Catholic Herald Staff
“It’s been quite an amazing journey for us. We didn’t realize at all where God was going to take us.”
That’s how Frances Butek describes the founding of Illuminated Ink, a Colfax company that designs, develops and sells Catholic educational materials for children.
The journey began 21 years ago when she and husband Kevin Butek first realized they wanted a way to share their faith with their family.
“Our first child was school age,” Frances explained. “We’d kind of come back to our faith. My husband and I were cradle Catholics – kind of typical of our generation, we wandered away from our faith.”
The Buteks sought art projects or activities to teach their children about Catholicism, but found none. An illustrator by profession, Kevin started designing faith-based, educational paper crafts.
His designs were a hit with the kids, and other families from their church liked them as well. What began as a hobby soon developed into a part-time, home-based business.
Ten years passed, and bookstores began asking to carry their products. They took on a business partner, Mark Anderson, who handles bookkeeping, order-taking and shipping.
“In the last 10 years, it has become a full-time business for our family,” she said.
When they married, Frances, a technical writer, wondered how she and Kevin would make a living. Now she doesn’t question what the future holds.
“God has been good,” she said.
The Buteks are members of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Cooks Valley, which is in Chippewa County, just south of the dividing line between the Superior and La Crosse dioceses.
They have five children ranging in age from 26 to 6 – two adults, two high school students and a 6-year-old in kindergarten.
Both of their adult children work for Illuminated Ink. Initially sellers of paper products – trading cards, paper dolls, coloring books, bookmarks and the like – they have expanded their product lines to include Marian grotto kits (made with popsicle sticks, semi-precious gems and a colorable illustration), colorable posters, rosary kits, liturgical calendar kits and more. The first Communion banner kit is a perennial bestseller.
Most first Communion classes are required to make banners, Frances explained, and few parents have time to track down the fabric – or study Catholic symbolism – to make one from scratch.
“Parents are very busy today, and lots of them don’t have time to seek out those materials,” she said.
Frances was in her kitchen before noon Jan. 20, cooking lunch for the crew. They employ as many as 20 people during the first Communion season.
“It keeps us very, very busy,” she added. “Like I said, I had no idea where God was leading us. His plan is always better than ours.”
Illuminated Ink also offers Heavenly Host Paper Angels, a religious alternative to the ubiquitous paper airplanes; rosary holder kits; beeswax kits to make Advent and paschal candles; Marian apparition trading cards; card kits; and games.
SanctaTees, their newest products, are colorable T-shirts in Kevin’s graphic designs inspired by first Communion, confirmation, the Hail Mary and the Sacred Heart. Kits come with a full set of fabric markers. They are also about to launch a campaign called “print my logo” which will allow people to sample their logos on these shirts for no extra cost!
“When you’re done coloring, you have an awesome T-shirt,” she said.
Like all their kits, it’s “not just a Catholic craft,” Frances emphasized. “It’s educational as well.”
On the development side, the Buteks are always brainstorming new products.
“It’s pretty much my crazy ideas and my husband’s gorgeous artwork,” she said. “We’re never bored around here.”
Illuminated Ink retails throughout the States in more than 200 bookstores. They also sell to schools; as a service to rural customers, products can be purchased online at www.illuminatedink.com.
They also fill orders from Australia, Ireland, Germany, Japan, Canada and other countries.
“It’s always fun to see those orders come in,” added Frances. “Our faith is the same the world over.”
The Buteks enjoy interacting with customers. They host several coloring contests each year, which are open to competitors of all ages, then use the artwork in their product lines.
“It’s always fun to judge them and see where they come from,” she said.
In their family, a deep, lasting devotion to God is the strongest proof of Illuminated Ink’s effectiveness.
“We started this business to share our faith with our children, and we’ve been successful,” Frances said.
At the moment, two of her children were headed to Washington, D.C., to join the March for Life – a choice made independently and without parental prodding.
Her high school senior plans to enter the seminary after graduation; both of her adult children are devout Catholics.
“It’s very obvious in the way they live their lives,” she said. “We have, I think, been very successful in that aspect.”
Touching children’s lives – sharing that success with other parents – continues to be their goal.
“We want to bring the children to God,” she said. “It’s never been about the money to us. It’s about saving those souls.”