Sister Jeremias Stinson remembers the day she realized she had to be part of efforts to fix up the Portiuncula Chapel on the campus of the Sisters of Saint Francis in Sylvania.
A flash thunderstorm rocked the grounds of the 89-acre campus as she was walking through a wooded area. Looking for shelter, the first thing she saw was the chapel. Sister Jeremias then opened the doors, surprised they still worked.
"It was a very long rain," she said, adding that the time she spent in the chapel gave her the opportunity to see that it was in disarray and in desperate need of tending and repair.
"I saw the lights weren't working. … I put together a plan and I started redoing the inside and outside," she said.
That was in 1974. Since then, the chapel, built in 1936, has undergone a major overhaul, with additional repairs along the way.
During the Great Depression, when banks crashed, the sisters had to take out a loan.
When the note was due, the sisters prayed all night about the banker who would determine whether they could keep their property.
The sisters vowed to build a chapel in thanksgiving if the man had a kind heart, Sister Jeremias said.
"Within six years, the Portiuncula was built. That was the promise," she said.
Our Lady of Angels is the official name, but it's best known as "Portiuncula," -- "little portion' in Italian.
Many changes have occurred since the late 1930s, including an addition in 1945 because of a leak in the south side wall.
Sister Jeremias said the Italian architecture is evident and "it's an extremely close replica" of a shrine erected by monks in Italy in 352. The Italian original was restored by St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century.
Many parts of the Sylvania structure have origins in other places. The gates in front of the doors were refashioned from metals from Europe. Historical artifacts line the inside and outside walls.
"We have a relic in one of the inlays in the side walls," she said.
The three bells around the roof are from a destroyed European monastery. Other inlay pieces are remnants from other churches. The windows are very narrow, which Sister Jeremias said is common in Italian churches.
The restoration was one Sister Jeremias gladly undertook.
"I restored all of the art in there. It took me a really long time. Every piece in there, I worked on," she said, adding that Sister Grace Mary has been helping since 1989.
It's easy to see that Sister Jeremias is one tough woman. She had to negotiate to get the approval to go ahead and start restoration work.
"They said there was no money. I said, 'I'll beg.' " When told the facility didn't have any men who could help with the construction, she wasn't deterred.
"I said, 'I'll do it myself. I'll do it by hand.' "
When questioned about her choice to keep the chapel open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., she stood firm.
"When you run into a catastrophe, you need a church. You don't need a locked door," she said.
Sister Jeremias said the chapel has a special quality that draws people to it.
"We keep this quiet," she said. "It's not a museum. We don't bother people who are praying."
Inside, a book collects signatures of visitors. "I know it's well over 100,000 visitors," Sister Jeremias said.
It's a site of tranquility and peace that serves to help people get their lives back on track.
"This is a place to come when you need to put your life back together. When you have that experience [that says] it's just not right in your heart," she said.