Former Joliet resident and published author Sal Di Leo said he does not want his life’s story to get lost in translation.
Di Leo spoke about growing up in Joliet last week, during a scouting trip in preparation of a movie that is reportedly being made about a book he wrote. He shared many memories that have been published in a memoir, “Did I ever thank you, Sister?”
The idea behind the book, published in 1999, was not realized until November 1997, when a phone call came from Herald-News columnist John Whiteside. At the time, a suggestion was made to write Di Leo's story.
Growing up on Joliet’s East Side, Di Leo recalled his family’s circumstances and said they faced great challenges when their father left home. At 8 years old, Di Leo became a ward of the state and started living in the Guardian Angel Home orphanage. Di Leo said he chose to view his situation positively.
“It turned out to be a good thing for me because I got three square meals, got educated, went to Cathedral of St. Raymond School, made great friends, saw how real families functioned, wanted to be like them and stayed all the way through eighth grade,” he said.
The memoir primarily takes readers back to the 1960’s to recount the moments that molded him.
Di Leo arranged a scouting trip to provide time for him and screenwriter Dan Hendrickson to do research on Joliet and see some of the sites where important periods of his life took place. Among the featured stops during the scouting trip was the house Di Leo lived in on Leach Avenue, the USS Steel Mill, where his father worked, and the Joliet State Penitentiary, where the nuns warned is where bad kids went.
Di Leo, joined by former Cathedral of St. Raymond School classmate Dan Vera and Hendrickson, took part in a tour of the former Guardian Angel Home orphanage led by Alban Scheuber, assistant director of maintenance, buildings and grounds for University of St. Francis.
A lot has changed at the former Guardian Angel Home orphanage. The site is currently home to the University of St. Francis and its nursing program.
“I got choked up the last time I was here,” he said. “I love how the building is being used for something good.”