Cover photo for Margaret M. Van Cleve-Rocchio's Obituary
Margaret M. Van Cleve-Rocchio Profile Photo

Margaret M. Van Cleve-Rocchio

d. September 30, 2020

Van Cleve-Rocchio, Margaret Mary. Of Dorchester, formerly of New Jersey, died September 30, 2020 from an 11-year struggle with cancer.

Margaret Mary Van Cleve was born on January 25, 1964 in Middletown, NJ, the youngest of nine children. She grew up in a household full of children and dogs, and spent her days playing on the beach with her siblings every day in the summer, and attending Catholic school during the school year. Like most of her siblings, she was known to the world only by her nickname: Tiger.

After graduating from Mater Dey High School, Tiger attended Rutgers University as an Environmental Science major. At Rutgers, she would make two decisions that would shape her life forever. The first decision seemed perfectly natural to her: she attended the Catholic Center at Rutgers University. There she found a faith community that led her to create life-long and devoted friends. Like many of the students at the Catholic Center, Tiger was inspired by the Christ-centered devotion of the Center's director, Fr. Joseph Guido, and it led her to another decision, first to change her major to Nursing, and second, to begin a process of discerning a religious vocation.

After graduating the Rutgers University School of Nursing in 1987, Margaret worked as an Oncology nurse at Sloan-Kettering Hospital in Manhattan, NY. Although the work was challenging, and built her foundation of nursing skills, she felt drawn to a life of Christ-centered community, and left Sloan-Kettering to begin a discernment process with the Dominican Sisters of the Sick poor, spending a year at the Common Novitiate for the Dominican Sisters in St. Louis, MO. She was the last postulant for the Dominican Sisters before they combined with other Dominican orders to become the Dominican Sisters of Hope.

In joining the Dominican Sisters, Tiger met inspired women who hungered and thirsted for justice—women of vision and talent committed to the poor, the marginalized, and the forgotten. Seeing these women ignored and silenced by the church made her decision to leave simple: she was not going to give up a life with family in exchange for a life of being marginalized and silenced. Nonetheless, her life with the Dominican Sisters of the Sick poor shaped her forever. Tiger spent the rest of her professional life taking care of the poor, the marginalized, the neglected. She did not join the Dominican Sisters, but she also never left them. In consultation with the Sr. Monica, Tiger decided to move to Washington, D.C., in 1989 to work as a nurse at Christ House Healthcare for the Homeless, a medical shelter for homeless men, and a shelter-based family clinic. Her personal care and commitment was soon demonstrated when she became the godmother of her first patient, Howard Janifer, who came to Christ House as an AIDs patient for hospice care, and converted to Catholicism after a miraculous recovery. They continued their friendship until Howard subsumed to the disease in 1995.

Margaret moved back to New York in 1990 to live as a lay-woman with the Dominican Sisters and work as a Visiting Nurse for the Dominican Sisters Family Health Service. She soon began to specialize in the at-home care of AIDs patients, and provided their case management and personal care, working collaboratively with physicians, pharmacists, social workers/mental health professionals, the Board of Medical and Professional Review, Division of AIDS Service, and hospitals to ensure case acceptance and continuity of care. Margaret's patients were drug addicts, the elderly, veterans, and children who contracted AIDs through birth, now living with elderly grand parents. Her dedication and devotion to patients was evident to all who worked with her, and demonstrated by her chaperoning two juvenile AIDs patients on a Make-A-Wish Foundation tour to Disneyworld. She used her vacation time to work as the camp nurse at the Marist Camp for underprivileged children.

After two years of living in a community of women the Bronx, Margaret made the decision to begin a journey towards raising a family. She moved to an apartment in Manhattan in 1992, and began searching for community. She joined a Liturgy Group that frequently met in the Bronx, attended morning prayer and meditation services in Manhattan. She took a European vacation late in the summer, traveling to Italy and France. There, she spent several days at the Taize community in France, an ecumenical community devoted to prayer and meditation through musical chanting. The peace and serenity of Taize would stay with her forever. She sought it out when she returned to Manhattan, deciding to join Pax Christi Greenwhich Village, which met at the Catholic Center at NYU. At her first meeting, she met Vincent F. Rocchio, who was also attending his first meeting. They were drawn to each other by their shared desire for a life of community, spirituality, and social justice. They fell deeply in love and were married in the chapel at the Mother House of the Dominican Sisters in July of 1994. They honeymooned in Italy, and then returned to New York before moving to Lawrence, MA in late August. Margaret began work at the South Clinic of the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center in September of 1994, while simultaneously starting an Advanced Practice Nursing degree at UMass Lowell. Although she interviewed for the nursing position in AIDS care with GLFHC, she began work instead as the Nurse Manager of the South Clinic. Nonetheless, when she discovered that the state of New Hampshire was sending AIDS patients to Massachusetts so they could claim "zero" AIDs cases in the state, Margaret began calling local state representatives in her spare time. As Nurse Manager, Margaret worked tirelessly to bring a sense of professionalism and patient care to a clinic that was stressed with over enrollment of patients suffering from food insecurity and lack of access to education and jobs.

After graduating from UMass Lowell in 1997, Margaret took her state boards in the summer, flew to Italy for a vacation while seven months pregnant, and had her first child, Antonia Therese, in September of 1997. She took 3 months off from work, and returned to the South Clinic in January to begin working as a Family Nurse Practitioner. She was soon promoted to Medical Site Director for the South Clinic, a position she retained until 2005. Still working as a primary care provider and managing the clinic, Margaret gave birth to her second child, Giovanna Louise, in July of 2000, and three years later, her son Dominic Eugene in February 2003.

Margaret moved to Boston in February of 2005, when her husband Vincent began working at one of the local universities. After commuting to Lawrence from Boston for several months, Margaret gave up working primary care to become a Visiting Nurse with Catholic Charities in South Boston. She would never return to primary care again. She cared for the elderly and other in-home patients in South Boston and Dorchester until July of 2007, when the family moved to Rome Italy for Vincent to take a teaching job with John Cabot University. Their year in Rome was the only year that Margaret did not work a full-time nursing job in her entire adult life.

The family moved back from Rome in the summer of 2008, and Margaret began working as a Camp Nurse at Camp Tevya, in Brookline, NH. She continued to work for the camp until the summer of 2018, when the return of her cancer limited her mobility. A practicing Roman Catholic, Margaret became a beloved figure at a Jewish Cultural/Religious camp because of commitment to care and her dedication to professionalism at the camp clinic—as well as her deep ecumenism. Both her daughters attended camp and grew to be camp counselors. The camp community would become a lasting and enduring part of all their lives.

The experience of caring for complex child and adolescent patients in active environments changed her career goals, and Margaret began looking for school nursing jobs in the Fall. She interviewed at the William Monroe Trotter Elementary School to practice her interviewing skills. It was a full-time job that she didn't want, having promised Vincent that she would work part-time. Inspired by the two newly appointed women who were charged with leading a turn-around at the neglected school, Margaret began working at Trotter School in autumn, 1998. Along with first-year Principal Mairead Nolan, Vice-Principal Romaine Teque, and a small group of dedicated teachers, Margaret became a corner stone in the process of turning the school around by creating a secure environment where children were assured that they were cared for and respected. Known to thousands of students as "Nurse Margaret" she worked tirelessly to care for and advocate for neglected, and often homeless children.

In July of 2009, after completing her first year at the Trotter, Margaret was diagnosed with Ovarian cancer. She underwent surgery and chemotherapy before returning to the Trotter later that year. Less than two years later, in the Spring of 2011, Margaret was diagnosed with breast cancer, which was discovered in a follow up visit for her ovarian cancer. She underwent chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation treatment before returning to the Trotter. Despite her health setbacks, Margaret became a tireless champion of maintaining a healthy environment for the children, starting with the staggering rate of asthma at the Trotter. She went on to win an award from MassCosh and the American Lung Association for her leadership in mitigating asthma triggers school wide. Her openness to problem solving and taking action was evidenced in the process. In an interview with MassCosh, she stated "When I started my work as the Trotter School Nurse six years ago, I was overwhelmed by the number of students with uncontrolled asthma," said VanCleve-Rocchio. "For the first year, I resisted the idea that the school environment could be exacerbating asthma. I began to question my resistance to the idea of the school being a trigger when I saw the dramatic decrease in asthma exacerbations after the school was cleared from years of clutter. I was convinced that the school environment has a major impact on the learning and health of our students with asthma."

Margaret continued to work at the Trotter until 2018, when a dramatic leadership change and subsequent decline of the school's espirit de corps, motivated her to look towards administrative positions. She was hesitant to take on an administrative post, preferring personal care, but after she became convinced that her vision and decision making abilities could improve the lives of more children and improve care overall, she interviewed for the Director of Nursing job, and began work in the Spring of 2018. By the summer of 2018, she was diagnosed with cancer for a third time: leptomeningeal carcinoma. Cancer cells from her breast cancer had infiltrated the blood-brain barrier and had fostered in her spinal fluid. Despite losing the use of her legs, and before undergoing radiation therapy of the spine, Margaret returned for the start of the school year to resume working as Senior Director of Health Services. She began daily oral chemotherapy, but still attended the start of the year Professional Development session for the school nurses to begin articulating her vision of implementing standards of care across the system, work equity for all the nurses, creating clear boundaries between health services and mental health services, and emphasizing personal care for students. She continued to work diligently in the position until the end of the 2019-2020 school, helping implement the process of providing a nurse for each school, and piloting the use of women's sanitary products in each school. She insisted that a working, confidential, and "shame-free" distribution system be developed before implementation on a system-wide basis.

In July of 2020, the chemotherapy regimen began losing its efficacy, and the cancer in her brain began progressing. She took leave from BPS, and by September began to decline. She passed away peacefully on September 30th, with her three children and husband, and two sisters-in-law by her bedside at home.

She is the beloved wife of Vincent F. Rocchio and loving mother of Antonia, Giovanna, and Dominic Rocchio.

Daughter of Eugene Van Cleve and the late Ann (Eltz) Van Cleve.

Sister of Gene Van Cleve, Mark Van Cleve, Victoria (Van Cleve) Johnson, Matthew Van Cleve, Christine (Van Cleve) McGrath and Michael Van Cleve, all of New Jersey, and Nancy (Van Cleve) Ward of Pennsylvania, and the late Mary Van Cleve.

She is also survived by many nieces and nephews.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Margaret's memory may be made to Boston Healthcare for the Homeless at or the Camp Tevya Scholarship Fund at

Funeral services will be private.
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