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Belief Beat


Fun Friday, Hurricane Katrina Anniversary Edition: Monks vs. Funeral Directors in Casket Wars

posted by Nicole Neroulias

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!

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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Alicia

posted August 27, 2010 at 1:53 pm


Go, monks. Interesting, I just saw “Get Low” in which the main character (played by Robert Duvall) makes his own casket.



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kenneth

posted August 27, 2010 at 6:38 pm


Every industry that’s clinging to a bogus monopoly always has some weasley line about how it’s really protecting the public’s interest, not their own. The funeral industry is one of the most predatory and parasitical out there. I’m going for cremation and/or green burial.
That last bit about the rocket science of making an oversize coffin is especially hillarious. I’m no fan of the Catholic Church in general, but if monks were smart enough to save the written record of Western Civilization through the Dark Ages, I’m guessing they’re bright enough to know how to let a tape measure out a few extra inches.



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Tom

posted August 27, 2010 at 8:07 pm


If the monks in fact don’t know how to make an oversized casket, then that’s one corner of the market funeral directors have clear control over (more wood=higher sales=higher profits, the same as fabrics for big & tall stores), but I do see the funeral directors’ concern. One doesn’t want to spend his post mortem years stuffed in an undersized coffin (especially if they’re claustrophobic, but on second thought they’d still have problems ;-)



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nnmns

posted August 27, 2010 at 8:59 pm


You can pretty clearly see the hand of politics here allright. There’s likely a funeral director of several with some loose money to apply to a race in pretty much every parish. They may be almost as well protected as the arms industry.
My sympathies to the monks (unusual in itself) but I think they’re up against a stronger power. Perhaps they’d better find something else to do with that wood.



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Bruce

posted August 28, 2010 at 1:02 pm


Clearly the monopolistic law at issue is one brought into being to give the funeral directors a complete monoply on caskets, to the detriment of grieving loved ones, and at the added expense of the buyers. The relied upon “law” should be repealed, at once, by the Louisiana legislture or struck down by the Louisiana courts.



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Jack West

posted August 28, 2010 at 5:00 pm


Have the monks transfer the wood to Brad Pitt’s oraganization that is building homes in New Orleans. Deal with the living, not with the dead. And remember, your “boss” was a carpenter.



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Robert C

posted August 28, 2010 at 5:35 pm


I lived not too far from that abbey for a few years. It is a serene and tranquil spot and the good friars are warm and friendly. This is simply a ridiculous story. Most funeral homes are rackets that rake in huge profit margins at a time when grieving families who haven’t planned for the unfortunate times are ripe for fleecing. Obviously the monks handiwork is not a product suited to the tastes of those with income to burn either. In other words , they pose no real competition to anyone but the local carpenters. But perhaps the monks would make a steadier income if, rather than assembling caskets, they fashioned stakes to drive through the hearts of those vampiric funeral directors and sold them to the bereaved instead.



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pagansister

posted August 28, 2010 at 8:12 pm


Doesn’t help the Monks, but cremation is the way to “go”.



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Henrietta22

posted August 29, 2010 at 6:31 pm


Little wooden boxes are also used for the ashes of the deceased PS, I wonder if the Monks are making these, too. Robert C is right, the old law should be changed. Nobody should have a corner on the market on what their loved-ones are laid to rest in.



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Henrietta22

posted August 29, 2010 at 6:33 pm


Sorry it was Bruce that said the law should be changed.



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pagansister

posted August 30, 2010 at 8:19 pm


Henrietta, I forgot about the little boxes that are sometimes used to put ashes in, as all I remembered were the little jars. Maybe the monks could make pottery urns. :o)



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Paul

posted February 21, 2011 at 9:57 pm


There is nothing wrong with what the monks are doing. Why waste the wood? The monks should sell the caskets to funeral homes that need inexpensive options for low income families or those who didn’t have insurance.



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