What do you do with an excess of chrism and a plethora of Catholic men with beards?
Tony Vasinda, a director of faith formation at a Catholic parish in Seattle, Wash., was faced with that dilemma two years ago when he ordered some of the fragrant, liturgical oil for his confirmation students.
“I love it when people can actually engage with the materials of the sacrament in advance, so I wanted to have some non-blessed chrism we could use for the candidates to smell and help cement in their memory the different lessons we were teaching,” Vasinda told CNA.
When he went to order essence of chrism, Vasinda only needed an ounce. But the minimum amount he could order was enough to make three gallons.
“So I had a little bit of an excess of chrism,” he joked.
Around that same time, Vasinda had been making beard balms for himself and his bearded friends, and he had an idea for what to do with his surplus.
“I thought hey, wouldn’t it be funny if I made some chrism-scented Catholic beard balm?”
That’s how Catholic Beard Balm got its start. Vasinda, and his friend and fellow Catholic beard balm creator Michael Marchand, soon started selling their handmade, natural balms in small batches with five signature scents. According to the website the balm has a myriad of beardly benefits including conditioning, nourishing, and promoting a fuller appearance.
And the great thing is, all the proceeds benefit Tony and Michael’s ministry, ProjectYM, a resource hub for Catholic youth ministers.
Tony and Michael recently sat down to chat with CNA about all things follicular and fragrant:
How did you recognize that Catholic beard balm would even have a market?
Tony: We had a conference coming up, and I thought we could take it there and sell it to other Catholic Youth ministers. We knew a lot of those guys have beards...So that was kind of how it started.
Michael: It’s funny, Tony brought like one hundred beard balms to that event, and we all kind of laughed at him and said there’s no way we’re gonna sell those, there’s no way people will buy those. And within a matter of hours, we sold all of them. So it was sort of like oh wait a minute, there is a market for this.
What’s up with Catholic guys and beards? So many Catholic guys I know have a beard going right now.
Tony: I don’t think it’s a new thing, I think the real question is kind of like, what’s up with the lack of facial hair? That was really the change that happened at some point in the last couple hundred years — men stopped growing beards.
(Beards are) kind of a unique signifier of manliness. There’s not a lot that men get to do that show off our masculinity in a way that’s easy for us to do in our daily life. Like I have zero desire to go chop down a tree and cut it up into lumber, I’m not working in a coal mine. So there’s a little bit of it that comes down to a desire to display our masculinity in a way that’s appropriate for who we are today. Plus beards are just awesome and they look great.
Michael: I started mine because I was lazy and my wife somewhere along the road told me hey, you either need to grow it out all the way or you need to shave it. There was no larger plan in my mind.
Tony: There was always a larger plan in my mind. I always wanted my beard to be larger and larger.
Tell me about the different scents your balms have.
Tony: We have five different aromas, the original three were chrism, Franciscan, which is the unscented, natural ingredients, it’s a nod to the simplicity of Francis and the Franciscan community and their close connection with God’s creation.
The next one was Lectio, which was supposed to be evocative of the sweet smell of old books or old bibles, so it’s got amber, vanilla, and sandalwood in it.
We’ve got Holy Smokes, which is the incense one, so that’s frankincense, a little bit of myrrh and a touch of woodsmoke. I actually had somebody the other day who was wearing it on their beard and their pastor was like, did we get the good incense? But it was because the beard balm smelled better than the incense they normally buy.
We also did one that’s kind of (a nod) to Chesterton that is called Orthodoxy, that is pipe tobacco and hops, it’s a lighter scent but it smells really good.
Who are your favorite bearded saints?
Michael: I’m a big John the Baptist fan, he’s kind of a throwback. He was willing to be radical and out there, I think he’s probably top on my list.
I’m also a big fan of Cyril and Methodius, I’m somebody who really values evangelization, and I think St. Cyril and Methodius are perfect examples of that mission.
Tony: It’s hard to choose, but St. John Chrysostom, I knew he had a beard but his statement on fasting particularly is a modern concept that most Catholics understand very poorly. He has this (reflection) on fasting and not just fasting from food or meat but fasting from sin, really taking the time to remove sin from our life in an intentional way.
Padre Pio — amazing beard, amazing saint. Such a surprising saint I think for young people to hear about.
And then St. Max Kolbe is another one that I think is phenomenal, he grew his beard so that he could gain more respect in the culture that he was trying to minister to, and as soon as the Nazi’s came to attack he knew his beard would offend them, but he knew his habit would offend them more, so he offered to sacrifice his beard because he wasn’t going to sacrifice his commitment to God.
What has the overall response to Catholic Beard Balm been like?
Tony: It’s really been a cool extension of the New Evangelization. It’s fun how oftentimes humor and mirth lead us into that place of evangelizing in a way that the culture responds to.
Michael: One of the things I think that surprised us I think initially and going into Lent was how strong the devotion is of men through their beard. It’s part of who they are, so the fact that they can identify with other Catholic men through something they share I think has been really cool.
I think sometimes it gets dismissed as being superficial, but I think it’s really interesting that an attribute of their masculinity, an attribute of who they are is something that they can connect with other men through that.
Do have other products besides the beard balm?
Tony: We had a lot of women who were really upset that we didn’t have any products for women, so we made Little Flower lip balm last November. We have three handmade lip balms that are rose, citrus or peppermint flavored, and we use really high quality essential oils in those, and we try to avoid anything that’s not a natural ingredient wherever we can.
Next month we’re launching our third product line — I would say it’s more geared towards women, but it could work for men as well, just like beard balm could work on a woman’s beard as well.
We’re selling a lotion bar called Lumina, my wife came up with the idea, in honor of st. Philomena, just like the Little Flower in honor of St. Terese, and we’ll have four different aromas for that.
We’re also going to do soap. And soap is terrifying. It’s a much harder product to manage. Hopefully around the summertime we’ll be launching the soaps.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Michael: Our heart for ministry trumps our desire for beard balm to be successful, so we love that beard balm has been so successful because it empowers and enables the ministry that we’re doing.
Tony: The dialogues we get to have online with people has been amazing — I got to explain the difference between adult and infant baptism through Catholic Balm Company on Facebook, so there’s a lot of really big things that come into it.
A lot of people don’t know that we’re an authentically Catholic company run by guys who have a real passion for ministry, but we’re not just making money, we’re excited about all the ways it’s allowed us to do more.