Sr. Dorothy (Dot) Ettling believed strongly in the powerful force that consecrated religious life offers to the world. She dedicated herself to creating a new vision for religious life in a time of great change that began in the 1960s. Dot served on the general leadership team and was elected General Superior in 1984, serving in that capacity until 1990. She helped many congregations, as well as her own, negotiate the often difficult process of renewal and growth.
Sister Eleanor Cohan led the Congregation from 1972 to 1978 during a time of great change. A compassionate and gentle person, she served at a time when many needed care and concern to help navigate the changing realities of post-Vatican II religious life. She understood the Sisters, trusted them, and gave them the necessary freedom to respond to the challenges of change.
The Vatican II Council, held in Rome from 1962 to 1965, called men and women religious to “look at the signs of the times” and “renew” their way of living. “We did a lot of praying and talking, but we learned to communicate honestly and truthfully with one another” (Sr. Eleanor Cohan).
For many years, Sr. María del Sagrado Corazón Coindreau (1900–1982) lovingly guided Mexican women through the steps of becoming Incarnate Word Sisters. She not only ensured that they received the education they needed to fulfill their apostolic missions, but she made certain they realized the depth of their spirituality.
Associates are laymen and women who hear a call to live the mission of the Incarnate Word Congregation while continuing their lives as single or married men and women. They belong to Associate Communities, in which they support each other in meeting the daily challenges of growth in the living of Incarnational Spirituality. U.S. Associates Gathering, 2016.
A community of Associates in Mexico renewing their commitment (2007).
Incarnate Word Missionaries make long- or short-term commitments to serve in mission areas where our Sisters serve. These laymen and women are sponsored by the Congregation and work together with the Sisters and the Church. Missionaries have served in the United States, Mexico, Peru, Tanzania, and Zambia.
From the very beginning, Sisters have worked closely with lay professionals, beginning with doctors with whom they worked side-by-side at the Santa Rosa Infirmary when it was established in 1869.
Sisters and committed and concerned laity have always worked together on boards and committees.
In October 2013, Sisters, Associates, Missionaries and Co-Ministers gathered in San Antonio. Pictured here with Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller is Steve Fuller, director of the Village senior living community. Also in the photograph are Ernie Sadau, CEO of CHRISTUS Health, and Linda McClung, of CHRISTUS Health.
Dr. Randy Berzon-Mikolas served Incarnate Word Academy for 18 years as Assistant Principal, Principal, and finally President. She has imbued and instilled in others the charism of the Congregation, “to make the love of God as shown in the Incarnation, real and tangible in the world today.”
Volunteers help clear weeds on the Headwaters of the San Antonio River.
Lay volunteers at Instituto Nacional de Cardiología in Mexico City.
Lay faculty member in the classroom in a school in Mexico.
From the beginning, Sisters have had close connections with members of the clergy. Msgr. Thomas French served as Chaplain for the Congregation from 1952 to his death in 2012. He taught theology to the novices and at Incarnate Word College and University. Many Sisters testify to his dedication and service and particularly his gentle and generous ministry to the sick and terminally ill.
A provincial leader in Mexico during the 1950s, Sr. María Felícitas Villegas (1912–1992) embodied the response of the Incarnate Word sisters to understanding the signs of the times following the Vatican II council. When the call came for Incarnate Word sisters to serve the poor in Chimbote, Peru, Sr. María Felícitas Villegas was among the first sisters to travel to Peru. She set up La Posta, a small hospital to aid the very poor. She also became an administrator for the Police Hospital in Lima, Peru.
The first three sisters came to San Antonio from Galveston as a small community of committed, faith-filled women, determined to help the people they were called to serve. Pictured are Mother St. Pierre Cinquin (left) and Mother Madeleine Chollet. The third Sister that formed the original community was Sr. Agnes Boissen. Sadly, there are no known photographs of Sr. Agnes.
By the turn of the century, young women entering the Congregation came from the United States, Germany, Ireland, France, Canada, and Mexico, creating a “league of nations” in the Congregation. Pictured: Group of young women entering the convent, en route to San Antonio from Windthorst, Texas.
Until the mid-20th century, Catholic Sisters wore distinctive clothing. This photograph from the congregation shows women wearing black veils, who are professed sisters. Novices, who are not fully invested, wear white veils. Young women in collared dresses are postulants still receiving instruction.
August 15 (Feast of the Assumption of Mary) became the traditional date on which Sisters professed vows. It was also on this day that Sisters received their “obedience”— where they were being sent to serve.
Women came to community to serve and responded willingly to the need. Leaving home and family was only one of the many hardships endured for love. These Irish Sisters and postulants sailed from Liverpool on the S.S. Antillian in October 1922.
Incarnate Word Sisters are joy-filled and play as hard as they work.
Before the 1960s, a young woman who wanted to enter religious life began as a candidate (left). After a few months of study and prayer, she became a postulant. After a year or so, she became a novice and after two or more years, she professed first, or temporary, vows. After three or more years, a woman then made final vows.
Before the renewal of religious life brought about by Vatican II, women entering in religious life stayed at the Motherhouse or one of the Provincial Houses. After first vows, a sister would be sent on mission, and would live in the community in which she worked, usually a school or hospital.
Procession of Postulants, Novices, and Sisters between the Motherhouse and Incarnate Word College.
After Vatican II, communities were created of fully professed Sisters and women who were preparing to enter religious life. This process is called “formation,” and teams of Sisters were responsible for formation. Pictured: Sr. Marinela Flores with Sr. Maria Goretti Zehr, on the occasion of Sr. Marinela’s final profession in 1992
Vatican Council II, held in the early 1960s, addressed relations between the Catholic Church and the modern world. It brought about radical changes in the Church and in all communities of religious men and women. Pope John XXIII, shown here, initiated the council’s far-reaching changes.
Vatican II asked women religious to take a fresh look at their spirituality and way of life and discern if what they were doing was faithful to their founders, and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The fundamentals of vows remained the same, but the understanding of their commitment shifted. New forms of ministry evolved as the way of living in the world and in community changed. Pictured is Sr. Jean Durel in San Pedro del Alto, Oaxaca, in 1985.
We live in community because humans are created in the image of a God who is community of love. As community life has evolved through the years after Vatican II, Sisters have found new ways to call the community together and to help and support each other in the living out of their commitment. One way is through Life & Mission groups. This is a Life and Mission Group from Mexico (Camino a Emaus) communicating with members of the group in Zambia, via SKYPE.
Sr. Maria Marquez (front row, 2nd from left) is pictured on the occasion of her profession of final vows. Her Sisters are gathered around her, joyfully celebrating her commitment.
Pictured is Sr. Mary Henry signing her final vows (2006), witnessed by Srs. Peggy Bonnot, Helena Monohan, Bette Bluhm, and Eleanor Geever.
Jubilees are celebrations much like anniversaries, marking the number of years a Sister is “professed.” Jubilees mark 25, 50, 60, and 75 years of commitment to God and the Congregation. Pictured are the first Silver (25 year) Jubilarians.
At the Congregational Jubilee celebration in 2011, Sisters wearing gold corsages are celebrating 50 years; blue signifies 60 years.
A Jubilee celebration in Mexico in 2009.
The Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our lives as Catholic Christians. We are called as Sisters to “participate daily, when possible, in the Eucharistic celebration and sacramental life of the Church, entering more fully into the Paschal Mystery of the risen Christ.”
Celebrating the Eucharist at the Chapel of the Incarnate Word, 2008.