Manager Shirley Kulmatycki scans some of the packed shelves in the Newman Theological College Bookstore in Edmonton. Photo by Lasha Morningstar

When it comes to theology, Newman bookstore is the place to get it all

By  Lasha Morningstar, Canadian Catholic News
  • February 27, 2016

EDMONTON - The hectic times at Newman Theological Bookstore, as at any college or university bookstore, are the start of each semester.

Students pack the store, tripping over each other, trying to load up on the required reading for the semester’s workload at Newman Theological College.

But if you are looking for a book, Shirley Kulmatycki will do her best to unearth it. One recent day, a hospital chaplain, one of the store’s frequent patrons, hurried through the bookstore door.

“Is it in?” he asked anxiously. Kulmatycki triumphantly held up his ordered tome. Smiles were exchanged all round, and the chaplain was on his way, another satisfied customer.

That’s a regular occurrence for this bookstore manager. If the sought-after book is not among the 3,000 to 3,500 volumes on the packed shelves, Kulmatycki will order it. At the moment, the search is on for a 1973 Ukrainian hymnal.

“I’ll keep looking till I find it,” she said matter-of-factly. As one priest told her, “If you don’t have it, no one else does.”

Scan the shelves and certainly the expected religious books are there. So are children’s books, books on spirituality and books by authors such as Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, Catholic Register columnist Ron Rolheiser, Jacques Philippe and Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés.

The hot titles at the moment are those on prayer, saints and Church history.

“People are really getting into it,” Kulmatycki said of Church history.

Toddlers’ and children’s books are moving fast too.

“A bunch of grannies came in and cleaned me out,” said Kulmatycki.

Visitors from Ontario told her they had never been in a theological bookstore that offered such variety.

Books are also stored in another room and spill out onto an inviting trolley outside the bookstore door.

The trolley is usually stocked with newer titles and papal subjects.

It’s not only books that are available on the enticing shelves.

Affordable rosaries are tucked in one area, as are thank you cards and a smattering of gift bags. She got these in at the request of the seminarians at Newman Theological College who might need to buy a gift on short notice.

Kulmatycki comes to her position after years as a teacher of math, science and library science to Grade 5 to 9 students.

That welcoming, nurturing manner of a teacher translates beautifully in the store, and Kulmatycki finds herself having earnest conversations with seminarians, Newman students and others.

“The seminarians are shy at first. But then they warm up.”

With eight years at the bookstore’s helm, including three moves by the college when she packed and unpacked all of the books, Kulmatycki relishes her job. She is a merchant who knows the power of the common touch, how to blend compassion and competence. She eschews e-mail and picks up the phone to touch base with suppliers or frequent customers.

“I establish a relationship with the regulars, deal with them person-to-person. It is really rewarding.”

One day she called a customer in southern Alberta. Instead of launching into the expected “Your order is in,” Kulmatycki asked her “How are you doing?” The woman’s brother had just died, and the store manager’s caring question helped the customer tell of her pain.

Kulmatycki is hands-on too when it comes to the books themselves.

Do not offer to help her with stock taking. No, she is not being a martyr. By itemizing all the books, it “lets me know what I have and lets me do a review.”

Even during the recent Christmas holidays, there was a steady trickle of customers. Those customers come from a variety of places since the bookstore is open to the public.

Teachers, students doing research and/or taking courses over the Internet all ask for bookstore guidance. Kulmatycki even ships books to places as far as Ontario and the Northwest Territories.

“It’s a service. People come first.”

(Western Catholic Reporter)

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