St. Lawrence parishioner and artist Marie Mattos created Etsy sticker business to help educate children using the lives, examples of the saints
STERLING HEIGHTS — Faith starts small, like little sprouts. These sprouts need to be nourished and fed so they can grow into something more robust.
Inspired by her own children, Marie Mattos wanted to make the Catholic faith accessible in small ways — so, in December 2021, she started her business, SaintSprouts, selling adorable stickers of the saints on Etsy.
Mattos was originally inspired to create Catholic-inspired décor for schools to help children become acquainted with the teachings of the Church, the sacraments and other aspects of the faith.
“(I thought) beginning with saints would be a good place to start because they were real people who lived the faith, so this was a way to start off slow and see where it went,” Mattos, a member of St. Lawrence Parish in Utica, told Detroit Catholic. “They all show the many facets of the faith and how beautiful the Catholic faith is and how to come to know about Jesus.”
Mattos, who always loved dabbling in art — she never left her house without her sketchbook and magic markers as a kid, and her current work is inspired by her childhood love of Japanese anime such as Sailor Moon — majored in studio art at Michigan State University and began freelancing a few years ago.
The process of making each sticker from sketch to completion takes about 2-4 hours, Mattos said. She gets most of her work done when her two boys, ages 3 and 5, are sleeping.
“I will first start to sketch them by hand, and what’s amazing is to see how different they look from concept to completion,” Mattos explained. “I will sketch it out, then I will send it to my computer, and then I will start tracing it on the computer, and in the end, I will add the details or the color, and it just comes to life in a way I wasn’t expecting. It is so cool to see how even I get surprised by the finished project. They look different in a good way. It's almost like their personalities have gotten infused into the sketches.”
In her shop, she sells stickers ranging from well-known saints such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St. Juan Diego and St. Joan of Arc to more obscure saints such as St. Anna Wang and St. Barbara Choe Yong-i.
Mattos continues to learn about new saints, sometimes as a result of customer requests. Her first sale was a sticker of St. Francis Xavier to a lady in Anchorage, Alaska, Mattos said. The woman came back and requested a sticker of Blessed Justo Takayama.
“I had never heard of him. I had to look him up,” Mattos said. “I wound up doing a sticker of him, and I learned he was the first Catholic Japanese samurai saint. I believe he converted and became a priest. It was fascinating to learn about.”
When drawing each saint, Mattos says she begins her research by reading about them and looking up images of them online. However, some of the saints require her to go by divine inspiration.
For example, when working on a sticker about St. Anna Wong, a Chinese saint martyred during the Boxer Rebellion, Mattos discovered there were very few pictures of her.
“I decided, ‘Well, she is from China, so I want to make her look really beautiful in this image,’” Mattos said. “I decided to put her in a traditional Chinese Hanfu dress; they are from the Han dynasty centuries ago, but it is still a style that is very popular among the young today. She is holding a lantern, more so just as a creative detail because her faith lit her way … it floored everyone when she gave up her life.”
In each image, Mattos includes little "Easter eggs" from each saint's life. Some are more obvious, such as St. Patrick's staff and clover or St. Cecelia’s harp, but others require more creativity.
“One sticker is of St. Rita of Kasha, and she is surrounded by bees. The funny thing is she was my patron saint for confirmation, but I didn't know anything about the bees and why she is surrounded by them. So I Googled it, and I came up with the story: On the day of her baptism, a bunch of little white bees flowed around her and flowed in and out of her mouth, and yet she wasn’t harmed by them. Her parents truly believed this must be a sign of grace from God that she will be virtuous and absolutely devoted to God.
“I like to put little details as elaborately as I can into every saint,” Mattos continued. “I want them all to have their own unique story because every saint is different — all their lives are different. Their stories are different.”
Mattos hopes the little details encourage others to ask questions and research the saints.
She added her two boys inspire her work, and they ask questions and learn about the saints as she draws each one.
“They are the reason I got started with it because I wanted to find a tangible way to explain the saints to them,” Mattos said. “Whenever I am putting together a new one, and my son comes up to me at the computer, I ask, ‘Who am I working on now?’ They may not know, and I will say, ‘It’s saint so and so, and this is what they did, and this is what they are known for.’ It’s a great learning moment. Once I finish the sticker, they know who it is. They recognize the little details about each saint, and it is cool to see what they remember, even if it is just their name alone.”
The process of making each saint has helped Mattos grow in her own faith, she said.
“It gives me consolation that there is hope for me because I am broken; I completely fall short of who God wants me to be every day, but they inspire me to be brave to get up and keep going,” Mattos said. “Everyone’s story is uniquely different. I am not supposed to try and be a carbon copy of the saints, but they inspire me in little ways every day to be the best version of myself.”
Mattos currently sells her stickers on Etsy, her website and at several Catholic stores in Michigan, including the Solanus Casey Center in Detroit, Our Lady of Grace Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Celtic Cove Catholic Bookstore in Oxford and the Basilica of Ste. Anne in Detroit.
She hopes to expand nationwide and diversify the types of products she sells; she’d love to make posters, water bottles or little "stuffies" or "snuggle buddies."
“I would just love to make a line of children's products that they could enjoy — patterned backpacks or water bottles — useful things that hit the message home every day that Jesus loves you," Mattos said. "I continue to take it one day at a time and see where God leads it.”
Mattos has a sketchbook full of ideas and is waiting for God to show her the next steps, she said.
“I am just starting small — little sprouts,” she said.
SaintSprouts can be found on Etsy and via the SaintSprouts website. For more information about Marie Mattos or to contact her, visit her personal website.
Arts Culture and Media Personal witness