Sister Mary Roch Rocklage, a Sister of Mercy and an iconic health care leader, died Aug. 23, at 87, following a lengthy illness.
Sister Roch, as she was affectionately known, was the modern-day foundress of Mercy’s health care system. Born Antoinette Marie Rocklage, Sister Roch devoted her life to helping others and bringing people together. She was known for her humble but tenacious leadership style — a blend of compassion, bold innovation and considering others before herself.
“We must have deferential regard for those we serve and create an environment of deep respect,” Sister Roch said repeatedly through the years. “Compassion means staying in the moment with the individual or group and experiencing with them what they are going through.”
Sister Roch’s dedication to health care began in 1954, when she studied nursing under the Sisters of Mercy at St. Xavier University in Chicago, taking her first vows as a Sister of Mercy in 1957.
Sister Roch advocated for health care on a national level, serving as board chair of the American Hospital Association and a term as the board chair of the Catholic Health Association. She testified before Congress in 1990 on behalf of the Catholic Health Association in favor of a national health program and discussed health care with then-President George W. Bush in 2002. Her passion was health care access for all, no exceptions.
In recognition of her exceptional leadership and service, Sister Roch was inducted into Modern Healthcare’s Healthcare Hall of Fame and received numerous awards, including the American Hospital Association Distinguished Service Award, the Catholic Health Association Lifetime Achievement Award and the Missouri Hospital Association Career Achievement Award.
In her earlier years, she served various Mercy communities in nursing and leadership roles, including administrator of St. John’s Mercy Medical Center, now Mercy Hospital St. Louis, and administrator of the Sisters of Mercy St. Louis Regional Community.
Sister Roch was later appointed to lead hospitals across seven states. Under her leadership and vision, the Sisters of Mercy Health System, now Mercy, was formed in 1986, with Sister Roch serving as its first president, chief executive officer and chair of the Mercy board. She led in those roles for 13 years before serving as full-time chair of the Mercy board for four years followed by 18 years as a member of the Mercy board.
One of Sister Roch’s favorite inspirations was: “Live fully, love deeply, commit totally, enjoy life immensely.”
Consistent with her lifelong commitment to medicine, Sister Roch chose to donate her body to science. A private service will be held for the Sisters of Mercy and immediate family. A public memorial service for friends, Mercy co-workers and others who wish to celebrate her life will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13, at the Von Gontard Conference Center at Mercy Hospital St. Louis.