Lois Cersovski says she’ll miss the people most of all. Mustard Seed Catholic bookstore in Eugene closed May 31. (Emmy Sanchez/St. Mary Parish)
Lois Cersovski says she’ll miss the people most of all. Mustard Seed Catholic bookstore in Eugene closed May 31. (Emmy Sanchez/St. Mary Parish)
EUGENE — A Catholic bookstore here has closed, leaving the Carmelite Sisters west of town as the sole purveyor of church goods in the area.

“It is really hard to compete with the internet and direct marketing,” said Lois Cersovski, who began Mustard Seed seven years ago across the street from St. Mary Parish. The store closed May 31.

Cersovski, 62, said she will miss encounters will people most of all. For her, that made the bookstore more than a business.

“I got to be God’s conduit,” she said.

One man came in recently and saw a photo of Pope Francis and declared, “That man saved my life!” The fellow explained that he was a missionary priest in Argentina during the 1980s when a government-backed death squad was hunting him down. He fled to the home of then-Father Jorge Bergoglio, who found a place for the harried cleric to hide and then arranged for an escape out of Buenos Aires in the trunk of a nun’s car.

Another time, a distraught woman came through the door. A SWAT team had raided her apartment building looking for a suspect. A former Catholic, the woman wanted a peaceful refuge. Later, the woman returned and told Cersovski she was returning to her Catholic practice.

Cersovski also had a customer ask her deep questions about Catholicism. It turned out he was a worker from a non-denominational bookstore who later became Catholic.

“This was much more than selling merchandise,” said Cersovski, a lifelong member of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Monroe. “I have been able to help people and touch their lives. It is very hard to leave.”

She has so cherished the interactions that she jokes about opening a small table service, like the character Lucy in the Peanuts cartoons, with a sign that says “Catholic chat, 10 cents.”

At the store, her biggest sellers were holy cards, medals and scapulars. Catholics and non-Catholics alike favored the concrete signs of a higher reality. But without a margin, it’s hard to have a mission.

“There’s this thing called the bottom line,” Cersovski said.

There was not much trouble at the store, aside from the time when someone spit on her door. When she opened up, she asked God to bless all who would come in and hung a holy medal over the door.

The small monastery bookshop at the Carmel of Maria Regina has a few books and holy items. Cersovski hopes that large local parishes will open kiosks to sell holy cards, rosaries, Bibles and the like.

“But money and space are tight in any parish,” she said.

Internet sales have been hard on all bookstores, including the Catholic variety. Several have closed in Oregon in the past few decades. In Portland, Gifts of the Spirit has remained in business after an ownership shift. Blessings from Heaven has endured in Beaverton.

Cersovski said that younger generations prefer online shopping. The sad part of that, she explained, is the loss of human encounter.

“The one-on-one interaction is so important,” Cersovski said. “It has been an honor and a privilege to serve. I will genuinely miss all the great people who came through the shop.”

Cersovski, who served a term on the Archdiocese of Portland’s Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, will take the summer off to “rest and heal and listen God.” She lives in the Harrisburg home where the Cersovski family has farmed for more than a century. Faith and kin are her foundations. Cersovski cared for her mother for decades before opening the store.

Cersovski is a Secular Franciscan who calls St. Francis of Assisi her “buddy.” A 1978 graduate of the University of Portland, she holds a ministry certificate from the archdiocese and served as a catechist and director of faith formation at St. Rose of Lima.

Debbie Wright, a Mustard Seed customer and member of St. Alice Parish in Springfield, will miss the store and Cersovski’s faith knowledge.

“Lois is a great person and we are really going to miss her shop here,” said Wright. “It’s really cutting down the Catholic stores and gift shops in Oregon. I know I can order online, but I like to give business to our local community.”

The shop had a small area with a couch and chairs that allowed for many to come, drop by and chat.

“The shop was a wonderful, quiet hangout, always with Catholic radio in the background where we could listen to various broadcasts, including the rosary,” said Julie Rutledge, director of religious education at St. Mary Parish.

Rutledge has fond memories of Cersovski’s collection of antique statues, holy cards and sacred art. “Her shop was a reflection of days gone by, of our Catholic heritage, of the passing of time, of our faith as it meets a new era.”