Peter Welvang, the owner of Leaflet Missal, oversaw one of the largest Catholic book and gift stores in the Upper Midwest for 30 years.
His St. Paul business attracted priests looking for new vestments, Sunday school teachers needing workbooks for the kids, and ordinary Catholics who bought everything from angel statues to first communion dresses to religious DVDs.
With an expansive inventory and catalog customers in nearly every state, he played a special role in supporting the Catholic faith, said family and friends.
Welvang died Feb. 5 at age 84.
“For years the industry of Catholic gifts and church goods was mostly centered on selling things like vestments and linens to churches,” said Paul Welvang, Peter’s son. “My dad added individual devotional items for people in the pews and hit an underserved niche. People really liked it.”
Peter Hugh Welvang was one of four children born to Norman and Adelaide Welvang of St. Paul. He attended Cretin High School, served in the Korean War and began working at Leaflet Missal in the 1950s, his family said. At that time, it primarily was a publisher of church bulletins for Sunday masses, marriages and funerals.
Welvang purchased the business in 1980, building a national sales catalog that sold items ranging from rosaries to religious texts in Spanish and English. It evolved into a go-to source for Catholics.
John Sondag, editor of a Twin Cities publication called the Catholic Servant, gave his annual recognition award to Welvang and his wife, Diane, in 1996.
“They did an outstanding service to the Catholic Church, and they were very good to a lot of people,” said Sondag, religious education director at Minneapolis’ St. Helena Church.
Longtime Leaflet Missal employee Karen Perfect recalls Welvang giving odd jobs, like answering phones or wrapping packages, to seminarians who were short on cash. Welvang’s daughter, Susan Furlong, said her father donated countless gifts for events from church fall festivals to the St. Paul Seminary’s golf tournament.
The business was a family affair, with Welvang and his wife running the operation and the children involved in different aspects, from inventory to marketing. Furlong and her sister, Ann Abbott, continue as owners/managers.
Perfect, who worked for 40 years with Welvang at Leaflet Missal, called him a kind, generous man with a great sense of humor. The business was his way of sharing the Catholic faith.
“It was getting the average person involved in Catholicism, bringing things into their homes and families,” said Perfect. “It offered things you could see and hold and talk about. He made a big difference.”
The Rev. Mark Moriarty, pastor of St. Agnes Church in St. Paul, remembers Peter and Diane Welvang as devout parishioners who attended mass daily. He also recalled the sweet recognition Leaflet Missal gave, and still gives, to seminarians and priests, often posting their photographs at ordination or other meaningful events inside the store’s “wall of fame.”
“You’d make a few pilgrimages to Leaflet Missal every year,” said Moriarty. “It had the largest selection of religious books around. They were a wonderful resource for priests, especially seminarians. It was kind of a one-stop shop.”
Added Moriarty: “He [Welvang] thought of it as a calling, not just a job.”
Welvang’s wife, Diane, died in 2016. He is survived by his children, Ann Abbott, Mary Hennen, Mark Gerard, Catherine Furlong, Paul Welvang and Susan Furlong; 14 grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren. Funeral services have been held.