Creating a Catholic Home: The Mercantile’s Products Are for the Generations
Gifts to add to the spiritual quality of your house.
Carrie Gress describes herself as the “least crafty person I know,” so creating candles for her online store, The Mercantile, is an irony with the stamp of the Holy Spirit. It began with candles and has grown to include 20 products.
This wife, mother, author and speaker with a doctorate in philosophy chooses beautiful products that attract women to the heart of the home and deeper into the faith. Her two most recent co-authored books especially draw on the universal language of home as a place of nurturing and love: Theology of Home: Finding the Eternal in the Everyday and Theology of Home: The Spiritual Art of Homemaking (both available from EWTN Religious Catalogue).
When Gress created the Theology of Home online magazine, having a store was a way to support it. The idea of selling candles began after she received one as a gift as part of a fundraising effort to raise money for rescue dogs.
“It occurred to me that we [Catholics] have all those things in spades,” she said.
“We have beautiful scents, we have a beautiful mission, and we have Our Lady.”
She added, “People love candles. I looked at how we could pull this back in a way that draws us into prayer and also something very beautiful that can be a gift.”
After contacting local candle makers and finding that no one could or would make the high-quality soy candles with Our Lady’s Star of the Sea logo she envisioned, she and her husband, Joe, began researching what it would take to make them.
“Joe does a lot of the mechanics and scientific stuff and pours the wax,” Gress explained.
“I do the cleaning up and boxing and shipping.”
The oldest four of their five children, who are 8 months and 6, 8, 9 and 11 years old, help out, making it a family business (and thereby indicating why they do not wholesale).
“We can’t add a night shift.” Gress said, explaining that Joe also works full time outside of the home.
The candles include “Guadalupe,” with a rose foundation mixed with Mexican oranges, and “Baptism,” inspired by the ancient chrism called the “holy anointing oil of God” used for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and priestly ordinations. Gress recommends having the candles blessed so that they become sacramentals. As the website for The Mercantile, TOHMercantile.com, explains, “Few things transform a room like a lit candle, sparking light, warmth and life. There is a reason why even in our age of electricity, candles maintain an important place in our daily lives and worship. Stella Maris & Co. hand-poured candles bring both of these elements together through the riches of Catholicism’s two millennia of beautiful symbols, scents and sacramentals.”
Customer responses confirm that Gress has found a niche for her products.
A 90-year-old customer who lights a candle for evening prayers told Gress, “I feel so much less lonely. The candle makes me feel like God is really present.”
Another customer shared that she bought a candle for a relative who was very angry at the Church. “The next time she went to the relative’s home, she was surprised to see the candle with an image of Mary behind it,” Gress said. “Another customer who was struggling with infertility said the candle was a gift she could give at baptisms that didn’t make her want to cry.”
Gress’ grandmother once asked Gress what she wanted to be when she grew up. “A customer,” she said shyly. While she was living in Poland, France and Rome before having children, Gress was fascinated with quaint shops such as a 600-year-old apothecary shop that sold soaps and candles.
“I love to hear the history and story behind products; how people have kept the traditions alive and how they are using them to pass the faith down,” Gress said.
By way of example, she referenced a sterling-silver rosary that had been her husband’s great-grandmother’s and which gives her a sense of praying with the generations.
This generational outlook inspires her shop’s offerings.
“We are looking at older things and how to put them in the marketplace so that they are contemporary and compelling,” Gress explained.
Some new additions include charcuterie boards, travel candles, sterling rosaries, goat’s milk soap and sacred art.
“All these things I’m working on fit together in a way I never anticipated,” Gress said. “This is how you see the Holy Spirit coming out.”
She said that even her doctorate in philosophy plays a role. “I realize the intellectual side is important, but I have also come to see how incarnational women are,” Gress said. “We are also tactile and visual.”
According to Gress, it’s a matter of using her degree to think outside the box to reach women, using treasures to enrich one’s faith by bringing the spiritual to the level of the material.
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