‘Tis the Season … for Last-Minute Christmas Shopping

Stephen Mangione Around the Province

The tempting merchandise at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street in Manhattan features ornaments, nativity scenes and other unique gifts. (Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Thomas)

From imported tree ornaments, nativities and religious articles, to honey, calendars, books, apparel and CDs, Franciscan ministries from New York City to Florida and Boston, Mass., to Wisconsin are offering the ideal gifts for the Christmas season. Whether you procrastinate, make it a tradition of shopping last minute, or put a good deal of thought into searching for the perfect gift for a friend or relative, these Franciscan venues are certain to have what you are seeking.

If you’re reading past the headline, you are likely among the more than 50 percent of Americans who are just starting to think about Christmas shopping – and worse, who wait until the week, or days, before to actually shop. But not to worry – let the Franciscans help check off your holiday shopping list with dozens of gift ideas.

St. Francis Christmas Market in NYC
With tree ornaments from Central and South America, imported nativity sets, and a wide selection of other merchandise, the St. Francis Christmas Market – in the lobby of the Parish House at St. Francis of Assisi on West 31st Street in Manhattan – has become a popular Franciscan venue for holiday shopping. Andrew Reitz, OFM, pastor, selects the imported treasures and unique finds at annual trade shows, including New York NOW at the Javits Convention Center in New York City. This year, the St. Francis Christmas Market is featuring ornaments from Bolivia, Guatemala and Peru, and nativity sets from India and Italy. “The ornaments sell fast because of their beautiful colors and fine craftsmanship. Angel and dove ornaments are the most popular,” said Andrew, who noted that he chooses ornaments that are high quality, yet affordable for varied budgets. Nativities are equally exquisite in color and craftsmanship, according to Andrew, and are available in full sets with shepherds, wise men and animals, or three-piece sets of the infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph that better suits families with limited living space.

The market is also featuring a custom-designed Christmas tree ornament commemorating the 175th anniversary of the founding of St. Francis of Assisi Church on 31st Street. Other great gift opportunities include adult and children’s books on spirituality, St. Francis and other topics; Rosary beads; statues, and many other religious articles. On the children’s bookshelf, Andrew recommends a series titled The Pope’s Cat (Book 1, and the recently released Book 2) – a Christmas story about a cat named Margaret and her experiences with the pope and St. Peter’s Square at Christmastime. “It’s a delightful story that introduces a young reader to some of the famous art and statuary pieces at St. Peter’s, such as the Pieta and statue of Peter,” Andrew said. “It also talks about Christmas Midnight Mass and the Pope giving his Urbi et Orbi blessing to the city and the world on Christmas Day.” Other soon-to-be released books in The Pope’s Cat series include Margaret’s First Holy Week (a perfect Easter gift) and Margaret and the Pope Go to Assisi. The Christmas Market is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.


The wall calendar featuring photos by Daniel Riley can be purchased online.

At the Mountain
Wall calendars are usually a staple in holiday gift-giving – and there are few as popular as the Mt. Irenaeus calendar, which features original photography by talented shutterbug Daniel Riley, OFM, depicting the majestic beauty of the four seasons in the setting of the Mountain, the Franciscan retreat in the mountains of Western New York. Dan’s mesmerizing photography on Instagram, by popular demand, was converted into a 12-month calendar and is now in its third year of production. It’s the perfect gift for family and friends. The images illustrate the wonders of nature – from snowfalls and sunsets, to spring blooms and fall foliage bursting in a cacophony of color. A spiritual reflection by Dan accompanies each photograph. The calendar brings life to an office, kitchen, bedroom or dorm room wall. Gazing at the month’s featured photo and accompanying spiritual reflection will provide a few moments of peace in a hectic work or school day. Calendar sales help support the programs at the Mountain retreat. They can be purchased on the Mountain’s website.

Arch Street Band CDs and Hand-woven Articles
If you know someone who is inspired by religious-themed music, then you will want to visit St. Anthony Shrine in Boston – or save time and gas money by just going to their website, where a series of CDs is available featuring the music of the renowned Arch Street Band, which is just as iconic to the city as Fenway Park and the North End. The Arch Street Band consists of six of Boston’s most prolific musicians who, in addition to serving at the Shrine, perform at the Boston Pops, Boston Symphony, Boston Ballet and local jazz venues. The CD titles include: “Songs of Expectation and Celebration” (such as Away in the Manger, Silent Night, O Holy Night, The First Noel), “Songs of Hope and Resurrection” (among them, Be Not Afraid, On Eagle’s Wings, You Are Mine, I Am the Bread of Life), “Songs of Worship and Praise, Volume 1” (including Blessed Are They, Open the Eyes of My Heart), and “Songs of Worship and Praise, Volume 2” (such as Come to the Water, Lead Us to Your Table).

Paul Bourque, of St. Anthony Shrine, holds one of his handmade items.

Also available at the Shrine – in the lobby of 100 Arch St. – are wool hats and scarves hand-woven by Paul Bourque, OFM, whose knitting talents and creations have become so popular among parishioners and visitors that he gets requests for baby sweaters, baptismal outfits and sweaters for domestic pets. Paul learned the craft as a child from his grandmother, a loom factory worker, and mother, a fiber artist. His warm wool hats and scarves are the perfect gift for a spouse, child or grandparent to help ward off the chill of winter. To place an order, contact Paul at the Shrine (617-542-6440).

Honey from Wisconsin
Ugly sweater? Wild flower honey? Personally, we recommend the honey. Franciscan Missions in Waterford, Wis., which provides financial support to the Order’s missions throughout the world, offers a Little Francis Honey gift set of two 12-oz. plastic bottles of wild flower honey. The set comes in a handcrafted wooden box that could be useful for storage once the last drop of honey has been squeezed. Your purchase has twice the impact, as proceeds support soup kitchens, medical clinics, sustainable water projects, housing for the poor, humanitarian relief and the education of Franciscan missionaries. To order online, go to franciscanmissions.org.

Unique Gifts at St. Francis Springs
Among the most best-selling and unique gifts at St. Francis Springs Prayer Center, the interfaith prayer and retreat facility in Stoneville, N.C. (just 30 miles north of Greensboro), are magnets with inspirational messages, Nativity sets (including special sets for children), Christmas ornaments and cards, and Franciscan-centric items like San Damiano Crosses. Other items include Trappist jellies and a list of popular books such as The Return of the Prodigal Son, Gift of the Red Bird, Book of Joy, and a wide selection of Franciscan tomes – in particular, biographies of St. Francis of Assisi that are highly recommended by Louis Canino, OFM, director of the 13-year-old retreat center.

Gifts Galore at Florida Shop
The wide array of religious items and specialty gifts at Tampa’s Sacred Heart Church gift and bookstore — at 507 N. Florida Avenue — is a holiday shopping haven for those who leave things until the last days before Christmas. “Our store takes pride in offering unusual and unique pieces from around the world – including art and sculpture, as well as jewelry and handmade products from Italy, Germany and throughout the United States,” said store manager Gail Lewis. Since the store caters to customers of every denomination – Baptists patronize the shop for its St. Joseph home sellers, returning a week or two later to report that “it worked!” – Lewis guarantees that holiday shoppers will find something for everyone on their Christmas lists.

Some of the gift items popular for this season, according to George Corrigan, OFM, pastor, include prayer scarves, a Fair Trade item from Nepal crafted from hand-loomed alpaca; Cross ornaments made from antique molds and embellished with Swarovski elements that provide a beautiful keepsake; monastery honeys, Trappist jams, and soaps made by Benedictine Sisters; tree ornaments imported from Italy; lotions made with water from Lourdes; San Damiano Crosses, St. Francis statues and seven-decade Rosaries, and, for the first time this year, a special brass tree ornament of Sacred Heart Church.

The store at Sacred Heart Church in Tampa, Fla., offers a variety of unique gifts. (Photo courtesy of Gail Lewis)

Other interesting items that are available year-round include Creator Mundi, a unique heirloom quality collection of biblically based, artistically beautiful and culturally authentic religious art that features bronze art from Germany, carved wood statuary from France, and Nativity sets from Lithuania. The store also carries ceramic products by Raku Potteryworks, an art studio that creates handmade, one-of-a-kind pieces made with brilliant colors of copper, blue, silver, gold, magenta, green and brown. If jewelry is on your shopping list, the store has a line of Michal Golan jewelry, including 24K gold, sterling silver, semi-precious stones, freshwater pearls, Swarovski crystals and glass. Shopping can be done online at sacredheartfla.org and by visiting the store Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Saturday, 5 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Ornaments and More at College Stores
Recipients of gifts from the St. Bonaventure University bookstore don’t have to be alums. The SBU ornaments – with university crest and colors – come with sparkle, and without, and can be the perfect gift for a loyal Bonnie or someone who simply collects unique ornaments. If you can’t get to the campus in Allegany, N.Y., check out the bookstore online for high quality gift items that include sweatshirts, fleece jackets and other apparel, a full line of sports accessories, and inexpensive gifts like a windshaft golf umbrella and mugs and insulated tumblers. To shop, visit https://www.bkstr.com/stbonaventurestore/home

Siena College has set up a “holiday shopping made easy” page – a webpage that is simple to navigate and that offers a wide array of items for the entire family. Products range from traditional ornaments with school colors and logo (ball and glass bulldog) and drinkware (champagne flutes, thermal travel mugs, and pub glasses), to high tech wireless audio (headsets, earbuds and speakers) and home décor, auto accessories and alumni gear (legacy apparel, blankets, sweatshirts and license plate frames). If you can’t drop by the bookstore on the Loudonville, N.Y., campus, you can order online.

Books for Long Winter Nights
The thought of curling up under a warm blanket with a hot cup of cocoa and a good book should be impetus enough to purchase books for a few people on your Christmas shopping list – and maybe even one for yourself. The following are just a handful of the many available titles sold by Franciscan Media and the American Academy of Franciscan History: Many Tongues, One Faith: A History of Franciscan Parish Life in the United States – which offers a glimpse into the struggles of Franciscan priests, sisters, and laity living their faith amidst the challenges of religious bigotry, racial and ethnic strife, and cultural and religious challenges; Saint Oscar Romero: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, which offers an inspiriting look at the life of the man who was canonized into sainthood in October; Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from St. Francis, which offers a roadmap for living; To Sin No More: Franciscans and Conversion in the Hispanic World, 1683-1830 – the first book to study the colleges, missionaries, and multifaceted sweeping missionary programs started by the Franciscans, and Voice of Empathy: A History of Franciscan Media in the United States – which offers more than a century’s worth of religion lived through media, in particular, Franciscan media.

— Stephen Mangione is a long-time public relations executive and frequent contributor to HNP Today. Jocelyn Thomas provided research for this article.

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