Nuns or Priests Lead Only 13% of America's Catholic Health Systems

Only eight of 59 Catholic healthcare systems are directed by religious executives, indicating that leadership by nuns in America's hospitals is borderline extinct, according to a New York Times report.

Sister Mary Jean Ryan is the latest nun to retire, as she left her post as CEO of St. Louis-based SSM Health Care on July 31. She will still preside over the system's board, but Sister Mary Jean has admitted that nuns are "a dying breed," according to the report. When she assumed her position in 1960, nuns headed nearly every department in the system's Catholic hospitals. After her retirement, only 11 nuns remain in the system out of 22,000 employees, and none hold administrative positions.

Nuns' decreased role in healthcare is part of a larger decline in the country's nun population. In 1965 there were 180,000 nuns. Today that figure stands at 56,000.

The change has stirred some questions of nuns' ability to lead in trying times and concerns that their focus on spiritual wellbeing and caring for the needy might not outlast pressing focus on hospital profits. Sister Mary Jean's record, however, contradicts that idea: The system's profits more than quintupled under her tenure. She says it's "a mistake" to underestimate nuns' ability to manage.

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