Dolls of Light
When Chantal Baros Wilson wanted a modern, affordable Catholic toy for her nephews, she found slim pickings in the marketplace: The nice toys were either expensive or had outdated religious imagery. Instead of lamenting the situation, she created her own Catholic toys — and Shining Light Dolls was born. She began by creating dolls based upon images of Mary — Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Czestochowa, Our Lady of Knock, Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Guadalupe. The first doll, Our Lady of Guadalupe, hit the market more than a year ago and remains the bestseller.
Baros Wilson, who lives in Chicago, plans to release 11 Marys in all.
Each doll is made out of rotocast vinyl, stands about three and a half inches tall and comes with an insert featuring a biography of the particular Mary or saint, along with a prayer and other information. Last fall and winter, she added St. Nicholas and St. Patrick. There are plans for other saints, such as Padre Pio, Joseph and Thérèse of Lisieux.
All of the dolls have been safety tested for infants and up.
The 27-year-old said that she wanted to make a toy that was affordable ($12.99) and that would meet children where they were.
“That was my thinking: that I really want to be able to give my nephews something that they’d be interested in and that would hold their attention, but that they would ask me questions about,” she said.
Baros Wilson graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she trained as a painter, and she had to learn everything about making dolls from the ground up.
“I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m an oil painter. I had no experience with toy-making,” she said.
But she did have experience blending her faith and her art.
“As an artist, I think about the New Evangelization as bringing the faith to people in a new way,” she said.
While the dolls have a modern look, Baros Wilson takes great care so that the graphics are true to the original Church imagery.
“We’re not trying to do anything that’s disrespectful or that’s not authentic to the teachings of the Church. All the prayers, all of the stories — I make sure everything is in line with the magisterium,” Baros Wilson said.
When Baros Wilson got the idea for the dolls, she taught herself how to use graphic-design programs to create them. Next, she had to find a factory to produce the dolls.
“As I’ve gone along, I’ve Googled the things I needed to do next,” she said.
“We’re continuing to release as we go,” she said. “That’s been our No. 1 complaint: that people can’t buy all of them right away.”
In the year and a half since she started her company, Baros Wilson has sold more than 5,000 dolls. Amazon.com, the Catholic Company.com and more than 100 Catholic shops in the United States and Canada sell Shining Light Dolls. Ten percent of all profits go to Catholic charitable organizations.
The one-piece dolls don’t break and are easy to clean, which was deliberate in the design process. “I also wanted it to be a silent toy. We have a lot of moms who take them with their kids to church,” Baros Wilson said.
That they are suitable for infants is why Theresa Conlan, store manager at Our Lady’s Center in Ellicott City, Md., decided to carry the dolls. “They’re just these tough little Catholic dolls that can go in the tub and in a baby’s mouth,” she said. “It’s nice to have a ‘statue’ for the baby’s room that you don’t have to worry about breaking at three in the morning.”
The store manager said there are lots of Catholic toys available for ages 3 and up, but it’s only recently that companies have begun to release toys suitable for infants.
It also helps that Shining Light Dolls are appealing. “We thought they were very, very cute,” Conlan said.
The Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Lourdes dolls are bestsellers at Heavenly Helpers in El Campo, Texas.
Owner Jeanie Janak said customers think the dolls are cute, too. “They think they are just, really, a nice idea,” she said. “It’s just something very unique. I haven’t seen something like that on the market [before].”
Karen Grant — whose 2-year-old daughter Katie loves the dolls, especially Our Lady of Guadalupe — says the toys plant seeds of faith with children.
“It’s putting something into their hands that maybe would have only been up on the shelf before,” said Grant, who writes the blog “Karen’s Adventures in Mommyland” and lives in Williamstown, N.J.
Her daughter sleeps with her Our Lady of Guadalupe doll and often takes it to Mass with her. The dolls help the Grant family teach the faith and celebrate the liturgical year (such as the Solemnity of All Saints, which is Nov. 1). “We can bring different dolls out on their feast days,” Grant said.
That the dolls come with information about the Marian apparition or the saint, along with a prayer, makes for easy catechetical moments.
“It’s helpful, too, if you’re trying to teach your children about these things. You’ve got a little bit of information in your hands, and you’ve also got a toy that they can play with that can help further that connection,” Grant said.
Baros Wilson says of her business endeavor: “I think that it’s the perfect answer to the New Evangelization.”
Joyce Duriga is the editor of Catholic New World,
the newspaper of the
Archdiocese of Chicago.
- toys, catholic