Patti Armstrong is an award-winning author and was the managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’ bestselling Amazing Grace series. Her latest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories From Everyday Families and Dear God, You Can’t Be Serious. She has a B.A. in social work and an M.A. in public administration and worked in both those fields before staying home to work as a freelance writer. Patti and her husband live in North Dakota, where they are still raising the tail end of their 10 children.
It’s ordination season and throughout the country people are wondering: Should I buy gift? We celebrate ordinations but unlike weddings, gift giving leaves many in a quandary. Priests might live in the rectory or in some remote village as a missionary, but either way, a toaster does not seem quite right.
Do priests even need anything? And would giving money be weird or an insult? I asked 2 priests and a storeowner who carries supplies for priests how people should handle gift giving at ordination time.
First off, understand that not all priests take a vow of poverty. They all commit to a simple life but diocesan priests receive a modest salary so they must budget and spend in the real world. As canon 281.1 notes, clergy deserve the remuneration that befits their condition, since they dedicate themselves to the ecclesiastical ministry. This remuneration should provide for the necessities of life.
Priest that live in community and/or take a vow of poverty own little to nothing and receive a small stipend—around $100 a month--to buy a few personal items. Otherwise, everything is taken care of. If the priest has an outside job such as a college professor, he can earn a salary but all of it goes to the community.
I spoke with Father Donald Calloway, the vocation director for Marians of the Immaculate Conception and learned that his order lives in community and does take a vow of poverty so any money earned goes to the community. Father Calloway, for instance, earns money as a speaker and selling his books, but it goes towards supporting the seminarians.
It is still appropriate to give gifts to celebrate ordination, according to him, but he cautions people regarding what to give. “Something big that takes up a lot of space in a room would be discouraged, and probably it is just going to end up being given away. And stoles, priests often get a ton of those and just donate them.”
One item that he treasures, however and said every priest he knows wants one, is a traveling Mass kit. “A traveling Mass kit is like gold,” Father Calloway said. “All his life he’s been able to rely on going to church for Mass and now wherever the priest goes he can have Mass.” Father Calloway said he actually owns two; one he keeps at his parent’s house and the other he takes with him when he’s traveling.
“I get calls all the time from people asking what they should buy as a gift at ordination,” Ian Rutherford, owner of Aquinas & More Catholic Goods said. Although Aquinas & More has a large selection of vestments, Mass kits, and other Church goods, he said he hesitates to make specific suggestions. “Sometimes, a priest has to return things he received more than one of—like receiving 3 confessional stoles.
To help avoid this situation, Rutherford has two suggestions: take advantage of the registry where a priest can sign up for things he would like and larger items can even work like a crowd-funding wish, or simply buy a gift certificate. With a gift certificate, the priest can make his own selection.
Father Joshua Waltz, the vocation director for the Bismarck Diocese in North Dakota explained that priests will pay for many of the items they are going to need such as a confession stole or chalice. The Church will supply vestments but priests can also receive or buy themselves specially made ones, such as ones with images of Mary. He warned people against selecting such gifts for priests unless they know for certain it is something they would like. “The priest is going to have his own preferences,” he said, “so people should not just go out and buy things for them.”
Money is also an acceptable gift and always appreciated, according to Father Waltz. No one should feel obligated to buy a gift, however, he explained. A priest’s greatest joy is his ordination and he appreciates all those who share in his joy. “When I got ordained, one of the most beautiful things for me was just reading what people wrote in the cards they gave me.”