VOL 124 NO. 14
Spirituality is Blooming
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
SONflower Shop offers faithful a chance to learn about Catholicism
FULTON — The SONflower Shop at Immaculate Conception Church is nothing new, but since Father Stephen Wirkes took over as pastor in 2003, the emphasis has shifted considerably.
Founded in 2000 by Father Wirkes’ predecessor, Father Carlo Stirpe, the shop has always featured religious items such as rosaries, confirmation gifts, or First Communion materials.
Since his arrival in 2003, however, Father Wirkes has labored to put his stamp on the shop, gearing it more and more toward literature and the like.
He has developed a special section to the store featuring Catholic literature including everything from spiritual advice and philosophy to biographies of several saints.
When he first arrived, Father Wirkes was excited about the potential of the shop. During his previous stint at St. Mary, Star of the Sea in Mexico, the priest had set up a magazine rack in hopes of enabling parishioners to read more about Catholicism. The “Book Nook” within the SONflower Shop represents a kind of advanced magazine rack.
“To me, it’s not just a shop, it’s a ministry,” the priest said. “There’s nothing like it in Oswego County where people can get good Catholic books, spiritual books, and religious items, devotional items and all the rest. So I was overjoyed when I came here. The credit doesn’t go to me, but to Father Stirpe, my predecessor, who established it. So even he had that vision of making resources available to the people of Oswego County and to make it easily accessible.”
Initially, profit from the shop was intended to generate funds for the church.
“It was an outreach ministry to make money for the parish, rather than having fundraisers and that kind of thing,” said Carol Hoyt, the shop’s volunteer manager. “It was first opened to get religious art and gifts in here, which there was a great need for in this area. Also, the profits from the shop would be used for extra things for the parish. I do know that after the first couple of years, the shop took the profit money that they had and bought speakers for the sound system.”
The shop featured numerous items, both religious and secular. Since Father Wirkes has assumed the helm, the shop has come to offer strictly spiritual items relating to Catholicism.
“Now the focus has kind of changed. When it first opened there were a lot of things in here that weren’t religious gifts. You could buy many different things in here. Now, Father Wirkes has turned things around so that it’s exclusively a religious gift shop. There were dishes, there were coffee mugs, there was pottery, there were other things in here when it first opened. Now it’s strictly religious gifts,” Hoyt said.
The shop enables Catholics in Oswego County to obtain religious materials without needing to venture all the way to Syracuse. Father Wirkes said that since they began advertising in several local publications, parishioners from throughout the county have begun coming to the shop. He said that Catholics from as far away as Mexico and Pulaski have visited the shop.
“Advertising is everything,” Father Wirkes said.
Father Wirkes revealed that the strategy he employed with the shop was limiting the cost for the consumer. After the priest has purchased a book wholesale, he only adds a modest amount on to the cost to the consumer.
The priest noted that should the SONflower Shop show a significant profit, the church would likely send the money earned to a non-profit organization. At this point, however, it is still tied up in developing the inventory.
“If we really increase our inventory then our desire is to have a regular tithing from our profit and to send it to some charity,” Father Wirkes said. “We haven’t picked a charity, because we haven’t gotten there yet.”
Father Wirkes believes that reading is a critical element of one’s spiritual development, and he makes Catholic literature available throughout the church, not just in the shop.
“He puts books at all of the entrances of the church and if you would like to buy them, that’s wonderful and if you would just like to take one and read it, that’s okay with him too,” Hoyt said. “He really wants everyone to read as much as they can about the Catholic religion and Catholic literature.”
Father Wirkes says that the reason people come to the church in the first place is to learn about God. By providing reading materials at a low cost, the church is simply enabling Catholics to further pursue their interest in the subject.
“In any parish, there is a real hunger for the things of God and a real desire to grow spiritually. That’s why people come to church. They want to know more about God, they want to experience God,” Father Wirkes said. “So this gives people an opportunity to deepen their spiritual life, to go to that next step.”