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Chapel dedicated at Lake George

For seven years, Sal and Beth Di Leo have been building St. Francis Lodge, a private chapel for nuns' retreats on the shore of Lake George.

On May 20, the Di Leos dedicated the Margaret Manley Memorial Chapel at St. Francis Lodge. The Rev. Rolph Tollefson of St. Paul blessed the chapel, consecrated the altar and celebrated the dedication Mass.

"God really shined on us this day," said Sal Di Leo in a press release. "We had a great turnout of people from many different areas of Minnesota, as well as the company of the Sisters of St. Francis from Joliet, Ill., -- the same order of sisters who raised me as a kid in the Guardian Angel Home Orphanage in Joliet, Ill., back in the 1960s."

In 1963, his father abandoned the family, and his mother, left with no support, was unable to cope with raising 12 children. The four youngest, Sal, about 9 at the time, Mario, Maria and Kitty, were taken by child welfare authorities and placed in the Guardian Angel Home.

He realized he wanted to give something back to the people who had saved him and his siblings. He got in touch with one of the sisters who cared for them and he wrote an autobiography, "Did I Ever Thank You, Sister?" to help fund the chapel.

In 1999, the Di Leos bought a wooded bluff on Lake George, cleared the land and planned St. Francis Lodge, a guest house for nuns seeking a quiet retreat and for women contemplating becoming nuns. They named it after St. Francis because they love the saint who left a life of wealth and privilege to found the Franciscan Order. The reference is also to the Franciscan nuns who helped raise Di Leo.

Many individuals and businesses have donated to the development of St. Francis Lodge, the Di Leos said. These include Gladden Construction of Laporte, Kahlstorff Lumber of Lake George and Ken's Backhoe Service of Lake George. Architect David Engelson of the Cunningham Group in Minneapolis also donated the design work.

However, the couple especially noted Diversified Builders of Bemidji, the company that completed the work on the chapel at a reduced price.

"We are just so very grateful to this considerate company and their commitment to this community," Di Leo said.

"We can always figure out a way to do something good for the community," said Nate Pochardt, a Diversified Builders manager. "It's about giving back."