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Sign of the times or missed opportunity?

Opinion

I love bookshops. I can spend hours in them, wandering from bookshelf to bookshelf picking out titles and turning them over to read the blurb on the back. Often it’s the feel of the paperback or the image on the front cover that forces me to choose it. Buying an e-book and reading it on a Kindle just isn’t the same. It might work for some, but not for me.

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As a bookshop lover, I have always been happy to pick up any children’s catechism books for my sister, a teacher in a Catholic primary school, from Pauline Books and Media in the city. It gives me an excuse to browse the expansive three-storey building in Hindmarsh Square and pick up a few gifts for any forthcoming family baptisms and confirmations.

I am always surprised, pleasantly so, by the number of customers looking for any variety of item – from Sunday Missals and rosary beads to beautifully-illustrated children’s books and religious icons.

There is a peacefulness to the place, and a touch of nostalgia as childhood memories of reading about the lives of saints before picking a confirmation name come flooding back. The presence of the diminutive Daughters of St Paul behind the counter adds to the uniqueness of the experience.

So it was with a heavy heart that I returned there last month to interview Sister Marisa and Sister Grace prior to their departure and the closure of the shop. The look on their faces said it all. Sr Marisa struggled to keep the tears at bay while Sr Grace tried to comfort customers as they learnt the news.

While the decision may have been inevitable, due to the tough market for bookshops and decline in religious vocations, it seems incongruous that at a time when there is a dire need for the laity to be well-educated in the faith that there is no-one to continue this important mission of the Daughters of St Paul.

As the only bookshop of its kind in the State, and as the sole supplier of Catholic theology books, it seems to be a lost opportunity. We are already different to other mainland archdioceses in that they have large Catholic academic institutions that provide extensive learning opportunities for tertiary students and lay people. Having said that, we punch above our weight in producing world class theologians such as the late Fr Denis Edwards!

Books are one way that Catholic men and women can deepen their understanding of the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church in order for them to step up and take a meaningful role in the life of the Church. As Sr Marisa pointed out to me, it’s easy to forget a homily but not so easy to forget a good book.

Already some of the people recently drawn to the bookshop for the first time by the prospect of a hefty discount have expressed their disappointment that they didn’t know what was on offer. And I’m sure there are many of us who wish we’d popped in a little more frequently.

As with all good things, we don’t always know what we’ve got until it’s gone.

While we lament the end of an era and the loss of the rich tradition of the Daughters of St Paul, we gain some small solace from the legacy that lives on in the thousands of life-changing books in people’s homes, the worn out rosary beads on the bedside tables of elderly Catholics and the first communion cards put aside as keepsakes in shoeboxes.

Footnote: Following the reaction of customers to the closure, the Sisters were exploring options for a smaller shop run by lay staff at the time of writing.

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