wards and private rooms for the sick, a small chapel, and a few extremely poor apartments for the Sisters.
Once occupied, the three young Sisters wasted no time; on November 18, 1869, the following announcement was placed in the newspaper:
The undersigned take pleasure in announcing to the public that on the first of December, the Hospital and the Infirmary under the management of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word will be ready to receive patients. The Hospital will be opened to all persons without distinction of nationality or creed.
On December 3, 1869, the first Mass was celebrated at Santa Rosa Infirmary. Now, almost 150 years later, the work of these first young pioneers continues. Santa Rosa Infirmary grew to become CHRISTUS Health, and the simple adobe structure is now a state-of-the-art, stand-alone children’s hospital, the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. Their work continues also in other hospitals, clinics, schools, and pastoral services in the United States, Mexico, Central America, Peru, and Zambia.
From simple beginnings, through God’s grace and the perseverance of thousands of young women and their lay partners, the work of the Incarnate Word, begun simply in San Antonio in 1869, continues to flourish on behalf of all persons, “without distinction of nationality or creed.”
On the header: Photo of the Military Plaza and San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, Texas.