Located in a richly forested area near Dubuque Iowa, New Melleray Abbey, a Trappist monastery, managed to support itself through farming until the agricultural market collapse of the 1990s. Abbot Brendan Freeman launched a new venture in 1999 that would offset the shortfall in income. Taking advantage of a change in the law which allowed consumers to provide their own funeral merchandise, Abbot Brendan founded Trappist Caskets. By utilizing the Abbey’s massive timber resources and available monk labor force, the new company adopted the Irish tradition of wooden caskets. From its inception, the business has experienced brisk growth due to the vision, acumen, and oversight of Abbot Brendan.
Trappists are committed to responsible stewardship, and their methods are aimed at preserving the world as God made it. Towards this end, the New Melleray monks use wood of local origin, much of it from their own award-winning 1,200-acre forest, which is managed to be a sustainable ecosystem. A tree is planted in the forest in honor of each individual buried in a Trappist casket. In addition to its casket business, New Melleray continues its 150-year tradition of farming, particularly chemical-free crops and raising organic Black Angus beef.
Rev. Abbot Brendan Freeman received an MA in religious studies and divinity from Catholic University of America. He is an Irish citizen whose father’s family hails from Ballyhanus and his mother’s from Kiltimagh, both in County Mayo. He is the president of the Board of Directors of Cistercian Publications and has been elected abbot for six consecutive terms at New Melleray Abbey, which was founded in 1849 at the time of the great famine by the Irish monastery Mount Melleray of County Waterford in Ireland.
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