1900 Galveston Storm
More than 6,000 men, women and children were killed. Among the dead were 90 children and 10 Catholic Sisters at the St. Mary's Orphanage. Only three boys and a hymn called "Queen of the Waves" survived from the orphan's home.
Prior to the Great Storm, St. Mary's Orphan Asylum stood on a beautiful beach just three miles west of the city of Galveston. Established by the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, the orphanage was home for 93 children and the 10 Sisters who cared for them. The orphanage itself consisted of two large, two-story dormitories with balconies facing the gulf. Between the dormitories and the gulf were large sand dunes supported by salt cedar trees.
On the morning of September 8, 1900, rain was falling and the winds were increasing in strength. The island community had experienced many gulf storms before, but this one was to change Galveston forever. Around noon Sister Elizabeth Ryan, who had gone into the city to collect provisions, returned to the orphanage. She had declined pleas from the Sisters at St. Mary's Infirmary, a hospital also founded by her Congregation, to stay there until the storm passed.
By mid-afternoon, the waters of the gulf had eroded the sand dunes and approached the front steps of the dormitories. The Sisters brought all the children into the girls' dormitory because it was the newer and stronger of the two. To calm the children, the Sisters had them sing "Queen of the Waves," an old French hymn. The water continued to rise, eventually entering the dormitories. The Sisters took the children to the second floor and again had them sing "Queen of the Waves."
By late that afternoon, the waters of the gulf filled the first floor of the dormitory. In an effort to protect the children, the Sisters tied the orphans to themselves with clothesline. Each Sister tied to herself from 6 to 8 children. It was a valiant, yet sacrificial effort. With winds around 150 miles an hour and a 20 foot storm surge, the Sisters and children heard the crash of the boys' dormitory as it gave way to the flood waters. Again they sang the hymn. Eventually, the girls' dormitory collapsed.
Only three boys were able to escape: Albert Campbell, Frank Bulanek Madera and William B. Murney. The 10 Sisters and 90 children who died in the storm were buried wherever they were found, still tied together.
Despite this great loss, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word continued their mission and one year later opened a new St. Mary's Orphanage within the city limits. It continued until 1965 when orphanages were giving way to foster homes.
Today our Congregation has spread the ministry of Jesus Christ to communities throughout Texas as well as to Louisiana, Utah and California. In addition, the Congregation has overseas ministries in Ireland, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Kenya. Wherever we are in the world, on September 8th, we sing "Queen of the Waves." We sing and remember the Sisters, children and all those who faced the incredible tragedy known as the Great 1900 Storm.
Below are audio recordings of Queen of the Waves in English, Spanish and Kiswahilli.