A Prayer for Posterity

How the 1900 Storm Inspired 120-Year Family Tradition

By Kimber Fountain

Prayer for PosterityThis month marks a milestone—the 120th anniversary of The Great Storm of 1900. Which also means that 120 years-worth of history has been written about it, and almost all of it is about Galveston. But why would it not be?

Roughly one in six residents were killed, many of whom survived the storm itself but expired unable to free themselves from the debris. One in four were left homeless, 1,900 acres of developed land were scraped clean by an enraged Gulf, and the conservatively estimated $17 million in damage equates to 25 times that amount today.

Nevertheless, a storm large enough to do that much damage to one city was certainly large enough to impact more than one. Nearby cities such as Alvin, Angleton, Brazoria, El Campo, Pearland, Richmond, Alta Loma, and Chenango suffered complete or near-complete destruction.

Death tolls and property losses were numerically lower due to sparser populations and only rural development, but the discrepancies lessen considerably when measured proportionately to Galveston as a thriving urban metropolis of the time. Houston, only marginally developed at this point, still assumed nearly $250,000 in damages fifty miles away from the center of the storm.

Numbers and statistics, however, only calculate the quantifiable. The human experience of living through such a monolith storm cannot be measured nor compared. The immense terror of rising water, engulfing tides, hammering rain, and riotous winds was universal.

If Shakespeare had lived on the Texas coast, his famous line might have read, “hell hath no fury like Mother Nature.” So potent, so all-consuming was this experience that a frightened Sicilian immigrant in Houston made a promise that has been kept by his family for well over a century.

Ignacio “Nash” Ingrando immigrated to the U.S. through New Orleans in 1888 at the age of 22. He traveled with his wife Margherita LaMotta Ingrando, his infant daughter, and two-year-old son. Eventually, they made their way to Houston with several other extended family members.

Nash opened a grocery store on the corner of McKinney and Sampson, and he and his family lived for a time on the second floor. By the time the 1900 storm struck the Texas coast, Nash and Margherita’s family had grown by two more daughters, and they had moved to a home at Jackson and Chenevert Streets.


Inside this house, Ignacio, Margherita, and their four children Rosie, Frank, Jenny, and Annie clung to each other on that fateful September Saturday. Outside, the howl of 100 mph winds was punctuated with the sounds of breaking glass, broken tree branches scraping across their windows, electrical poles toppling into their street, and shingles ripping from the rooftops.

Desperate and fearful for his family, Ignacio prayed, “Oh Blessed Mother, if you save my family, I’ll have a mass said in your honor every year.”

The Ingrando family escaped unscathed, as did all Houstonians save two, but the favorable odds did not diminish Ignacio’s appreciation. Following the storm, his grocery business thrived, and he continued to hold the mass every year until his death in 1929. His son Frank then took it over, then it was passed on to the grandchildren, and then the great-grandchildren. Every year for 119 years, the Ingrando family has kept Ignacio’s sacred vow, and the tradition continues in 2020.

Myrna Sanders, the great-granddaughter of Rosie Ingrando Bilao, says that time has not diminished the family’s commitment to their patriarch’s promise. “We are not always able to have it on the exact day, September 8, sometimes it is the Sunday before or after, and not everyone can come every year,” she says.

“But for the most part, everyone tries to keep that date open. It is very special to all of us. In 2000 for the 100th anniversary, all the descendants came.”

This year, an in-person event is not possible because of the pandemic, but the family was insistent that it continue in any way possible. “I spoke to my cousin who organizes it now, and she said, ‘there is no way I am going to not do it,” Myrna shares.

And so, the service will be held virtually to avoid a large gathering, but the virtual format will also allow family members to attend who might not have been able to travel regardless.

The mass includes scripture readings, a sermon, and the singing of hymns. In the earlier years and in honor of Galveston, the family would sing “Queen of the Waves.”

Legend holds that this hymn was sung by the nuns of St. Mary’s Orphanage to their wards as they succumbed to the storm. The lyrics hauntingly echo Ignacio’s prayer, revealing that the outpouring of tragedy is not bound by time or location.

“Help, then sweet Queen, in our exceeding danger, by thy seven griefs, in pity Lady save; think of the babe that slept within the manger and help us now, dear Lady of the Wave.”