While stores will be flooded this Christmas season with shoppers trying to find presents for family and friends, religious communities throughout the United States hope to sell homemade or one-of-a-kind gifts to those who wish to find both unique and heartfelt gifts.
Arkansas Catholic has compiled a list of 10 religious communities throughout the country with unique gift offerings that are sold to benefit their particular community or outreach programs. It is a way to not only shop, but to give back.
Brothers and Sisters of Charity; Little Portion Hermitage Monastery, Berryville
Items include Viola’s Granola, St. Francis Celebration Granola, Hermit Bars, healing gift boxes, Christmas gift boxes.
• Featured: Jubilee Cherry and Chocolate Breakfast Cookies
$12 (includes four breakfast cookies; gift boxes available)
littleportionbakery.org, (877) 504-9865
Little Portion Bakery has released a holiday treat: Jubilee Cherry and Chocolate Breakfast Cookies.
“We add a little bit of semi-sweet chocolate and cherries,” as well as pecans, said Viola Talbot, president and founder of the bakery. “These cookies are delicious and nutritious.”
Made by the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, the breakfast cookies are made with natural ingredients and are available in regular and gluten free. Another seasonal release is the St. Francis Celebration Granola, with dark chocolate, cherries and pecans.
“We are proven to have the best granola there is,” Talbot said.
Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists); Abbey of Genesee, Piffard, N.Y.
Items include Monks’ Bread, fruit and nut bars, fruitcake, books, coffee.
• Featured: Biscotti
$7.99 (per box; gift box options available)
For more than 60 years, the Trappists at Abbey of Genesee have been making their world-famous Monks’ Bread, sold in more than 150 stores throughout the Rochester and Buffalo, N.Y. areas. Last year, the monks unveiled a line of hand-baked biscotti, the “brainchild” of prior Father Isaac Slater. He started “monkeying around” with leftover ingredients from the fruit and nut bars and created the biscotti. Father Slater said unlike commercial biscotti that might include just a few berries or other main ingredients, theirs is “packed with flavor.”
“Ours is better because it’s artisan level … we load the biscotti with high-quality ingredients,” he said. “The taste is just superb; that’s what sets it apart.”
Choosing a favorite is tough, but Father Slater said, “I’m partial to the sea salt caramel with almonds because it’s the latest creation; it’s quickly becoming a best seller.”
Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel; cloistered Carmelite men’s monastery, Powell, Wyo.
Items include coffee, Monk-Shots (K-cup coffee), tea, hot chocolate, mugs, coffee presses.
• Featured: Jingle Bell Java
$11.99 (12 oz. ground, whole or decaf; medium roast); $9.99 Monk-Shot, 10 cups.
mysticmonkcoffee.com; mail-order catalog: Mystic Monk Coffee, 31 Road AFW, Powell, WY 82435.
Mystic Monk Coffee isn’t the average morning pick-me-up — it’s roasted with prayer. In 2007, Carmelite monks in Wyoming roasted purchased coffee beans on a cast-iron skillet in the monastery kitchen, the first sample of Mystic Monk Coffee.
“We have special roasts” to get the “best taste out of the bean,” said Brother Paul Marie. “We’re praying while we’re doing it. We’re in silence, praying for our customers as we roast.”
There are a few seasonal coffees, including Christmas Blend and Candy Cane, but the bestseller is the Jingle Bell Java.
“It seems our customers can’t get enough of it,” Brother Paul said, with its flavors of festive spices, bourbon and white chocolate.
Brigittine monks, the Order of The Most Holy Savior; Our Lady of Consolation priory in Amity, Ore.
Items include varieties of handmade fudge and hand-dipped chocolate truffles.
• Featured: Cherry Chocolate Fudge Royale with Nuts
$13.95 (one-pound box)
brigittine.org, (503) 835-8080
Since 1982, the Brigittine monks have been creating heavenly chocolate creations at their monastery in Willamette Valley. Throughout the year, the bestselling fudge is their original, chocolate with walnuts, as well as the pecan praline. They’ve recently added milk chocolate fudge “because that’s something people are interested in,” Brother Steven Vargo said.
The secret is the care and time the monks take in making the chocolate.
“It’s not mass-produced, we’re not in a hurry,” he said, adding that they also make their own marshmallow cream, “that’s why our fudge is so smooth and creamy.”
During the holidays, the monks sell fudge called Cherry Chocolate Fudge Royale with Nuts.
“I always say if you like cherry flavoring I think it’s an excellent fudge,” Brother Steven said. “It will satisfy your taste.”
Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (cloistered contemplative monastic sisters); Redwoods Monastery, Whitethorn, Calif.
Items include cards with original artwork by Sister Victoria, icon prints.
• Featured: Creamed Honey
$12 (8 oz. jar; gift boxes available)
monasteryatelier.com, (707) 986-7419, Redwoods Monastery Atelier, 18104 Briceland-Thorn Road, Whitethorn, CA 95589
In 2000, the sisters of Redwoods Monastery started “in a slow way,” making creamed honey, said Abbess Sister Kathy DeVico. After 17 years, they sell about 20,000 jars a year, mostly during the holidays. The sisters purchase 100 percent U.S. Grade A natural honey already creamed. It arrives in a hard block and the sisters warm it to create a mixture that allows them to add organic flavors. They have seven distinct flavors for the honey: original, ginger, cinnamon, lemon, orange, almond and anise.
“The whole idea is because it’s healthier,” she said of using organic flavoring.
Plus, the creamed honey is delicate, perfect to spread on toast, oatmeal, to put in a cup of tea, etc., Sister Kathy said. The orange and ginger flavors can even go into stir fry recipes.
Though all are popular, Sister Kathy said cinnamon is a favorite around the holidays.
Sisters of St. Francis, Third Order Regular Franciscans; Sylvania, Ohio
Items include artwork, cards, soap bars, lotions, jewelry, prayer pillows, books, Pysanky eggs.
• Featured: Holy Aromas Body Wash
$8.99 each (8.2 oz.; gift sets available)
Sister Karen Zielinski started making soap with a fellow sister, selling them right off her desk to visitors who inquired, said Sharon Andersen, assistant manager of All Good Things store. Others sisters had unique talents for crafting and the store was opened in 2008 on campus at Lourdes University in Sylvania. Sister Karen has “a very, very good sense of smell,” Andersen said. “She visited her mother in Detroit. She said, ‘Mom did you just wash the floor with pine scented cleaner?’ She said, ‘Yes, two days ago.’”
There are 14 scents of body wash, including green tea, honey almond and ocean mist. One is fragrance free and four options for men include Sport of Kings and Dark Knight. Natural ingredients like essential oils are used, Andersen said.
“Certainly the biggest seller would be lavender. It’s a very popular scent. The body wash is very long lasting,” Andersen said.
Benedictine sisters, Ferdinand, Ind.
Items include bakery items, drinkware, handcrafted soaps, wind chimes, pet items, religious items, handcrafted gifts from the sisters.
• Featured: Springerle Cookies
$8.50 (six cookies); $15.50 (12 cookies; gift boxes available)
Since 1996, the Sisters of St. Benedict have been selling baked goods and their monastery shop has grown. During the Christmas season, the best-seller is the Springerle, or German Anise, cookies, said Angi Seffernick, director of monastery goods and services. A part of the sisters’ German heritage, the community has baked the treats dating back to around the 19th century. Each is imprinted with a special holiday image.
“They are a complex cookie to make. It’s actually a two-day process,” Seffernick said. The imprint is made on the dough, which dries overnight. The cookies are baked in the morning, cooled and packaged. “They have a crunchy outside, but they’re soft on the inside. It’s very artistic … It tastes like black licorice; it’s got a very distinct flavor.”
Online marketplace selling products for 75 religious communities.
Items include food, calendars, music, DVDs, religious holiday gifts, pet gifts, saint gifts, books.
• Featured: Spencer Trappist Ale
$32.95 (three ale bottles, 11.2 oz. each and one glass)
(800) 472-0425; online sign-up or call for free printed catalog.
A one-stop shop that has everything from St. Francis collars for dogs and cats to saint statues, Monastery Greetings exists to have something for everyone. In 1997, founder Will Keller reached out to religious communities to find out how they sold their products to the public. Because most did not have the resources to reach a wide audience, Monastery Greetings was founded. Keller said the company buys the products from monasteries, convents, abbeys and hermitages. Their printed catalog has about 400 products and online has more tha• 1,000, he said.
The draw for customers, Keller said, is a buyer can get “10 products from 10 monasteries in one box.”
About five years ago, the company began selling beer “related to or made by monasteries” from Germany, Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands and the U.S., Keller said. The monks at St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer, Mass., launched the first certified Trappist brewery in the United States about three years ago. Monastery Greetings, which handles mail-orders for the Abbey’s famous Trappist Preserves, a top seller on the site, now offers Spencer Trappist Ale by the bottle or gift set.
“Chimay (Belgium) is still the best known brand especially because it’s so widely known,” and a bestseller, he said. “We’re hoping Spencer will overtake that.”
Benedictine sisters, Fort Smith
Items include crocheted doilies, bookmarks with Sister Fidelis Marie artwork, aprons, jewelry, baked goods.
• Featured: Vinegar, jams and jellies
$3-$4 per jar
1301 S. Albert Pike Ave., Fort Smith
On Saturday Dec. 9 a bake sale will be held at the monastery where the vinegar, jams and jellies will be sold. Non-food items are available at stscho.org/secure/giftshop.
Sister Pat Bolling, manager of the St. Scholastica gift shop, said top selling items are always Prioress Sister Maria Goretti DeAngeli’s homemade vinegar, jams and jellies.
“Sister Maria makes it and uses different herbs to do the vinegar — tarragon, basil, different things she grows in her garden,” Sister Pat said.
The variety of jams and jellies are also popular, particularly pomegranate and rhubarb.
“She makes things we grow here so it depends on the crop,” she added.
They are all made with “fresh ingredients, a lot of it is homegrown ingredients made lovingly, prayerfully,” Sister Pat said.
Benedictine monks, Subiaco
Items include Abbey Brittle (peanut brittle), Monk Sauce (hot sauce), candles, rosaries, books, wood carvings, calligraphy.
• Featured: Acrylic ornaments
$7 each (gift sets available)
countrymonks.biz; (479) 934-1001
Brother Jude Schmitt, OSB, specializes in wood working but discovered about three months ago a new love — acrylic designing.
Using a laser machine, “I decided to make acrylic Christmas ornaments because what this cast acrylic does, it turns white when you laser it … it lasers an image onto the acrylic and by setting up a different intensity of the laser light, it will actually cut through the acrylic. It burns through the acrylic so I can cut out very intricate items.”
Brother Jude said he either takes a photo and the image is printed onto the ornament or he personally designs them. Some of his favorite acrylic ornaments include a young Jesus touching St. Joseph’s face, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the front of Subiaco Abbey and his personal design of an angel.
“The picture one I really like is the front of the church, it really shows off the abbey well,” he said. “… I like the angel I designed … because it’s unique. I haven’t seen anything close to it. I like geometric designs and the wings are all geometric designs with circles and things like that.”
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