|St. Marys Orphanage - Picture of
the Children and Nuns of St. Marys - All save 3 were lost in the
storm of 1900
they are in the world on Sept. 8, the members of the Congregation of
the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word sing an old French hymn,
of the Waves."
in their ministry in rural Kenya, East Africa or one of the hospitals
of the Sisters of Charity Health Care System, which they sponsor, the
Sisters of Charity sing the same hymn that has been sung on that date
every year since 1900.The song provides the sisters and all those who
co-minister with them an opportunity to pause and remember all who
lost their lives in a devastating hurricane almost a century ago.
Striking Galveston on Sept. 8, 1900, the Great Storm is considered the
worst natural disaster in the nation's history. More than 6,000 men,
women and children lost their lives. Among the dead were 10 sisters
and 90 children from the St. Mary's Orphans Asylum, operated by the
Sisters of Charity. The sisters also operated St. Mary's Infirmary in
Galveston. It was the first Catholic hospital in the state,
established in 1867.
sisters were called to Galveston by Catholic Bishop Claude M. Dubuis
in 1866 to care for the many sick and infirm in what was the major
port of entry for Texas. They were also charged with caring for
orphaned children, most of whom had lost parents during yellow fever
epidemics. At first the Sisters of Charity opened an orphanage within
the hospital, but later moved it three miles to the west on
beach-front property on the former estate of Captain Farnifalia Green.
location seemed ideal as it was far from town and the threat of yellow
fever. As Galveston entered the new millennium, it was one of the
wealthiest cities per capita in the United States and one of the
largest in the state. It was a prosperous community with a bustling
port. With a population of 36,000, Galveston appeared to be poised for
then one weekend in September in 1900, the same proximity to the sea
that had made the community grow and prosper as a port city, was to
change Galveston Island forever. On Sept. 8, Galveston became the
victim of a powerful hurricane of such destructive force that whole
blocks of homes were completely swept away and one sixth of population
was killed. Beginning early on the morning of Saturday, Sept. 8, 1900,
the winds began coming in strongly from the north. Despite the
opposing winds, the tides of the southern gulf waters also rose
sending large crashing waves upon the beach front.
Elizabeth Ryan, one of 10 sisters at St. Mary's Orphanage, had come
into town that morning to collect food. Despite pleas from Mother
Gabriel, the assistant superior at St. Mary's Infirmary, for her to
stay at the hospital until the storm passed, Sister Elizabeth said she
had to return to the orphanage. Sister Elizabeth said that she had the
provisions in the wagon and if she did not return the children would
have no supper. She didn't know that whether she returned or not there
would be no more suppers at the orphanage.
the afternoon the winds and rain continued to increase. The tides of
the gulf rose higher and higher with fierce waves crashing on the
beach sending flood waters into the residential areas. St. Mary's
Orphanage consisted of two large two-story dormitories just off the
beach behind a row of tall sand dunes that were supported by salt
cedar trees. The buildings had balconies facing the gulf.
According to one of the boys at the orphanage, the rising tides began
eroding the sand dunes "as though they were made of flour." Soon the
waters of the gulf reached the dormitories. The Sisters at the
orphanage brought all of the children into the girls' dormitory
because it was the newer and stronger of the two. In the first floor
chapel, they tried to calm the children by having them sing "Queen of
the Waves." The waters continued to rise.
the children to the second story of the dormitory, the Sisters had
Henry Esquior, a worker, collect clothesline rope. Again they had the
boys and girls sing "Queen of the Waves." One of the boys later said
that the children were very frightened and the Sisters were very
p.m. the wind was gusting past 100 miles per hour and the waters of
the gulf and bay had met, completely flooding the city. Residents
climbed to the second stories, attics and even roofs of their homes.
Flying debris struck many who dared venture outside their homes.
7:30 p.m. the main tidal surge struck the south shore.
along the beach front were lifted from their foundations and sent like
battering rams into other houses. Houses fell upon houses. At St.
Mary's Infirmary the flood waters filled the first floor. From the
second story balcony, the sisters pulled refugees in as they floated
by and brought them into the over-crowded hospital. Almost every
window in the facility was broken out sending the wind and rain
whipping through the building.
orphanage, the children and sisters heard the crash of the boys
dormitory as it collapsed and was carried away by the flood waters.
The sisters cut the clothesline rope into sections and used it to tie
the children to the cinctures which they wore around their waists.
Each Sister tied to herself between six to eight children. It was a
valiant, yet sacrificial effort to save the children. Some of the
older children climbed onto the roof of the orphanage.
Eventually the dormitory building that had been the sanctuary for the
children and sisters was lifted from its foundation. The bottom fell
out and the roof came crashing down trapping those inside. Only three
boys from the orphanage survived: William Murney, Frank Madera and
Albert Campbell. Miraculously all three ended up together in a tree in
the water. After floating for more than a day, they were eventually
able to make their way into town where they told the sisters what had
happened at the orphanage.
the boys remembered a sister tightly holding two small children in her
arms, promising not to let go. The sisters were buried wherever they
were found, with the children still attached to them. Two of the
sisters were found together across the bay on the Mainland. One of
them was tightly holding two small children in her arms. Even in death
she had kept her promise not to let go.
death and destruction in Galveston was unbelievable. More than 6,000
were dead and their bodies were littered throughout the city. It would
be months before some would be uncovered. A complete list of the dead
was never made.It is estimated that the winds reached 150 mph or maybe
even 200. The tidal surge has been estimated at from 15 to 20 feet.
Whole blocks of homes had been completely destroyed leaving little
more than a brick or two. In all more than 3,600 homes had been
wall of debris wrapped itself around St. Mary's Infirmary on the
eastern end of the city and then zigzagged through the city to the
beach. At places the wall was two stories tall. Inside this great wall
were destroyed houses, pieces of furniture, pots, pans, cats, dogs and
people. Those who were dead and those who were dying. At St. Mary's
Infirmary, there was no food or water. While the main hospital
building was still standing, the adjacent structures, had been
hospital was packed with those who were injured and those who had no
where else to go. Two of the Sisters walked about the area until they
found crackers and cookies that had been soaked in the water. They
brought them back to the hospital and over a fire they built in the
street they dried the food and served it to those in need at the
infirmary. Firmly committed to the healing ministry of Jesus Christ,
the Sisters repaired St. Mary's Infirmary and, one year later, opened
a new orphanage. Today the sisters have extended their ministry to
other states and foreign countries.
Sept. 8, 1994, a Texas Historical Marker was placed at 69th Street and
Seawall Boulevard, marking the site of the former orphanage. The
descendants of two of the survivors, Will Murny and Frank Madera,
returned to participate in the marker dedication. As part of the
ceremony, "Queen of the Waves" was again sung at the same time and
place as it was during the Great 1900 Storm. And, as it continues to
be each Sept. 8 by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word.
Queen of the Waves
from a Latin French hymn, author unknown
Queen of the Waves, look forth across the ocean
From north to south, from east to stormy west,
See how the waters with tumultuous motion
Rise up and foam without a pause or rest.
But fear we not, tho' storm clouds round us gather,
Thou art our Mother and thy little Child
Is the All Merciful, our loving Brother
God of the sea and of the tempest wild.
Help, then sweet Queen, in our exceeding danger,
By thy seven griefs, in pity Lady save;
Think of the Babe that slept within the manger
And help us now, dear Lady of the Wave.
Up to the shrine we look and see the glimmer
Thy votive lamp sheds down on us afar;
Light of our eyes, oh let it ne'er grow dimmer,
Till in the sky we hail the morning star.
Then joyful hearts shall kneel around thine altar
And grateful psalms reecho down the nave;
Never our faith in thy sweet power can falter,
Mother of God, our Lady of the Wave.