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Bishops aim for big wins for non-profit agencies in San Francisco-Kansas City Super Bowl wager

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Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco and Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., are pictured in a combination photo. The two agreed on a friendly wager for the outcome of Super Bowl LVIII Feb. 11, 2024, when their respective teams, the 49ers and the Chiefs square off at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. As part of their wager, both prelates have agreed to donate to a pro-life organization of the winner's choice. (OSV News photo, CNS files)

With the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers set to square off in Super Bowl LVIII, two faith-based nonprofits each stand to win big — thanks to a friendly wager between the Catholic bishops in the teams’ respective cities.

Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco and Bishop James V. Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, have agreed to swiftly pay up if theirs is the losing team. Should the Chiefs take home the Super Bowl’s Lombardi Trophy, Bishop Johnston will enjoy a meal of Dungeness crabs; a victory for the 49ers will put a Kansas City steak on Archbishop Cordileone’s plate.

But beyond the culinary spoils, both prelates have a wager in mind with a different endgame: a donation to the local pro-life organization of the winner’s choice.

For Patti Lewis, a cardiology nurse and founder of Alexandra’s House in Kansas City, the San Francisco archbishop’s donation to her ministry — following a Chiefs win — would further the work of the perinatal hospice she opened in 1997 in honor of her niece, who had died three years earlier from a rare genetic syndrome just 45 days after birth. Alexandra’s six-fingered handprint serves as the hospice’s logo, underscoring the uniqueness of each person.

Over the years, the hospice has expanded its mission to provide a range of free aid to families experiencing miscarriage, stillbirth, fatal neonatal diseases, high-risk pregnancies and the like.

Staffed by four physicians, a health care ethicist and four parent advisors, Alexandra’s House operates full time — in person, online and by phone — to assist families and their dying babies. Counseling, peer and sibling support, memorials for lost children, hospital care packages and even accompaniment during subsequent pregnancies are all offered by the hospice.

Lewis told OSV News that she is currently seeking to ensure families can cover funeral costs for their deceased children, especially since many families “are young, maybe have college debt, mortgages, higher medical bills because of a complicated pregnancy.”

“So many people are cremating their babies because it’s financially so costly (to have an in-ground burial),” she said, noting that the hospice provides swaddling clothes and little burial vessels with a built-in vault. “Some people think, ‘Oh, I don’t want to buy a casket,’ but that’s a really practical need to honor these babies with a burial, and that’s probably outside the cost (for most of the families). … There’s the casket, there’s the cemetery fees, and then the headstone and burial fees, and the funeral home fees.”

Lewis said that she and her team “want people to have a place to go to visit (their deceased child),” because “that helps in their healing.” She hopes “to one day have the land (to) create a cemetery for these babies, a little Holy Innocents garden.”

In San Francisco, should the 49ers achieve their wildest dreams with a win over the Chiefs, Bishop Johnston’s donation will help nurse practitioner Dolores Meehan’s efforts to fill a void in Catholic health care through Bella Primary Care, which opened its doors in March 2022 following the 2015 closure of Seton Medical Center, the last Catholic hospital in the city.

“Our objective was to be open for the 40 Days for Life Campaign,” Meehan, Bella’s executive director, told OSV News, referencing the annual grassroots pro-life initiative that advocates prayer, fasting and public witness to end abortion.

Bella received its community clinic license from the state of California a year later, and now fills a need for whole-family care that is consistent with Catholic teaching, she said.

“Certainly, everything that informs us … is based on the (church’s) magisterium and very sound biblical and magisterial ethics,” Meehan said.

Bella’s core services include primary care, pediatrics, gynecology, pregnancy confirmation and postpartum care, with patient advocacy, house calls, infusion and lab services also available.

At the same time, “we are also six blocks from Planned Parenthood,” so Bella is “a safety net for any crisis pregnancies,” Meehan said. “Sidewalk counselors have been able to refer (to us).”

Both Meehan and Lewis told OSV News that while they would be grateful for any donation resulting from the bishops’ wager, ultimately the Lord sustains their missions.

“God is blessing us,” said Meehan. “We’re certainly a startup, but we feel that it’s launched and now it’s just a matter of growing.”

Lewis noted that from its inception, Alexandra’s House committed “not to fundraise actively” but to instead “just trust not to enter any door unless the Lord opened it first.”

“It’s such a gift to me to serve these parents,” said Lewis. “The babies to me so closely resemble Jesus.”

Gina Christian is a multimedia reporter for OSV News. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) at @GinaJesseReina.