SISTERS OF THE INCARNATE WORD
AND BLESSED SACRAMENT
The Order of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament was founded in 1625 by Venerable Jeanne Chezard de Matel in Lyon, France. In 1852, Bishop Odin visited France to recruit Sisters for his diocese. A small group of Incarnate Word Sisters came to Brownsville, Texas, in 1853. In 1903, three Sisters went to Durango, Mexico in response to the Bishop's plea. By 1906, they established a monastery in Gomez Palacio, Durango, Mexico. Persecution and political unrest caused the Sisters in Gomez Palacio to leave in March 1926.
Convents in Texas offered hospitality until August 1926, when permission was given to found a new house in the United States. Responding to the Bishop's appeal for teachers, five professed Sisters and two novices went to South Sioux City, Nebraska. However, they were not yet citizens, and Nebraska State law required American citizenship to teach. Mother Mary Columba and Mother Mary Brendan sent letters of introduction to the Bishop, explaining their plight. Bishop Joseph Schrembs replied first, inviting the Sisters to the Cleveland Diocese. The Sisters arrived in Cleveland on May 4, 1927 and were given hospitality for several months by Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine. In September, five Sisters were assigned to Annunciation School; they lived in the vacated rectory. In December, 1929, the Diocese purchased the Carl Miller estate on Pearl Road. The house was converted into a convent, and on March 4, 1930, Bishop Schrembs offered the Solemn Dedication Mass.
On January 26, 1935, fire burned down the motherhouse. After remaining with the Sisters of Charity for a month, on February 26, 1935, twenty-eight Sisters of the Incarnate Word moved into a convent on St. Clair Street just vacated by the Carmelite Sisters. Rebuilding the fire-ravaged home began immediately. Generous financial support came from many sources, as far away as Mexico City. Citizens of Parma and Parma Heights pleaded with the bishop to build a school and convent. Reluctantly, the bishop consented to a school. On September 11, 1935, the Academy of the Incarnate Word opened its doors to thirty-three pupils. The Sisters received more diocesan teaching assignments at surrounding schools. Sisters provided catechetical teachers in several parishes. By 1940, the convent on St. Clair was inadequate, and the increased population in Parma Heights necessitated an appeal to build a convent and boarding residence for students. The new facility was dedicated in December 1940.
The 1950s and 1960s were growth-filled years. A parish school, orphanage, catechetical works, and mission work with the poor were just some of the apostolic endeavors undertaken by Sisters. As housing developments flourished in the Parma area, the surrounding parishes were founded. Academy enrollment increased and another school addition became necessary. The present convent and academy were completed in May 1952; an addition was built in 1967. Not all growth was physical. Particularly important was the liturgical education provided by Monsignor Joseph T. Moriarty, Chaplain to the Incarnate Word Sisters since 1954. In the early 1970s, the "Little Red Barn," which dated from 1927, was replaced with a multi- purpose building called St. Joseph Hall. This facility allowed physical education, music programs, a cafeteria, and meeting rooms to help the school and community. A two-story addition to the academy was completed in 1985, providing more classrooms, a science lab, a computer lab and faculty room, plus an enlarged library, office, and clinic. The convent addition provided a new kitchen and dining room, larger laundry facilities, a craft area, a multi-car garage and additional living space. As some Sisters retired, they were replaced by lay teachers. Today, 73% of the faculty of Incarnate Word Academy is lay; they work with the Sisters to uphold the Academy's standards. Students from more than 50 parishes and 18 school districts attend Incarnate Word Academy. The renewal of religious life in the 1970's and 1980's was evidenced by communication and collaboration with Incarnate Word Congregations in Texas and Mexico. Diocesan congregations also worked with programs and services to enhance the ministries of the Church. The small group of Sisters of the Incarnate Word were blessed to be part of this larger endeavor. The bonding of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word worldwide in the 1980's called forth lay people's interest in living the charism of Incarnation. The Association of the Incarnate Word was formed, with ten members making formal commitment in December 1985. The history of the Order of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, from its foundation to its lived reality in the Cleveland Diocese, reveals a thread of graced moments from Lyons, Brownsville, and Gomez Palacio, to Cleveland.