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The Jack Weinmann Family Memorial Guest Quarters are now open for visitors at St. Francis Lodge on Lake George. The dedication of the guest house was this weekend. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

St. Francis Lodge guest quarters now a reality

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news Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

After 11 years, a vision and prayer have become a reality for Sal Di Leo, a man raised by Catholic nuns in the 1960s.

The dedication of Jack Weinmann Family Memorial Guest Quarters at St. Francis Lodge on Lake George was held over the weekend. The retreat center for nuns is now open for visitors.

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Di Leo, and his wife, Beth are from Minneapolis but frequent the Park Rapids and Lake George areas.

Sal was raised by Catholic nuns in an orphanage in Joliet, Ill. in the early 1960s. St. Francis Lodge is a dedication to the Catholic Church and the nuns who raised him.

At Saturday's dedication, Father Duane Pribula, from Our Lady of the Pines Catholic Church in Nevis, performed a Mass and blessing of the guest quarters.

"I struggled for many years between when I was a youth and now," Sal said. "It was slow, but I have turned back to my Christian values and feel so blessed."

Sal published a book titled "Did I Ever Thank You, Sister?" in 1999. The book helped him to cleanse his soul, he said.

He considers St. Francis Lodge a place to share with anyone who wants to experience God's blessing.

"I consider this God's place, a place to slow down and experience this," Sal said. "I consider everyone a part of the St. Francis family."

He thanks the many people who helped make the guest quarters a reality. A chapel is also located at St. Francis Lodge and was completed a few years earlier.

Sister Albert Marie Papesh, OSF, Sister David Ann Hoy, OSF, and Sister Anne Wayrowski, OSF, visited the lodge over the weekend and were the first guests to stay in the new quarters. They are Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate in Joliet, Ill, where Sal grew up.

"It's amazing how far he's come," said Sister Anne. "It wasn't all a bed of roses for him but he has really shown that 'you can make it.'"

Sister Albert Marie said that he has built up a community of friends and is very concerned about helping people.

"He is always willing to help out," she said.

Sister Anne was speechless when she walked onto the St. Francis Lodge grounds.

"I walked into a spiritual treasure," she said. "This is like a community of living, giving, saintly people. Each person who comes here leaves a chunk of themselves."

The completion of the guest house is because of a wide range of support, Sal said. He hopes the retreat will be used by people from across the country and help people find and experience God. The guest house has three bedrooms, three baths, a full kitchen and a kitchenette.

The view from the lodge is spectacular, showing the lake.

The land has been cleared and a walking path is lined with carved Stations of the Cross, a grotto with flowers and a statue of Mary. The chapel is open for anyone to come and spend time in.

The sentiment was unanimous over the weekend as visitors took in the beauty of the retreat center.

"This is a place of miracles," Sister Anne said.

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