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Divine inspiration as religious sales boom despite the slump

'The thing about it is, I'd say, that a time of recession is not the worst time for religion," says Maura Hyland, director of Veritas, who has worked in the Middle Abbey Street shop for the past 32 years. She's referring to the annual increase in sales in the shop's religious and spiritual texts, candles, rosary beads, First Holy Communion sets, crucifixes and religious statues, in the region of about 20pc a year.

The 64-year-old began her career with the religious publishing house and retailer as a writer of religious texts following a career as a primary school teacher. Since becoming director in 2000, the soft-spoken and measured woman has been a driving force behind what some people might consider to be the unexpected expansion of Veritas.

pamphlets

It opened as The Catholic Truth Society of Ireland in 1899 to distribute religious pamphlets to churches aimed at answering the religious questions of the day, and which were bought by parishioners after Sunday Mass.

It became Veritas in 1928 when the company opened up a shop on Middle Abbey Street to sell religious artefacts along with the pamphlets, but at the time the shop was very much a Church repository, selling priest's vestments and chalices. Today, the light-filled and airy store remains under the auspices of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference, which, among other things, is concerned with Catholic education and formation, pastoral renewal and faith development.

Since taking over as director of the company in 2000, Maura has doubled the number of Veritas shops around the country from six to 12, including opening new ones in Blanchardstown, Naas, Monaghan, and Derry.

She has also increased the number of texts published annually by Veritas from 20 to 40. Veritas customers tend to be at the older end of the scale, yet there are a fair few young people browsing around the shelves of the original Dublin branch on this weekday.

"The Luas has definitely helped with increasing business, but it was a hindrance while it was being built," says Maura.

CHAOS

"I think, obviously, recent issues with the Catholic Church will have had an effect on people's lives. They will have questioned what had been going on. There will have been a feeling of disappointment.

"But I think people have God firmly in their lives and their faith gives them meaning and nourishment in these times of chaos. It helps sustain them and it stops them from losing a sense of themselves," she says.

Maura, who goes to Mass every Sunday, is excited about the latest publishing development for Veritas. Following on from pitching her tent at a religious publishing conference in Anaheim in California, she has secured a deal to publish religious text books for American Catholic high schools – of which there are 12,000.

Veritas currently provides texts to 84 of the schools and, by September, aims to be supplying religious text books to 120 schools. The plan is to provide books to all the schools, each of which has thousands of students – so go do the sums.

"I'm a bit mad when I get an idea into my head. I will go after it. I accept what has to be done to make it work, and in the end I get a lot of energy from seeing things through," Maura says.

Religious or spiritual texts, she quickly points out, are not published for profit, but to pass on the message. "I am always aware that we have to keep things relevant to people's lives. So if someone is dealing with self-harm for example, we aim to provide a book which will help put it into a Christian perspective, and to bring a message and a sense of love from the perspective of faith," she says.

"We deal with a lot of romantic love, too. In fact, as when people are choosing the readings for their weddings, Veritas is the obvious place for them to come. One big seller at the moment is anything to do with Pope Francis. People are fascinated by him."

She is single and lives in Donnybrook, and enjoys reading (Barbara Kingsolver is a favourite author) and going to the theatre and the National Concert Hall, where she had a great night out on St Patrick's night gone. "I'm a big fan of traditional Irish music."

SKILL

She grew up on a farm in Emo in Co Laois with her sister, and while they went to Mass every Sunday, she says there weren't any long discussions on religious matters in their home.

"I always wanted to be a teacher and would line the chairs up in the kitchen and teach them when I was little. I see myself more as a teacher than a writer or businesswoman, and I love mentoring new writers as there is a skill to writing religious texts.

"I try to bring my faith into my daily life and how I deal with people. I believe the other members of staff do, too, and that the ethos of Veritas is one of integrity. I hope that when people walk in our door they find a peaceful and welcoming atmosphere," she says.

And, no, you do not have to be Catholic to work in Veritas.

Veritas was revamped in the 1990s and again in 2000, and Maura has also overseen the opening of a branch in Lourdes.

Maura added: "Retirement hasn't entered my head. I work with a great team. I really enjoy my job, and get a lot of energy from it."


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