Last December Joan Rysa, a grandmother volunteered to sell Cistercian monk’s Christmas sakes for the first time at her church, St. John the Evangelist, in Whitby outside of Toronto.  She loved the experience and met parishioners she had not known before.  Moreover, she felt she was spreading a different kind of Christmas spirit – selling cakes for life.

Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) is dependent upon this festive, fund-raising project for financial survival.  Even though CLC knows that political and legal set-backs do occur, it knows too that the spirit of dedicated pro-lifers will support its struggles between good and evil.

Joan knows this too and that’s why she’s selling cakes again this year.  She says her gift of time, given on one or two Sundays after Mass, is gratifying because people get a quality product for a reasonable price and the cakes’ homemade taste makes them ideal for Christmas gifts.  She should know.  Last December she raised over $400 for CLC on her own.

Festive Touch

She laughs about having a secret formula for selling, admitting she “probably did a few little things that helped.”  For instance, she covered her cake table with a festive table cloth from home and then trimmed it with a spruce bough and red bows.  Then she decided if people knew how the cakes tasted, they would be more inclined to but, so she cut up a fruitcake (loaf-size) and passed out samples.  First the children came and then the parents – until the cakes were gone.

Growing Network

Maggie Hale, a busy young mother of five children, aged 4 to 12, recruited Joan to sell last year.  Two years ago Maggie had been asked by her committed pro-life pastor, Father Melady of Oshawa, Ontario’s St. Mary’s parish, to sell.  Unsure of how to proceed, she called her friend Susan Forest (also the mother of four young children) and they decided ‘Why not’.

Since then she’s recruited a small group pf staunch CLC supporters: Shirley Sherrah (a teacher and grandmother);  Rosemary Connell (a mother of eight) from Port Perry; and grandmothers Doris Oliviera and Carol Morton from Lindsay, Ontario.

She’s given them tips on what works.  That first year, Maggie had to store the cakes in her home.  They filled her laundry room.  But last year, CLC had the monks deliver the cakes to her church basement, easing things a little.  Still she had to deliver to late buyers at home or in their apartment complexes until just before Christmas.

She finds the hectic pace of selling the cakes exhausting and hopes others may offer time after Masses to help this year.

Nice things do happen though, like the seniors from nearby Marion Place who loved the cake samples and bought for relatives and friends as far away as British Columbia and California or the parish couple who owned a furniture business and decided to give cakes as gifts to their employees for Christmas.  In spite of the demands, kind-hearted Maggie and her dedicated group feel good about raising funds for CLC and its noble cause.

Gender Equality

Selling the monks’ Christmas cakes is not restricted to women.  In fact, several men are energetic organizers and fund-raisers.  In 1987, CLC office manager, Steve Jalsevac expanded the operation to include the help of Louis de Rocco, a high-school teacher who gives half days to CLC.

Louis stream-lined the project by writing guidelines, suggestions and proposing schedules for those who sell and he negotiated with the monks to deliver the cakes to designated distribution centres outside Toronto to ease pick-ups.

One of these centres is located in Barrie.  The cake campaign is organized by longtime pro-lifer Paul Tremblay, a professor at Georgian College.  His centre stores almost nine hundred cakes in the basement of St. John Vianney Church and distributes them to Orilla, Midland and other nearby towns.

In Hamilton, family doctor Dr. Carm Scime, takes time out of his busy practice to be a contact person for distributing cakes in his area (aided by his willing wife Lynn).  Last year his contacts raised the largest amount of money for CLC.  And in Thorold, Jack Priestman and his wife – sister of CLC president, Jim Hughes – began selling cakes two years ago in their parish of St. Mary’s and expanded to four new parishes last year, raising over $2,000 for CLC on their own.  They’ll be selling again this year.

In Etobicoke, west of Toronto, bus driver Ray Donnelly works through his Knights of Columbus Council.  Last year his council enlisted 18 parishes to sell the cakes, raising the second largest amount of money for CLC.  Ray credits the Knights for their goodwill and strong pro-life commitment and hopes that other councils will join CLC’s important fundraising project this year.

Business for Life

In Chepstow, northwest of Toronto, Tom Fritz, a business contractor, promotes the cakes among business associates I his own way.  He’ll ask, “What are you doing for your employees this year?”  He finds that people respond well to the idea of giving fruitcakes “instead of a bottle of hard liquor.”

Tom is the founding president of Business for Life, a group he began two years ago to allow pro-life business people, often too busy to give their time to activism, to contribute financially to the pro-life cause.  He is pro-life “because my two children, Greg 19 and Lisa 17, are adopted and I object to the killing of children.”

Lisa is his most persuasive advocate.  Once she attended a pro-life meeting with him and stood up to say, “I’m glad my mother had me, otherwise I couldn’t have been adopted.”  Naturally, Mr. and Mrs. Fritz beamed.

Brother John

Back at his monastery in the Hockley Hills, near Orangeville, Ontario, Brother John, one of the team of monks who make the fruitcakes – he’s responsible for the cake batter – says complaints about their products are welcome because they want it to be the best.  Some problems have been corrected by modifying “bake times” and by substituting powdered eggs for frozen eggs, a new product discovered by the progressive monks when they attended last winter’s Toronto Food Show.

CLC is their largest customer and last year it increased its orders by twenty percent, throwing the good monks into a tizzy just before Christmas.  They coped however, by purchasing a second set of cake tins to allow two consecutive “bakes.”  Usually, after the cakes come out of the oven they must cool in their tins for a set time.  Now the second set of tins allows “a second bake” to follow the first one, doubling the number of cakes made.  Brother John – a former nurse and graduate of the Toronto School of Theology, and once headed for the Anglican ministry – speaks for the monks: “It’s a comfort to know that our way of life, based on spirituality, prayer and earning our living by making Christmas cakes, is now helping such a noble cause.”

He speaks too for the generous people who donate their bit of time at Christmas to sell the cakes and help CLC continue its difficult pro-life struggle.