For the love of the pope


popemugLooking for a Pope Francis coffee mug? How about a framed photo of the pontiff for the office or a giant stand up cardboard cutout of the Holy Father? All these things and more are available through Catholic to the Max, an online Catholic gift retailer in Steubenville, Ohio.

   The business started due to the lack of availability of San Damiano Crosses, the kind of cross that St. Francis was praying to when God instructed him to “rebuild my Church.” A local priest, Father Sam Tiesi, began carving crosses out of wood and sending them to friends and family. Word spread about the hand-made crosses and before long the priest had a steady business requiring help. Mark Nelson, who had spent years in pro-life ministry with his wife Gretchen, came to work for Father Tiesi. Eventually, Nelson purchased the woodshop and moved the production facility into his garage, creating “Nelson Woodcraft,” a framed art and church furniture business. Before long, Nelson Woodcraft became a nationwide vendor to Catholic bookstores, churches, shrines and individuals.

   In 2003, the company launched Catholic to the Max, with the goal of providing evangelization tools directly to the public.

   Today, Catholic to the Max has grown to include Catholic framed art, Catholic gifts, prayer cards and more. The line is constantly changing, expanding and adapting to rapidly meet the needs of evangelization. The ministry itself is entrusted to the patronage of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Nelson models his work after St. Max’s faith, innovative evangelization methods, tools and ultimate sacrifice for God.

   Kevin Nellis, sales and public relations director for the company, is quick to point out that the merchandise available through Catholic to the Max is not “tchotchkes” or novelty items, but tasteful quality products. “All our products are fun. None are disrespectful to the Holy Father,” explained Nellis. “We started out to honor the Lord and those who know us, love us.”

   Today items such as coffee mugs with a prayer and a photo of the pontiff, prayer cards or framed photos that can be displayed in offices are very popular. Nellis feels this is due to Pope Francis’ initially requesting that the faithful pray for him. “People will often purchase the coffee mug with the prayer and the pope’s picture so they can pray for him as they drink their morning coffee,” stated Nellis. “It seemed everyone fell in love with him immediately and they want to see his picture, be close to him and pray for him.”

   Prior to the pope’s election, Nellis and his company continually streamed the live video feed of the Vatican that would let them know when a new pope was elected.

   “The second we saw white smoke we went immediately in production mode. There were pre-orders from companies for prayer cards and portraits before the pope was even chosen, but once he was elected everyone, including the news media, was scrambling to find a photo of him,” laughed Nellis. The demand caused an instant spike in business. “We licensed an image of him smiling and waving on the balcony and those [framed] images were out the next day. It was a humbling experience to see this outpouring of love for the new pope,” said Nellis. “He is a very well-liked pope. We found out pretty quickly he was like a rock star in his home country and his simple lifestyle was compelling; it really was humbling to see how quickly the Catholic world responded with love to this new pope.”

   Nellis feels that all the merchandise can continually be used as evangelization tools to bring people to, or even back to, the faith.   

   “The pope has reinvigorated the Catholic faith,” stated Nellis. “His presence and leadership will continue to bless the Catholic world.”

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