The Catholic Church and San José Clinic

By Miles Bednorz

Emerging from the rapidly growing congregation of St. Vincent’s Catholic Church, Annunciation Church became Houston’s second Catholic Church when it was dedicated in 1871 and is the oldest existing church building in Houston.

The Catholic Church has always been the foundation of the San José Clinic. Catholic groups and institutions like the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, and the Charity Guild of Catholic Women have provided financial support and leadership throughout the clinic’s history. Many Catholics, including Maureen Sanders, the president and CEO of the clinic and a self-described “cradle Catholic” who has been raised in the church since birth, have felt drawn to the clinic as an opportunity to “live their faith in their work.” His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, sits on the clinic’s board of directors, highlighting a commitment by the Catholic Church to the San José Clinic’s mission, and from 1954 to 2010, the clinic stood on land owned by the Archdiocese. For a century, Catholics who have devoted their lives to serving the sick and needy have cared for the San José Clinic and its patients.

Appointed Archbishop of Galveston-Houston in 2006, His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo guides 1.7 million Catholics in their faith, while continuing to support the San José Clinic as a member of the board of directors.

After becoming the fourth bishop of Galveston in 1918, Bishop Christopher Byrne expanded the church ministry among African Americans and Mexican Americans in Houston and made local clergy a priority, ordaining about seventy priests who were Texans. In the early 1920s, he worked with Monsignor George Walsh, pastor at the Annunciation Church, to address the high infant mortality rates among Mexican children. Characterized as a man who loved the poor, Walsh was distressed that so many infants and children of Mexican families were dying young and asked the local chapter of the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW), now the Charity Guild of Catholic Women, to help establish a free clinic in his parish to help the struggling Mexican community. Clínica Gratuita, later renamed the Mexican Clinic and then San José Clinic, was founded in a collaboration between Walsh, the church, and the NCCW.

In response to rising mortality rates among Houston’s Mexican community, Msgr. Walsh recruited Catholic women to assist in founding and running la Clínica Gratuita.

Walsh was born in Washington, D.C. in 1874, and came to Texas sometime after the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, when the Catholic Church sent him to St. Patrick’s parish in Galveston as pastor. He took charge of Annunciation Church in Houston on January 1, 1914. Nine years later, he was granted the ecclesiastical title of “monsignor” for his accomplishments serving the church. His involvement in the establishment of the San José Clinic was not a surprise, as he often gave generously to charity. Parishioner W. E. Kendall, whose wife, Theodora, was a founding member of the Charity Guild, called Walsh one of the kindest and most generous men he knew. Before the Community Chest, a pre- decessor of United Way, became involved with the clinic, the Houston Chronicle reported that “[the clinic] often had hard sledding getting together enough money to take care of the needs of the sick and afflicted. Monsignor Walsh, in those days, was the chief support of the institution. When the money would run low, he would ask those in charge, ‘Well, don’t you need a little money today?’ And he would make a substantial donation out of his own pocket.” Walsh later established several other institutions to help his parish including the Catholic Women’s Club to support rural women seeking jobs in Houston and the Convent of the Good Shepard for “young female victims of divorced households.” While the clinic is Walsh’s only lasting creation, he lived a life in service to his community. At the
time of his death in 1933, the clinic was regarded as one of the largest charity operations in Houston, serving 1,000 patients a month.

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Learn more about the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word.

Learn more about the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

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