Honoring the Legacy of Mother Mary Claude Esparza, CCVI

April 5, 2024

The conclusion of Women’s History Month brought with it a gathering to honor the legacy of Mother Mary Claude Esparza, CCVI, the first Mexican American Sister of Charity of the Incarnate Word (CCVI) in Texas and daughter of an Alamo survivor.

Members of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Mother Mary Claude’s descendants as well as UIW students and faculty gathered in the Congregation's Cemetery to learn about Mother Mary Claude’s story and the impact she continues to have on the University and within the city of San Antonio.

Dr. Erika Haskins, Young Women’s Global leadership program faculty adviser, organized this event with the purpose of offering recognition to early educators such as Esparza.

“As a Daughter of the Republic of Texas—Alamo Couriers Chapter (DRT), I have learned about many men and women who have contributed to Texas's early development and sustainability,” explained Haskins. “Upon learning that I was teaching at UIW, my DRT sisters and Esparza descendants, Erlinda Huizar, Peggy Huizar and Eloise Garza, approached me and asked if I was familiar with their ancestor who was tied to the school. I was not but I was certainly eager to learn more about her.”

Haskins incorporated a lesson within her course to teach students about the significance of Christian burials, Sr. Mary Claude’s life and the Esparza family’s contributions to the Catholic church. This lesson gradually led to the celebration event which simultaneously acknowledged Women’s History Month and Texas History Month.

Due to a lack of historical documentation, many details of Sr. Mary Claude’s story are unknown. What is known is that Sr. Mary Claude is a reflection of devotion to selflessly serving those in the community regardless of differences such as ethnicity and religion.

During the event, Haskins shared how Sr. Mary Claude’s story is tied to the history of the Alamo, as both her father, grandparents and other family members were in the Alamo during the siege in 1836. Her ancestors made a life in Texas, which she later became a part of when she was born on January 23, 1851.

Sr. Mary Claude would later become the first Mexican American CCVI sister. Her bilingualism was a helpful and necessary tool as she and her fellow sisters strived to serve those in the San Antonio area. Archival information shows that she dedicated 43 years of her life to tending to the poor and vulnerable.

Due to her immense level of service and her life’s work as one of the earliest members of the CCVI congregation, she was bestowed with the honorable title of “Mother” in 1912. Two years later, Mother Mary Claude Esparza passed away on February 16, 1914, at the age of 63.

Her funeral services were held in the Santa Rosa Chapel, and she was buried at San Fernando Cemetery. In 1930, her remains were reburied at the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word Cemetery.

“Sr. Esparza embodied Catholicism’s spiritual universalism,” noted Haskins. “She persevered in her congregation’s pedagogical approaches and ministered to the sick during tumultuous times in Mexico and Texas on the early American frontier. She ministered to all people, regardless of ethnicity or religion. Sr. Esparza led institutions that produced good citizens and faithful Catholics. These individuals were the future teachers and leaders who would contribute to the sustainability of their respective communities and educational and religious institutions.”

The memorial event concluded with attendees placing flowers at the grave site of Mother Mary Claude and decorating her final resting place with vibrant colors; a small representation of the amount of beauty she herself brought into the world.

“This event brought people together, raised awareness, and inspired others to learn more about these religious women who made significant contributions to our education and healthcare systems,” recalled Haskins. “I will continue in my academic efforts to educate about Sr. Esparza’s contributions in the scholarly project, Las Damas de Tejas: Notable Women in Texas, an educational project that seeks to honor women’s experiences and achievements in early Texas history.”