In December 1889, Benedictine monks established a monastery in the pine forests of southeast Louisiana, 65 km north of New Orleans. At Saint Joseph Abbey, as it’s known today, the monks have long run cottage industries to help pay the bills. More recently, they’ve started manufacturing funeral caskets—a venture that prompted the Louisiana funeral industry to complain they were unlicensed vendors.
The monks wanted to craft simple “monastic” caskets, as well as slightly less simple “traditional” caskets. (Both models are customizable for crypts and mausoleums—the way to bury the dead in the land of the bayou—and priced below the national average of $2,200). But before they could deliver their first casket, they received a cease-and -desist letter from the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors—a Louisiana law prohibited the sale of caskets except by licensed funeral homes. Rather than turn the other cheek, the monks went to court. Last month, a judge ruled in their favour, saying the law was unconstitutional. The monks now hope to sell 10 caskets a month. “A Christian death is not about having this big fancy casket, but going out simply,” says Abbot Justin Brown. “We come in with nothing—we go out with nothing.”