Belief Beat

Five years after Hurricane Katrina all but destroyed a pine forest owned by St. Joseph Abbey, the Benedictine monks have been trying to turn lemons into lemonade — in this case, damaged timber into hand-crafted caskets — to raise funds. Unfortunately, they found themselves breaking a Louisiana law that protects the state’s funeral directors from competition. Check out the Wall Street Journal story for more, including this section near the end:

With all their legal woes, the monks say they have sold only 60 caskets since 2007. That makes them a tiny supplier in the funeral market, given the state’s roughly 40,000 annual deaths.

Nevertheless, they inspire a stream of invective. “They’re cutting into our profit,” says Leonard Dunn, the owner of Serenity Funeral Home, located a short drive from the abbey. He adds. “I don’t think the monks are actually making the caskets–I think it’s a marketing gimmick.”

Recently, the abbey’s woodshop was buzzing, with two deacons and two novice monks sawing pieces of wood for the caskets.

Boyd Mothe Jr., a member of the fifth generation of his family to run Mothe Funeral Homes outside New Orleans, says Louisiana’s law should remain on the books because licensed directors have the training to sell caskets–transactions he calls “complicated.” For instance, he says, “a quarter of America is oversized. I don’t even know if the monks know how to make an oversized casket.”

Talk about opening a whole other can of wormfood with that last paragraph!

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