QUAERITUR: what to buy a priest?

People often don’t know what to give priests as gifts.   As a result I get several e-mails a week asking advice about this.  Here is an example from a reader:

Hi Father Z,

At our diocese, the diocese of _____ , there is a very kind priest in charge of vocations.   He gave a vocations talk for homeschool boys on Friday, and I couldn’t help but notice his pants were quite worn, and had a tear that he had tried to mend himself.  I would like to give him a donation, but I don’t want to embarrass him.  What would be best, cash?  or a gift card to a men’s clothing store?  Sometimes giving cash seems crass.   Any advice is welcome.  ( I’ve only met him once)

Thanks for all you are doing with your blog.  You have inspired me to pray daily for this country I love.

Your sentiment is very good, and I thank you for your interest in this priest.

In a situation like this, and if you are really concerned not to embarass him, you could send him a gift card to some store with a brief note very simply and kindly explaining why you sent it, with good words of thanks and support.  You could even send it anonymously, if you wish.  Usually priests want to know who gave them them something, so that they can thank you personally, but if the note is kind and you express yourself clearly, he’ll appreciate your desires even if you remain anonymous.  It is always nice to receive something generously offered.  It is a shot in the arm.

This is the age of the gift card, it seems.   That really solves a lot of problems.  Priests, just as you also, often get things they have no earthly use for.  If you know anything at all about your priests, gift cards for shops appropriate to their needs or interests would be very welcome.   That doesn’t mean that a group of people couldn’t pool their resources to get, for example, vestments or some other things priests may appreciate.  But if you are simply trying to make a nice gesture and have no idea what to do, and you think cash is too "crass", the gift cards are handy.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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52 Responses to QUAERITUR: what to buy a priest?

  1. Dave says:

    A “halmark card” offering a spiritual bouquet inside is always nice.

  2. Maureen says:

    Someday this kind of thing will be mentioned in Lives of the Saints. “People were always trying to give St. N money to clothe and feed himself, but he always gave it to someone eho needed it more. So his parishioners gave him a gift card — and then he gave those away. Finally, they had to club together and buy him cassocks, and then not let him visit seminaries or other pirests for fear he’d give his clothes away.” :)

  3. Cel says:

    If you are not sure what store to go with, you could also get him a generic gift card like a visa gift card. Of course that is virtually like giving him cash but perhaps it won’t feel like giving him cash.

  4. A Random Friar says:

    It doesn’t sound like the case here, but priests in religious orders like myself often turn in all cash or credit cards given as gifts or for ministry to our community fund, just so folks know. When we need money for something, we ask the religious community for it.

    We are normally allowed to keep gift cards, if the gift is earmarked for something, as long as it’s not excessive (e.g., “Here’s a card for a new clerical suit, Father.”) This may vary, depending on the strictness of the order.

    I hate to say it, because I know it’s a labor of love, but prepared food is generally not the best gift, unless specifically asked for, or the religious community is very large. If I ate even a quarter of the food that came in the friary, I’d look more like Friar Tuck than Random Friar.

  5. Flambeaux says:

    Maureen, thank you. I needed to laugh this morning, and you’ve supplied it in spades. :D

  6. My mom and step-dad take care of a priest and had taken care of the previous pastor of a parish in the White Mountains on the Apache Reservation. The retired pastor wore the shabbiest clerical dress, hole here and there, bad ring around the collar etc. Mother took the things home and tried to clean and repair them. When she looked in Fr. Levy’s closet, he had a lot of new things but was totally happy in tatters. He was more concerned with his vocation than he was about the appearance of his clothing, bless his heart. He embraced poverty although he did have to take the vow. I think that sometimes a priest is so involved in doing God’s work that they don’t pay attention to their clothing or their hair, etc, especially when they are older. All Fr. Levy cared about were the souls of the people in his care. He certainly had the clothing available to him but decided to wear the worn out stuff. I guess it was more comfortable or being that he was among the poor he dressed like they did. Hard to say.

  7. Correction: He did not take a vow of poverty

  8. Fr. Lane says:

    When I assumed my new parish 5 years ago I received a gift card to Famous Footwear within two weeks. At first I was startled, then amused. I do try to maintain a “professional” appearance but abviously someone spied my shoes at Mass and dropped me a hint that it was time for a new pair. I bought a new pair and put a thank you in the bulletin. The shoes are now 5 years old and I think they are fine until someone decides otherwise.

  9. Joe says:

    This is a wonderful thread, very thoughtful yet realistic. When my dad was the state deputy of the K of C for his state, it was the custom of the Knights to give a chalice to a newly ordained Priest. I encouraged him to ask the Priest first, because I have seen sacristies with chalices left behind when Priests moved on. Generally a chalice is something that his first appointment will have already, whereas there might be other things more useful and less readily available.

    With regards to what semperficatholic said, I had a similar experience recounted to me many years ago. The priest kindly told the people who wanted to buy him new clothes “thank you, the diocese has a policy whereby I can buy a new clerical suit every year if I need to, at parish expense.” So it is always good to ask, even if it might be difficult. Of course he might have an Amazon.com wish list, which would make it easier!

  10. ckdexterhaven says:

    Semperficatholic, Fr. Levy is a sweet man. Tell your mother thank you for taking such good care of him. I think you’re right about the new clothes. Fr. Levy would not have been comfortable wearing new clothes when those surrounding him lived in such poverty.

  11. Charivari Rob says:

    If I might add a tip – be aware and careful of any expiration date/loss of value policy connected with gift cards.

    They’re not as bad as they used to be, thanks to a lot of public scrutiny. I had a bit of a moment reading the headlines this morning about the Circuit City bankruptcy filing – my wife and I have a gift card in the desk at home which we were saving in anticipation of spending on some ‘needed’ electronic upgrades. Now I’m going to have to seek out some fine print on the card and their website to see what (if any) effect the news might have.

    I definitely second those who say to ask the priest (or brother or nun) what their actual needs might be.

    Great point, A Random Friar. One of our Knight’s Council was recently ordained to the priesthood (he’s an OFM Cap). A simple inquiry went a long way in determining what was actually useful, needed, and appropriate – especially when one considers his responsibilities to his community.

  12. Chris says:

    Father, two questions:

    One, would it be wrong to buy a cassock for a priest who only wears a black suit? We wants to be more traditional and I can’t think of a more simple way to start.

    Two, what is the normal gift for a priest who baptised your child? With our first child we gave him $50. But it wasn’t his parish (he was a traditional priest coming into our indult parish to do a traditional baptism that the pastor wouldn’t do) and he had to take time out of his day. I’m now thinking that wasn’t enough and, with our next baby, I want to make sure we give enough.

  13. Fr. J says:

    Another helpful thing is when giving a gift and you don’t mind being identified, making sure your contact information is clearly printed or typed so that we can send an appropriate “thank you”. I have gratefully received many gifts I have not been able to say “thank you” for because I cannot read the good person’s handwriting.

    Blessings,
    Fr. J

  14. Regarding dates on cards: do the guy a favor. Put a post-it note on the card with the expiration date. Priests get busy and forget.

  15. You get presents that you don\’t need or want?!! I don\’t believe it!

    I give the priest in my parish a left-handed tomato sharpener every year! Whenever I go over to check on the rectory, Father says that he had to throw it out since he\’d already worn out last year\’s model. I tell you, priests love those things!

  16. Henry Edwards says:

    With good solid ulterior motives, give a TLM instructional DVD and/or a 1962 hand missal to a priest who shows promise. Then watch him for the right time for a set of altar cards. Lace and stuff (like a biretta) comes later.

  17. Father Bartoloma says:

    I always like receiving gift cards for amazon, barns and noble, and other book stores. Also, a gift card for a nice restaurant is a treat, as well as a simple gift card from, eg. American Express with which you can buy whatever you need.

    It is generally not a good idea to give a priest a vestment or chalice because we priests can be particular with things like that and frequently religious goods stores can push surplus or mediocre stock onto customers at unfair prices. The missions are filled with lesser quality vessels and vestments that were either given to priests or donated to parishes in memory of a loved one. I remember that the last parish I served in had 4 (not kidding) plain, polyester Rose chasubles that people had donated over the years because they wanted to give something “unique”. I only used my own. Also, there were about ten sets of cruets floating around the sacristy and never used.

  18. PNP, OP says:

    I would second Fr. Bartoloma’s suggestion of bookstore gift cards. As a frequent recipient of books from my blogsite Wish List at amazon, I can’t tell you how grateful I am when I get a much searched for book! Caution: often books shipped to third parties do not include return addresses on the invoice, so the recipient cannot send along a Thank You. It would be a good idea to send a note or email letting the priest know that the book is on the way.

    One thing generous folks might not think about when giving gifts is that the priest will likely have to pack, move, and unpack the gifts he has received over the years. This might not be a big problem for diocesans but we religious priests move around a lot, live in single rooms, and stuff stacks up very quickly! Generally, religious priests do not own their own vestments. We use whatever’s in the sacristy at the priory or the parish. I have a beautiful hand-made chasuble given to me for an ordination gift that I had to leave in Texas when I moved to Rome.

    As a suggestion for priests living in a community: give your priest some useful software that he can share with the whole house. Something like a CD with the texts of the Church Fathers or one with philosophy texts on it. DVD’s are a good idea too. Maybe a DISCOVERY CHANNEL series or a History Channel documentary. These usually go into the common room for community viewing. You might ask what he would like or “needs” for the community collection. Let me also suggest that if your priest lives in a formation house with novices or students that you give the community Sam’s size boxes of personal items like shampoo, deordorant, etc. or…dare I say it, beer! (Is beer a personal item? I think so.)

    And I am sure Fr. Z. will agree with me on this one…a box of nice cigars or a good bourbon is almost always welcomed among the clergy! [I am more of a scotch man, myself. Although I when I was in KC recently I had some Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. I could get used to that! And yes... consumables are very good, especially when they can be offered also to priests who visit.]

    Fr. Philip, OP

  19. Commentator says:

    How about a return flight to Rome and a generous gift card for Gammarelli???! [Too bad they don't have a wish list or registry. I was thinking about this the other day. Church goods stores should have "registries" for clergy.]

  20. dominic1962 says:

    I second what some of the Fathers have said about vestments and vessels. While I’m still a seminarian, I already have about 4′ of closet space worth of pretty nice traditional vestments and a couple nice traditional chalices lined up that I happened upon through the generosity of priests and parishes. Many priests probably already have their vestements and their vessels and chances are and unless you are really familiar with what is properly Catholic in liturgical items, you might end up buying something that is going to spend lots of time in storage.

    If one wants to purchase a vestment (or set) or vessels, they should really ask the priest first as to what they might need or want to avoid buying second rate unwanted stuff that won’t be used. Same would apply for things like cassocks and birettas, a poorly fitting or poorly made example will probably not get worn. Unless you really know your liturgical/ecclesiastical items and specific sizes, ask Father first.

    While priests and seminarians certainly appreciate generosity and the intention, for specialty items (and this applies to any specialty item-liturgical or not) the giver should really consult the person they want to give the gift to. This avoids wasting money on unwanted things and also increases the likelihood that the gift will get used and will be appreciated to the fullest extent by the recipient.

  21. Father Bartoloma says:

    Commentator:
    Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum!

  22. Ygnacia says:

    Does anyone know where to get replacement buttons for cassocks? The priest that offers our EF Mass has a few buttons missing, that we would be happy to fix for him if we knew where to get them.

  23. A Random Friar says:

    I like the cigars idea, I admit. :) I generally appreciate DVDs as well, as Fr. PNP mentioned, although we’d gotten such a ridiculous number in our friary that we had to sell them off, for fear of scandal.

  24. Sacristymaiden says:

    Ygnacia:
    Replacement buttons for cassocks are tricky things. I’ve found some very similar buttons (slightly different shade) at Betty’s Fabrics and Beverly’s. Walmart someimes carries them too.
    The other option is to replace all the buttons with others of the same color or style, but that is obviously a last resort. ;)
    Give it your best try! [When I have had my cassocks made, I always request extra buttons.]

  25. Not Getting Creaky Just Yet says:

    Ygnacia and Sacristymaiden:
    When coping with 1 lost button, replacing the whole shebang is never the last resort. It’s the first, unless you have spare buttons that came with the garment in the first place. (Look on the inside near the label?) It’s much, much easier (for *any* garment) to find new buttons in quantity the right size than to find 1 matching button. Even among “generic” shirt buttons. (Though if you have a big button jar you might possibly have a mate for the missing button.) For dresses, I always figure that loss of one means replacing all. I’m confident that cassocks and similar garments have the same issue–there are lots and lots of black, gray, brown, or blue buttons in the world but for some reason there is never a mate for the one that was lost. (Yes, the difference will show if you just approximate.) And button cards full of basic, 4 hole or 2 hole buttons in the right size are probably cheap, and definitely easy to sew on. Go for it!

  26. dominic1962 says:

    Replacing 33 (or 43 if there are 5 on each cuff) would be a last resort, especially if they are the cloth covered kind. In this case, check with the manufacturers (places like House of Hansen, Toomey, Almy, etc.) or a convent that makes cassocks.

    Also, since a cassock has so many buttons (even if not 33), there are so many that I doubt anyone would notice if one or two were replaced with something similar.

  27. rcesq says:

    Offering a relaxing evening out to clergy or religious (those who are not cloistered) is always much appreciated. So tickets to a show, concert, play or sporting event make good gifts. Combine those with a gift certificate for a meal before the performance. But do check the recipients’ tastes and available dates before you buy.

  28. Tina says:

    On the food issue,
    Our priest doesn’t mind getting food like baked goods because he is also a campus minister. The leftovers work their way over to the college Mass and to the Newman Center. Why last week somebody brought Father a freshly baked left-over carrot cake. The college students quickly releaved him of needing to eat the whole thing or finding room for it in the fridge.

    I would say if the priest is attached to a ministry like campus ministry, he would be able to find a use for most food. Again though, I would concur with asking the priest to be sure.

    Although incredibly lame, instead of buying my priest something, I donated a book to the Newman Center’s book drive in his name. That way everybody is happy.

  29. Most priests I know could use a good vacation! :-)

  30. PNP, OP says:

    On Food

    Being a…ummmm…able friar, I can say that food is always appreciated. However, for a small community the food donations can become a real source of temptation. While assigned as a deacon at out parish in Houston, I was shocked at the amount and quality of the food we received on holidays from our people. I lived with three older friars who ate very little. Guess who ate most of the rest? Gift cards to restaurants allow the priests to go out as a community when the moment calls for it. Of course, you can’t beat homemade goodies!

    I would second the comment above about giving food to priests who are campus ministers…the food will never go to waste. College students are like starved locusts! The same goes for house that serve as novitiates or studia (seminarians).

    Fr. Philip, OP

  31. Melody says:

    I’m reminded of a story about St. Francis Xavier. He continued wearing his black cassock until it was so worn it had holes in it. Finally some friends, knowing he would refuse or give away any gifts, stole the old one and replaced it with a new one. The saint woke up the next morning, put it on, but didn’t notice anything until someone complimented him about it.

  32. Sara says:

    The past few years I have been giving my priest and deacons prepaid gas cards..sure helps with the considerable travelling they have to do.

  33. Christine says:

    Rather than giving a material gift, what about having a Mass said for the priest?

  34. California Girl says:

    When replacing one button:

    If you can’t find an exact match, move one of the existing buttons from a less noticeable location (the very bottom, or under the waistband/sash) to where the missing one is. Then sew the almost-matching replacement on in the less-noticeable spot. Works on shirts and sweaters as well!

  35. Chintan says:

    Nice blog and very informative.

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    Warm regards,

  36. Jane says:

    I recommend giving the priest the book: The Woman shall Conquer.
    This is a book about Mary’s approved apparitions, including the Miraculous Medal, the Green Scapular, etc.

  37. Faith says:

    I don’t know what to think. Saddened? I’m talking about all the vestiments and chalices that are going to waste. I volunteer at a prison and we have one chalice that has a dent in it. One alb that fits, or not fits, all. How about you priests donating your extras to a nearby Catholic Chaplaincy in a prison. It would certainly be appreciated, and used. [Priests don't generally have extra chalices. But your idea is a good one. Perhaps priests might contact the prison chaplain in the area and find out if he could use something.]

  38. Fr. Totton says:

    Chris asked whether it would be a good idea to buy a cassock for a priest who only wears clerical suits – ask Father if he would like a cassock, or if he would wear it, before you buy. I know of an instance exactly as you describe, and Father – a very solid, and otherwise very traditional priest – was put off by the gift.

    On the issue of buying a gift card – to a mens clothing store – or even a piece of clothing, I don’t know of any priest who would be offended by the gesture. Some would refuse it out of motives of simplicity of life (St. John Vianney and PJPII come to mind), but none would be offended. I recently blessed a home, expecting nothing in return, and received a generous gift from the family who stipulated “we’d like to buy you a new overcoat” Only then did I realize I had worn a threadbare coat with busted seams – the mother of the family, being a mother, must have noticed it. It was very generous of them, and I didn’t refuse – my approach to simplicity of life may be a bit less austere than others.

  39. Kristen says:

    I would think that a gift card to a men’s shop would be most welcome.

    As for giving gifts- I fondly remember both of the priests from my childhood parish coming over for dinner. And they even got to request the meal! Let me tell you- there is no more humerous site than a bearded priest covered in bbq sauce from country ribs from head to toe! And yes- he was wearing his clericals!

  40. Tina says:

    I’d concur with Faith. At the Newman Center I belong to, its BYOV (Bring Your Own Vestments) for the priest. I can almost see and hear the shuddering that is about to take place with the next statement. The chalice we use on Sunday is wood while the chalice used for the mid-week mass is clay. I’m not complaining, but this is all we have. Actually, we “borrow” a great deal of things (RCIA blessing book, books not used everyday) from the neighboring parish. Mass has started late a few times because Father has had to run back to his parish to get the right color vestments or the right book for the Mass.

    So if you have extras, think of your local campus ministries as well. Especially those college campuses that our newer. Our campus was founded in 1963, which explains a great deal about how our Newman Center is decorated

  41. A Random Friar says:

    Some mom and pop religious goods stores will offer gift certificates and gift registries. I managed to purchase a few things and received a few much-needed items back in the day when I was ordained.

  42. Therese Z says:

    For a priest’s significant ordination anniversary, I knew he’d be getting tons of “religious store” gifts already, so I gave him a gift card to a big famous sporting goods store. I don’t know him very well, but I know that he fishes at least sometimes, and I figured a store like that covers everything from outerwear to boots to sports equipment of EVERY kind, and there’s something in there for everyone. Those stores are total guy havens, I recommend them as a gift source for any man of any age or style.

  43. Fr. BJ says:

    Something that I wouldn’t mind getting is gift certificates to a car wash. We have a full-service car wash not too far from the parish here where I like to bring my car from time to time because within the span of 20-25 minutes they wash it, vacuum it, armor-all the dash, clean the windows crystal clear, shine the tires, etc. The times savings alone (it would take me 2 hours to do all that) makes it worth the $25 or so that it costs. [GREAT idea!]

    Gift cards for restaurants are nice except that the parish pays reasonable eating-out costs; in any case it is nice to get them in the sense that it saves the parish money, and sometimes it enables me to eat (or drink) something nicer than I otherwise would.

    I would warn folks about buying gift cards for men’s stores and the like — realistically, how much does a priest need to buy from there beyond underwear and undershirts? (Unless he is the type that wears lay clothes a lot, but then, do you want to support him in that? I can count on one hand how many times I wear lay clothes each year.) And then, those don’t need to be bought all that often. Think about how many years you can reasonably get out of certain items, such as undershirts. (Our housekeeper bleaches the heck out of my white undershirts, so they disintegrate more rapidly than normal, so I do have to buy those at least once a year, but normally they would last much longer if not constantly bleached.)

    I for one do not appreciate receiving a lot of food, mostly because I already find it difficult enough to eat well because of my schedule, and the types of food that are usually given do not contribute to a healthy diet. Not that I want health food, either!!! That would be no fun.

    Anyhow, just one priest’s perspective on priest gifts.

  44. Michael says:

    I recently found these candles online http://www.harmonygrovecandles.com
    I bought my wife Brandied Pear, Cozy Home, Harmony Grove and Very Vanilla. My wife loves candles and we try them all, at least it seems like it! These are by far the best I have tried over the past few years. The scent filled up our entire first floor! They are really inexpensive, which is the best thing. Hope this may help with a gift idea.

  45. Marie says:

    The priests at our parish were very fond of a nice glass of wine with dinner, so we sent them half a dozen bottles in a basket one year. They were VERY happy.

  46. canon1753 says:

    Gift cards are fine. Before you give booze, 1. make sure you are not feeding an alcoholic’s habit. and 2. (diametrically opposed) make sure Father will drink it…

  47. Spots says:

    If you have a priest with a good sense of humor…nice squishy black socks. Then, hide gift cards so he won’t notice them until he actually takes the socks apart :D. Of course, if he doesn’t like them and just donates them, well… yay for the recipient.

  48. Does anyone know a nice, Catholic scotch? There’s got to be some highland malt that doesn’t belong to the Presbyterians, right? I mean, we all know to tipple the Jameson and leave the Bushmills behind– is there a nice bottle of GlenSanctus that anyone can suggest?

  49. Rev. Paul L. Vasquez says:

    I guess I’ll say it since no one else seems to be. Plain old cash is always appreciated. In the US, at least, we’re taxed through the nose and that last estimated tax payment along with the usual Christmas bills… you get the picture.

    Gift giving is a function of a person’s knowledge of someone. Many do not know their priests and thus we have this thread, but I can assure everyone, as far as diocesan clergy in the US, that cash (or a check) can always be used, and since it is not income, is not taxed (unless you give over $10000 or something like that). If you *know* the tastes and likes of your local priest, then by all means give other gifts according to your knowledge. If you do not, cash is good. Really it is. :-)

  50. Rev. Paul L. Vasquez says:

    Concerning vestments I’d also add that there is a lot of personal taste that goes into vestment choices. My own ordination vestments cost me $1000 per piece (chasuble, cope, 2 dalmatics, humeral veil, plus appropriate stols), and I had very particular notions about how they were to be constructed and of which materials. Many priests receive these “stoles” from lay people which they bury under as many things as possible because they are not worthy (in many cases) or they are not to taste. Again, with my ideas of gifts being a function of knowledge, if you *really* knew your priest and had $1000 to spare…. :-)

    As far as gift cards, one of my brother priests mentions that his parish pays reasonable eating-out costs, but this is not universal (*I* certainly don’t get this!). Again it’s a function of actually knowing your priest and his circumstances.

    The solution to all these problems? Get to know your priests. This echoes what everyone else is saying, so I’ll leave that to them.

  51. Tom W says:

    Our parish has a “wish list” and has requested a new gold chalice. I’m not familiar with where I might be
    able to purchase one. Any suggestions?

    Thanks in advance!

  52. Tom: Leaflet Missal Company in St. Paul, MN. Ask for “John” in Church goods.