A palliative care organization in the Denver archdiocese is committed to providing end-of-life care to patients that fully accords with the teaching of the Church, according to the group’s president.
“We have a focus on the Catholic faith. We’ll care for anybody, just like Jesus Christ would, but we have a focus on … following the teachings of the Church,” Kevin Lundy, president of Divine Mercy Supportive Care, told CNA Feb. 15.
While acknowledging that “all hospice agencies are made up of wonderful, loving, caring people,” he explained that what distinguishes Divine Mercy Supportive Care is “our focus is on providing those sacramental services … the spiritual end-of-life preparation.”
“We believe in caring for people in a manner consistent with the teachings of the Church.”
Divine Mercy provides charitable, educational, and medical services, offering compassionate care while affirming the dignity and sanctity of human life.
More than 100 supporters attended a Feb. 15 fundraiser for the organization, including Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver and religious sisters from both the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Religious Sisters of Mercy.
The evening began with a Mass said by Fr. Charles Polifka, which was followed by presentations on the importance of having a Catholic hospice available, for spiritual, pastoral and medical reasons.
Archbishop Aquila discussed his own experience with his mother dying in hospice, commenting on the importance of helping “those people who truly desire to have a Christian death, to have a death that is focused on faith.”
The archbishop added that “when I heard about the mission and work of Divine Mercy, and because of my own experience, I very much support the work that they are doing, the ministry they want to do.”
The Catholic Standard of Care which Divine Mercy has adopted ensures it is “Catholic through and through,” Lundy told CNA. These standards for protecting end-of-life dignity come from the U.S. bishops and have been edited by two nationally renowned bioethicists.
Lundy said that the standard guiding the organization “goes beyond just the care of patients – it goes to how we treat our employees, because we believe how you treat your staff is how the care is going to translate down to the patient and their family. That’s the Catholic Standard of Care, that’s what we hang our hat on, and that’s what we’re all about.”
Lundy explained that while many events inspired him to found Divine Mercy, the largest factor was the death of his mother. While in hospice, she and her husband, a deacon, “had a plan in place for how she was going to die, and how he’d be present at her passing.” However, things did not turn out the way they had hoped.
“Despite their plan, when she died, it was at one o’clock in the morning, after my father had already gone to sleep. And the hospice nurse … never took the time to wake him up: she thought it would be better for them if he was just woken up after, so he wouldn’t have to hear the death rally.”
“My father’s a deacon, and I’ve not come across people in my life as faithful and spiritual as my own parents. They made me who I am, I hope I’m half the man my father is one day, and … they had this faith that my mother was transitioning from this life” to her judgement and to eternal life.
That Lundy’s father wasn’t able to accompany her wife as she made a good death “was a very, very sad thing for him,” he said, and “that was part of my inspiration, and through that I went into hospice.”
While working in hospice, Lundy saw how tremendously important it is for many Catholics to have a priest chaplain as they prepare to die, as well as how nuanced Church teaching can be on decisions to be made in caring for those nearing death.
“A lot of different experiences caused me to say it’s necessary for us to have some kind of a Catholic support service organization,” he said. “I got together with some friends of mine, (and) we prayed on it together,” and Divine Mercy was founded.
They found Deacon Alan Rastrelli to be the medical director of the organization; in addition to being a deacon, Rastrelli is a physician with expertise in palliative medicine and anesthesiology.
“We were very, very blessed, which just tells me that this whole experience quite honestly is nothing but the Holy Spirit working,” Lundy said.
Mark Skender, vice president of development at Divine Mercy, also spoke with CNA, and explained that he became part of the project while having coffee with Lundy, who explained the lack of sacraments and priests available to those facing death.
“That gave me goosebumps, it made the hair raise on my arms, and I thought … I need to get involved.”