The Miracle at Assisi Hill
Local Author Publishes New Novel with Inspiration from Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik
Clear, mournful music pierced the solitude and Cora’s troubled thoughts. The notes floated like feathers on the breeze, dipped, soared, and wailed through the deserted ravine, the musician unseen, the instrument unidentifiable at first. Before the music began, the solemn silence in the isolated valley had been broken only by rustling leaves, the occasional distant chirp of some spring bird, or the drumming of a woodpecker.
The hymn did not disturb, but seemed instead to enhance the peace of the secluded garden. Cora Tozzi recognized the melody, remembered the words: Immaculate Mary, your praises we sing. You reign now in Heaven with Jesus our King. Ave, Ave, Ave Maria…
Thus begins The Miracle at Assisi Hill, the latest novel by local Lemont, Illinois, author Pat Camalliere. Pat is a 28-year resident of Lemont and an archivist for the Lemont Area Historical Society. She began writing novels several years ago after she finished her career as a medical group administrator at Rush Medical Center. “I enjoyed working there, but I wanted to write while I still had time to do so. People always said I had a real talent for writing, so I decided to give writing a novel a try before it was too late. I joined a writer’s group, and after about a year, I started to draft my first novel, jumping right into the long form because there weren’t enough years left for me to go the traditional route.”
Local author Pat Camalliere stands with her latest novel at the Grotto on the campus of Our Lady of Victory Convent.
Pat has published four novels: The Mystery at Sag Bridge, The Mystery at Black Partridge Woods, The Mystery at Mount Forest Island, and the recently published, The Miracle at Assisi Hill. Her novels all take place in various nearby locales such as the Cal Sag River Valley and the Lemont area and can be characterized as a mix of history, mystery, and a touch of the paranormal. “I like to feature a character from history in all my books. My niche in each of my novels is a present day historian who solves a cold case involving a character from the past.” The Miracle at Assisi Hill continues the story of Cora Tozzi, a retired historian, and the protagonist of Pat’s previous three novels. In writing this novel, Pat developed a character named Mother Josepha who is based on the real-life foundress of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago, Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik.
While working in the archives at the Lemont Historical Society, Pat learned of the story of Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik's tireless work in helping the poor, aged, and homeless in Chicago. She was even more enthralled with Mother Mary Theresa’s life when she discovered the ongoing effort by the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago to have her recognized as a saint. She obtained a copy of Mother Mary Theresa's personal journal, The Chronicle, and used this journal as inspiration to develop the character of Mother Josepha.
Pat Camalliere presents a signed copy of her novel to Sr. Jeanne Marie Toriskie in front of a photograph of Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik.
Pat also met with Sister Jeanne Marie Toriskie, the General Vicar for the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago and the National Speaker for the Saintly Cause of Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik. Sr. Jeanne Marie provided Pat with knowledge on the life of Mother Mary Theresa. After The Miracle at Assisi Hill was published, Pat returned to visit Our Lady of Victory Convent with a signed copy to present to Sr. Jeanne Marie. Recently she sat down for an interview to discuss her new book and how she was inspired by the story of Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik.
The cover of The Miracle at Assisi Hill.
What is The Miracle at Assisi Hill about?
After treatment for cancer, retired historian Cora Tozzi longs for the faith she had as a child. In an effort to restore her faith, she goes to a convent for a few weeks to research and write about the convent’s history, while her husband visits a cousin in Arizona. Before long, she is plagued with problems when her husband has a stroke. She cannot be with him because of the COVID pandemic as travel and hospital visits are restricted. She then befriends a nun at the convent who is having visions of a heavenly woman. For an unknown reason, the visitor from heaven asks Cora for help. The main historic and heavenly character is based on Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik (named Mother Josepha in the novel). The life story of Mother Theresa is told through a fictional journal in the novel, and she interacts with Cora in present day to solve a mystery from her time on earth.
How did you develop the idea for the story?
I started to write a memoir about my personal experience with tongue cancer, but I am a novelist, and felt more comfortable presenting the story of my cancer as fiction. I investigated the idea of having my main character involve herself in a religious setting, since I had personally been fascinated by the large number of historic religious institutions in my hometown of Lemont. I first learned about Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik while doing archival work for the Lemont Historical Society and decided that such an important woman should be better known. I made her the star of the story.
How did you learn about the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago and the story of Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik?
As archivist for the Lemont Area Historical Society, I created an archive on the work of Sonia Kallick, one of Lemont’s most important historians. I came across a series of articles she wrote many years ago about Mother Theresa Dudzik. I found it thrilling to think that a woman right in my neighborhood was so close to being named a saint, and I couldn’t get her out of my mind.
How did the story of Mother Mary Theresa inspire you and why did you choose to base her as a character in your novel?
I like to feature a character from history in my books. When I was inventing the plot to The Miracle at Assisi Hill, I wanted my historic character to preferably be based on a real person. As soon as I decided on a religious theme, I knew that Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik was the right person. The single thing that impressed me most about Mother Theresa was her great compassion. I envied that. I can feel compassion, but I could never respond to that feeling at the level she went to care for the poor, ill, elderly, and destitute. This is truly the mark of a woman singled out for sainthood.
As far as developing the character, that came easily. I had studied all available material written about her life and I knew what was important to her. I saw her very much like Cora, an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances. Her extraordinary faith and compassion made her stand out. Those qualities may not have been Cora’s, but Cora understood and admired them. So, to write the journal entries that told Mother Theresa’s story in her own words, I had only to pretend that Cora was picturing herself as Mother Theresa and writing from her point of view.
One person’s point of view about their life is not always how others knew them, of course. To be sure that the story showed Mother Theresa accurately, I brought out the opinions of others outside of Mother Theresa’s journal through Cora’s research about her life. I very much hope that Mother Theresa becomes a saint. It is especially my hope that in writing about her I will generate attention that will advance her Cause. That is one of the reasons for writing this book.
What is the overall theme of the book?
Faith, of course, and love, that inspires and carries one through the greatest difficulties. There are also themes of perseverance, friendship, and teamwork. I like to think that a key theme is the importance of our mothers in our lives. It is demonstrated in the book by the relationship of Cora to her son, by the relationship of Mother Theresa to her baby sister, and our Virgin Mother, Mary. Mary and motherhood come up repeatedly throughout the book. I hope readers recognize that the book is really a love story, which is different from a romance. It exemplifies many kinds of love: not only between husband and wife, but between mothers and children, and between friends, as well as love of God and all his children, but especially those in need.
Describe and discuss the main character Cora, who has been the star of your series of novels.
Cora is an ordinary woman who finds herself in extraordinary situations. Her biggest strength is her refusal to give up when facing what seems to be an impossible challenge. She uses her brain and experience to organize and direct a team of friends, using their particular talents to achieve the desired outcome. In this book, she starts from a position of doubt, about her religion and about her personal worthiness. Life, however, does not give her a breather to resolve her conflicts. Instead she is hurled into one disaster after another. She keeps herself busy organizing a team of friends to get to the bottom of what she believes will solve her problems, never willing to give up. This time she uses not only personal friends but a heavenly one (Mother Josepha) in the only way she knows to save her beloved husband in his time of greatest need.
Sr. Jeanne Marie met with Pat and The Page Turners book club in May. They came from Joliet to take a tour of Heritage Hall and view the sarcophagus of Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik.
Your novels often take place in Lemont and the Cal Sag River Valley. What is it about this area with its vast history and beautiful nature that attracts you and made you choose it as a setting for your novels?
This area is unlike any other in Chicagoland. One of the things that makes it so is that only a small portion of Lemont is contiguous with developed areas. One side is bordered by forests, two sides by farms, and the last overlooks a valley with bluffs and important water features. Unfortunately for nature-lovers, more and more of the farmland is being developed in recent years. I wanted to let people know about this special place before it lost that character. A second reason is that the history of the town, its importance to Chicagoland, and the quirky anecdotes peaked my lifelong personal interest in the unusual. The third reason is that it is so convenient to be able to just hop in the car to view the place a scene happens at when you’re writing about it. Writing about where you live has definite advantages.
Pat Camalliere is now in the process of putting her next writing project together. She continues her work at the Lemont Historical Society and also spends time with her family. "Family is important. I have two great sons, two wonderful daughters-in-law, and three grandchildren to brag about and spend time with." She also continues to pray for the saintly Cause of Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik. "I hope my book will call attention to Mother Theresa and result in a miracle that will move her Cause forward."
We thank Pat for spending time with us and participating in this interview. The Miracle at Assisi Hill (as well as her other novels) are available to purchase on Amazon.com (Click here to purchase). She also writes a blog that not only talks about her books, but offers articles on the history of Lemont and nearby locales. You may visit her blog at: patcamallierebooks.com.