For decades, independent bookstores have struggled to stay open in our age of online big-box Goliaths. Christians have also witnessed the disappearance of gift stores and bookshops, arguably the final vestiges of religious public witness outside of the doors of our churches and chancery edifices. Few stores remain today dedicated to rediscovering the intellectual and spiritual works of Christian masters, both obscure and renowned.
Loome Theological Booksellers is such a place. Located in Stillwater, Minnesota, Loome rests five miles east of the picturesque Lake Elmo, along a quiet rural road most would describe as “hilly” in an otherwise notoriously flat mid-western state. Greeted by a handful of giddy chickens, you might notice something different about this bookstore. It isn’t just the “tranquil” or “peaceful” setting. At owner Christopher Hagen’s storefront you also encounter a “family-centered experience” due to the short distance between the store and his family home.
A convert to Catholicism, Christopher Hagen has been in this business since Loome Theological Booksellers sat a few blocks away from the “hustle and bustle” of downtown Stillwater, a town located within spitting distance from the St. Croix River and the state of Wisconsin. In 2012 he and his family decided to pack up and move the store (and themselves) a few miles west from their original location, attracted not so much by the idea of growing their facilities, but by expanding the quality of their family life.
Along with his lovely wife Christelle, their six beautiful children, a home, some land, and parish life within a reasonable distance, Christopher is looking forward to the future of his business and what other plans God has in store for the Hagen family.
Richard Aleman: I admit it. Every time I visit Loome Booksellers my wife gives me that look—she knows I’ll come back with a pile of books. I can’t help myself. Loome is my “go-to” for vintage Church documents and titles written by history’s finest Christian scholars. It’s a pilgrimage site. I’m convinced of it.
Christopher Hagen: We all owe many thanks to Dr. Thomas M. Loome who founded Loome Theological Booksellers in 1983, and acquired tens of thousands of books from Catholic institutions that were closing. What began as a scholarly obsession for good books, when he was pursuing his doctorate in theology after the Second Vatican Council, turned into a full-time book business in the early 1980s. Loome Theological Booksellers’ success came by the rare and good books that were rescued from closing seminaries, libraries, monasteries, and convents—“repurposed” for the collections of fresh and growing Catholic religious orders and institutions of higher learning. The book selection at Loome continues to reflect the bookish interests of seminary students, scholars, monks, and nuns.
Christians have a long and deep connection to the printed word and these are the fields in which Loome Booksellers likes to play. Our engaged customers through the years attest to the strong interest that many have in these books.
Although we major in Catholic material, we acquire anything scholarly that touches on Christianity. A Loome Booksellers greatest hits list would include titles from Aquinas, Augustine, Martin Luther, St. John Paul II, C.S. Lewis, von Balthasar, Garrigou-Lagrange, de Luba, and the liturgical books of the Church: Missale Romanum, Breviarium Monasticums, Divine Offices, Rituales, and more.
Richard: You also assist universities and seminaries with building world-class libraries. Tell us about your Library Collection Development program.
Christopher: Loome has always been at home in a library. Regrettably, most often, when we visit a library it’s because the books are in peril of ending up in the recycling dumpster of oblivion. I would say we are happiest to channel “unwanted” books to the “needed” books of fledgling religious libraries. At times Loome has been able to help close one library and ship its collection directly to a new one.
We built Ave Maria University’s library for many years and have assisted smaller institutions with supplements to their collections, for example, the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria, the Catholic Studies Program library at the University of St. Thomas, and St. Michael’s Abbey in California.
Currently we are raising funds (through the Theological Book Network) for the Cardinal Burke Library, which will be a small theology library for the use of students and faculty at the Benedict XVI Cultural Institute in Sri Lanka. We have books waiting to go to Sri Lanka but lack the funds to get them packed and shipped there. If your readers can help us fund this sacred project, please have them give me a call!
Richard: The volatility of operating a small business in today’s economy, especially in an age where bigger is perceived as better, makes some people hesitant to take the leap and start their own business. Would you describe your work as vocational?
Christopher: Yes. If a vocation calls one to a life of sacrifice, virtue, prayer, and hope, yes. If a vocation means “vacation”—as in expensive, exotic, and relaxing vacation, then no.
Richard: How is Christ accompanying you and your family through the peaks and valleys of running a business?
Christopher: He accompanies us the same way He did 2,000 years past: with mission, tribulation, and resurrection.
For my family, buying a specialty bookstore (from Dr. Loome in 2008) and moving onto a farm (in the fall of 2012) was unconventional in the extreme. Life is hard and it’s good and Christ gives us fresh hope when we reach out to Him as we succumb to the wind and the waves. Clearly we are not following the steps to success as outlined in a book or seminar. Instead, we are following the desires of our hearts as we pray daily to be conformed to His heart. So, the risks have been great and we have fallen hard several times. The rewards, however, are like little resurrections that set us up on our feet to walk again the next day.
Richard: Would you say that Catholic social teaching influences the decisions you make as a business leader?
Christopher: Yes, definitely.
Pope St. John II taught that work is for family and not the family for work. This is the most important principle guiding my business decisions. This principle has at times lead me to say “no” to my employees and customers as saying “yes” to them would have resulted in a “no” for my family. As much as I would like to throw all of my energies and talents into Loome Theological Booksellers, I have chosen to make the bookstore bend to the benefit of my family.
An example of this is the decision I made to limit how often I travel to purchase book collections. Historically, the bookstore aggressively traveled across the continent and even over the Big Pond to acquire vintage books. These days I do as much book collecting remotely as I possibly can.
My wife and I also decided, not without consultation, to move Loome Booksellers onto Claret Farm where my family lives today. This move did benefit the business financially, but it also made it more difficult for our customers to visit the store (especially in the winter, as I write, on those seldom free-of-snow country roads!).
Richard: Your choice of Saint Anthony Mary Claret as your farm’s patron saint is intriguing to me, especially as more Americans are discovering this Catalan saint and the Order he founded (the Claretians).
Christopher: St. Anthony Mary Claret worked his way into our family through homeschooling and our affinity for the ideas of Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day. While working on her weekly “St. Report” to present to our children, my wife Christelle did some reading about St. Anthony Claret, about whom she knew nothing. She discovered a 19th century bishop with the heart of a shepherd who tried to help families in Cuba by training them to farm. He figured, rightly, that if a family can provide for themselves they are free from the monetary and labor demands of their employers. This sounded like Maurin and Day to Christelle so when it came time to give our farm a name, Claret Farm it was!
Then, through the intercession of many—but specifically a relic of St. Anthony Claret—our stillborn son was miraculously revived after 20 minutes of CPR following his traumatic birth. He’s our sixth born child and he’s perfectly healthy two years later. That relic was a gift from a friend of Loome Booksellers who passed it onto me when he learned that our farm was named after St. Claret.
Thanks be to God for St. Anthony Claret!
Richard: Loome is the only place I know of where you can walk out with Aquinas’ Summa Theologica and a dozen organic eggs. How many chickens do you have on the farm?
Christopher: Is this a trick question?
Christopher: We have, I think, 25 chickens (2 of which are roosters) that provide about 10 eggs a day for our family. My daughters take care of them, which is why I’m not sure how many we have. Now, we should be getting more than 10 eggs a day with that many hens, but some of them are past their prime and I haven’t taken the time to dispatch them yet. Lucky them!
Richard: How is Claret an important resource for your community?
Christopher: Claret Farm is open for visitors. Several times a year we hold what we call “Farm Days”, when anyone and everyone is welcome to join our family for a Saturday afternoon of farm work, liturgy, a potluck dinner, and evening farm-generated entertainment. We are so grateful to live on Claret Farm and our joy is magnified when we are able to share toil and bounty with new and old friends.
Richard: In recent years, a “New Catholic Land Movement” is springing up across the United States—a spontaneous return to the land by young Catholic families. What is your take on this phenomenon?
Christopher: Computer screens just don’t do it for us. We all long for work that unites our minds, our bodies, and our souls. We hunger for a place that’s big enough to BE a family. The land offers a place for REAL LIFE. The desire is great, but the success of Catholic families who have moved to the land, anecdotally, is pretty grim. We are on the land because I owned a business that was not location dependent and so I could move it to the farm with us so that it can provide the financial foundation to live here.
Unquestionably, we need more young families taking the plunge onto the land. Many of them will flounder and collapse, but the ones that achieve something will light the way for more families to try and succeed.
Richard: How do you see Claret Farm supporting these initiatives in the future?
Christopher: Well, if the Hagens can make it on the land, then I hope we can be a resource for those who want to enquire as to how to do it themselves. Although we have scant actual farming and homesteading experience, we have practical business skills and hope we may guide the commercial side (yes, you must be able to run a profitable business on a farm!) of new “back to the land” adventures.
God willing, Claret Farm will someday have a dairy cow, bees, sheep, chickens, good pasture, and a small CSA. If so, then maybe I’ll make videos starring my adorable children and teach the world to farm! Or, maybe we’ll never achieve this dream.
It’s all in God’s hands.
We asked Christopher to provide us with 5 mouth-watering titles currently in stock that may attract the attention of our readership. We think you will agree that Loome’s work for the preservation and sale of quality Christian books is worthy of a distributist’s patronage. For these and other titles, visit loomebooks.com.
CRONIN, JOHN F. Catholic Social Principles. The Social Teaching of the Catholic Church Applied to American Economic Life. Milwaukee: Bruce, 1950. xxviii + 803pp. Hardcover in good condition. ORDER HERE.
NITSCH, THOMAS O., JOSEPH M. PHILLIPS, and EDWARD L. FITZSIMMONS (Editors). On the Condition of Labor and the Social Question One Hundred Years Later. Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, and the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Association for Social Economics (Toronto Studies in Theology). Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1994. XXI + 600pp. Softcover in very good condition. Light wear to wrappers. Spotless interior and a solid block. ORDER HERE.
CHESTERTON, G.K. The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton. Vol. IV: What’s Wrong with the World; The Superstition of Divorce; Eugenics and Other Evils; Divorce versus Democracy; Social Reform versus Birth Control. Ignatius Press, 1987. 442pp. Black cloth hardcover in good condition. Light scuffing and rubbing to cover. A few small stains to back cover. Spotless, bright text. Firmly bound. ORDER HERE.
HOBGOOD, MARY E. Catholic Social Teaching and Economic Theory. Paradigms in Conflict. Temple University Press, 1991. Hardcover in good condition, with dust jacket. Modest rubbing to extremities. Rubbing and scuffing to d-j, with sticker on back cover. Slight bowing to boards and text block. Binding solid. Text pristine. ORDER HERE.
BETHUNE, ADE DE. Work. John Stevens, 1938. 44pp. Illustrated, b/w. Staple-bound softcover pamphlet in good condition. Rubbing, scuffing, fading, and discoloration to wrappers. Tanning and sun damage to wrappers. Edges of wrappers beginning to chip. Deckled page edges. Light fading to pages. Sound binding. Clean text. ORDER HERE.