Our History

In 1873, Mother Mary Gabriel Dillon and two other sisters of the religious order of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament arrived at the corner of Jackson and Crawford with a historic mission in mind.  Over 150 years later, the young women of Houston are still reaping the benefits of those pioneering sisters' bold adventure.

Click through the slideshow below for Incarnate Word Academy History 101!
IWA is the oldest Catholic school in Houston.
Houston History

In 1836, the Allen Brothers landed along the banks of the Buffalo Bayou to begin their “great city,” now the fourth largest in the United States. In 1873, just 37 years later, Mother Mary Gabriel Dillon and two other members of the religious order of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament arrived from Victoria, Texas with their own historic mission in mind. 

Pioneering Sisters

The sisters were invited by Bishop John Odin to establish a much-needed school for young women.  Although they had no real resources to speak of when they arrived, the Sisters came with everything they would need to begin Incarnate Word Academy: a deep desire to spread the Word of God and educate young minds.

The sisters arrived in Houston from Lyon, France by way of Brownsville, Texas on April 25, 1873.  They took up their residence in a large building, once a Franciscan Monastery, across the street from St. Vincent’s Church on Franklin Street.  A chapel was prepared and on May 5, 1873 Mass was celebrated there.  The student body marks this day each on Foundation Day.  

These pioneering women of early Texas made possible the first permanent school in the city of Houston, then called Incarnate Word Academy for Young Ladies.    

IWA is the oldest Catholic school in Houston.
A Growing Student Body

In the early days, the student body was comprised of the daughters of Houston’s oldest families along with Texas settlers and farmers and recently freed slaves, all from neighboring parishes.  Eventually, the student body grew to include students from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds as new immigrants settled in Houston and wanted their daughters to receive a good education.  The school student body remains ethnically diverse to this day.

Nicholas Clayton Building

The school has changed its architecture several times with the specific purpose of modernization.  The principal architect for the historic building from 1899 to 1905 was the renown Irish-American designer, Nicholas Clayton.  His romantic, Romanesque-style convent of 1905 stood on Capitol until 2006.  His surviving work can be found at next-door Annunciation Church as well as in Galveston at the Bishop’s Palace, the Moody Mansion, and Old Red, among others.  

IWA is the oldest Catholic school in Houston.
A Bold Education

Although IWA started out as more of a finishing school that offered classes like china painting, the Academy began to emphasize college preparatory in the early twentieth century.  Sister Mark Edward, graduate of the Class of 1950 and principal from 1982-1988, explained to Houston Downtown Magazine in 1985, “We still stress the values we stressed 40 years ago.  The thing that has always been crucial here is that academics have been stressed more than other things like home economics.”

Marian High School

In 1954, the Sisters opened Marian High School in Bellaire, Texas.  Though this was a beloved coed school, in 1978, with the numbers of students attending parochial schools diminishing the Sisters closed Marian High School and concentrated their efforts at IWA.  To this day, many alumnae from Marian are still close to the sisters who taught them and have become supporters of IWA.


IWA is the oldest Catholic school in Houston.
First President

Sister Lauren Beck, C.V.I. was named Incarnate Word Academy's first President in 2000.  Under Sister Lauren's leadership, Incarnate Word Academy has expanded its campus to include a beautiful performing arts auditorium and a recent building addition with state-of-the-art classrooms to accommodate IWA's college-preparatory curriculum. 

Lay Leadership

In 1994, Mrs. Mary Welch was named the first lay principal of Incarnate Word Academy. Academics at IWA have flourished since the early 2000s; honors and Advanced Placement course offerings have doubled, 100% of our graduates are accepted to college, and young women are prepared for a life of leadership with particularly relevant course offerings including the Young Leaders Program, STEM studies, and various electives in the arts.  

IWA is the oldest Catholic school in Houston.
Technology & Capital Improvements

Gone are the days of the first computers that took up entire closets on the IWA Campus. Now each classroom is equipped with Smart Board technology and each student is provided an iPad to develop the skills, tools, and experiences needed to succeed in our digital world.  Additionally, in the spring of 2017, IWA opened an 18,500 square foot academic building to provide additional space for classes, collaboration, student life and fine arts.

The Young Leaders Program

In 2010, IWA began to offer a 4-year character and leadership development program called the Young Leaders Program (YLP).  The program is designed to provide students with the opportunity to develop in-demand leadership skills built upon a foundation of strong personal character. While completing the program is elective, every student at IWA must take the program’s core leadership course called Leading With Character and Academics. Students are also able to meet the requirements to be a Distinguished Leader. Since its implementation, the Young Leaders Program has graduated over 250 students as Distinguished Leaders.