Saturday, March 6, 2010

To Support Catholic Artisans and Orders

Guest Post by Allison 
One of our great joys as parents is to celebrate our sons' milestones. Gabriel's Confirmation is on the Feast of Pentecost in several weeks and we've been pondering how best to mark the occasion.

My husband and I  have been dismayed in recent years to see children of our acquaintance posting their confirmation cash haul as facebook status updates. We  pray the 10 Confirmandi in our parish this year will find deeper meaning in the day.

We are hosting a simple breakfast at our home for friends and family before the Mass. In years past, for invitations and a gift, I would have headed over to the Pauline Books & Media Center, run by the Daughters of Saint Paul to look for invitations and gifts, but the store closed last year.

I felt a real loss when the Sisters shut their doors in Edison, in part because I love supporting religious communities with my shopping dollars. Thanks to the internet, I have been able to fill that void.

Googling, I stumbled on a magnificent site called Monastery Greetings, a mail-order catalog of gifts from abbeys, convents, monasteries and hermitages.

According to the site, Will Keller founded the mail-order company in Cleveland Heights, Ohio in 1997 after discovering that, while these community businesses have high-quality products, they do not have the time or resources for marketing.  Keller majored in both art history and philosophy and religion at Colgate University and worked in the Boston area for a time, managing several divinity school bookstores.

On Keller's site I found some lovely note cards produced by The Cistercian monks of St. Benedict's Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado.  These and other religious communities are not interested in turning a profit; rather they need enough money to live and pay for health insurance and maintain their buildings.

For his Confirmation gift, we are giving Gabriel a retablo hand painted by Ann Burt of Raleigh, North Carolina.  Retablos are Latin American devotionals.  I discovered Ann here on YIM Catholic as she is a regular commenter.  Ann, the married mother of two, has run a business of commissioned murals and specialty architectural finishes for wall dĂ©cor for 20 years.

“As far as beginning this business, it started a while ago after visiting my sister in New Mexico.” Ann told me, “ I absolutely fell in love with the spiritual climate of the Southwest. The faith is everywhere you turn and so rich.  Anyway, I began collecting Retablos while really having a desire to create my own, but just not the confidence to actually do it. Realizing too that we are all given certain gifts by God for a reason, I began to think that perhaps this was more than painting but a ministry in itself honoring our friends in heaven and encouraging devotions.”

Gabriel has chosen Isidore as his Confirmation name in honor of San Isidro of Seville, who was Archbishop of Seville for more than three decades. He is considered “the last scholar of the ancient world.” Gabriel chose  this name after our friend Andy, understanding that our son has great respect for people who are intellectually curious, told him about the saint.

The archbishop was the first Christian to compile a summa of universal knowledge, thus creating the very first encyclopedia in medieval civilization. His Etymologia has 448 chapters in 20 volumes. In Raleigh, Ann custom-made a beautiful retablo (see photograph above) of the saint for us.


Other sites of Catholic artisans with which I am familiar include Sarah Harkins of Fredericksburg, Virgina, 28, and a mother of two.  Sarah has been designing and selling her unique clay rosaries and chaplets since she was 15 years old in an effort to inspire others to prayer and deeper contemplation.


It's impossible to know whether gifts such as retablos or rosaries will have a lasting effect on a child's faith journey. My parish priest assures me they will.

He was almost speechless with joy on the other end of the phone when I mentioned Greg and I are giving Gabriel a retablo as a Confirmation gift. He said in his years of pastoring he has seen some hugely  inappropriate Confirmation gifts, including a copy of Donald Trump's Art of the Deal.

Our pastor said a gift such as a retablo has profound meaning and that our son will continue to reflect on the saint and the Confirmation every time he sees his St. Isidore retablo.

I pray our priest is as  insightful about this as he is about so many other things.

Now dear reader, let me ask you: from which Catholic artisans do you purchase gifts and sacramentals?