Sister Mary Xavier, I.W.B.S. (Mercedes Claire Holworthy)
I WAS BORN IN DENVER, COLORADO,
ON FEBRUARY 28, 1890, of Reverend Alfred J. Holworthy and Annie
Betz. My father, a graduate of Oxford University, came to America
seeking work and wealth. Of the first he found plenty, of the
latter, very little. After his marriage, he went to Denver to
study for the Anglican ministry, and it was during his second
year there that the first of his two children was born. I was
baptized a week after my birth, my father insisting that I should
be named for Our Lady of Mercy. Though he was a "low-church"
Episcopalian, he had a singular love for the Mother of Christ.
He was very happy when I was given the name of Mary at my investiture.
My father's first assignment
after his ordination was to the little town of Wallace, Idaho,
where he was pastor of a small church with several outlying missions.
I was then four years old.
As far back as I can remember,
I always accompanied my father on his journeys over the mountains
of Idaho to Murrey and other missions; and when I was five years
old he permitted me to sit on his lap and hold the reins of his
horse as he taught me to drive. At six years I was able to guide
the horse over the mountains with very little help. The horse
was not gentle, and my father need merely show him the whip to
encourage him to move faster. One day I showed him the whip,
but accidentally touched him with it. That both of us were not
killed as the horse dashed over those mountains in a mad run-away
race, is because God had something else for us to do. Though
thrown out of the buggy, neither of us was hurt, and after a
fifteen minute chase we caught up with "Billie," merely
because he could go no further-an on-coming wagon and its occupants
brought the run-away to a halt.
Even while at home, I much
preferred to play dolls and study my lessons in my father's office
than to help mother with the dishes and sweeping. I always tried
to do everything I saw my father do, so that before I was seven
years old I had learned how to set type and help him get out
his little four-page church paper. He taught ~me to read, write
and spell each morning, and then on Saturdays there would be
no playing until I had learned my Sunday-school lesson.
After four years in Idaho,
my father was transferred to Corpus Christi, Texas, and given
charge of the Church of the Good Shepherd. Up to this time, he
had been my teacher, but now I must go to school. I was very
happy about that because my new friends were going to school,
and that sounded "bigger." What was my disappointment
when I found myself registered at the Convent. I argued, begged,
cried-all to no purpose. My father was firm in his determination
that a common school education was not good enough for his daughter,
so when I gave too much trouble (I often played "hookey"
and went to the public school with my chum), he sent me to the
Episcopalian school in San Antonio. The break came when I returned
home one morning saying that I would not go to the Convent school
any more, that they were trying to make a Catholic of me. The
reading lesson that morning happened to be a story of the Blessed
Virgin Mary. I refused to read it.
A few nights away from home
conquered me. I wrote to my father that I would go to school
anywhere, do anything, and be the very best girl in the world
if he would only bring me home. He did not relent. After a year
and a half of persistent crying and begging, of manifest discontent
and rebellion at school, the principal finally wrote and asked
my father to take me home before they should have to send me.
They were all tired of me.
I arrived home at nine P.M.,
and had to sit for a two hour lecture. The next morning I was
back in the Convent school-this time as a weekly boarder-Monday
to Friday. After a few weeks of tears and rebellion, the Sisters
finally won me over to a state of contentment, and finally of
happiness with them. Soon I did not want to go home on Friday
One evening during the month
of May, I attended the regular devotions in honor of Our Lady
with the other boarders-just through curiosity. Like St. Paul,
I was "thrown to my knees" during the singing of the
Benediction service, tears flowed from my eyes, grace was poured
into my soul, and from that moment, though not yet twelve years
of age, I was determined to be a Catholic. I consulted my father.
His answer, "Are you crazy? Don't mention that subject to
me again." I said no more, but after a year of hard study
in the Catechism, which I concealed inside my geography, I was
secretly baptized on December 6, 1903, by Father Claude Jaillet,
the subject of one of my books.
We moved to St. Louis shortly
after that, so in order to practice my Faith I had to tell my
parents. One of the Sisters told my father and I told mother.
Both were broken-hearted. What my father said to Sister I do
not know, but I shall never forget my mother's words: "There
is no use crying over spilled milk, but if you are going to be
a Catholic, for God's sake be a good one; a good Catholic is
a saint, but a bad Catholic is the devil himself."
Neither of my parents would
give me permission to make my First Holy Communion or be Confirmed
until I would be eighteen. I consulted my confessor, the saintly
Redemptorist at St. Alphonsus (Rock) Church, Father Enright.
He gave me instructions privately, and I had the happiness of
receiving my First Communion on the first Friday in May, 1904.
Since I had not eaten before leaving home, and was on my way
to school, Father Enright insisted on my going to the Monastery
for breakfast. As I entered the door he said, "You are the
first lady to be permitted to eat in our Monastery." I was
confirmed by Archbishop Glennon a few days later. When my parents
found out that I had disobeyed them they gave up on the question
In February, 1907, I returned
to Corpus Christi, ostensibly on a month's vacation. My intentions
were to remain, and I applied for admission into the novitiate.
My parents were shocked, and my mother said I was carrying things
too far. They forced me to wait until I was eighteen, and since
the Superior would not receive me before that time without their
consent, I had to submit this time. On February 28, 1908, I took
the step with my father's blessing, but not with mother's. I
received the habit of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed
Sacrament on January 6, 1909, and made my final vows on December
My first years in the Convent
were devoted to teaching music and the elementary grades. I received
my B.A. degree at Incarnate Word College, San Antonio, Texas,
in 1929, and after my courses in Library Science, and some education
courses from the Catholic University, I entered St. Mary's University,
San Antonio, from which I received my M.A. in History in 1939.
For some years I was head of the history and commercial departments
in our high school in Corpus Christi, but since 1936 I have been
librarian while still holding my position in the commercial school.
Since 1941 Our Blessed Mother
has given me opportunity to make reparation for my irreverence
toward her in my early days when I refused to read the story
about her-I am Moderator of the parish and high school Sodalities.
My first book was written as
my thesis, The History of the Diocese of Corpus Christi (1939).
During my research for this story I became so fascinated with
the life and work of the early missionaries in southwest Texas
that I resolved to continue. My second book, Diamonds for the
King (1945), is the story of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word
and Blessed Sacrament in Texas, 1852-1945. Bishop Claude Dubuis'
missionary labors fired my enthusiasm, and the more material
I found, the more desirous I became to write his life. As I was
about to launch on that endeavor, I learned that Dr. Leo V. Jacks
had written it, and that it was soon to be published. I then
turned to one of his priests, the pioneer missionary, Father
Claude Jaillet. It appeared in 1948 under the title Father Jaillet,
Saddle-Bag Priest of the Nucces.
I am not really a writer. Research
work has become a hobby. At the request of the By-liners of Corpus
Christi I am collecting material on the pioneer families of this
City which may be printed some day. The year 1953 was the centenary
of the foundation of the first parish in Corpus Christi, and
I gathered material for a souvenir brochure for that occasion.
It was entitled A Century of Sacrifice: the history of the cathedral
parish, Corpus Christi, Texas, 1853-1953. Our Bishop Mariano
S. Garriga graciously contributed its foreword.
I am a corresponding member
of the Texas Knights of Columbus Historical Commission and have
enjoyed working in their archives with the worthy custodian,
Bishop Laurence FitzSimon of Amarillo