The order of Trappist monks living in Holy Cross Abbey in Clarke County has dwindled from 68 to 10, and those ten are aging — the youngest is 59 years old. The remaining monks know they must change to survive. And for a group that traces it origins back to 1098 France, committing themselves to cloistered lives of celibacy, poverty and obedience, they have been pretty darned adaptive.
In a new one-hour documentary and accompanying article, The National Geographic highlights the order’s moves to become environmental sustainability. Organic farming and low-flow toilets are all fine and good, but what impresses me most is the monks’ spirit of entrepreneurial innovation — making the best of what they’ve got in their 1,200-acre property located about an hour’s drive west of Washington, D.C.
The monks have set aside 80 acres set aside for a “natural cemetery.” People can choose to be buried there in a shroud, as the monks are, or in a biodegradable coffin. Alternatively, they can choose cremation and have their ashes scattered in a separate section of the cemetery. Natural burial ranges from $4,000 to $8,000, depending on the spot. Since the cemetery opened in 2012, there have been 97 interments and 12 people who have had ashes scattered.
But this is the best:
In the last five years, Holy Cross has introduced “monastic immersion weekends” in addition to regular silent retreats, so that men and women can get a fuller taste of monastic life. Those weekends always sell out, says Kurt Aschermann, a companion to the abbey. Even the guests for the regular silent retreats are leaving larger donations than in years past, says Father James, which means that the retreats have become more profitable.
That’s what you call inventing a new business model!