February 13, 2024 // Diocese

Full of Grace Religious Goods: A Store Years in the Making

Opening a Catholic gift store had been a dream of Judy Finkler’s for 15 years. With support from her husband, Mike, that dream finally became real in 2023 with the opening of Full of Grace Religious Goods in downtown Mishawaka.

The Finklers are lifelong locals of the south side of South Bend, and they live five minutes from their parish, St. Jude Catholic Church. Judy went to school there as a child, as did the couple’s own children. At first, they weren’t considering Mishawaka as a potential location for their Catholic gift store. After abandoning their original plan of remodeling an old house, they had almost given up hope, Mike said.

Photos by Kasia Balsbaugh
Mike and Judy Finkler stand behind the counter in their store Full of Grace Religious Goods, located in downtown Mishawaka.

“We’d been looking for 14 years, we just couldn’t find anything that would be affordable,” he said.

“Or suitable,” Judy added.

The Finklers stumbled across their current space while they were in downtown Mishawaka for dinner. “It was such a poor-looking place; it was in such bad shape,” Mike remembered.

A few months later, the Finklers were back in town for dinner and passed by the space again, noticing this time that it was empty. “I just stopped right in front of the store and said, ‘If we’re going to do this, this is the place to do it,’” Judy said.

The space needed a lot of remodeling before opening. Mike, a home remodeler and real estate agent by trade, worked on it for months, putting in walls, adding new flooring, and building almost all the display cases. The store officially opened on April 1, 2023. The mayor of Mishawaka was present at the ribbon cutting, as was the couple’s pastor, Father John Delaney of St. Jude, who blessed the new store.

The Finklers said that both downtown Mishawaka and the local Catholic churches have been very supportive and have helped get the word out. “One of the biggest hurdles is just having people know that you even exist,” Judy said with a laugh.

However, the store has already built up a solid customer base, especially because it is now the only Catholic gift store in the South Bend area. “People have been really happy to see us here, because we’re the only place between here and Fort Wayne,” Mike said.

Loyal customer Kathy Cruickshank said she visits Full of Grace Religious Goods once or twice a month. Most recently, she was there to buy a birthday gift for a young relative whose family just became Catholic.

“I’m just so happy that somebody opened a place like this,” Cruickshank said. She added that she advertises the business to all her friends at her parish.

Mishawaka’s Full of Grace Religious Goods offers Catholic items from books to rosaries, icons to jewelry, T-shirts to dog leashes.

Mike Finkler said he and Judy have toured Catholic bookstores all across the Midwest and gone to a convention in Chicago to “get a feel for” opportunities and the types of merchandise they could offer. “We wanted to have higher quality things but still keep it affordable – the stuff that you don’t see a lot online,” Mike said.

Judy does most of the ordering and tries to procure new items and rotate out old ones every two weeks so customers see new things every time they come in. Mike said they also try to scout out one-of-a-kind items. As an example, he pointed to the crucifix above their counter. “It shows so much of Christ’s pain,” Mike said, explaining how it is unique compared to many other crucifixes for sale.

Another best-seller, Mike said, is clothing, such as religious print socks and the popular “Never go out without your wingman” T-shirt, which sports a picture of St. Michael the Archangel.

The store also features goods from local artists, such as Sacred Woodworks, and nonprofits such as the Starfish Project, which sells jewelry made by women who have escaped the sex trafficking industry.

Full of Grace also stocks a wide selection of cards for all sorts of religious occasions. Mike pointed out the variety of cards just for priests – there are cards for ordinations, priestly anniversaries, new assignments, Christmas wishes to your pastor, and others. The cards keep some customers coming back, because they can’t find baptism cards for a great-granddaughter anywhere else, Mike said.

Mike said a lot of their customers appreciate that the store is in-person. “They say, ‘We’d rather give [money] to a local company where we can feel what we’re buying and see the quality,’” Mike said. “Where online you can’t; you’re just guessing at what the quality is.”

Judy also said their customers give back to them in more ways than financially.

This is the storefront of Full of Grace Religious Goods, located at 124 N. Main St.  in downtown Mishawaka.

“An unexpected blessing is the people who come in here every day, and they’re telling their story and just sharing so much, and it really builds your faith,” Judy said. “We see people all the time coming in that are so faithful, and it helps us.”

As Full of Grace Religious Goods approaches its first anniversary, the Finklers said it continues to grow and become visible in the local community. Most recently, the store is collaborating with the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend to provide gifts for those who finish the “Eucharistic passport,” a project of the diocese’s Eucharistic Revival.

“We’re just here to serve people and give options for expressing faith at home and in life,” Judy said.

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.