Sister Mary Roch Rocklage

Champion of Access to Health Care For All 

Sister Roch’s remarkable career in health care started nearly 60 years ago as a nursing student. Over the years, she has held positions of leadership including hospital president, the Mercy health system’s first president and CEO, chair of the board, and today, health ministry liaison and board member. She shepherded Mercy’s transition from individual hospitals to a system, and then to a new form of leadership designed to ensure the future of the health ministry with fewer Sisters of Mercy to serve.

When asked how she has chosen her path, Sister Roch said, “My life has been a continuing calling forth. Our religious community recognizes individual Sisters’ abilities and encourages us. I became involved in organizations when I felt there was a fit and I could do things to help move a situation forward. Anything we have is a gift and we’re to use it to serve others.”

A woman of committed faith with a determined sense of service, Sister Roch has served on numerous boards, committees, task forces and councils – from national organizations like the AHA, CHA and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to regional, state and local groups such as the Archdiocese of St. Louis Commission on Human Rights, Healthcare for the Homeless, St. Louis University School of Nursing Advisory Board and Nurses for Newborns. She also has a long list of accomplishments and awards honoring  her achievements including induction into Modern Healthcare magazine’s Hall of Fame, the AHA Distinguished Service Award and CHA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

As is her habit, she deflects credit for achievement to those around her. “I have been privileged to work and serve with wonderful women and men,” said Sister Roch. “God always sends the right people into your life.”

Her fellow Sisters know Sister Roch has often been that right person. Known for her wonderful sense of humor, smile and mottos, often referred to as “Rochisms”, she was the driving force behind the transformation and evolution of Mercy.

In the Fall of 2016, with deep gratitude for Sister Roch’s many contributions to the ministry, Mercy planted Japanese maple “Roch Trees” at each hospital. Japanese maples were specially chosen for their vibrant color to honor a woman who has given so much of her life in service. They also have deep meaning:

  • They are successfully grown all over the world – just like the Sisters of Mercy.
  • They have hundreds of varieties and can thrive in many different circumstances – much like Sister Roch.
  • Their leaves and branches have been used to make medicine for the sick through many centuries – echoing her long career in health care.
  • The tree is a beautiful color in every season – just like Sister Roch. 

Sister Roch embodies what is best about Catholic health care: compassion and quality. Today, she continues to carry on the legacy of Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy.