Franciscan era comes to an end at St. Francis Hospital

by Nancy Schwerin

GREENVILLE — Sister Clarita Frericks is retiring. At 75, she says it’s time to join her community back in Ohio. But she takes with her a legacy of 69 years. When she leaves, there will be no more Franciscan sisters at St. Francis Hospital, which was founded by the order in 1932.

Built in 1921, the hospital closed only 10 years later. But it was destined to breathe again. It was purchased by the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor in 1932. After being renovated, St. Francis was opened on July 14, 1932.

The purpose of the Franciscan ministry was “to heal the wounds of Christ in poor suffering humanity.”

The sisters staffed the hospital and the administrative board. The facility underwent another renovation in 1950, and in the ’60s a campaign was initiated to build a new facility.

Sister M. Bernardine was appointed by the order’s mother general to administrator of the hospital which in 1964 had seen better days.

An article from The Greenville News stated: “She found a hospital which was like ‘a matchbox.’ … She found the hospital was no longer fire-resistant and had lost its accreditation. The only bright note was the friendliness of the patients and doctors. …

“The nuns’ quarters were in an old barracks which had been moved from a World War I base, Camp Sevier. But they even gave up space in the barracks for patients when the hospital overflowed.”

Fund raising began. After the project, which was done in several phases, was completed costs amounted to more than $11 million. The new facility eventually became an eight-story hospital built adjacent to the old facility that was remodeled into a long-term care unit. Phase one, the first four floors, had 207 beds, and according to a hospital consultant at the time boasted the first all-private rooms in the Southeast. Phase two had a planned 500 beds. A convent and chapel were also added to house the sisters.

In the late 1970s and into the ’80s, lay personnel began mixing with the religious personnel, but the sisters always stayed involved and their guiding hand was nearby.

“It’s been a partnership between the sisters and lay people,” said Sister Frericks, chaplain at the Greenville hospital.

She’s been the only Franciscan at St. Francis for the last six years of her 14 years there.

In 2000, the hospital was sold to the Sisters of Bon Secours, who are continuing the Franciscan mission to serve the poor. The hospital now has 319 beds and includes St. Francis Hospital, St. Francis Women’s and Family Hospital, St. Francis Outpatient Surgery Center and Patewood Surgery Center.

“It’s difficult to leave; however, I know with the Bon Secours sisters it’s in good hands,” said Sister Frericks. In retirement, she’s going to live at St. Clare Convent in Cincinnati, Ohio, the same convent that she entered at 16.

“I feel at peace leaving,” she said. “It has been one of the best ministry I’ve had in my life.”