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Not just fruitcakes: Gift ideas with a Catholic connection

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Because sweet isn’t a sin: Tuffles from the Brigittine monks are one of many gourmet treats sold by religious orders. COURESTY PHOTO

Body + Soul

By Erin Schurenberg

By December, most organized planners have finished their holiday shopping, but for those yet to start or who might have a gift or two remaining on their Christmas shopping list, we present these resources for holiday gifts with Catholic connections.

Most of the abbeys, convents, monasteries and hermitages that make the food, drink or gift items sold in their shops are located outside the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. However, the Pilgrim Gift Shop at the Maria Stein Shrine of the Holy Relics has a large selection of holiday items. While these items are not made by the remaining Sisters of the Precious Blood residing there, nor by the laity that run the shrine, the proceeds of the gift shop do go toward the Shrine’s upkeep. “The Pilgrim Gift Shop focuses on gifts related to the sacraments,” said Deb Hemmelgarn, a shop staff member. “Most popular for Christmas are Advent wreaths, Nativity sets and tree ornaments.” (For information visit Mariasteinshrine.org/gift-shop, or call 419-925-4532.)

Still in Ohio, just 10 miles outside of Toledo, is the campus of the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania. Their on-site store, All Good Things Arts & Gifts (Allgoodthingsosf.org), sells handmade items such $6 prayer pillows, pysanky eggs, artwork, books, hand painted silk scarves, and body products like soaps and lotions under the label “Holy Aromas.” Store manager Jana Whitmore said that handmade tiles are particularly popular Christmas gifts, especially, “The Holy Family,” and the “Madonna & Child.” The tiles are thin, so they can be used as Christmas ornaments.

“The Holy Aroma line is our most popular, especially our lotion bar, which I tell people is like lip balm for your hands,” said Whitmore. “But during Christmas season, the tiles are especially sought after. The tiles take a week to 10 days to make, so shoppers looking for this artisanal gift should order as early in December as possible.”

If chocolate is more likely to be favorably received, and if you can resist the urge to shop liberally for yourself, then you should visit the website of The Brigittine monks at Our Lady of Consolation Priory (Brigittine.org). These Oregon monks live the contemplative life and “by the labor of their hands,” supporting their community by making and selling gourmet fudge and truffles.

If you would rather get your chocolates from sisters than brothers, and from the East Coast rather than the West Coast, Mount St. Mary’s Abbey in Wrentham, Mass., (Msmabbey.org/abbey-gift-shop) has a line called, “Trappistine.” A 12-ounce box of milk chocolate squares will run you $13, an 8-ounce box of almond brittle is $10, and a combo box of three different flavors of Christmas fudge is $22.50.

All of us know at least one person who seemingly must have coffee in order to function civilly. If you are buying the coffee lover a holiday gift, then you should know about Carmelite Coffee from The Annunciation Hermitage in Austin, Minn. Their ground beans include choices of Carmelite Blend, Prior’s Own Coffee, Brother’s Best or Cloister Choice. Although they also craft soaps, rugs and preserves, products are not sold by the monastery online. However, Monastery Greetings (Monasterygreetings.com) distributes their coffee products. Sales by Monastery Greetings directly support the religious organizations whose goods they market.

The Monastery Greetings company also fulfills the mail orders for Trappist Preserves. While you can typically buy one to three flavors of Trappist Preserves pepper jellies at your local grocer, sampler boxes of six, 12 or all 30 of the flavors of the preserves are available through Monastery Greetings. And if good Belgian ale is the perfect Christmas present, this organization also sells beer gift sets crafted by Belgian monasteries with labels like Spencer Trappist, Chimay, Karmeliet, Corsendonk, St. Feullien and St. Bernardus.

If you want to spend some quality time with loved ones as a gift, a get-away to Ferdinand, Ind., might be the ticket. Depending upon your starting point, the drive to the religious organizations west of Louisville typically takes three to four hours. The sisters of St. Benedict who run the gift shop (Monasterygiftshop.org) and make the baked goods also have reasonably priced lodging at the Kordes Center, as well as tourist information on their website. The beautiful handmade quilts alone are worth at least an online visit. Also on the grounds of their community is a new brewery.

“St. Benedict’s Brew Works opened its doors and beer taps in October 2015. Located at 860 E. 10th St. in the Benedictine Sisters’ former art studio, St. Benedict’s Brew Works is believed to be the only U.S. craft brewery on the grounds of a women’s religious community,” said Greg Eckerle, communications director for the order.

If Sisters of St. Benedict didn’t fill your sweet tooth with their Hildegard or Springerle cookies, you can head over to St. Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, Ind., where the gift shop (Saintmeinrad.org/visit-us/gift-shop) sells food and gifts handcrafted either at their own monastery or other religious institutions across the country.

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