By Chiara Finaldi
There are many advantages to living in a Catholic country like Italy, where I am from. Whenever a sacrament is celebrated or a godchild celebrates a birthday, there’s always a little religious shop around the corner.
Twenty years ago when I arrived in London, I found things were not quite the same. Not a single shop had any remotely religious-looking item on the shelf. The only three Catholic shops? Next to Westminster Cathedral.
Fast forward to today and the situation on England’s high streets hasn’t changed, though now there’s online shopping. Beyond the ubiquitous Amazon, there’s Etsy shops galore.
But not long ago a search engine sent me to a promising site I’d not seen before: Peter’s Square, ‘A Community of Catholic Stores’. Could it be possible? Had I finally found a ‘Catholic’ Etsy?
Peter’s Square looks great. Fresh, modern and easy to access — even to me who doesn’t have much patience where technology or computers are concerned.
Intrigued by the idea of a Catholic platform where Catholic sellers and buyers can meet? So was I. Here’s my interview with David Rummelhoff, the man behind peterssquare.com who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.
CHIARA FINALDI: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
DAVID RUMMELHOFF: I’m originally from Chicago, but I’ve lived in Cincinnati, Ohio for the past eight years. I am a full-time father of three little girls; the oldest is in kindergarten. I am a convert to Catholicism, having been raised an evangelical protestant. I came into the Church at Easter 2008. I am a graduate of Holy Apostles College & Seminary with an MA in Theology. I write for EpicPew and have just started writing for Catholic Answers Magazine Online.
CHIARA FINALDI: What inspired you to start Peter’s Square?
DAVID RUMMELHOFF: A couple years ago, I started the company behind Peter’s Square — Peter’s Mark — as a way for me to contribute to the work of the many amazing Catholic charities that, I believe, are not supported enough. I soon discovered that there are thousands of small Catholic businesses creating and selling great products online. Some of these were just individuals selling rosaries; others were running their own little website selling t-shirts, and there were artists of every sort. It was inspiring and beautiful and reflective of the great diversity and beauty in the Church. Sadly, they were also hard to find. I figured that bringing them together under one roof would be a way to increase their collective exposure, helping customers and vendors.
CHIARA FINALDI: How long has it been around?
DAVID RUMMELHOFF: I launched Peter’s Square in May of 2016. So, we’re coming up on the first anniversary.
CHIARA FINALDI: In what way is Peter’s Square different from Etsy?
DAVID RUMMELHOFF: Well, Peter’s Square is Catholic. There is nothing morally wrong with buying or selling on Etsy, but Etsy is a company with ideals that run contrary to our faith. So, Peter’s Square differs in that way, which is why you will not find anything… unwholesome on Peter’s Square. Functionally, both platforms are multi-vendor marketplaces. Peter’s Square vendors must be Catholic, though their products aren’t necessarily religious. Our fees are slightly less than Etsy’s, and all of our vendors commit to giving at least ten percent of their proceeds to Catholic ministries.
CHIARA FINALDI: Why did you choose this particular name?
DAVID RUMMELHOFF: Speaking as a convert, the central issue for life in the Church is authority. The final reason for divisions is a denial of authority. So, fidelity to authority is huge for me. That is how I came up with the name Peter’s Mark, referring to the papal coat of arms with the crossed keys as a symbol of that fidelity. When I was trying to come up with the right name for a Catholic marketplace, I racked my brain for a week before I realized that the name was obvious. A square (as in a plaza or piazza) isn’t always a marketplace, but it can be. And there is already a St. Peter’s Square that is unquestionably Catholic. So, Peter’s Square seemed a natural fit.
CHIARA FINALDI: Who can apply to open a store and can people outside the U.S. sell on Peter’s Square Marketplace?
DAVID RUMMELHOFF: Anyone who is Catholic is welcome to open a shop on Peter’s Square. As I mentioned earlier, their products don’t need to be religious items. And, yes, people outside the U.S. are welcome. We have multiple international vendors.
CHIARA FINALDI: Does Peter’s Squares check the items sold by the shops to make sure they reflect the Catholic ethos?
DAVID RUMMELHOFF: Yes, we do moderate, but we have yet to find a single vendor who was selling something disallowed. Our restrictions are minimal, but certainly nothing antithetical to the Catholic faith is allowed.
CHIARA FINALDI: How many shops are there at the moment?
DAVID RUMMELHOFF: We have a little over one hundred approved vendors and about 63 active shops.
CHIARA FINALDI: Why is it important to buy from Catholic Companies?
DAVID RUMMELHOFF: Solidarity. More than any other reason, I believe that supporting Catholic businesses, whether they are incorporated or just an individual mom working out of her house, is an essential part of living out the principle of solidarity. We promote the common good and stand a little more united when we help our Catholic brothers and sisters in this way.
CHIARA FINALDI: When you go to Lourdes or any other pilgrimage site, the surrounding areas are always full of Catholic knick-knacks. How do you feel about Catholic merchandise and its place in people’s life of faith?
DAVID RUMMELHOFF: A collection of fifty-nine beads and a tiny crucifix strung together is not a good in itself. It is merely a morally neutral object. But when those beads serve the purpose of promoting prayer and spiritual communion…in other words, when they become sacramental, then they are a blessing and a gift from God. Sometimes knick-knacks are nothing more, even though they’re made to be religious items. But if they truly become a part of a life of faith, then they are to be treasured. One of the things I appreciate so much about the community of vendors on Peter’s Square is the apparent desire to create things that glorify God and to glorify Him in the act of creating. Catholic merchandise is good when the craftsman crafts for the glory of God, and it is better still when the customer seeks the same.
CHIARA FINALDI: What is your plan to make Peter’s Square more visible?
Advertising is expensive, and this is a bootstrapped effort. I believe that organic growth has been great for us, and I believe it will become exponential as we progress. We have some improvements that we’ll be implementing in the coming months, and we have a great community of vendors who I am confident will keep spreading the word about Peter’s Square. Beyond that, Peter’s Mark has a couple more projects that are launching soon, and we will use those to help promote Peter’s Square. It will definitely be an exciting year.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER: Chiara Finaldi moved to London twenty years ago, and she now lives in England with her husband and children.