Domus Pacis offers respite to families battling life-threatening illness

Ecumenical nonprofit was born of Catholic family’s mountain get-away trip for dying mother

Roxanne King

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.

Marylouise “Duck” White-Petteruti and her husband Vince founded Domus Pacis Family Respite in 2007. Latin for “House of Peace,” Domus Pacis seeks to provide individuals experiencing cancer treatment, palliative- or hospice-care a week’s respite with family members in the form of a mountain getaway. (Photo from Domus Pacis Facebook page)

“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.”

Domus Pacis Family Respite
DomusPacis.org
Info@DomusPacis.org
970-455-8928

COMING UP: For Love of Country: A Catholic Patriotism

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Our country has been through a lot this last year, as we all know. As many people have reacted against the founding and history of the United States, I have found myself drawn towards greater patriotism. By this, I simply mean a deeper appreciation of what I’ve been given by my country and also a growing realization of the duty I have to work for the common good, here and now. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of this duty under the fourth commandment that enjoins honor not only to parents but also to anyone in authority.   

It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community (2239). 

Catholics, and all people of good will, are called to a love and service of country in order to work for the common good.  

Eric Metaxas argues that the future of our country depends precisely upon the active role of Christians in his book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty (Penguin, 2017). He describes something called the Golden Triangle, an idea he borrowed from Os Guinness, but which ultimately comes from the Founding Fathers. “The Golden Triangle of Freedom is, when reduced to its most basic form, that freedom requires virtue; virtue requires faith; and faith requires freedom. The three go round and round, supporting one another ad infinitum. If any one of the three legs of the triangle is removed, the whole structure ceases to exist” (54). John Adams, for example, related very clearly, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (quoted on 61). Metaxas comments, looking to specific examples around the world, “if you take God and faith and morality out of the equation, everything inevitably falls apart. It cannot be otherwise” (48). It cannot be otherwise. That may sound extreme, but we have many examples from Communist and Fascist countries and now even from movements within our country that aggressive secularism parallels a collapse of real freedom.  

The Constitution established an ordered liberty that requires responsibility and a determined effort of preservation. Hence the title of the book, taken from Benjamin Franklin, a republic “if you can keep it.” We are called to actively preserve our country: entering into a deeper understanding of the “idea” of America that undergirds the Republic as well as showing a loving determination to overcome challenges and threats to its continuance. This is not to whitewash the past, as we all know the injustices of our history. Metaxas argues that we can be grateful for the good and unique blessings of our heritage while also working to overcome failures. “To truly love America, one must somehow see both sides simultaneously” (226). Furthermore, by loving our country we are willing her good, drawing our own selves into the work for her good and helping her to be true to herself. “So that in loving America we are embodying her original intentions — we are indeed being America at her best — and in doing so we are calling her to her best, to be focused on doing all she can to fulfill the great promise which God has called her in bringing her into existence and shepherding her through trials and tribulations all these and centuries — and now” (235).  

As Catholics, we have a lot to offer our country by drawing from our rich intellectual and spiritual heritage. Michael Krom, a philosopher at St. Vincent College, provides us with a great resource in his new book, Justice and Charity: An Introduction to Aquinas’s Moral, Economic, and Political Thought (Baker, 2020). In an age of confusion, Catholics can bring greater clarity in our national discourse on the nature of human life, virtue, and politics. “We live in a time of ideological conflicts, in which the citizens of the nations of the modern world seem incapable of agreeing upon even the most basic of moral, economic, or political principles. Civil discourse has been replaced with violent protest, and reasoned dialogue with character assassination” (2). As Catholics, we should be able to look above all of this, literally: “While the Church does not force us to reject political citizenship, she demands that we direct it to the heavenly, and we can do that by heeding her call to engage the world rather than conform to it. I wrote this book out of the conviction that those who want to heed the Church’s call to engage our culture need to look to the past” (ibid.).  

Dr. Krom shows us that St. Thomas Aquinas has much to teach us about living the good life, in pursuit of a genuine freedom and happiness, and that this should inform a Catholic approach to economics and politics. It is hard to work for virtue if you don’t know what virtue really is, and difficult to act justly toward others if you don’t understand the nature of duty. Aquinas can help us to judge the direction of our country, as “a government cannot be called ‘good’ unless it promotes just moral and economic relationships between its citizens” (121). This is precisely the purpose of government — to promote right order and peace. We can’t just dispense with politics because, “the fact that humans find their fulfillment in political community means that situating their own good with the good of the community as a whole is central to happiness” (125). We are not isolated individuals and can’t attain a good and complete life on our own.  

Our ultimate good, however, is God, not the political life. Everything — all of our choices, including economic and political ones — must be directed to our ultimate goal. There are not “two ends to human existence, the earthly and the heavenly … [T]here is only one end, the beatific vision” (162). In this way the Church informs our citizenship. Krom explains “how inadequate this human law is as a teacher in the virtues, for it is limited in scope to the prevention of those vices from which even the wicked can refrain, and thus leaves those who seek after perfect virtue to their own devices … [H]uman law is in need of a higher law to truly bring about a just community” (155). Unfortunately, we’re seeing that our society is no longer even trying to prevent serious vice. Catholics and all believers have an important role to play, because “the lack of religion in the citizenry leads it down the path of totalitarianism. It Is absolutely critical that a people maintain a strong commitment to a transcendent measure of the common good in order to protect the true flourishing of its members” (171). Krom’s important work on justice and charity can teach us how a Catholic can exercise a proper patriotism, a true love of country.