Whether for Christmas or Easter, or any special occasion, it's always easier to shop when you know what people really want.
It is even more difficult to buy something for someone who takes a vow of poverty.
What on earth do you buy for someone who has very few earthly possessions?
Believe me, if you can think of a possible gift, it has already been thought of, and chances are the person you want to get a gift for has received that gift not once but many, many times.
Maybe because we are sweet?
Anyway, some of you may want to buy something for your favorite nun or religious priest* but are not sure what to get.
I thought I might make your life easier (and theirs) by giving you some ideas:
One sister told me that after one Christmas when her convent received tons of gifts they really could not use, they asked their friends and benefactors to give them gift cards to the local grocery store, and blankets. Sounds boring but a lot of religious don’t have loads of money to spend on even the most practical things.
- Costco, Whole Foods, Amazon, Trader Joes
- Local grocery store, drugstore, Catholic book store, coffee shop
Stamps and Stationary
This is a good gift for cloistered nuns and monks who often communicate with friends and family through letter writing but it is also good for some religious sisters and priests. It would be embarrassing if I were to tell you how much time I spend choosing my stamps. No flag stamps for me; I painstakingly peruse the USPS website to find the most unique and beautiful stamps available and mourn when the ones I like go out of print. Letter writing may be a lost art but it is still alive in convents and religious houses all over the world.
- Christmas cards with artwork from a Benedictine monk
- Watercolor stationary with Romans 8:1-12
- Saint notecards
- Cross wax seals for letters
- Father Hesburgh and Flannery O’Connor stamps
- Cards from Printery House that support the monks at Conception Abbey
Coffee, Coffee and more Coffee (and maybe Tea)
Legend has it that we have Pope Clement VIII to thank for coffee making its way to the Western world. Urged to ban the delicious drink, Clement insisted on trying it himself. Thankfully, he liked it and the rest is history. So, coffee is definitely an appropriate gift for religious. For a time we were having a hard time getting coffee for our largest convent in the United States in Boston. Finally a kind benefactor started sending coffee to us for free. Prayers are not quid pro quo but believe you me, that person got a lot of grateful prayers.
- Mystic Monk Coffee is roasted by Carmelites in Wyoming.
- Equal Exchange is a fair trade coffee company that partners with Catholic Relief Services.
- Abbey Roast is made by Benedictine monks in New Mexico. (Note: This group is affiliated with the SSPX so if you buy from them, pray also for their eventual reunion with the Church).
- This tea sampler would be a perfect gift for a convent or monastery.
One of my favorite meals is beer and pizza, and thankfully I did not have to give that up upon entering the convent! People often assume that religious do not drink alcohol. While we don’t get drunk, of course, most of us enjoy a good beer, a glass of wine, or a shot of whiskey on a special occasion.
A kind Twitter friend offered to buy me a book this Christmas and it really meant a lot to me. Most religious appreciate books; in fact, many are serious bibliophiles. The only caution is that some of us get lots of books that other people want us to read but are not what we would like to read. If you don’t know what someone would appreciate, give them a gift card.
New Releases Recommended for Religious:
- Awakening Love: An Ignatian Retreat with the Song of Songs
- John of the Cross (SOS)
- The Spirit of Simplicity
- Humility Rules
- Five Proofs for the Existence of God
- Behold Your Mother
Tickets to an Event
With tickets prices as high as they are, it is hard for large groups of religious to go out to see a play, a ballet or an opera. When I was a novice a kind priest brought my whole group to see the Boston Pops. It was thrilling. And the thing about bringing nuns to something they usually don’t go to is that we get way over-excited and happy. It is worth it just to see our childlike glee.
Religious appreciate good music. Of course, our tastes are diverse but there are some basics that most people appreciate. And of course buying music that is produced and sung by religious is a bonus.
- The Daughters of St. Paul have several beautiful albums, including a 2-CD set of Marian hymns
- Caroling at Ephesus by the Benedictines of Mary
- Mater Eucharistiae by the Dominican Sisters of Mary
Movies or Movie Tickets
My sisters work in bookcenters full of DVDs but we rarely buy them for ourselves. Moviegoing is another activity a lot of religious do not do a whole lot. Tickets or gift cards to a movie theater would be a great gift for a whole convent or a group of religious.
It may sound crass but any superior of any religious house will tell you that money is always appreciated for the normal things they have to worry about (e.g. plumbing, roof replacements, medical expenses). Not to mention that when you donate to religious you support the Church’s mission and their various individual charisms of spreading the gospel, teaching, serving the poor, etc.
We pray for you but the fact is that religious need prayers too. If you have a Mass said for a religious, we appreciate it. In fact, that is the gift I appreciate most. My home parish still has Masses said for me regularly and it really means a lot to me. Promising to pray a Rosary, say a novena, etc. is also greatly appreciated.
Gifts from Other Religious Communities:
We love when we are gifted something that supports other religious communities too. There are tons of cloistered and non-cloistered communities that produce amazing products, including chocolate, icons, soaps, and much more.
- The monks at Clear Creek sell beautiful reproductions of hand painted icons.
- The Trappistines in Wrentham, MA make heavenly chocolate. Ok, not just the Trappistines in Wrentham…
- Biscotti from Holy Spirit Monastery
- The famous fruitcake from Gethsemane farms
Sometimes it is okay not to get anything for the special religious in your life. We live in a materialistic world that puts things before people, but sometimes just going out to coffee, sending a letter, or making a phone call is all that is really needed. It helps you not waste your money and it helps us not feel guilty when we have to move to our next assignment and we find ourselves giving away gifts we received or putting them in a Goodwill bin.
But if you do want to get something special, I hope that this list helps you buy something that the special nun, priest, or brother in your life will appreciate.
If you are a religious, please add any gift ideas to the comments.
And anyone else who has had a successful gift-giving experience to the “person who has very little,” please share!
If you buy any gifts on Amazon, please consider supporting the Daughters of St. Paul, Inc through Amazon Smile.
*For those of you who are not sure why I make a distinction between religious priests and diocesan priests, it is because religious priests (e.g. Dominicans, Franciscans, etc) make a vow of poverty while diocesan priests often do not. That does not mean that this gift list won’t apply to diocesan priests, but it will be more applicable to religious priests.
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