Retreat to help cancer-afflicted ‘face their immortality’

Aaron Lambert

When Denise Archuleta was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009, her life changed drastically.

“When you get cancer, you get thrown into chaos,” she told the Denver Catholic.

Archuleta, a devout Catholic and current parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes in Denver, found refuge in her faith and the Church as she battled her cancer. Now, as a two-time cancer survivor, she hopes to help others in a similar situation by providing a spiritual retreat for women who have faced or are facing a difficult diagnosis such as the one she did.

Formed in partnership with Sister Anne Marie Walsh, a nun of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity in Iowa and a cancer survivor herself, the retreat is called “Facing Our Immortality” and will take place at Mother Cabrini Shrine June 1 – 3. It will be the third retreat the women have done together and the first in Colorado.

“I really believe this retreat [is] essential for people needing something specific to help with their spiritual needs when it comes to cancer,” Archuleta said. “There’s a need for this.”

Denise Archuleta and Sister Anne Marie Walsh offer the “Facing Our Immortality” retreat for women who have endured the challenges of a cancer diagnosis. (Photo provided)

The retreat will be led by Sister Walsh, who before partnering with Archuleta did similar retreats for those afflicted with cancer. The name of the retreat is meant as a rebuttal to the idea of mortality connected with a cancer diagnosis.

“One of the first things people say when you have a serious diagnosis is, ‘Now you have to face your mortality,’ and everything within you rebels against that, and it’s partly because we’re not mortal – we’re immortal,” Sister Walsh explained. “We don’t ever come to grips with that, so when something like this comes up, you really have to face the reality that this isn’t as dark as it seems.”

One aspect Sister Walsh likes to focus on in the retreat is God the Father’s dream for the lives of the women there and his promises to them. A cancer diagnosis doesn’t change the Lord’s plans for their lives, Sister Walsh said.

“Because we are immortal, God has known for all eternity that this was going to happen, and he knows what he wants to come from it,” she said. “His love for us and his dream for our lives is still the same as it ever was, so we spend a good part of our time exploring that.”

The retreat is designed for any woman who has had to deal with cancer in any capacity; whether they’re newly diagnosed, in treatment, in remission or near the end of life, all are welcome, Sister Walsh said. In the past, she’s even welcomed a man who was grieving the loss of his wife to cancer into a retreat. While that’s a special case, Sister Walsh and Archuleta are hoping this will be that start of something new in Denver and they’re actively discerning how else they can extend this ministry to people who need it.

The response to the retreats has been “so, so positive,” Sister Walsh said. She encourages those who attend to ask God for the grace they need most, and that “He just pours whatever grace they really [need] in abundance upon them.” Some people find there are gifts that are given from the Lord in the midst of having cancer, Sister Walsh continued, and they’re also surprised to discover those.

For Archuleta, she hopes the retreat will provide a sense of community for the women who attend and help them to find meaning in their suffering. Imparting a renewed trust in the truth and sense of joy onto the women who attend this retreat is more than just a passion for these ladies.

“It’s a call of the Lord,” Sister Walsh said. “We really believe he wants this.”

Facing Our Immortality

June 1 – June 3

Mother Cabrini Shrine

$75 per night, plus fee for Sister Anne Marie (TBD)

If you’re interested in providing a scholarship for women to attend the retreat, and for more details, contact Denise Archuleta at 206-779-0691 or servivorgirl@gmail.com.

COMING UP: Local artists choose life in pro-life art show

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For someone who’s always been in love with art, it’s not surprising that Brett Lempe first encountered God through beauty. Lempe, a 25-year-old Colorado native, used his talent for art and new-found love of God to create a specifically pro-life art show after a planned show was cancelled because of Lempe’s pro-life views.

Lempe was “dried out with earthly things,” he said. “I was desperately craving God.”

Three years ago, while living in St. Louis, Mo., Lempe google searched for a church to visit and ended up at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.

“I was captivated by the beauty of the 40 million mosaic tiles,” he said.

Lempe is not exaggerating. This Cathedral is home to 41.5 million tiles that make up different mosaics around the sanctuary. Witnessing the beauty of this church is what sparked his conversion, he said, and was his first major attraction towards Catholicism.

Lempe continued on to become Catholic, then quit his job several months after joining the Church to dedicate himself completely to art. Most of his work post-conversion is religious art.

Lempe planned to display a non-religious body of artwork at a venue for a month when his contact at the venue saw some of Lempe’s pro-life posts on Facebook. Although none of the artwork Lempe planned to display was explicitly pro-life or religious, the venue cancelled the show.

“I was a little bit shocked at first,” he said. “Something like me being against abortion or being pro-life would get a whole art show cancelled.”

Lempe decided to counter with his own art show, one that would be explicitly pro-life.

On Sept. 7, seven Catholic artists displayed work that gave life at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Denver.

“Catholicism lends itself to being life-giving,” Lempe said.

The show included a variety of work from traditional sacred art, icons, landscapes, to even dresses.

Students for Life co-hosted the event, and 10 percent of proceeds benefited the cause. Lauren Castillo, Development director and faith-based program director at Students for Life America gave the keynote presentation.

Castillo spoke about the need to be the one pro-life person in each circle of influence, with coworkers, neighbors, family, or friends. The reality of how many post-abortive women are already in our circles is big, she said.

“Your friend circle will get smaller,” Castillo said. “If one life is saved, it’s worth it.”

Pro-Life Across Mediums

Brett Lempe’s Luke 1:35

“This painting is the first half at an attempt of displaying the intensity and mystical elements of Luke 1:35,” Lempe said. “This work is influenced somewhat by Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ painting as I try to capture the moment when the “New Adam” is conceived by Our Blessed Mother.”

Claire Woodbury’s icon of Christ Pantokrator

“I was having a difficult time making that icon,” she said. “I was thinking it would become a disaster.”

She felt Jesus saying to her, “This is your way of comforting me. Is that not important?”

“Icons are very important to me,” she said. “I guess they’re important to Him too.”

Katherine Muser’s “Goodnight Kisses”

“Kids naturally recognize the beauty of a baby and they just cherish it,” Muser said of her drawing of her and her sister as children.

Brie Shulze’s Annunciation

“There is so much to unpack in the Annunciation,” Schulze said. “I wanted to unpack that life-giving yes that our Blessed Mother made on behalf of all humanity.”

“Her yes to uncertainty, to sacrifice, to isolation, to public shame and to every other suffering that she would endure is what allowed us to inherit eternal life.”

“Her fiat was not made in full knowledge of all that would happen, but in love and total surrender to the will of God.”

All photos by Makena Clawson