Never underestimate the power of homemade jam or the personal touch.
Tom Ryan provides both, along with church supplies, to Southland parishes through his Garden Grove-based company, Trinity West Liturgical Supply.
If you’ve ever wondered where the bread and wine that are transformed into the Eucharist at your local altar come from, there’s a good chance they were delivered by Ryan. The same is true for devotional and votive candles and variety of other goods.
When vestments fray, tabernacles or chalices show wear, Ryan and his company are at the ready.
Ryan says he provides supplies to 30 to 40 parishes in the diocese to varying degrees from a modest storage space in Garden Grove.
But it’s the added extras that set Trinity West apart.
When Father Al Baca, director of Evangelization and Faith Formation for the Diocese of Orange, needed a rush order on customized devotional candles for Year of St. Joseph celebrations, he knew where to turn. Father Al called Ryan, his old friend and schoolmate. Ryan and Fr. Baca have known each other since their days at St. Columban School in Garden Grove, where Ryan was born, raised and still resides.
Fr. Al contacted Ryan for an order of 6,000 candles, then procured stickers with artwork and prayers to St. Joseph translated into English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Korean,
It was up to Ryan to affix the decals individually to each candle.
“We spent a ton of time on that,” said Ryan, who plied volunteers with “a lot of bottles of wine” at his home.
Ryan has also been able to hunt down special or hard-to-find items.
“Even if I don’t have them, I can find them,” Ryan said. “The key is to be a good resource.”
Take, for example, St. Polycarp Church in Stanton. The old windows at the church had darkened over the years, allowing only a sickly glow to reach into the church.
One day, Ryan saw beautiful stained glass at the chapel at Daniel Freeman Hospital, which was being prepared for demolition. Ryan said he thought of Father Michael St. Paul and the “nasty yellow” windows at the church.
Ryan got together with Fr. Michael and brokered a deal to rescue the glass. St. Polycarp is now bathed in a rainbow of colors cascading through its new windows.
Recently Ryan started selling St. Killian’s candle systems, which have been installed at Christ Cathedral and other parishes. The system increases safety and is constructed in such a way that candles burn for 60 to 90 minutes, before falling through a hole and being extinguished in water.
Trinity West, which Ryan founded in 2008, is a mom and pop service. Ryan and his wife, Lisa, with a part-time bookkeeper and the son of a former co-worker of Ryan’s at Vons, make up the company.
Noah Erickson was hired to help deliver a trailer full of water to St. Vincent Church and has stayed on. Now a senior at Pacifica High, he has grown from being just a delivery boy to helping the company develop and maintain its website.
Trinity competes with several other companies, local, regional and online that sell supplies to parishes. The largest of these, locally, is Cotter Church Supplies, a family-owned company started in Los Angeles with five locations throughout the state, including Long Beach.
Ryan estimates there are about 100 church supply companies in the country, most of which are small and have been well-entrenched for generations.
“A lot of families pass on the businesses,” Ryan said. “I broke the mold. This wasn’t handed to me.”
Ryan learned the industry during stints in both the supply and manufacture side of church supplies.
“I figured I could do it on my own and do a better job for some customers,” he said.
While a number of competitors have expanded into providing art and other items such as Our Lady of Guadelupe candles sold through gift, Ryan keeps things simple, concentrating on bread, wine and candles.
Making it into the summer of 2021 was no small feat for Ryan. The COVID-19 pandemic, which shutdown in-person masses, crippled not only Ryan’s business, but the entire industry.
“We had a 90 percent drop off,” Ryan said of the effect after churches closed their doors in March, 2020. “All bread and wine sales stopped, and we sold only a few altar candles. COVID was definitely a slam.”
As Ryan waited for a five-pallet order to fill up his storage space, Ryan said there was no secret to survival, just patience and faith.
The homemade jam?
Lisa Ryan, in addition to helping her husband run the company and teaching fourth grade in Garden Grove, also enjoys making preserves in her free time.
According to Tom, his wife’s preserves are the secret weapon that helped him win over a number of clients and get past “the gatekeepers” at several churches.
He says when some of his customers start “Jonesing” for Lisa’s jams, he’ll bring by a couple of free jars and often leaves with new orders.
In another sign of the customer friendly one-on-one nature of Trinity West, Lisa makes special jars of sugarless jam for Bishop Kevin Vann.