Overwhelmed by the number of friends stricken with cancer several years ago, Mesa resident Melissa Vesvelovsky felt there was something she could do to help.
She approached the American Cancer Society to create a group that trains volunteers to support cancer patients and their caregivers through their faith. Vesvelovsky started a ministry in 2003 that provides that training, but she still wanted a place for prayer to happen and a location to connect volunteers with those in need.
A member of Mesa’s Christ the King Catholic Church, she eventually put the idea before the church’s new pastor. In that meeting, he pulled out plans that were drawn up years before for an adoration chapel that was never built.
St. Peregrine Shrine was completed in 2009 on the Christ the King campus with donated funds and a loan, and will mark its first anniversary in November.
“We knew it was going to be big, a big plan,” she said. “We knew it was going to be a chapel where people could pray and be close to God.”
St. Peregrine was a monk in the late 1200s who was stricken with cancer. Vesvelovsky said the night before he was to undergo amputation of his leg, he prayed for healing. When he awoke, the cancer was gone.
Volunteers come to St. Peregrine’s Shrine to pray 24 hours a day. Dozens of them, many of whom been treated for cancer themselves, are available to lend a shoulder to cry on or pass out information. Cancer patients from across the state — and the country — come to the domed building to find peace and care.
The shrine’s cancer resource center holds wigs, prayer shawls chemotherapy caps, information, wheelchairs and liquid nutrition. All services and information are available free to the public.
The shrine is the only one if its kind in Arizona dedicated to cancer patients and their families.
Patti Coy, 41, is one of the volunteers at the center. She is also a cancer survivor. Coy’s sister received information from Vesvelovsky that brought her to the shrine during her second bought with breast cancer in 2005.
Coy just completed chemotherapy after her third cancer diagnosis earlier this year.
“I was drawn to it,” she said. She attended her first volunteer training on her birthday, the same day she had a mastectomy. She still had tubes in her.
“I get way more out of it than I give,” she said. “I went to the meeting and I just felt good.”
Coy’s mother, who is 78, comes to the shrine to pray daily.
Another cancer survivor, 46-year-old Michelle Fletcher, wanted to be able to provide spiritual support to fellow cancer patients.
“Something was missing, that healing of the body through Christ and how we can use our faith to help others.” she said of her volunteer work through Hospice, which limits what she can say to patients about faith.
Vesvelovsky hopes to keep building on what’s been created at Christ the King. Last week, she spoke at the third annual Facing Cancer With Faith seminar in Phoenix. She’s received calls from a number of groups that want to know how to start a similar program across the country.
“It’s about helping people reduce their level of spiritual stress,” she said. “Research shows all people do better when they reduce their level of spiritual stress when faced with cancer.”
The center is open to people of all faiths.
“We try to help them as much as they want us to help them,” Vesvelovsky said. “Then we provide information to help their faith community help them.”
St. Peregrine Shrine
1551 E. Dana Ave., Mesa; (480) 964-1719, www.cancershrine.org
The shrine is open 24 hours a day. Doors to the chapel are unlocked 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Friday. Access to the chapel other hours can be arranged by request.