Thirty years ago, a young woman stepped out on faith and opened a multimedia business that would find success among Northeast Ohio Catholics.
Barbara Gaskell is founder and CEO of the St. Raphael Center, a Catholic-centered, multifaceted business at 4365 Fulton Drive NW.
The center includes a retail store, St. Raphael Books & Gifts, which offers books, jewelry, videos, saint statues, rosaries and gifts for weddings, First Communion and Confirmation. It recently added a selection of coffee, teas, hot chocolate, sauces and a variety of wine and beer produced in monasteries.
It also houses three radio stations.
“I began the store in 1989 in response to a reawakening of my faith in Jesus Christ,” Gaskell said. “I wanted to learn more about Jesus and his church, but in those years, it was difficult to find printed materials locally and the time was pre-Internet. Even though I had no business knowledge or money, I felt called by the Lord to open a Catholic bookstore. In fact, it seemed that the Lord hounded me to open a store.”
Gaskell said she started St. Raphael in a 300-square-foot, second-story office above a strip mall, “armed with $3,000, a few boxes of books and faith in the Lord.”
“Family and friends helped me get started, and local pastors were willing to give us free advertising,” she recalled. “At that time, I made a bargain with the Lord that if I could survive that pace for two years and we saw growth in the store, I would quit my job and give myself full time to His work. So for two years, I operated the store from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. after my regular work day.”
In 1992, the store moved downstairs in the strip plaza. A nonprofit organization was formed, overseen by three trustees.
“We began to dream of having our own building and radio station,” Gaskell said. “In 1999, we broke ground for our current 7,500-square-foot facility, which houses St. Raphael Books & Gifts, Living Bread Radio Network, the Mary, Ark of the Covenant Chapel, Mother Angelica Tour, an outdoor rosary garden and Lourdes grotto.”
In 2018, St. Raphael introduced The Mother Angelica Tour, which hosts and conducts guided tours related to the life of the late EWTN founder Mother Angelica, a Canton native who grew up as Rita Rizzo. The tour includes a stop at St. Anthony/All Saints Catholic Church, Sancta Clara Monastery and the Rhoda Wise Shrine, a house where the future Mother Angelica reported receiving a healing.
There are plans to open a Mother Angelica Museum in 2020.
St. Raphael also operates as one of the largest Catholic radio networks in Ohio, offering music and nationally syndicated and local talk programs. In 2001, WILB began broadcasting two hours per day on 1060 AM, followed by 24-hour broadcasting in July 2004.
In 2012, St. Raphael purchased 89.5 FM in Youngstown, followed by 94.5 FM in Canton in 2016. In 2017, the network connected to smart speaker technology. This summer, the network launched an app, Great Catholic Music, which has gained a national following.
Gaskell said St. Raphael is named in honor of her late uncle, the Rev. Raphael Salasek.
“He was a wonderful, holy man. He was a good influence on my life, and we had a great relationship,” she said. When he was dying of cancer, he promised me that he would help me as much as he could ‘from the other side.’ Through the years, I have learned that St. Raphael the Archangel is the patron saint of healing. The name Raphael means ‘God heals.’ We strive to be a source of comfort and healing in our community.”
Gaskell said she doesn’t know how many customers St. Raphael has served since 1989.
“But I do know that many of them have become our extended family,” she said. “St. Raphael Bookstore and now St. Raphael Center has never been about selling things; it is meant to be a ministry, a safe place where we can share the things that matter most: God, family and our eternal homeland. It has been my honor to serve this great community for the past 30 years.”
>> More info: 4365 Fulton Dr. NW, Canton. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, visit catholicbook.net.