Vince White-Petteruti SJ ’69 has always been called to nature. Its beauty and quiet power serves as an escape for him to regroup and reflect. When he was experiencing a challenging time in college, he recalls taking a walk through the trails to clear his mind. The self-reflection he did on that week long hike eventually led him to join the Chicago chapter of the Sierra Club. Soon, Vince was asked to lead a weekend backpacking trip in Wisconsin. It was on this excursion that Vince met the love of his life, Duck. Little did they know just how instrumental the wonders of nature would prove in unveiling a life dedicated to serving others during a time when hope, compassion and love is needed most.
Throughout 1990, Vince spent several months traveling from Chicago to Cleveland to spend time with his father who was battling heart disease. Sadly, his father passed away, and Vince found himself needing a break. In December of that year, Vince and Duck planned a trip to the picturesque snow-covered mountains of Colorado. A surprise lack of snow soon changed plans for the couple eager to enjoy the winter landscape of Breckenridge. Making the best of their trip, Vince and Duck decided to go shopping instead. On their list: many acres surrounded by a forest and a lake or river. A call to a realtor later and the couple found exactly what it was looking for: 10 beautiful, forested acres with a view of Baldy Mountain. Vince and Duck had found the perfect location to enjoy their retirement when the time was right.
In 1997, Duck’s mother became terminally ill with cancer. Together with her sisters, Duck took their mother on a much-needed respite to Vail. This trip would be their last and a moment in time that Duck and her sisters deeply cherish. Vince shares that in the final hours of his beloved mother-in-law’s life, she held the photos that were taken in Vail of her and her daughters. She passed away surrounded by family and with memories that brought her peace.
Finally, in 2001, both Vince and his wife were ready to enjoy retirement, so they headed to Breckenridge, Colorado, to begin construction on their new home. That July, Vince took a hike with his children, Nic and Sarah, only to return to find that Duck had experienced a moment of clarity. While alone, Duck spoke to God and shared with Vince she felt a calling to use their beautiful land as both their home and as a place of respite for families dealing with the harsh reality of cancer. Together, the couple contacted an architect to begin plans for their vision.
The Domus Pacis Family Respite was opened in June of 2008. The natural beauty that surrounds Breckenridge offers families the perfect setting to create memories and take in moments of peace. Yet, Vince says the location offers more than just incredible scenery. The community of Breckenridge has opened its hearts — and homes — to Domus Pacis and its mission. Vince explains that aside from his home, more than 100 other sites are available to host families for respite.
Prior to opening Domus Pacis, both Vince, a former steel industry executive, and Duck, a senior vice president in information management, had never operated a nonprofit, let alone a respite organization. Still, their respective careers had afforded them strength in business and planning that proved vital in running their organization efficiently. Vince says one of the most challenging tasks was fundraising, an aspect of business neither he nor Duck had to consider during their corporate careers.
Initially financed by themselves, Domus Pacis quickly grew, meaning fundraising was essential for hiring new staff and expanding. Support was slow at first, but Vince explains once they started building relationships and sharing their story, the community believed in their mission. Just like Vince and Duck, so many others had been touched by cancer and understood the importance of the nonprofit. Vince’s children have also played key roles in the mission and operation of Domus Pacis. His son, Nic, serves on the board, while his daughter, Sarah, was instrumental in working with referral partners as a social worker. “Seeing the kids mature and their different skill sets develop is amazing,” Vince says.
As a way to show appreciation to those who help to provide the gift of respite, Vince explains that each family who visits Domus Pacis is asked to write a thank you letter to the individuals who made their experience possible. He finds that the request is welcomed by the families, as they’re often overwhelmed with gratitude and want to share their story.
Domus Pacis means “House of Peace,” a name that Duck holds close to her heart. At her mother’s funeral, Duck sang a hymn with a verse asking the Lord to grant peace. Upon reflection, she realized their mission was to create a place of peace for families — a house of peace. Vince says anyone of any age or stage of cancer, including end of life, is welcome for a week-long respite. He explains that a seven-day stay allows families to take time settling in before beginning to make memories. Vince notes that family includes friends who have been part of the cancer journey as well.
The process is initiated when a referral partner, like an oncology nurse, recommends a family for a stay. A lead family member must write a letter sharing his or her cancer journey and discuss his or her needs and wishes for the visit. Learning more about a family helps the Domus Pacis team to choose the right home for the stay and ensure the respite is specific for each family. Vince and Duck work with a community of businesses that help to make each respite special. Common requests include photography, massage therapy, horseback riding and fly fishing. Volunteers bring home-cooked meals to guests. Counseling is not provided; rather, Duck believes in allowing the breathtaking landscape and Spirit to guide conversations.
The experience of helping families escape the haze of cancer has opened Vince’s heart to the goodness that exists even amid uncertainty. The “quiet love that isn’t yelled or shouted” is what’s most moving for Vince to witness between the bond of family and friends. Throughout his years operating Domus Pacis, Vince has learned some remarkable lessons. “What you learn is so much more than what you give,” he says. “I am not afraid to die, and I wish for my family to surround me the way these families do.” He’s also come to know that God had a plan for him and his wife.