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Our History

Margaret Mary Healy and John Bernard Murphy

Margaret Mary Healy
Margaret Mary Healy

Margaret Mary Healy was born in Ireland in 1833 and after her mother’s death, she emigrated to the United States with her father in 1845 to escape the ravages of the famine in Ireland.  After her father’s death, she joined some relatives in Matamoros, Mexico where she met John Bernard Murphy whom she married in 1849.  Later, the couple moved to Corpus Christi, where John Bernard became Mayor.  They purchased a ranch in San Patricio County, near Mathis, Texas.

Margaret Mary and John Bernard Murphy
Margaret Mary and John Bernard Murphy

Throughout their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Murphy manifested compassion for those in need.  The Murphys had no biological children but they adopted three young girls who needed a home.  Later on two of the girls  entered Religious Life.

A widow at 51, called to a new life at 54

On July 4, 1884, John Bernard died.  Three years later, in 1887,  his widow Margaret Mary, a woman of means, moved to San Antonio. On Pentecost Sunday of that year a letter from the United States bishops was read in St. Mary’s Church.  This letter changed her life.

The letter, read by an Oblate priest, Fr. John Maloney, OMI was a call from the American Bishops to Catholics in the South to respond to the pastoral and educational needs of the post-civil war African-American population.  They had been utterly abandoned since their emancipation, no longer having even the minimal sustenance once provided to them by their slave-owners. As she left the church that Sunday, Margaret Mary was determined to devote herself and her means to the cause.

Margaret Mary establishes a school for African Americans, 1888

St. Peter Claver School, circa 1896
St. Peter Claver School, circa 1896

In 1887, on the advice of Bishop John C. Neraz, Margaret Mary began the construction of the first Catholic free school and church for African-Americans in the State of Texas.  The facilities were located at the corner of Live Oak and Nolan Streets in San Antonio and were dedicated in honor of St. Peter Claver in September, 1888.

Throughout the construction phase and for the first several years of the existence of St. Peter Claver Mission, Mrs Murphy suffered great indignities and persecution from those opposed to her efforts on behalf of “those” people.  She battled daily storms of criticism and prejudice, and her opponents incessantly tried to arouse discord.

Margaret Mary Healy Murphy forms the Sisters of the Holy Ghost and Mary Immaculate in San Antonio, 1892-1893

Mother Margaret Mary Healy Murphy
Mother Margaret Mary Healy Murphy

Under circumstances such as these, maintaining a steady teaching staff in her school became impossible.  Once again she sought advice from the Bishop.  This time he encouraged her to start a religious congregation in order to stabilize the work.   She accepted the advice and on June 6, 1892, she and three other women became novices with the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, where her blood sister was a member.  One year later, on Friday, June 9, 1893, Mother Margaret Mary Healy Murphy, Sister Mary Joseph McNally, Sister Mary Aloysius McMullen and Sister Mary Alphonsus Cronyn made their first vows in the convent of Our Lady of Light on Nolan Street, in the presence of Bishop Neraz. Thus, our congregation , Sisters of the Holy Ghost and Mary Immaculate came into being.

A number of the early members of the young congregation did not continue.  To expand the number of women she needed, Mother Margaret Mary undertook her first of four trips to Ireland (1896, 1899, 1902, and 1906) to recruit young women willing to dedicate their lives to promoting the human dignity of those who were the most neglected and marginalized in society.

Mother Margaret Mary dies at 74, after an extraordinary life

On August 25, 1907, at the age of 74, Mother Margaret Mary died peacefully at the Nolan Street convent that she worked so hard to build.  The eulogy at her funeral described her work as “destined to bring forth glorious fruits under the pains and self-sacrificing zeal of the Sisters of the Holy Ghost,”

Mother Margaret Mary Healy Murphy, our foundress, was buried with her beloved husband in Holy Cross Cemetery in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Our Lady of Guadalupe School, Laredo, Texas, 1905
Our Lady of Guadalupe School, Laredo, Texas, 1905

At the time of her death, Mother Margaret Mary left 15 Sisters and two postulants in our young community.  Her ministry to the African-American and Mexican-American communities had clearly taken root in San Antonio, with our sisters also staffing Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Laredo and an orphanage in Oaxaca, Mexico.

And the story continues…

During the next ten years, 27 new members were added and schools for African-American students were opened in Dallas, Texas, Mobile, Alabama, Pine Bluff, Arkansas and Pascagoula, Mississippi.  Little Flower and Perpetual Help Schools in San Antonio were also opened.

On August 25, 1938, our Congregation received from Rome its approval as a Congregation of Pontifical rite.


Echo House, home of John Bernard and Margaret Mary Murphy

St. Peter Claver School, circa 1896

Our Lady of Guadalupe School, Laredo, Texas, 1950

Casa de Cuna, Oaxaca

St. Peter Claver Academy, 1919

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