A good gift idea for a priest is a bit more difficult than selecting a gift for a friend or family member. Many priests have taken vows of poverty and do not use or own many material items. While most people would be thrilled to have a car, vacation or luxury item, most priests would not have any use for such products.
The key to a good gift idea for a priest is to know his personality and what he would use in his service to the church. It is important to understand some of the values that a priest has in general. Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy. Any type of gift that is for a family, wife or kids would very likely offend a priest. Priests have made a choice to dedicate their lives to service in the church. They most likely do not take vacations or attend concerts and sporting events. Their lives mainly consist of study, teaching, missionary activities, rituals and chaplaincy services. Before buying a gift, consider what this particular priest’s areas of interest are. Does he visit the sick, teach and/or preside at a local church?
Since it can be assumed that a priest is dedicated to either a local church or certain organization within the Catholic Church, a safe gift that would be very meaningful would be a donation to the organization. With such a gift there is no danger of offending him; he will most likely benefit from it, and it shows that you support what he has dedicated his life to. Many churches will send a card or nice acknowledgment to the people you donated on behalf of, to inform them that a donation has been made in their honor. Most donations can be made publicly or anonymously. If there is a fear that the amount you donate may be considered “too cheap,” tell the person (usually a secretary at the church) that you want the donation to remain anonymous.
If you know the priest well and are sure of a particular item he would like, feel free to give it. You may want to ask another priest, perhaps at a different church, whether a gift would be offensive or whether it would be used and appreciated. If you know the priest sleeps in a dorm with other priests, you may want to buy a bed or an item to make his life more comfortable. For some priests, this may be fine, but a priest that is actually part of that church may tell you that members of that particular sect don’t accept gifts or have taken a vow to sleep like everyone else and would not be able to accept a bed.
Consider customizing a gift that would make it more useful and enjoyable for a priest. While most people would love an iPod and know where and how to get music for it, a priest may not be current on technology. Also, the type of music the priest would listen to, such as Gregorian chants, may be difficult to find online. Consider purchasing MP3s of the type of music you know he likes and downloading them to the iPod for him. This way it doesn’t even matter if he doesn’t have a computer or Internet; he simply has 10,000 Gregorian chants to listen to.
Daryn Edelman, a professional writer/lecturer in spirituality, mysticism, business ethics, culture and politics since 1999. He has written scripts for "The Chabad Telethon" and diverse articles featured in "Farbregen Magazine" and Chabad.com. He graduated from the University of California Los Angeles with a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies and the University of Liverpool with a Master of Arts in English.