By Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — A hobby. A ministry. A calling.
These are a few words that Georgette Reb uses to describe Touch of Heaven, Topeka’s only Catholic book and gift store.
On April 7, Reb’s store celebrated 15 years of business, having opened during the Great Jubilee Year of 2000. It’s a milestone that Reb and her husband John are still marveling at.
In 1999, Georgette quit her job. After nearly 20 years as a licensed practical nurse by profession, she said she felt a call to do something else, but she was not quite sure what it was.
After a pilgrimage to Europe that included visits to both Rome and San Giovanni Rotondo, home of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, a great mystic and stigmatist, Reb returned to the United States with a desire to serve God with her whole life.
Shortly after her return, Georgette discussed the idea of a Catholic book- store with John, looking at a few store- fronts on Kansas Avenue, the main street running through downtown Topeka. She even had a deal going with a particular property owner, but it fell through. Yet, she continued to pray about the idea.
One day, she recalled, while visiting John at his business, about a mile from the downtown area, she opened a door to the company’s back office and break room. Opening the door changed her life, Georgette said, pointing all around her at the store’s square footage.
“I knew that this is where it was supposed to be,” she said.
John helped her get the store ready for its official opening.
“I didn’t think it’d work,” he recalled. “I thought it would last six months.”
Yet, Georgette said, both Jesus and the Blessed Mother have been good to them and all of the customers they’ve touched in some small way through the years.
Relying nearly entirely on word of mouth, Georgette said she receives a tremendous amount of support from John, the rest of her family, her friends and, most importantly, her customers.
“I depend on my customers to tell me what they need,” she said. “I want them to feel welcome.”
In addition to feeling welcome, Georgette said she also wants them to be able to afford to fill their sacramental needs, so she strives to find quality religious articles and books at reasonable prices. But if she doesn’t make the sale, that’s OK with her, too.
“You never know who is going to walk through that door needing some- thing and what they are going to need,” she said.
Nor can you judge a book by its cover. “You have to really listen,” she said. One day, she recalled, a young man dressed in goth-like attire came through the door. He was visibly upset. Saint John Paul II had just died, and he kept asking what would happen to the church and world now that the pope had died.
“He was in a panic,” she said and wanted a medal, but didn’t know what medal. She was able to help him choose a St. Joseph medal and then she gave him a medal blessed by the late pope. After handing him the medals, she said his behavior changed immediately.
“Tears started streaming down his face and he disappeared,” she said. “I’ve never seen him again.”
In addition to fulfilling their material needs, Georgette said she has many customers who stop in just to chat. Sometimes, they come to check on her and her family. Other times, they ask for prayer, another service she’s happy to supply,
Twice, she said, she has felt unable to meet a customer’s needs. Both times, Georgette said, she asked for God’s help. Both times, and only moments later, a priest walked through the door and was able to help.
In those times, Georgette has said she has felt truly blessed and loved, a feeling she wants all of her customers to experience.
“You just have to put your faith and trust in God and the Blessed Mother,” she said.