When St. Benedict, the father of Western monasticism set forth his Rule, he desired that the monks support themselves through their labour. This ideal of ora et labora, or prayer and work, has spawned quite a few interesting monastic enterprises. St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo, CA makes ceramics and also hosts many retreats. Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey makes cheese, as does the Abbey of Regina Laudis, a Benedictine abbey of nuns. St. Walburga’s Abbey in Virginia Dale, CO makes altar bread, as do quite a few other houses of female Benedictine and Cistercian religious.
When a Benedictine monk or nun dies, they are generally buried in a simple coffin. Trappist monks and nuns generally aren’t even buried in a coffin. Rather they are interred simply in their monastic habits and buried. Some monasteries, such as St. Meinrad’s Archabbey in Indiana and St. Joseph’s Abbey in Louisiana, make caskets. Since the Federal Trade Commission allowed for people to supply their own caskets rather than buy one from the funeral home, some have expressed interest in having a simple casket made by the monks. As you can see from St. Meinrad’s website, the caskets are simple, but quite nice all the same. Also, they are less expensive than caskets on offer from some funeral homes.
In 2007, St. Joseph’s Abbey began making caskets to sell to the general public, something which St. Meinrad’s and a few other Benedictine monasteries had been doing for years. They hoped that this would bring in another source of income for the monastic community. However, they were informed by the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors that if they sold a single casket, they could be prosecuted for illegally selling funeral merchandise, something restricted under Louisiana law to licensed funeral directors alone.
The Abbey of St. Joseph is suing the State of Louisiana over this. I hope that they win.