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By Deacon Keith Fournier

12/15/2011 (3 years ago)

Catholic Online (

These monks work with wood and continue the work of redemptive love

 New Melleray is a Cistercian (Trappist) monastery located in the beautiful rolling farmland south of Dubuque, Iowa. Thirty monks live in community - praying and working for the salvation of the whole world. Crafting childrens caskets is an act of love and a corporal work of mercy for the monks

Caskets lovingly crafted by the Monks of New Melleray Abbey

Caskets lovingly crafted by the Monks of New Melleray Abbey


By Deacon Keith Fournier

Catholic Online (

12/15/2011 (3 years ago)

Published in Vocations

Keywords: Monks, New Melleray, Abbey, Child Casket Fund, Benedictine, Cistercian, monastic, works of mercy, Deacon Keith Fournier

PEOSTA, IA (Catholic Online) - One of my favorite definitions of a theologian was offered by a monk of the fourth century, Evagrius of Pontus. He wrote in his reflections entitled "Mirror for Monks": "The Knowledge of God is the breast of Christ and whoever rests on it will be a theologian".

The Image evokes the beloved disciple John, the author of the fourth Gospel, depicted at the Institution of the Eucharist, the "Last Supper", with his head on the chest of Jesus the Christ. His Gospel narrative was the last to be written and is the most theologically reflective. Clearly, John was a theologian. He learned that theology in the school of prayer.

That has been my own personal experience of monks. As a 'revert' to the Church, I had the privilege of spending 21 months in a Benedictine monastery as a very young man. There, I began a lifelong journey of prayer. I also studied the early fathers of the Church. I was taught by a wonderful monk. He was the first of several monks who have graced my life with their gift of holy presence, making Christ so palpable by their interior life - one which overflows in a genuine transfigured humanity. 

From my encounters with monks immersed in their unique and vital vocation, no matter how much formal theological study they have, their depth of prayer makes them the best theologians. It is out of that storehouse of grace that they are able to help the faithful find the longing of every human heart, communion and intimacy with the God who has revealed Himself fully, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, as the "human face of God" in Jesus Christ. 

A part of monastic life and spirituality is labor, immersed in prayer. Monks support themselves through hard work, dedicated to God and caught up in the ongoing redemptive work of Jesus Christ in and through His Church. They follow a "Rule", a Way of Life.

New Melleray is a Cistercian (Trappist) monastery located in the beautiful rolling farmland south of Dubuque, Iowa. These thirty monks live in community - praying and working for the salvation of the whole world. Their way of life is ancient and ever new, calling all of us, as monks have always done, to discover the deeper mysteries of life and to fully live the Catholic Christian faith in our own vocations. 

The Cistercians follow the Rule of St. Benedict and the Benedictine motto "Ora et Labora', Work and Prayer. The monks of New Melleray live that Rule as handed on in the tradition of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, within a community wholly ordered to a contemplative life of prayer.

These Monks hand craft wooden Caskets.I read these words on one of several of the websites sponsored by the wonderful Cistercian Monks at New Melleray Abbey in Iowa, "the good monks at New Melleray know that in the shaping of the wood, they are also shaping their souls".
These monks support themselves - and continue the work of God's love - by lovingly crafting wooden caskets. (You can visit this work ay Trappist Caskets )

The Trappist wood caskets handcrafted by the monks of New Melleray Abbey are constructed in the abbey's prayerful environment. Each is personally blessed by one of the monks prior to shipment. A Mass is offered at the abbey for each person who has used a Trappist casket or urn and their name is inscribed in the monk's Memorial Book. The monks also are good stewards of the Earth and the pine, oak and walnut woods used for the caskets and urns are grown at the abbey. A new tree is planted for each person who is buried in a Trappist casket.

Too often, people mistakenly believe that the monk retreats from the world because of its "corruption". In fact, the monk retreats (in differing ways in accordance with their particular monastic response) precisely in order to transform the world by his prophetic witness and powerful prayer. The dedicated monk is an essential part of the Lord's plan for the Church. The Church is what the early Fathers called the "New World", being recreated in Christ. We who have been baptized never again leave the Church. We actually live in the Church and go into the world to bring all men and women home.

The monastic life is one of the greatest treasures of our Church. Monasticism in the first millennium gave us the treasury of theological wisdom which still inspires the Church. Those who went into the desert became the great teachers, fathers, confessors and prophets. Their prayer and witness kept the Church in the Divine embrace so that she could effectively continue the redemptive mission of the Lord. That is, after all, the mission of the Church. 

In the second millennium, their work and witness continued. Sadly, the Church had been torn in two with the first split, East and West. In the East, the Monks continued to be a resource for the kind of theology which brings heaven to earth and earth to heaven. From their ranks the great Bishops of the Church were chosen and the Church was continually renewed.

In the West, the great Monasteries of Europe became the beating heart of the emergence of Christendom. The extraordinary intellect exhibited in the emerging theological tradition birthed in the monasteries enabled the Church to contend with daunting challenges, welcome them without fear, contend for the faith and offer the claims of Truth Incarnate.

The Monks of New Melleray live the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, "The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. (Cf. Isa 58:6-7; Heb 13:3.) Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently.

"The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. (Cf. Mt 25:31-46) Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God: ( Cf. Tob 4:5-11; Sir 17:22; Mt 6:2-4)

"He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none and he who has food must do likewise. (Lk 3:11). But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you.( Lk 11:41) If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?( Jas 2:15-16; cf. 1 Jn 3:17) (CCC #2245 -2247)

These dear men of God handcraft simple, affordable wooden caskets This sanctifying work is a way of life for this community. Following the Rule of St. Benedict, they support themselves by the work of their hands. However, their work is so much more. It is an act of love and you can participate in it. We had the opportunity to speak with their General Manager about one of the aspects of their work of love.

"When a child dies, it hits the monks particularly hard", said General Manager of Trappist Caskets Sam Mulgrew. "They don't like to sell children's caskets and instead have a "child casket fund" that often covers the costs.  The Child Casket Fund serves an important role for families who need a child's casket, but were not prepared for the unexpected financial burden.

During the holiday season, in the spirit of gift-giving, many families donate to the fund in memory of a lost loved one, or simply to reach out and help families in their time of need. While the monks don't rely on donations to support their way of life, they welcome charitable contributions to the Child Casket Fund, especially around this time of year, to continue this ministry for families touched by the tragedy of a child's death. 

Christina Green, the youngest casualty of the January 8, 2011 Tucson shootings that also injured congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was laid to rest in a casket donated by Trappist monks of the New Melleray Abbey. According to Mulgrew, a representative of the Green family contacted the monks at New Melleray Abbey about making a special casket for Christina. They were happy to oblige.

Christina's casket promptly arrived in Tucson in time for her funeral. It was crafted from red oak and the lid was inscribed with her name, date of birth and death, and a cross. The family also received five small keepsake crosses hewn from the same wood as the casket.

"We didn't want to send an adult coffin that would be too big. We wanted something just for her," said Mulgrew, who is not a monk but manages the business side of the abbey's casket company.

Crafting childrens caskets is an act of love and a corporal work of mercy for the monks. They tenderly craft caskets specifically in children sizes: infant, toddler, child, or youth.  Each casket receives the same attention to detail that the premium adult caskets do.

Each child casket includes a natural muslin-upholstered interior, with a pillow and mattress of premium quality.  A personalized keepsake cross is available at no additional cost.

The monks at New Melleray offer no easy explanation for the mystery of a child's death.  But by providing children caskets, made as if they were cradles, the monks' prayer is that the children will be commended to God's love and care forever.

The Child Casket Fund   

At the Trappists' discretion, they frequently donate or discount child caskets to families.  The Child Casket Fund is a way for benefactors to contribute financially to this cause.  When the Trappists discount or donate a casket, the Child Casket Fund provides a financial reserve to help cover the cost.

Anyone wishing to give a gift of mercy to promote the works of mercy this holiday season to help ease the financial burden for families struggling to afford a child casket may do so by making a tax-deductible donation to the Child Casket Fund 


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