Clearance sale: all Benedict merchandise must go!

If you’re wondering how gift shops and purveyors of Catholic kitsch are handling the coming papal transition, here’s one answer: 

Commemorative tchotchkes will be ready not long after we hear “Habemus Papam” from the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square. Until then, Pope Benedict XVI merchandise must go.

Nelson Fine Art & Gifts, a manufacturer of Roman Catholic accouterments in Steubenville, Ohio, has consulted theologians to come up with its own short list ofpapabili, or wannabe popes, to speed the manufacturing process. It also has slashed prices on T-shirts, totes, coffee mugs and magnets that feature the outgoing pontiff.

But it’s more evangelism than marketing, said Kevin Nelles, the company’s sales and marketing manager and a Catholic convert.

“It is fitting and proper for Catholics to love the pope, whoever it is,” Nelles said. “In all likelihood, the next pope will be fairly unknown to Americans. They need to look upon him as a father figure. It’s important for our company to move people toward that. When the new pope is elected, we’ll be ready.”

Nelson provides merchandise to a network of more than 600 Catholic gift shops nationwide. Their Catholic to the Max website is geared toward young hip Catholics; mothers comprise a majority of their clientele. In addition to Catholic posters, plaques, calendars and crosses, they manufactured pallets of keepsakes for Benedict’s 2008 U.S. tour, much of which is now on clearance.

The resignation announcement prompted Nelson to print a new novelty: Holy cards with pictures of the pontiff and prayers for the next chapter of his life. Customers have purchased the cards individually and in packs of 50.

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