In 1997, when Marylouise “Duck” White-Petteruti’s mother was dying of lung cancer and life seemed stripped of all joy, Duck, a native Chicagoan, knew a trip to the Colorado mountains would offer much needed peace and renewal. Acting quickly with doctors’ approval and help from family and friends, she and her two sisters took a final “girls’ trip” to Summit County with their mother. The results were profound.
“The forgiveness … to find love and hear laughter in her last days was extremely important,” said Duck, whose nickname comes from her mother’s calling her “Little Duckling.” “Every day to the day she died she looked at those girls’ trip pictures.”
The trip had taken the efforts of a community to pull off; God supplied the grace that brought those works to fruition. The idea for Domus Pacis Family Respite was born.
Domus Pacis, Latin for “House of Peace,” is an ecumenical nonprofit that offers individuals experiencing cancer treatment, palliative- or hospice-care, a week’s respite with family members to encourage interaction in a homelike setting. Domus Pacis provides free housing, logistical and hospitality support.
“For one week, a community of strangers plants a seed that the Lord can blossom into peace,” explained Duck. “We remove the stress and the complexity of making [a respite] happen so the family can focus on each other and on the emotional, spiritual and mental things they may be dealing with.”
Founded by Duck and her husband Vince in 2007, the nonprofit started the following year when it provided respite stays to eight families. Since then, it has served 1,200 families, providing them free stays at homes or lodges in Summit County. Families are referred through cancer treatment centers, palliative and hospice services. Housing is donated. Families are responsible for their own travel arrangements. Volunteers provide food. Businesses offer opportunities for fun, free activities such as biking, a dinner out or a family photo session.
“I personally experienced the power of respite,” Duck said. “Lives are forever changed.”
Claudia McClintock of Grand Junction felt the transformative effects of Domus Pacis respite when her now deceased husband Dave and father to their six adult children was undergoing chemotherapy for brain cancer.
“I knew the mountains would soothe Dave’s heart and create memories we would cherish for life,” she said. “The week far exceeded our expectations.… We felt pampered and relaxed and the atmosphere facilitated many conversations, from light to difficult.
“It brings me to tears just thinking about the generosity of so many people we will never meet. The memories we created during our week in Breckenridge are a gift for life. I bring out the photos we took to bring Dave close to me when I miss and need him.”
Robert Saum of Arlington, Va., owns a vacation property in Keystone that he has offered to Domus Pacis for a least a month annually the past five years. He is such a believer in the organization that he joined its board of directors.
“Domus Pacis is a professional organization that makes the home donor feel part of something larger and more important. The process is easy and the Domus Pacis staff make it happen very simply,” he said. “From a personal perspective, it continues to be gratifying that the peace and regeneration that we experience in the mountains can be experienced by those who truly need the time and space to be with each other. I am humbled by the support provided by Summit County businesses and individuals who make the respite families feel welcome and loved. This community-based approach brings everyone together to support families just when they most need the support.”
As with all nonprofits, Domus Pacis is always seeking funding and board members. But the organization’s primary need is homes.
“If we don’t have homes, we can’t host people,” Duck said. “There are so many homes in Summit County that are second homes or rental properties that sit empty for weeks of the year. We resource those. They are not being utilized so why not use them for people in need of respite? We pay the cleaning. That’s pretty attractive.”
Duck and Vince, who are Catholic, now live in Breckenridge, but at the time of Duck’s mother’s illness all they had in Colorado was the undeveloped land their home now stands on, which her mom called “the dirt.” Although her mother had just weeks to live when Duck suggested that final girls’ trip, her mother insisted on traveling to Colorado see “the dirt.”
“I realized over time that she was working as the voice of God. He had this plan for Domus Pacis,” she said, referring to the trip to the mountains that gave birth to the nonprofit. “It was the dirt, the fertile ground, from which Domus Pacis was launched.”