Catholic Herald staff
The story behind Catholic greeting card company Salutare Stationery is as much a work of art as many of their original-design cards.
Founder Jolene Schmitz said, “My love of stationery and my desire for orthodox and new evangelization cards, and the fact that I was surrounded by the creative people, all came together for this idea of a Catholic greeting card company.”
As Schmitz shares on the company’s website, salutarestationery.com, “salutare” is the Latin word meaning to greet or wish well, to send regards or say hello. She states that their mission is to create outstanding greeting cards with universal value and to revive the art of correspondence.
She said, “The process of opening a note, feeling the paper, holding and writing with a pen is a serene experience. Then seeing the imperfection of the writing, reading the message in another person’s voice, you actually feel like you have a piece of that person in your hand.”
The company’s cards cover a wide range of occasions and styles. Salutare’s cards celebrate the ordinary and extraordinary moments, from black-and-white coloring cards that children can make their own, to cards celebrating the sacraments – like a Lego brick First Communion card – to a colorful wreath sympathy card for the loss of a child, to their “Big Happy Family” humorous cartoon note cards.
Starting in 2015, Schmitz has assembled a co-op of Twin Cities artists she calls “beautiful, everyday Catholic people” for whom their artwork is a prayer and means to glorify God.
She met graphic designer Anne Sullivan through a mother-daughter tea. Sullivan, whose day job was working with motorcycle catalogs, shared she had been praying about what God wanted to use her talents for. For her, Schmitz’s invitation to participate in the idea of a Catholic card company was an answer to prayer and a chance to fulfill her desire “to do more obvious God-glorifying work.”
The company’s most prolific artist, Amie Kieffer, was a school art teacher until she married and started her own family. Schmitz approached her, and Kieffer also felt called to get involved.
Since then she has created a yearly Christmas card based on “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” spiritual bouquet multi-occasion cards that explain what a spiritual bouquet is. Even a seemingly secular card of a bright peacock, blank inside, has an explanation on the back of the Catholic symbolism associated with the bird.
Kieffer’s watercolor paintings vary in subject and symbolism. In reference to one of these, a customer comment on the company website says, “This is the type of card that you put on the refrigerator and leave on for weeks because it is so pretty.”
Schmitz met another artist, Elisa Armstrong, through a mother’s co-op. Armstrong also loved stationery and had ideas of starting a card company and asked to join forces. Her unique perspective as the mother of four boys has helped to balance feminine card offerings with masculine and neutral works.
Her first card for the company was a Noah’s Ark baptism card. Schmitz commissioned her to do a sympathy card for the loss of a little one, proposing a Scripture verse and the concept of something consoling and pretty for a mourning mother.
“She knocked it out of the park,” Schmitz said emphatically. “When she turned it in to me she said, ‘do you realize that I had had a miscarriage two weeks before you asked me for that card? This was my therapy.”
After the birth of her seventh child, Schmitz had the idea for “big happy family” cards. She reached out to one of her children’s classmates, 16-year-old Brenna Kielty, and her mom. Familiar with her artistic abilities from coaching the girls’ volleyball team, Kielty had just the touch Schmitz was looking for to bring her family characters to life.
Kielty also worked on a series of saints cards to be used as Valentines, which led the artists co-op to create All Saints Day cards using fall and Halloween colors.
“Halloween is such a big deal, there’s so much Halloween decorations and the glorification of Halloween … we’re trying to get back to the saints, bring the characters back to life,” Schmitz said.
Selling cards at conferences and conventions, such as the CCW Diocesan Joint Convention in Duluth in May 2018, gives Schmitz first-hand feedback and ideas of what people are looking for.
She said that constant creative process keeps her interest.
“I am an entrepreneurial spirit, and when I am promoting other people’s good work, I come alive. Because I’m promoting God’s work, His word, and I’m promoting my artists, it helps it to become a ministry more than a business. It’s really a lot of dumb luck and a lot of prayer, honestly.”
In addition to the online direct sales from the Salutare Stationery website, Schmitz’s husband unexpectedly set her up as an Amazon seller.
“I am a stay-at-home mom by profession,” she clarified. The Amazon sales have become her “bread and butter,” given the challenge for the start-up to get into Catholic book stores. The online platform is more cost- and time effective.
The company basically runs on a zero-dollar budget – “If we get more money, I print more cards,” Schmitz said. Some cards can be purchased at a better price via the direct website; however, Amazon offers prime shipping on most of Salutare’s products.
Another aspect the founder shared proudly is that the company uses Catholic and American vendors whenever possible. She has been approached by Chinese companies but has chosen to continue their “made in the USA” course, although she is aware that discount and dollar stores are her real competition.
Schmitz is encouraged by the comments received from customers, “that the cards are different, familiar but different. We’re taking familiar themes and we’re making it religious without an overtly religious look.”
Concluding with children vying for her attention in the background, Schmitz shared, “It’s gonna go where God wants it to go … God is blessing this. He continues to say ‘You’re on the right track, you’re glorifying my name.’”