By Jim Wogan
The Paraclete Catholic Books and Gifts store, a ministry of the Diocese of Knoxville, made a significant contribution to the life of the Church in January.
Store manager Sara Lauer and business consultant Deacon Walt Otey presented Bishop Richard F. Stika with a check for more than $65,000 to help fund the education of diocesan seminarians.
The gift fulfilled the promise of the Paraclete when the business was donated to the diocese a decade ago.
“The mission of the Paraclete has been to fund seminarian education. For the first time we are presenting a check to the bishop that almost completely funds the cost of educating a seminarian for one year,” Deacon Otey said.
The funds come from income the store earned in the 2021 calendar year.
“The intent has been to fund seminarian education. The Paraclete has never made a profit, so it has never been able to do that,” Deacon Otey added. “But this year, with Sara’s leadership and post-COVID, we have been able to do it.”
The Paraclete, located on the campus of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, underwent significant operational changes in 2019—right before the COVID pandemic struck.
Deacon Otey was appointed by Bishop Stika to oversee the transition, and Ms. Lauer was hired as the store manager.
“We stay on top of the numbers all year, every month,” Deacon Otey said. “We saw a good year coming together.”
One significant change to the Paraclete business model was the creation of a website that now accommodates online sales. While online business currently accounts for about 5 percent of overall sales, Deacon Otey said it is 5 percent more than they had before, and that the online business will continue to grow.
“These are sales that we would have never been able to capture,” Ms. Lauer said. “We are getting orders from California and Montana, just to name a few. Churches are calling and saying, ‘I need this liturgical book and we see it on your website,’ and then I get to talk to that church. We are adding churches from other states that will start purchasing their goods from us. It’s creating additional relationships that are not just local,” she added.
Forming seminarians is one of the largest expenditures in the diocesan budget. The diocese currently has 13 men studying for the priesthood. Bishop Stika has said that that number may grow this year.
“The cost of forming a seminarian for one year is more than $40,000, and that’s just for his education and room and board,” Bishop Stika said. “We fund formation through many different sources, including the Bishop’s Appeal and the Catholic Foundation of East Tennessee, but it doesn’t cover our full cost. I am grateful to Sara and Deacon Walt for their hard work getting the Paraclete in a position that it can now fulfill its purpose—by providing Catholic books and liturgical materials and gifts at a very fair price—with any profit to be offered for the education of our future priests.”
Deacon Otey expects the Paraclete’s success to continue.
“This is really significant. To go from losing money to being able to fund a seminarian is a big jump,” Deacon Otey said. “This is a sign of things to come.”
“It’s a little store, but it’s got a big purpose,” Ms. Lauer said. “The customers are constantly saying that they appreciate us being here. It’s getting that clientele back and really showing the friendly faces. We are just here to help.”
The Paraclete Catholic Books and Gift store can be reached online at paracletecatholic.org.
Pictured above: Bishop Richard F. Stika accepts a check for $65,571 from Sara Lauer, manager of The Paraclete Catholic Books and Gifts store. Standing beside Mrs. Lauer is Deacon Walt Otey, who serves at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and also serves as a diocesan business adviser to the Paraclete. Standing beside Bishop Stika are Father Christopher Floersh, director of vocations for the Diocese of Knoxville, and Beth Parsons, vocations office manager with the Diocese of Knoxville.