by Carolyn Desch, current head of the gift shop.
It was touch and go that November 1963 whether or not they would get the roof on the new gift shop before the snow came. Its principal builders, Bill Jakali and Fr. Paul Béchard, were scrambling to find enough square nails for the shingles. Just in time a donation of them arrived, enough to finish the job. The next day it snowed.
Designed and built by Madonna House men, both staff and volunteers, the gift shop was a large building with log siding and cleverly designed pine wood shelving. Once the building was completed, the next challenge was finding enough merchandise to fill those shelves.
One idea was handicrafts, and staff were encouraged to do different kinds.
A crude candle-making operation was set up in the basement of the office. There young women staff sorted and melted down the candle scraps that had been coming in donation, and out of these scraps they made beautiful new candles—boxes and boxes of them.
The women staff also tore rags into thin strips and spent evenings making sturdy braided rugs.
The kitchen, too, joined in the activity. The cooks and volunteers made jams and jellies out of wild berries and fresh herbs and begged for baby food jars to use as containers. Friends sent the jars from all over the country, and we washed them, painted the tops, and made new labels.
A kind friend sent silk-screening supplies, and the staff silk-screened plaques and greeting cards. When they were drying, they covered every available flat surface, including the beds in the dormitory.
Linda Lambeth and volunteers gathered wild flowers and dried them, and Kathleen O’Herin arranged them into bouquets.
There were no spare moments; everyone was involved in making things to sell in the shop. It was an exciting time.
The gift shop even put out a catalogue so they could sell the crafts by mail, but that had its challenges. The old Gestetner duplicating machine kept breaking down as they ran it off.
But try as they might, they could never make enough crafts to support the missionaries Madonna House sent to Pakistan and other mission fields.
So, our foundress Catherine Doherty, always a beggar and a woman of great faith, asked our benefactors for items that could be sold to help support these missions. "Our Lady is the buyer," she said and put the responsibility for stocking the shop directly into the hands of the Mother of God.
A great variety of donations sent specifically for the mission shop began to come in. These needed careful sorting in order to identify items that might be of particular value. The problem was that there were no experts in such matters among the staff. But Our Lady provided.
Some of our friends and people who happened to drop in were experts and were willing to teach the staff about what they had been given: how to recognize an antique or a valuable piece of jewelry and how to clean and restore these items.
When the shop opened in May 1964, the shelves were filled with such a variety of beautiful things that it must have been a great delight to everyone who had worked to make that happen, but especially to Catherine Doherty.
Fifty years later, the shelves continue to be filled with beautiful handmade pottery, candles, weavings, knitting, sheepskins, and yarns, and with antiques, fine dishware, silver, brass, crystal, and jewelry.
In recent years, we added an art gallery to sell the works of Madonna House artists and other donated works. We also have what we call "The Small Shop" where people can find great gifts at great prices, and a furniture shed with an interesting variety of furniture.
Madonna House Gift Shop is truly a mission shop; all its proceeds go to missionaries all over the world. Of course, the needs in the missions are so great that we can never begin to fill them all. However, with a lot of help from the Mother of God and from our friends and benefactors, we continue to do what we can. It is Our Lady who keeps the shelves filled and keeps us motivated to pass on the wealth and beauty that come to us.
How do people know about our shop, hidden away as it is? We advertise it in various ways, but our greatest advertisement continues to be by word of mouth. Friends tell friends, and they become our friends. We then pass on the fruits of that friendship to many dedicated missionaries around the world.
For the little that we are able to give, we are enriched beyond measure. The small ripple of friendship becomes a huge wave of hope that reaches across the world and deep into the hearts of those who have and those who have not. That friendship becomes a bond of love.
Adapted from an article in the current vacation guide of the Valley Gazette, a local newspaper.
Carolyn worked in the gift shop for seven years in the 1970s and was responsible for the shop in Marian Centre Edmonton for twelve. She has been in charge of the MH gift shop since 2006.
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