By Grace Conroy
Fifty-nine dollars is all it took to open one of the longest-running charity clinics in the United States. When Monsignor George T. Walsh decided to start a clinic in 1922 to battle high infant mortality rate in Houston’s Mexican community, he knew who to call on for help. With approval from Bishop Christopher Byrne, Msgr. Walsh reached out to the National Council of Catholic Women, now the Charity Guild of Catholic Women, to aid in this endeavor. Theodora (Mrs. W. E.) Kendall, the first president of the National Council of Catholic Women, and clinic cofounder Katherine (Mrs. Lucian) Carroll each pitched in one dollar and rallied fifty-seven other council members to do the same. With these funds, they rented a frame house at 1900 Franklin Street for the Clínica Gratuita, later renamed the Mexican Clinic and then San José Clinic.
The first of several organizations that have supported the San José Clinic across eight decades or more, the Charity Guild continued to champion the clinic as it moved to 1909 Canal Street in 1925 to accommodate the rising number of patients. The guild women also sewed layettes for the patients’ newborn babies, inspiring them later to open a consignment shop as a “blueprint for raising money.” After eight years of success, the Charity Guild shop received nonprofit status in 1960. Today, the consignment shop is run by an all-volunteer staff, enabling the guild to donate to charitable organizations such as San José “by rendering assistance to children in need in the greater Houston area, regardless of race or creed.” The Charity Guild remains a loyal donor to the San José Clinic. In 2022, the Charity Guild of Catholic Women will celebrate a century of dedicated service to the Houston community – beginning with its devotion to the clinic.
The Scanlan Foundation, established in 1947, is another enduring benefactor of the clinic going back seventy-four years. The foundation’s name honors Thomas “Tim” Howe Scanlan, an Irish immigrant who moved to Houston in 1853. Scanlan was a successful businessman who made his money in real estate and oil and became one of the city’s wealthiest men by the time he died in 1906. A faithful husband and loving father of ten, Scanlan’s two defining qualities were his acts of service to the community and his devotion to Catholicism. His two sons did not survive infancy, but his eight daughters – Marguerite, Mary Ellen, Caroline, Charlotte, Alberta, Katherine, Lillian, and Stella – grew up following in his religious fervor. Upon Scanlan’s passing, they acquired a multi-million-dollar joint estate. Although he left no will designating his wishes, his daughters knew them by heart and abided by them.
Scanlan’s daughters had equal shares in his joint estate, with the consensus that after they had passed away, the estate would go toward “charitable and educational endeavors of the Catholic Church.” The sisters also practiced this ideal throughout their lives. One sister used Scanlan’s wealth to support the Annunciation Church, and another belonged to the Charity Guild of Catholic Women that helped fund the San José Clinic. All remained firm in their Catholic faith throughout their lives. None of the sisters married or had children, and they chose to remain mostly hidden from the public. Even in their generosity, the sisters provided out of love rather than for publicity.
In January 1947, the surviving sisters, Lillian and Stella, created the Scanlan Foundation, born through a trust in their wills. After Lillian passed away in September of 1947, her will declared Stella Scanlan, Louie Linnenberg, and Walter Brown as the trustees of the Scanlan Foundation with the mission to support “Roman Catholic religious, charitable, and educational purposes within Texas.”
After Stella died, the Scanlan Foundation continued on the path that she and Lillian envisioned. In 1956, the foundation gifted $160,000 to construct the San José Clinic’s new building at 301 Hamilton Street and, in the 1960s, gave another $100,000 to renovate and double its size. The foundation recently awarded San José Clinic a $250,000 “impact grant” for its satellite location in Rosenberg, southwest of Houston in Fort Bend County. The branch opened in 2020 after the clinic’s leadership identified a need for ongoing medical care in the area when they responded to a call for help during Hurricane Harvey. The foundation’s long-term commitment was especially evident when oil prices plummeted to about $38 a barrel in 2014 and 2020, impacting the foundation’s income. Nevertheless, foundation president Larry Massey reflected, “It pinches. But we made a point to always make San José Clinic a priority, and we have sustained that through good and bad times.”