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Assisi Heights in Rochester is modeled after the original building in Assisi, Italy. If you've ever been to Rochester, you've seen Assisi Heights dominate the skyline to the north of downtown. I've always been so curious about the place and loved finally getting an inside view.

Assisi Heights in Rochester is modeled after the original building in Assisi, Italy. If you’ve ever been to Rochester, you’ve seen Assisi Heights dominate the skyline to the north of downtown. I’ve always been so curious about the place and loved finally getting an inside view.

I was cordially invited by the Franciscan community at Assisi Heights in Rochester, Minn., to visit with the sisters and talk about my book. A good number of sisters there are either from Waseca or had spent time in Waseca teaching at Sacred Heart.

St. Francis of Assisi. Patron saint of animals, ecology, Italy, and merchants. The sisters at Assisi Heights are of the Franciscan order.

St. Francis of Assisi. Patron saint of animals, ecology, Italy, and merchants. The sisters at Assisi Heights are of the Franciscan order.

One of the sisters has a very special connection to a story in my book. Sister Ilia Miller is Irene Zimmerman’s sister. If you’ve read my book, you will remember the tragedy that took Irene’s life and the lives of her and Jim Zimmerman’s six young children in 1959. Sister Ilia told me her memories of that day, and I got chills all over again. My heart still breaks for that family. But Sister’s Ilia’s words echo the words Jim Zimmerman had expressed in the days and weeks after the accident, as quoted in newspapers. These are people of faith, and that faith sustained them through their sorrows. Jim has said, “The Lord gave them to me, and they were mine to take away.”

One fact I didn’t know until Sister Ilia told me: the day of the funeral corresponded with the Feasts of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Seven souls, seven sorrows.

The front of the Zimmerman prayer card. The prayer was not simply lip service; it embodies the true faith of the family.

The back of the prayer card. Jan's middle name was Ilia, named after her aunt.

The back of the prayer card. Jan’s middle name was Ilia, named after her aunt.

I also discovered a connection through marriage. Sister Ilia’s and Irene’s uncle, Albert Stangler, married my dad’s aunt, Helen Hager. When you have large families that have lived in the area for a long time, these connections are bound to appear.

If you’ve never been to a religious community, I highly recommend it. I felt an instant peace and calm when I stepped inside. I’ve always been drawn to spiritual communities, like cemeteries, churches, and communities like Assisi Heights or Good Counsel in Mankato. The sisters at Assisi Heights and Good Counsel always welcome visitors. If you’re looking for something inspiring to do this summer, a visit may be in order.

Some of the sisters from Waseca. Front row (left to right): Sr. Marice Hughes, me, Sr. Mary Frederick. Back row (left to right): Sr. Ilia Miller, Sr. Helen Haag, Sr. Marita Johnson, Sr. Chabenel Hayunga.

Some of the sisters from Waseca. Front row (left to right): Sr. Marice Hughes, me, Sr. Mary Frederick. Back row (left to right): Sr. Ilia Miller, Sr. Helen Haag, Sr. Marita Johnson, Sr. Chabenel Hayunga.

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