It’s hard to buy something for the person who has everything.
It is even more difficult to buy something for the person who has nothing (or very little).
What do you buy for a person who takes a vow of poverty?
Something sweet to eat?
Anyway, some of you may want to buy something for your favorite nun or religious priest* but are not sure what to get them. I thought I might make your life easier (and theirs) by giving you some ideas:
1. Gift Cards: 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 practical but a lot of religious don’t have loads of money to spend on even the most practical things.
2. 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. Letter writing is beginning to be a lost art but it is still alive in convents and religious houses all over the world.
3. Coffee, Coffee and more Coffee: I am not a coffee drinker but most of my fellow sisters are and there is nothing they appreciate more than good coffee. 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 guy got a lot of grateful prayers…
4. Tea: I am a tea drinker, chai to be specific, and so are a lot of religious so good tea is also a good gift for the tea drinking sisters or priests in your life. Maybe this Downton Abbey tea isn’t for everyone but mmm it looks good and I know a lot of sisters who would appreciate it….
5. Books: 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. Our sisters run bookstores and one of the best gifts I got for my profession were gift cards to the Pauline Books and Media bookcenters that I work in everyday.
6. 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 child-like glee. Also, you may think nuns won’t appreciate a sporting event. You are wrong. Very wrong. Some of my sisters are the most passionate sports fans I have ever met.
8. 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.
9. Money: 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.
10. Prayer: 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.
Lastly, sometimes it is ok 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!
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*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.