Daughters carry on Leaflet Missal owner’s legacy

| March 20, 2019 | 0 Comments

From left, Ann Abbot, Susan Furlong and Catherine Furlong hold a photo of their parents, Peter and Diane Welvang, that was taken in 1955, the year the Welvangs married. The three daughters have taken over Leaflet Missal in St. Paul, which Peter bought in 1980. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

When the late Peter Welvang took over Leaflet Missal Co. in 1980, he capitalized on the advertising of religious goods on the back of missalettes the company produced and grew the business internationally.

“They sold like crazy,” said Susan Furlong, 55, co-owner of Leaflet Missal and Welvang’s daughter, about the religious goods. “That’s how they started the retail end of the business.”

Today, Furlong and her sisters, Ann Abbott and Catherine Furlong, run what has become an international religious goods catalog company and St. Paul retail store. Welvang, who purchased the store in 1980, died Feb. 5 at age 84.

In its 90th year, Leaflet Missal sells books, religious art, religious apparel, church supplies and gift items for sacraments in the U.S. and beyond through its catalog and website. Countries it has sold in include Canada, Ireland and Italy. Though the St. Paul retail store on Minnehaha Avenue and Chatsworth Street doesn’t drive the bulk of the business, it provides a place where customers visit and engage with the Catholic faith.

“It’s a wonderful place to shop. If they don’t have it, they’ll get it for you, or help you find it,” said Mary Jo Rossini, 81, a parishioner of Holy Trinity in South St. Paul.

She and her husband, Dante, have been going to the store since it was first located on Minnehaha east of Dale Street. The previous retail store had a small space for customers who wanted to see the products in person.

“I think it was like one shelf and the rest you had to order,” Rossini said.

Leaflet Missal has also delivered on supporting vocations. The sisters said they’ve had five priests work for Leaflet before ordination, and four religious sisters have worked there before they joined religious life.

One employee, John Hastreiter, who has managed liturgical church goods since 1999, was discerning a possible call to the priesthood, but chose not to go into seminary and eventually married.

Hastreiter, 49, recalled having many theological discussions with Welvang, who hired him to work in the warehouse in 1996. Welvang later approached Hastreiter about starting a liturgical goods department.

“You had to be organized,” Hastreiter said of working under Welvang.

Hastreiter gets to meet many of the clergy who come to the store. He said they found a lot of support in Welvang, who responded to their ministry needs.

“The priests, I think, when they came in here to shop , they always felt like they could talk to Peter,” said Hastreiter, a parishioner of All Saints in Minneapolis.

Catherine Furlong, 58, noted that one priest wrote shortly after Welvang’s death and expressed gratitude for the years of support and the literature the priest found that was rooted in the Church’s teaching.

“(Welvang) always stood by carrying products that were conformed to the magisterium of the Church,” she said.

Leaflet Missal has also drawn people seeking answers about the Catholic faith.

“A lot of times when people are either fallen away or interested in the Church, they kind of get attracted to the store,” said Susan Furlong, a parishioner of St. Peter in North St. Paul. “They go by the bookstore … and they’ll sit there all day reading and ask questions.”

Catherine Furlong, who manages the call center, said sometimes theological questions and personal stories roll in with the calls for orders. She said they generally can’t offer advice, though.

“We get a lot of people that think we’re a confessional,” said Furlong, a parishioner of St. Ambrose in Woodbury.

Leaflet Missal employees have become familiar to customers, too. The sisters noted longtime employee Karen Perfect, who worked her whole career for Welvang before retiring eight years ago.

“He never gave up. He was going to spread … Catholicism no matter what,” said Perfect, 71, a parishioner of St. James in Aitkin.

Leaflet Missal began with the late Fathers Paul Bussard and Edward Jennings in 1929 in St. Paul when they published missalettes to help Catholics follow the Mass in Latin. The late Father Louis Gales, also a priest of the archdiocese, joined them in the business. They also started Catholic Digest, and their work with both spread across
the U.S.

Notably, they produced a special edition missalette for President John F. Kennedy’s funeral Mass.

Because of the business’ profitability, the priests stepped down and Roger Bauman took over the company, followed by Bill Sausen. Welvang, a longtime parishioner of St. Mark and later St. Agnes, both in St. Paul, worked for Leaflet Missal after high school at Cretin, packing and delivering the missalettes to parishes. He later served in the Korean War but returned to St. Paul and worked at Leaflet Missal again before buying the company.

His wife, Diane, who died in 2016, and six children played a large role in growing Leaflet Missal. The children regularly helped by stuffing mailings at the office on Saturday mornings.

“The six of us kids, every one of us has dabbled into the business, some more than others,” said Abbott, 62.

Diane would travel with Peter to Catholic conferences to promote Leaflet Missal’s products. In her 60s, she took on a larger role managing the warehouse.

“She would pull all the orders and keep everyone on their toes in the back,” said Abbott, a parishioner of Assumption in St. Paul.

Abbott and Susan Furlong also worked for their father in adulthood and expressed interest in running the business. All six children were offered the chance to run the business, but three of the six decided to run it. The sisters said their father worked on the business until nearly the end of his life.

They hope to keep building the store and catalog for the future. Abbott said they have a catalog plan that “drives everything” and helps them adapt to changes in sales each year.

“With today’s technology, we hope we can keep it up,” Abbott said.

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