Meet the Women of St. Francis

Mar 21 2023

You may not realize it, but women have played an important role in the creation and continued mission of Bon Secours St. Francis, which has served the Upstate community for more than 90 years.

In February of 1932, the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor acquired the downtown Greenville hospital from the Salvation Army for $55,000. After some brief renovations, an event was held to celebrate the opening that summer, with the first patient being seen on July 18, 1932.

In January of this year, after the latest round of renovations completely transformed the exterior of what is now St. Francis Downtown Hospital, another celebration was held to mark 90 years of good help to those in need across Greenville County and other nearby communities.

Among the attendees were many women who have been a huge part of why our health system continues to thrive, including Irene Holcombe, Patty Putnam, Susie Jeter and Karen Schwartz.

Irene Holcombe

Irene is a senior executive assistant, providing administrative support to our leadership team at Bon Secours St. Francis. She is also a governance coordinator, helping as the liaison with our health system’s board of directors. She’s been working for Bon Secours since 1971, before the current downtown hospital was even open! (Originally, the hospital stood where the Bernardine Center on campus now sits.)

“I have been blessed to work with and know so many people who make or have made St. Francis a very special place, including many amazing women these past 50 years who have made significant contributions to our ministry,” Irene shares. “I was even fortunate enough to know many of the sisters who worked at St. Francis. Being just a small part of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor is very meaningful to me.”

Irene lives with her husband of 51 years in Powdersville, S.C., and while he is retired, she says she enjoys working at Bon Secours too much to give it up just yet.

Patty Putnam

Patty has been working for Bon Secours for more than 51 years. She spent nearly a decade of those as a staff pharmacist before becoming director of pharmacy for 30 years. She currently serves as the pharmacist for the McCall Hospice House and as a consultant pharmacist for many of the health system’s other facilities.

When she was first hired, Patty was one of only two pharmacists on her team. Today, Bon Secours St. Francis employs 20 full-time pharmacists along with some part-time staff and two pharmacy residents to help cover the health system’s medication needs.

When asked about her favorite memory from her half-century with Bon Secours, she recalls the day staff moved patients into the St. Francis Downtown hospital that remains the heart of the health system’s patient care today.

“There was a tunnel between the new hospital and the old St. Francis building, and it was a cold and snowy day. So, we all pitched in from every department – even the nuns – and we moved patients through that tunnel into the new hospital. We truly became a family that day.”

Patty fondly recalls when the nuns were more involved in the running of the hospital as well.

“All of them wore the full habit, from top to bottom, and they were so full of energy. They were a lot of fun, but they ran their departments with great care, love and efficiency.”

Susie Jeter

Susie has filled many roles during her 47-year history at Bon Secours St. Francis. Starting out as a secretary in the engineering department, she’s also served in marketing and public relations, human resources, administration and with the St. Francis Foundation.

For the past decade, Susie finally settled into her favorite role of all – volunteer coordinator, recruiting those who choose to donate their time and talents as well as helping shepherd the next generation of potential health care employees through student internships and shadowing opportunities. It’s part of why she’s stayed with the company so long.

“The mission and the people – we are a family! I love what I do and the folks I serve with every day. The volunteers are an amazing group of folks who give their time willingly because they love and support their ministry. They provide so much love, support and care and are always there when needed!”

Karen Schwartz

Karen, vice president of operations at Bon Secours St. Francis, provides executive oversight for lab, imaging, clinical engineering and the oncology service line. She actually started her journey with our ministry years ago, starting out as a clinical dietitian after finding out about the job opening in what she refers to as an act of “divine intervention.”

“My then-future father-in-law was reading the obituaries one day and noticed a St. Francis dietitian had passed away,” she recalls. “He encouraged me to call the hospital and inquire about the job, as I was driving daily from Greenville to AnMed where I worked at the time. Wanting to make a good impression on the future in-laws, I did. While the person who’d passed away was actually a cook in the kitchen, it turned out they did so happen to need a dietitian and 40 years later, I’m still serving. This is where I was meant to be.”

Karen climbed the ranks, from dietitian to director of weight loss clinic and director of food and nutrition services before becoming the vice president of support services. She says one of her favorite memories in that role was seeing the St. Francis Cancer Center come to fruition.

“It was the first large construction project in that role. The ability to collaborate with so many to create a space for us to live out our mission of providing good help makes me so proud.”

Karen hopes the founding Franciscan sisters feel the same way about how far Bon Secours St. Francis has come in its 90-year history.

“Their courageous spirit and tireless work ethic to create what is now our health system – I think about the legacy that we are continuing to grow. I wonder what they would think about where we are today, and I hope they would be proud of the growth from the seeds they planted so long ago.”

Learn about our Mission at Bon Secours.

Also, read more stories celebrating our team members during Women’s History Month.

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