Pope Francis is coming to visit us at the end of this month. While exploring the website of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia – the event that originally occasioned his visit—I “clicked” on the “shop” tab out of curiosity about what kind of merchandise I would find.
Among the t-shirts, rosaries and commemorative plates (proceeds from which will help finance the World Meeting of Families), is an attractive bronze medal. It happens that I met most of the team from the company that created that medal this past Spring. The company is the California-based My Saint My Hero, and it specializes in well-crafted bracelets made from saint medals.
Christine Rich, who, co-owns the company with her business partner, Amy D’Ambra, attended the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast last April with two of her employees and friends. The three of them ended up at a dinner at a mutual friend’s house that evening, and that’s how I learned the simple yet inspiring story of My Saint My Hero.
Pope Francis encourages all Christians to bring an entrepreneurial spirit to evangelization. He means he wants us to be as creative and enterprising in spreading the faith as any start-up businessman whose livelihood depends on his hard work and initiative. Here is an interview with Christine and Amy, two women taking the pope’s expression literally.
It all started when Amy D’Ambra was on vacation in Italy with her family. I’ll let her tell it.
RRT: Amy, tell Catholic Vote readers the genesis of My Saint My Hero. Had you been thinking about starting a jewelry store?
Amy D’Ambra: It was truly a bolt from heaven!
I had a thriving insurance business and felt professionally “on-task.” As a competitive working mother in a family of 5 (my beloved hubby and three kids), I had lofty goals of providing nothing but the best, at least what I perceived as best at the time. I worked very hard and relied on my husband for a lot.
My husband took our family for a vacation in his native Ischia, Italy. We planned to be there three-and-a-half weeks. I was perfectly happy working remotely from the Internet Cafe. I’d go places with the family, but I remained connected to my “very important” work. We’d visit various Churches and saints, and I would kneel to pray. But my mind was always drifting off to work.
About the fifth day, my husband looked me in the eyes and said, “This has to stop. Your family is right here and you are not present to us.” He took my phone and my computer, contacted my office in Los Angeles, and informed them that we were checking out for the remainder of the vacation. He asked them to take care of all of the client needs until I returned.
From that moment, I began to “come back home” to my heart and my family. I reconnected with the person God blessed me to be — a loving wife and mother. My heart flooded with gratitude at this newfound peace.
RRT: Tell us how this mini-conversion led you to found My Saint My Hero.
AD: With this feeling of peace in my heart, I entered the next church my husband led our family to. It had the catacomb of St. Giovanni Giuseppe. I knelt in front of him, and this time I prayed with my whole heart. I was completely quiet in prayer with absolutely no mind chatter. That was a miracle in itself! I recognized this and truly enjoyed the quiet. I started my prayer with a simple “thank you” and then I asked, “What can I do for you?”
In my heart I heard, “Share our stories…Make the saints heroes for the youth…. We are not meant to be put up on a shelf; we have a story to share that will inspire. We are just like you. We walked this earth as human beings, but we walked in union with Christ and miracles happened. Share our stories with young people. Make it hip and cool. My Saint My Hero.”
I ran outside and told my husband what I just heard in my prayer. He looked at me and said, “Go back in and ask him how!”
So I went back in, knelt again before St. Giovanni Giuseppe, and asked how. I heard in my heart, “Make a necklace and bracelets, put a cool image of the saint and hang a virtue tag with it. Just one virtue that pertains to the saint. Young people will understand one word. They will connect through the word or the saint, and we will do the rest!”
My Saint My Hero was born.
RRT: There is so much to like in your story! There’s the return of the somewhat Prodigal Daughter; the “tough love” of the husband; the closeness of the saints. I especially love your husband’s candid and practical response – “go ask him how!” It seems to illustrate exactly what you heard in prayer: that the communion of saints is real, and we can speak to saints just as we would our friends and neighbors.
Once you’d decided to start, what was your first piece? How did you choose it?
AD: I launched a few at the same time. I decided to launch with a few of the most popular because I wanted to share WHY we all love them. Thinking about young people, I chose: Joan of Arc (courage); Thomas Aquinas (wisdom); St Cecelia (patron saint of music); Archangel Michael (protection); Archangel Raphael (love and joy); and Jesus himself (humble). Now we have St. Benedict, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Divine Mercy, and St. John Paul II (fearless) bracelets.
RRT: Women in Medjugorje weave many of your bracelets. Tell me about how that connection came about.
AD: I had a powerful experience of prayer while on a pilgrimage in Medjugorje led by two priests who filled the week with prayer, spiritual direction and the sacraments. It was something: all that prayer, all while in beautiful surroundings and in the company of pilgrims there to sincerely praise God.
While I was there, I met a woman who was weaving rosary bracelets. I told her about our company. One of the chaplains of our pilgrimage had explained the St. Benedict medal to us. It’s about the power of the cross to protect us. I asked the woman to weave me 100 bracelets using St Benedict! I brought them home, asked the priest to write the explanation for a prayer card to be packed with the bracelets. Fast forward three-and-a-half years and we now order approximately 30,000 bracelets per month from her and from a team of women in her village!
RRT: That’s wonderful. When I was at dinner with your partner, Christine Rich, she was justly proud of being able to give business to so many women. One of them had just written you to say that thanks to your business, she is able for the first time to send her daughter to school. And the company now employs women in Africa and elsewhere, too.
But I have to ask: you’re not promoting the visions of Medjugorje, are you? Because clergy aren’t permitted to promote pilgrimages as if the visions were definitely true – they have to make it clear it’s an open question.
AD: No, I’m just sharing my experience of how this came to be. We’re promoting the basics: prayer, the sacraments, and life with the saints. My Saint My Hero’s mission is to bring the elements of faith, hope and prayer into everyday life through wearable blessings. We hope to inspire others to be the Saints of the new millennium.
Christine Rich adds: We do not attempt to promote anything outside of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. We just want to console and honor Jesus and lead as many souls to him as possible.
RRT: Christine, when did Amy bring you on board?
Christine Rich: This is another seemingly providential moment in our story. In spite of feeling she’d been called to launch My Saint My Hero, Amy reached a point where she was almost ready to sell her initial saint medals to another jewelry company, but instead she had another inspiration to reach out to me, even though we were only really acquaintances at that point.
She happened to call just at a time when I felt I wanted to go back to work again, only I knew it would have to have a greater purpose. Since that first moment, we have felt totally guided in every aspect of our work together. Whenever we need something, we pray about it, and the right person seems to cross our path. Our husbands, who are both business professionals, actually joke about this all the time – that they will start a company they really know nothing about and “just pray about it” and everything will work out.
There have been so many “God moments” along the way in this business and Amy and I and the rest of the team have become such dear friends, that I will be forever grateful to her for listening to the whispers of the Holy Spirit and for bringing me along on this journey.
RRT: Tell me about My Saint My Hero’s role in the Pope’s forthcoming visit to the U.S.
CR: We are honored to have been chosen by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Executive Committee for the World Meeting of Families to help promote prayer and inspiration for the event through our My Saint My Hero prayer tools. We’ve created special pieces for WMOF reminding wearers to pray for the sanctity and protection of all families. The Italian artist we use to strike our medals, who also works for the Vatican, has created a beautiful image of Pope Francis to use on all of our prayer pieces as a reminder to pray for his first visit to the United States. It has also been chosen as the image on the official commemorative coins for WMOF. We will be producing the official medal for the canonization of Friar Junipero Serra, too.
RRT: “Spiritual” jewelry seems to be very “on trend” right now. Yours isn’t the only company with contemporary designs for saint medals, rosaries and crosses (and sometimes New Age-y stuff too). Why do think that is?
CR: I believe that people are hungry for more than the world is offering them. They know they are made for more, and it is our hope at MSMH that our “Gifts of a Blessing” can be a spark of hope in more… that they can be the inspiration to remind people that God is REAL, prayer works and love heals.
RRT: Your bracelets and medals are well made and chic– and very attractively packaged. But how do these products promote faith rather than just being more “bling”? Do you have specific examples of customers being brought closer to God through wearing your pieces?
CR: I wish there were a way to share what we hear in our home office. We are lucky to receive calls daily with stories about how people’s lives have been touched by a My Saint My Hero blessing bracelet. It’s not the bracelet itself. It’s the prayers people say because the bracelet reminds them – or the prayers that have been said for the person given the bracelet as a gift.
Plus, the bracelets and medals spark conversation wherever people go. They’re often inspired to take a bracelet off their own wrist and share their prayers with others in need. They’re great conversation-starters and allow people to share their faith in secular situations where it would otherwise never come up.
In fact, just last night, my husband was at dinner with a group of businessmen and ended up giving his blessing bracelet to the waiter who noticed it. My husband was able to share his own faith with the whole table. He was in disbelief that he was able to talk so openly in his work environment and acknowledged that never would have happened had he not been asked about the bracelet.
RRT: Christine, when we met at dinner last Spring, I loved hearing your enthusiasm for all the good My Saint My Hero is able to do for others, beyond whatever good the project is able to do in itself. Above we touched on how happy you are to be able to give meaningful work to craftswomen in small towns because the income helps them dramatically. You were also thrilled that your little two-person company has grown and now employs 35 people. What other kind of outreach does MSMH do?
CR: We love to partner with other groups! We have a fundraising program that allows any group to sign up with MSMH to receive a special coupon code designed just for them to use on our MSMH website. Then any time a person orders and enters their organization’s coupon code, we give 20% of their order back. Our controller distributes checks each quarter to all of our participating organizations and it doesn’t take any work on their part other than sharing the flyers and spreading the word to shop at My Saint My Hero.
Amy D’Ambra adds: Additionally, we can partner with some apostolates by sharing the story of the apostolate on an easy-to-read card that comes with a bracelet they choose. As the customer puts on the bracelet we invite them (through the card) to pray for the mission. That mission and that prayer are now alive in the person’s heart, joined together with everyone else praying for that mission. The bracelet is a tangible touch point to remember to continue to pray.
We truly believe that through prayer we can change the culture. Through prayer Love heals and God transforms hearts. It is real and it is miraculous. That’s our experience.
RRT: The My Saint My Hero women plan to be on-site as vendors during the World Meeting Families. Stop by and say hi!