Custom ornaments of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist essentially “sell themselves” as Mary-Clark explained during our recent conversation. Since 2007 the Cathedral and Beacon Design have been partners in an effort to raise funds for the church with their annual custom ornaments. It was really no surprise when I googled the church as to why the ornaments are a “must-have” when visiting the cathedral. The massive size and beauty of the church is an obvious attraction. The history is what makes it so impressive.
The History of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is located near Lafayette Square in Savannah, Georgia’s Historic District. In 1873, the Right Reverend William H. Gross, laid the cornerstone of what was said to be the new Cathedral. The French Gothic style church had bronze-colored iron columns that supported triple rows of arches. The main altar and four side altars were crafted in white Italian marble. In 1898, two years after completion, the Cathedral was nearly destroyed by a fire.
The four walls, the high altar, and one of the stained glass windows survived that fire. The interior was destroyed and the many windows were blown out. The Cathedral was in use again in 1900 but not completed until 1912. In 1904, the incredible stained glass windows made by the Tyrolean Glassworks of Innsbruck, Austria were installed. After another major renovation between 1959-1963, the wide plaza at the entrance was added and the color scheme chosen resembled the church prior to the fire.
Cathedral’s Annual Ornament
In more recent years, the church announced another major restoration which was completed in 2000. They were looking for a way to help pay off the debt that incurred during the restoration when Mary-Clark, a parishioner since 1994, purchased a pewter ornament on a trip in Canada. She brought her idea of an annual ornament to the Monsignor. Consequently, he pulled out an ornament from Belmont Abbey. On the back of the box was a Beacon Design sticker. Thus began the partnership between the Cathedral and Beacon Design.
Mary-Clark says that this idea “turned into a goldmine” It has generated thousands of dollars for the Cathedral. The custom ornament series depicts the various stained glass windows throughout the building. There are over 50 windows in the church that Mary-Clark has to choose from. Of the thousands of visitors each year and sometimes even in a day, sales from the ornaments have generated roughly $40,000 a year.
Marketing Cathedral’s Ornaments
In the beginning, they made the first Sunday of Advent “Ornament Sunday”. They could also be preordered and picked up on the day. They were then and now are displayed in the rear of the church for visitors to the cathedral to see. A tourist will generally purchase one or more as a remembrance of their visit to the cathedral or a gift for someone. The keepsakes are also available on the Cathedral website.
Mary-Clark explains that they do not market them as a Christmas ornament, but as a remembrance keepsake of their visit. With each purchase, she inserts a business card that thanks the purchaser for supporting the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The card also includes the church’s phone number and website. Many purchases are a gift for friends or relatives. She says “This year some were given as gifts for First Communion and Confirmation. Even a bride bought some as gifts for her guests.” For the most part, those purchasing the keepsakes are new collectors due to the high volume of tourists that visit the church. Mary-Clark also attributes the success to the fact the ornaments are made in the U.S.A. and by the same manufacturers of the White House ornaments.
The Future of the Cathedrals Custom Ornaments
It goes without saying the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist will continue to remain a must-see tourist attraction in Savannah, GA. As for Mary-Clark, who has been volunteering her time for well over 20 years, she plans on continuing to create the annual ornament for 2020 and 2021. She says “At some point, I will decide if I want to retire from my volunteer work.” As she reminisced, she spoke of the first $500 in ornament funds the church received and how rewarding that felt. She truly enjoys giving something back to the church and says her work gives her a sense of satisfaction both personally and professionally.