Apostolate reveals God’s mercy with end-of-life care

Catholic hospice fights euthanasia by supporting natural death with dignity

When she went to the historic canonization of two popes in Rome on Divine Mercy Sunday in April, Dana Sewald Foss had no idea how quickly and concretely God was going to manifest his mercy in her life.

Upon returning home to Summerfield, N.C., an “answer to prayer” appeared in a news story. Sewald, a registered nurse whose career focused on helping mothers with natural childbirth and breastfeeding had never dealt with end-of-life care, but she knew she and her three siblings—two in Colorado and one in Arizona—would soon be navigating their own mother’s last days as she had recently been diagnosed with terminal bladder cancer. The story was about a new apostolate in the Denver Archdiocese, the Catholic hospice Divine Mercy Supportive Care. Foss’s mother, Rita Sewald, 81, lived near Denver.

“My mom became the first patient with Divine Mercy hospice,” she said, adding that her family’s experience was that, “it’s not just a name, they are the actual reality of God’s divine mercy.”

The nonprofit offers in-home hospice care from morally focused staffers carried out in accord with Catholic standards of care as determined by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The chaplains providing spiritual and sacramental care are priests and deacons. The medical director and spiritual advisor is Deacon-Dr. Alan Rastrelli, a founding member of the palliative care team of Kaiser Permanente at Exempla St. Joseph Hospital in Denver who has been named a 5280 Top Doctor five times.

Development director Mark Skender said that at Divine Mercy faith isn’t an afterthought in the care given, it’s primary.

“This is the only Catholic hospice,” Skender said. “The point of our hospice is to provide comfort care and death with dignity. It’s a total care plan that includes spiritual preparation for everlasting life.”

And it’s available to all, Skender said, not just Catholics.

The hospice is more than an apostolate, he said.

“This is a movement and a war,” Skender asserted. “The movement is to allow people to have the opportunity to be able to die with dignity, no matter what their faith. The war is against organizations like Compassion and Choices, formerly known as The Hemlock Society, who advocate ‘aid in dying,’ hastening death. … All of us will be impacted by this.”

Physician assisted suicide to relieve pain and suffering is against Church teaching. It is legal in five U.S. states: Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila is among Divine Mercy’s supporters.

“I strongly endorse Divine Mercy Supportive Care because its ministry and staff are rooted in the Catholic faith,” he said in a statement. “They bring true Christian compassion to those who are suffering and make faith an integral part of dying. I am very appreciative of Divine Mercy’s efforts to build a culture of life by educating the public on ethical end-of-life care and by working to spread their ministry nationwide.”

The hospice lived up to its mission, Foss and her sister Lora Sewald said.

“It’s a recognition of the person as a child of God and that death isn’t just an ending but the beginning of our pilgrimage to heaven, of preparing for eternal life,” Foss said. “At the moment of death … Lora and I were at her side as Mom opened her eyes for the first time in about 24 hours and for the last time and took her last deep breath in and out and died so very peacefully.”

In a note to the hospice, Sewald wrote, “Thank you … for your countless hours and contributions in making Mom’s final journey so beautiful, offering a level of dignity like no other.”

The team provided medical, sacramental and prayerful support not only through Rita’s last days but afterward as well, attending the funeral liturgies and offering bereavement counseling.

When Rita died, her children asked that memorial donations be sent to Divine Mercy.

Thanks to donors and a matching grant from The Catholic Foundation, Divine Mercy has been able to care for a half-dozen patients. But because the organization is dependent on volunteers, it fears having to turn someone away if no staff is available.

“We need to hire a clinical staff,” Skender said of the organization’s goal to raise $250,000 for remaining start-up costs.

The hospice, he said, exists to affirm and protect the end of the sanctity of life spectrum—natural death.

“Their ministry has a ripple effect,” Foss said. “It’s not just for the patient but for the whole family. There can be healing and reconciliation. … They are the hands and heart and love of God’s divine mercy.”


Divine Mercy Supportive Care

For more information or to donate

Visit: www.DMSCi.org

Email: info@DMSCi.org

Call: 303-357-2540



COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.