OSHKOSH — Anne Hocking, owner of On This Rock Christian Books and Gifts, grew up as a Catholic in Combined Locks. But at the age of 18 she left the church. “I had a falling away from the church for 25 years,” she said.
She had a good corporate job and a couple of failed marriages when she met “the love of my life,” Rick Hocking, parish administrator at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish who was ordained a deacon in 2006. They both wanted to renew their faith and started attending Mass at the Newman Center on the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh campus.
“When we started going to church, I still didn’t know my faith. I started getting on fire. ‘Lord, I want to know you,’” she said.
The couple joined a study group that met for six years. In one discussion, they lamented the fact that religious stores in Oshkosh had no Catholic presence. Rick suggested this might be a calling for Anne.
She had no business experience and was still new to her renewed faith. “I had a great job,” she said. “Well, God had other ideas.”
She “started picking the brain” of a woman who owned a similar shop in the Fox Valley. “I still didn’t think that was going to happen. God is so faithful. His hand was in this all along.”
When she didn’t know what she would need to run a store or what to buy, she was put in touch with a woman who was closing a similar business and was able to buy her remaining inventory.
Then she joined the Catholic Marketing Network, which has a big show every year and let her learn about the business and what to buy.
“It let me learn about the business part of the ministry,” she said. “But everyone in the business runs it as a ministry. We’re all in it for the same reason: to bring Jesus to people who don’t know him.”
The store opened on Nov. 15, 2003, during the opening weekend of deer-hunting season. “It was a wing and a prayer,” Hocking said.
The electricity blew out. Only one customer came in and didn’t buy anything. “I cried every day for two weeks,” she said.
But then came her first big sale. A greeter from her parish came in and bought several books. “I was over-the-moon excited,” she said. The store first opened in the former rectory of St. Peter Parish (now part of Most Blessed Sacrament), and has been in its current home next to the St. Vincent site of St. Jude the Apostle Parish.
As a ministry, the store lets Hocking live out her faith in a way that fits in perfectly for her. “I have the gift of gab,” she said. “I love people and I love to know their stories.”
She said people are hurting and priests are not always as available as they would like to be to talk. At On This Rock, she said, “we listen to people. We’re evangelizing here. I pray to God for discernment, and I can discern when people need to talk.”
She connected one visitor who has a child with a medical issue with another whose child had the same issue. “They now have this beautiful friendship,” she said.
Another couple met at the store and later were married.
Talks with another visitor contributed to him becoming a priest later in life.
Customers continually run into people they haven’t seen for a long time. Many visitors come in just to talk, and a few of different faiths have even berated the staff. “We plant a seed if they want to know more about the faith,” she said. “We’re connectors — connecting people with people.”
A 15th anniversary celebration of On This Rock will be held Friday and Saturday, Nov. 16 and 17 at 216 W. South Park Ave. It will feature giveaways, refreshments and specials on a wide variety of merchandise, including books, children’s items, a baby boutique, rosaries, prayer cards, greeting cards, jewelry, icons, statues, pictures and crucifixes.
“It has sustained me to have this store for 15 years,” Hocking said. “We knew we needed a Catholic bookstore in town, never thinking it would be us. We bless this store. This is not my store. God chose me to do this. This is God’s store.”