Sr. Mary Jean Ryan, FSM

Lifetime Achievement Award
For a lifetime of contributions to the ministry

Sr. Mary Jean Ryan

Sr. Mary Jean Ryan, FSM, RN, MHA
Past President/CEO & Board Chair, SSM Health
SSM Health
St. Louis

Watch the Awards Banquet Video!

Appointed as the first CEO of SSM Health in 1986, Sr. Mary Jean forged a health system that has become a leader in safe, high-quality care. Driven by a fundamental belief that all people deserve access to topnotch care, Sr. Mary Jean succeeded in bringing change to not only SSM Health, but to the entire health care industry.

Throughout her 25-year tenure as SSM Health's CEO, Sr. Mary Jean mentored hundreds of employees and physicians at all levels of the organization. Believing in the unique abilities and potential for greatness that resides within every person, she nurtured an atmosphere that encouraged employees to thrive.

As a leader, Sr. Mary Jean focused on three areas inherent to Catholic health ministry: Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI), diversity and preserving the Earth's gifts.

In her pursuit of excellence, she became one of the first U.S. health care executives to recognize the potential of CQI and implemented the principles in 1990. Through its early adoption of CQI and dedication to improving community health, SSM received the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 2002, the first health care organization in the United States to earn the top honor for quality management and achievement.

When accepting the Baldrige Award, she spoke of Catholic health care's special concern for the poor, recalling that in the Sisters' earliest ledgers, they referred to patients who could not pay as "ODL," or "Our Dear Lord's." She said: "Although we no longer use the term 'ODL,' I am pleased that in a world where people's worth is often measured in monetary terms, we see each of our patients as a unique human person of worth who is in need of healing."

Sr. Mary Jean championed formal leadership development programs for underrepresented employee groups at SSM, with an initial focus on the advancement of women into executive positions. After making significant progress on gender diversity, she prioritized racial diversity in 1997, leading to a decade-long, systemwide initiative preparing internal employees from minority communities for executive positions and recruiting minority talent. SSM's diversity efforts have been nationally recognized, and Sr. Mary Jean's legacy continues today.

Sr. Mary Jean's advocacy for the Earth led to a systemwide ban of plastic-bottled water products and styrofoam products that contained chlorofluorocarbons. She also established a systemwide nonviolent language policy that is still in existence today. Further, at her mandate in 2004, SSM became the largest U.S. health care system to ban tobacco products on its campuses.

Sr. Mary Jean's commitment to Catholic health ministry not only advanced exceptional care, but also addressed timely issues in ways that are helping to change the world.