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After 10 years, a dream is fulfilled

Not much about the beautiful setting at Sal and Beth Di Leo's place on Lake George escaped notice when Sisters Albert Marie Papish and David Ann Hoy visited last week.

Not much about the beautiful setting at Sal and Beth Di Leo's place on Lake George escaped notice when Sisters Albert Marie Papish and David Ann Hoy visited last week.

They drove from Joliet, IL for a week in the woods in a small camper.

When Sal's dream comes true, his family's home will be here and nuns will share a lodge to use as a retreat. For now, the Di Leos live in the Twin Cities.

It has been 10 years since Sal went back to visit the Guardian Angel Home, an orphanage run by the Sisters of St. Francis in Joliet.

"It was the influence of Bud Grant, NFL Hall of Famer and former Minnesota Vikings coach, who convinced me to go back to Joliet and find the nuns, who were still alive and took care of me in the orphanage when I was a kid in the 1960s," Sal said.

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"Bud convinced me it would help me go forward with my life if I took the time to thank the nuns."

Grant was right. The trip helped Sal discover and relearn the lessons the sisters taught him when he was only 9.

He wrote his memoirs, "Did I ever thank you, Sister?" as one way of giving back.

Sal also became determined to build the retreat up north. So far, a statue of St. Francis greets visitors at the entry, a path winds through the property with woodcarvings of the Stations of the Cross and a grotto and small chapel grace the landscape.

None of the features was lost on Sisters Albert Marie and David who remembered to bring mosquito spray,

Sister Albert Marie enjoyed telling about their Minnesota connection. Mother Alfred Moes, who founded the first Franciscan congregation in Illinois at Joliet in 1865, later moved to Rochester, built a hospital and invited the Mayo Brothers to staff it.

"So they're our stepsisters," she said.

According to Sister Albert Marie, Mother Moes started the Guardian Angel Home after a terrible storm when a lightning bolt killed the mother of several children and the Sisters took them in. That was in 1897.

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Orphanage has evolved

The orphanage ended in the 1970s. Today, Guardian Angel Community Services works with women and children who have been abused, sexual assault cases, offers counseling for women and children and provides alternative education for high school students and before and after-school programs.

Guardian Angel is also home to Franciscan novitiates, those studying the Franciscan way of life for a year. Last year there were five. "We are expecting seven this year," said Sister Albert Marie.

The Sisters of St. Francis has a mission in Brazil and sponsors the University of St. Francis at Joliet, Joliet Catholic Academy, Our Lady of Angels Senior Living Community (for Sisters and lay people) and a Franciscan Learning Center for preschool and kindergarten programs.

Sister Albert Marie said that although some Sisters are involved in the medical field, the mission of the Sisters of St. Francis has always been teaching.

"Our founders had thought to go where we are needed," she said. "And (about Mother Alfred) they say, 'where there was nothing, there is now something.'"

Sister David is semi-retired, often serves as a chauffeur and has been working on a new project, called the Upper Room. Starting New Year's Day, the Upper Room offers help to priests and Brothers in their ministries through a 24-hour international crisis line.

Sister Albert Marie is the director of planned giving for the Sisters of St. Francis, working in the development office. She said she only got to know Sal through her work. Sister David knew him before he left the orphanage and also took care of his sister.

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"Like St. Francis," Sister David said, "Sal has big dreams. What he has done at Lake George is in appreciation for the sisters who were his teachers and others at the orphanage," including a principal who took him under her wing.

Because those women were so much a part of his life, Sal's visit to Joliet to find them changed his life. Now the Sisters come to Lake George because they appreciate what he is trying to do.

Both nuns came to Lake George for the chapel dedication and first Mass.

"When he invited us again, we decided we've got to come," Sister Albert Marie said. "A retreat is part of who we are," she explained.

Retreats are a tradition

Years back, the Sisters of St. Francis had an annual summer retreat when a priest or someone talked about spirituality. "We kept strict silence, but as the rules changed, we were allowed to go different places," Sister Albert Marie said. "So this is part of our congregation to get a week or more away, to refresh and go back to continue our ministry after a time of relaxation and refreshment - spiritually.

"This is a peaceful place and the chapel is in such a lovely spot. We feel very blessed to be here. God's nature surrounds us," she added.

Some visitors have arrived. Father Duane Pribula from Our Lady of the Pines in Nevis brought strawberries and blueberries. A neighbor brought strawberry jelly and fresh maple syrup and others have dropped in to be sure the women have everything they need.

Sister David said it has been like the old times when some parishioners couldn't pay for their children's education, so they brought food instead.

'Blessed to be here'

Sister Albert Marie explains she and Sister David eat meals together, go their own ways, meet for prayer outside in the evening and watch the sun set over Lake George. "The sunset in the evening is a prayer in itself," she said.

The retreat is a time of prayer, spiritual reading and reflection, Sister Albert Marie said. She brought several spiritual books and welcomes the chance to stop and reflect. She puts it as time "to be and listen to God.

"We are very blessed to be here and we're grateful for the opportunity," she said.

Sister Albert Marie especially enjoys the silence and solitude for prayers. "There is so much to pray for in the world today," she said.

To learn more about St. Francis Lodge and Sal Di Leo's book, go to www.stfrancislodge.com or www.salsbook.net or call him at 612-382-3582.

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