By Elizabeth Fisher
Special to The CS&T

Ava Puma once earned a six-figure income and drove a Porsche. She lived the good life until a terrible accident changed her forever. Now, she said, she lives a more blessed life.

Puma is the owner of the Ave Maria Shop, a vast Catholic religious store in Morrisville that sells every possible item, from statues to rosaries, books to candles. She hosts rosary nights that bring between 10 and 30 people who pray for priests. Puma works day and night and couldn’t be happier, she said.

The transition from executive to shop owner was the result of the near tragedy. Puma lives in New Jersey but considers St. Ignatius of Antioch in Yardley her home parish. In 1997, she was driving her car along a stretch of highway when she witnessed an accident and stopped to help. As she got out of her car, she was struck by another vehicle, leaving her in critical condition and suffering a brain injury.

As a result of the trauma, Puma was left with short-term memory problems and an inability to cope with what she called “sensory overload” such as crowds and noise. Christmas shopping can overwhelm her. Once out of the hospital, she took a $6-an-hour job at the Ave Maria Shop, then located in Trenton.

“I just wanted to see if I could handle it,” said Puma, who, with her newfound faith, became very devoted to the Blessed Mother. So much so that when the family who owned the 75-year-old shop decided to sell, Puma prayed to Mary that she would somehow be able to buy it and move it to Bucks County.

The miracle, as Puma calls it, happened, and the Ave Maria Shop just marked its fifth anniversary at the new location on West Trenton Avenue. It has become a little paradise for shoppers and those who come to pray, especially at the well-attended Thursday night rosary.

Puma said one mark of success – and the one she’s most proud of – is the framed blessing to the Ave Maria Shop from Pope Benedict XVI, sent as a means of congratulations for her five-year mission, she said.

Since opening, the shop has become a family affair with Puma’s husband, John, and her son, Sal LaMantia, manning the counters and helping with sales. LaMantia’s role has grown with the business and he now works with parishes that buy candles and other supplies from Ave Maria.

“I began to feel that I don’t care if I never left this store. I believe that the only thing that matters is getting to heaven and taking as many people as you can with you,” Puma said.

Elizabeth Fisher is a freelance journalist and member of St. Mark Parish in Bristol.