By Kathy Schmugge
COLUMBIA — Since it opened its doors in 1994, St. Francis Catholic Shop has been more like a ministry of evangelization than selling goods, and new owners Deacon Joe and Kathy Biviano want it to stay that way.
Its founder, Barbara Scott, started the venture as one with a calling. Although she knew that removing the word “Catholic” from the store’s name might appeal to a broader market, she held firm to the belief that the area needed this Catholic outreach.
Deacon Biviano remembered when Scott asked him to review her business plan because she knew he had run several businesses. As he was reading it, he recalled being pleased that the store was named after St. Francis Assisi. Having grown up around Franciscans and with a relative who was a Franciscan, he shared Scott’s love for the saint.
When the founder passed away more than a year ago, the family decided to sell the store, located on the corner entrance of Our Lady of the Hill Church. Scott’s husband, Bob, asked Deacon Biviano if he knew anyone who might be interested in the business.
His initial response was no, but said he would try and think of some names.
The deacon was going through his own transition at the time. Several years back he had to give up his work in cabinetry because of nerve damage and had begun exploring new possibilities for employment.
On the way home, he recalled how he once visited a small Orthodox gift shop and thought, “Some day I could do that.”
After consulting with his wife, Kathy, whom he calls his “touchstone,” he had a name for Bob Scott, his own.
He would buy the business.
Since the Bivianos have taken over, they have been busy with the turnover, inventory and accounting. With the transition behind them, they are now celebrating the grand re-opening of the store throughout the month of October. They will have red tag specials on various items in the store and a drawing for a framed 16-inch-by-20-inch Crown of Thorns print.
When working in the shop, he has enjoyed the opportunity to talk to people about the faith.
“When they come to the store, it breaks down barriers and real dialogue can happen,” said Deacon Biviano.
Many of his customers are people with Catholic friends, people who have been away from the faith and those curious about Catholicism. Because they seek out the store and come searching for God, it becomes an authentic environment for evangelizing.
“It makes my day when I can explain the faith or answer a question in this nonthreatening environment,” said the deacon.
His vision for the store is to successfully carry the torch that was passed to him by the Scott family, who put their hearts into running it.
He has made a few subtle changes, however, like increasing the number of gift items, statues, icons and religious pictures. He continues to fill the shelves with the latest literature and Catholic best sellers. For example, the newly approved daily missals have arrived and have been a very popular item.
Deacon Biviano also reaches out to area churches and schools by bringing the shop on the road, helping parents prepare for various sacraments like first Communion and confirmation.
In the beginning of St. Francis Catholic Shop, Deacon Biviano was in the shadows, extending a helping hand wherever he could.
Today he holds this torch of faith, a store he has filled with truth in words, art and audio that will continue to give light to those in the Columbia area and beyond.