Tis the season of ordinations to the priesthood and assignment changes for priests and some people want to do something nice him. Monsignor Manners finds himself cornered quite often by persons demanding to know what they “could get” for a particular cleric. By and large the etiquette for buying gifts for clergy are the exact same as that for anybody else. To that extent, Monsignor Manners recommends that you go on line and look up advice written by Miss Manners. Examples are HERE and HERE.
Unless you know your priest well, there are a couple of things I would recommend avoiding. Plaques would be at the top of my list. Granted, it may be different in your situation. You may know the priest well and know exactly what to get him. Unfortunately when people are stumped, they tend to buy plaques. Considering the sheer number a man might receive it is good to remember his living conditions. If he is newly ordained he will most likely not have that much room. He will have an office, a bedroom, and possibly a sitting room. And he will only be there for a limited amount of time. In the Diocese of Cleveland that would be four years. Now, Monsignor Manners has been blessed in that he has always been assigned to parishes with ample rectories, but that is the exemption more than the rule. So keep in the back of your mind limited space and the need to be moving around the diocese as he is transferred at the beginning of his ministry
Also be careful about gift cards. Miss Manners finds these horrid excuses for gifts in general but there is also the problem of where the priest may end up. Is that store convenient? He may end up in a place where travel to the store is inconvenient and your fine gift will turn into a fine gift for that company.
There is one important area in which Miss Manners and Monsignor disagree. That might be overstating it a bit, for, in fact, most of the time I would give the same advice. It concerns the giving of cash as a present. Although in polite circles it is considered a thoughtless gift, in this particular case it is needed, appreciated, understood, and acceptable especially with the newly ordained. They have just left the seminary. Some seminaries do not allow the priest to work because they need to focus on their studies. They have probably been driving an older car and will need something reliable. They will be in need of a new wardrobe and books and other articles. More than likely they have some sort of debt such as student loans. And though they will be well taken care of, they are not going to be making a lot of money. A monetary donation is as much of a funding of new ministry as it is a gift.
But don’t be afraid. I received four books of blessings when I was ordained. One went to my first parish that didn’t have one, one in my office, one travel version in my car, the other I gave to someone who didn’t have one. Spiritual bouquets are also appreciated. He will need lots of prayer. That you thought of him and think that the life he has chosen is meaningful to you too means the world.