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: Why you can (and should) enroll in the Denver Catholic Biblical School

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

Why you can (and should) enroll in the Denver Catholic Biblical School

Seminary Lay Division launches new website and scholarship fund

Whether you’re at the start of your first full-time job, at the top of your career or recently retired, taking some time during the week to dive deeper into your Catholic faith just keeps getting easier in the Archdiocese of Denver.

Exciting things are happening at the Denver Catholic Biblical and Catechetical Schools. With the formal creation of the St. John Paul II Scholarship Fund and the relaunch of the upgraded website that presents the in-and-outs of the program and now offers a faculty blog, any lay person in the archdiocese can see that it is possible to obtain great Biblical and catechetical formation from quality instructors.

The first reason to do it? “We cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot give what we do not have,” as Dr. Nicholas Lebish, Director of the St. John Vianney Seminary Lay Division and teacher for the Biblical School, said. “These are two very common expressions, but they’re very true in our faith. We’re called to follow Christ, and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and our own testimonies. So, when people enroll in our programs, they are learning and loving their faith in order to share it.”

Moreover, the four-year Biblical program and the two-year Catechetical School under the Lay Division of St. John Vianney Seminary offer a wide variety of locations and times for classes, which are once a week and two hours long.

If money is a concern, there is financial aid available. Through the new St. John Paul II Scholarship Fund, the Biblical and Catechetical Schools will continue to donate around $150,000 in financial assistance to approximately half of their student population. Scholarships are awarded not only on basis of need, but also in forms of discounts to employees of the archdiocese or Catholic schools, seniors, veterans, active military and first responders.

“In continuity with the archdiocese’s evangelization efforts through the launching of the More Than You Realize initiative, we decided to formally create the scholarship fund after St. John Paul II,” Dr. Lebish said. The archdiocesan initiative, like the Biblical and Catechetical Schools, seeks to help Catholics follow their calling to become missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, impacting not only parish communities but also society.

Adding to the communal aspect of the programs, in which students have a few minutes of prayer time and discussion in small groups at the beginning of class, the new website now offers “The Scribe,” a new weekly blog written by faculty that finds its roots in an old print letter that was published by the Biblical School many years ago and carried the same name.

“Every week we’ll have a new short article from different members of our faculty. It’s a nice way for our students or non-students to get to know the faculty, as we talk about all things Catholic in the lay division, related to Biblical and catechetical topics, Church history, apologetics, etc.,” Dr. Lebish explained.

If you still have doubts about enrolling, check out the new website, which, other than explaining clearly the mission and structure of the seminary lay division, now offers video testimonials of alumni, attesting to the great fruits that come from diving deep into the Catholic faith through these programs.

“We hear all kinds of testimonies, but one very important thing we see over and over again is people falling in love with Jesus Christ and his Church — people convert, they encounter Jesus and they fall in love with him and his Church,” Dr. Lebish concluded.

To donate to the Saint John Paul II Scholarship Fund visit sjvlaydivision.org/donate.

For more information visit sjvlaydivision.org