Monastic labor in modern times


#1

I am assuming that “Ora et Labora” is still guiding monasteries/abbeys today. Or has it changed with the modern age?

My question is more about the the labor. In olden days it was documents copying, farm work, cloth production. Today, almost everything are processed in factories and in many places farm work may not offer much profit (I’m not sure though if what it does offer will support the needs of a modern monastery). So what are the most common “Labora” for modern monasteries/abbeys? I know of some abbeys which operate educational institutions.

Finally, is it possible to operate a monastery to focus on software programming or even deep engineering work as processor design? Is this being done already? The disciplines of prayer/contemplation and this type of work seems very much compatible. Unless, I’m unaware of barriers that would prevent this.

I’d like to imagine computer video cards, air conditioning control systems, air traffic control systems, mobile phones, GPS, etc. whose microprocessor, circuit boards and software are designed by monks. One barrier I can think of: design tools (mostly software) might be too expensive.


#2

I've seen that quite a few monasteries still produce and sell finished agricultural products, such as cheese and wine. The last one I visited had apple orchards. In addition to selling apple cider & apple butter and running a U-pick apple operation, their shop also had finished ag products from other monasteries in the area.

I don't know much about high tech monks, but your idea is interesting :)


#3

I don't think there are any monks making computer processors. I've watched documentaries about a lot of different monasteries... and the last one I watched (about Carthusians in Portugal), there was a monk who had a computer... but it had absolutely no connection to the internet, he just used it for studying texts.

Anyways, a fairly common product for monks is beer (they run independent breweries), there are some Trappist monks somewhere in the Midwest who make coffins. Monks are just trying to make an income so that their monasteries are economically sustainable (and if they make an excess they definitely give it to charity). There are quite a few monasteries which make pretty lucrative deals with record companies for CD's of Gregorian Chant.

Also, I know that there's one convent which makes habits for both nuns and monks.


#4

I know our local Trappist monastery recently sold its farmland and equipment, not because it was unprofitable but because the average age of the monks was such that they could no longer do the work. Caskets are now their major industry.

Our local Trappistine monastery produces candies and has a small organic farm.

Subiaco Abbey, in Arkansas, still has an agricultural operation (in addition to their boarding school). But I see they also sell finished products on their website, such as hot sauce, peanut brittle and calligraphy.

I am not aware of software design or engineering work being done by monasteries. With the right set of individuals, it might be possible. But I wonder if recruiting monks or sisters with such talents would be sustainable?


#5

Thank you for your replies. They sure enlightened me to the fact that monastic life is still very traditional (except maybe for the production of CDs :)).

The reason this came to my mind is because (some of you may know this) most if not all design work is purely Intellectual Property creation. Just like drawing designs on paper or maybe writing a book. From the design created, "blueprints" (netlists) are sent to foundries to be built into chips and boards, etc. and then sent to some Asian factory for assembly into a device. In that entire chain, it's the IP owner who earns the most (e.g. see how all manual labor happens in China but it's Apple who rakes in the $$$).

And I think given the right training, and without the distractions of lay living I think monks have a clear advantage. They can focus on layers and layers of code, stop for prayers and come back anytime (I may be simplifying too much though).


#6

I know little about either monasteries or computer design etc...but my gut feeling is that the one would not be particularly conducive to the other.

I say this because it is my understanding that the entire focus of the monk's life is prayer. Even in work - mainly menial and repetitive type tasks, he is able to pray while working as well as making his work his prayer.

Things like farming, canning, even woodworking and such are not highly intellectual pursuits and allow time for much of the mind to continue in contemplative pursuits.

Concentrating on,"layers and layers of code", in between prayer seems to run contrary to this idea of continuous prayer.

I don't mean that these other pursuits of the monastics do not require concentration, certainly running power tools requires one to be aware and to operate safely, but it seems different than what would be required for writing code...

Then - as already mentioned there would be the matter of recruiting those with a suitable skill set.

Like I say the above is mere speculation on my part....As always I am open to correction.

Peace
James


#7

[quote="Semper_Zelare, post:3, topic:300682"]
Monks are just trying to make an income so that their monasteries are economically sustainable (and if they make an excess they definitely give it to charity).

[/quote]

This is a misconception. Any excess usually goes into a bank account for years in the future when it might be needed. That is not to say that they do not give to charities but they do not give all their excess away.

That would be just plain bad stewardship.


#8

[quote="gilbs72, post:5, topic:300682"]
Thank you for your replies. They sure enlightened me to the fact that monastic life is still very traditional (except maybe for the production of CDs :)).

The reason this came to my mind is because (some of you may know this) most if not all design work is purely Intellectual Property creation. Just like drawing designs on paper or maybe writing a book. From the design created, "blueprints" (netlists) are sent to foundries to be built into chips and boards, etc. and then sent to some Asian factory for assembly into a device. In that entire chain, it's the IP owner who earns the most (e.g. see how all manual labor happens in China but it's Apple who rakes in the $$$).

And I think given the right training, and without the distractions of lay living I think monks have a clear advantage. They can focus on layers and layers of code, stop for prayers and come back anytime (I may be simplifying too much though).

[/quote]

I think that you are a bit confused about the design environment. The bottom line is that you cannot do that alone, you need constant interaction with a team, you need licenses to design tools and licenses to the IP for the different design blocks. It takes a lot of money to do that, a lot of skilled people and if you want to bring the product to market in a reasonable time and being competitive you are not going to have time for an extensive prayer life.

I also did not add the fact that once you send parts to being built, then the real work starts, you need to write code to test them, you need testing facilities, you need to debug problems, decide which bugs must go into a revision, pass quality controls to make sure that your part is not going to fail after one year etc.


#9

I'm in Europe, but there's a network here of monastic stores that allow us to stock our house with a great many products of monastic labour. All or most of our:
- Jellies
- Cereal
- Beer
- Soap
- Honey
- Chocolate
- Candy
- Olive oil
- Cheese
- Mustard
...comes from monastic sources. (Other things they sell are porcelain, children's clothing, and religious art such as icons and the like.) These products are of considerably higher quality than their mass-produced cousins, so I am happy to be able to buy them, even beyond supporting religious communities.

I'm pretty sure I've seen a community somewhere who had someone that did freelance web design, but processor design is a whole different kettle of fish. I remember hearing in the '90s that the construction of a semiconductor plant cost $1 billion, obviously no monastic community could afford that, nor if they had such funds would they spend it on something like that.

Of course, maybe they could just take on some subcontracted work for Intel or AMD rather than do it all themselves, but I think the low-tech, high-quality market is probably a better fit for the skill sets and economic niche most communities need to fill. Especially since, even if a given monastery might have a few monks with strong technical knowledge, it would be pretty optimistic to suppose that they would be able to transmit all this to their less technically-inclined brethren, within the confines of the cloister.


#10

[quote="Friar_David_O.Carm, post:7, topic:300682"]
This is a misconception. Any excess usually goes into a bank account for years in the future when it might be needed. That is not to say that they do not give to charities but they do not give all their excess away.

That would be just plain bad stewardship.

[/quote]

I stand corrected. I was definitely generalizing there. And this makes a lot of sense.

One question I do have is: do some monasteries which are profitable basically give a lot of money to other monastic communities which are struggling financially? This probably differs between Orders... but in Orders in which the individual monasteries don't have a lot of autonomy, do the leaders of that Order (say the Dominican Provincials) dictate how the monasteries spend their money to some extent?

How does it work in the Carmelites?


#11

Thank you Cristiano, and to others who replied.

I didn’t want to go into operational details. And here is perhaps where the conflicts would start to come out (if there are indeed barriers imposed by the monastic lifestyle). The process I envisioned would not be a standalone one. The monastery would have to be associated with actual companies that do the rest of the work you mentioned (as well as shoulder the costs), and they would have to coordinate closely.

I also see your point regarding the impact on prayer life to remain competitive. As JRKH pointed out, concentration on prayer may as well be affected.

How can they keep with the times? I just note that even traditional items are now made by the truckloads in factories (handicrafts, processed food, cloths, etc.) On the other hand, maybe as the world moves into mass production, monasteries gain more opportunities in staying traditional and focusing on QUALITY (as TuAutem pointed out).

I just had to test the idea and seek some of your thoughts. Thank you.


#12

monasterygreetings.com/ is a whole site devoted to selling things made by monks and nuns. Mystic Monk Coffee is my favorite!


#13

How they “keep with the times” is basically to trust the Lord and look for niche markets. The Holistic and the Organic movements are both opportunities for monasteries.
I recall reading that when Mother Angelica was getting her nuns up and running they made fishing lures (of all things), and later ran a printing press.
Some monasteries are now making caskets - another interesting market - that seems to have had a bit of controversy attached to it.

Peace
James


#14

[quote="gilbs72, post:11, topic:300682"]
Thank you Cristiano, and to others who replied.

I didn't want to go into operational details. And here is perhaps where the conflicts would start to come out (if there are indeed barriers imposed by the monastic lifestyle). The process I envisioned would not be a standalone one. The monastery would have to be associated with actual companies that do the rest of the work you mentioned (as well as shoulder the costs), and they would have to coordinate closely.

I also see your point regarding the impact on prayer life to remain competitive. As JRKH pointed out, concentration on prayer may as well be affected.

How can they keep with the times? I just note that even traditional items are now made by the truckloads in factories (handicrafts, processed food, cloths, etc.) On the other hand, maybe as the world moves into mass production, monasteries gain more opportunities in staying traditional and focusing on QUALITY (as TuAutem pointed out).

I just had to test the idea and seek some of your thoughts. Thank you.

[/quote]

Later today I was thinking about your original post and I thought that one way to make it work out would have been as a contractor for a semiconductor company, but then I started laughing at the idea of the contractors (monks) having to go through mandatory "diversity" classes. In the past I had to go through few of those GLBT indoctrination events.:)


#15

[quote="Semper_Zelare, post:10, topic:300682"]
I stand corrected. I was definitely generalizing there. And this makes a lot of sense.

One question I do have is: do some monasteries which are profitable basically give a lot of money to other monastic communities which are struggling financially? This probably differs between Orders... but in Orders in which the individual monasteries don't have a lot of autonomy, do the leaders of that Order (say the Dominican Provincials) dictate how the monasteries spend their money to some extent?

How does it work in the Carmelites?

[/quote]

Independent monasteries that have abbots are to be self sufficient. Monasteries may contribute money to other monasteries but it can not be used by those monasteries to stay self sufficient. There are many cases where monasteries have been dissolved because they have become financially insolvent.

For the Carmelites we work with Provinces instead of Monasteries. To be come a Province a territory first is a mission territory of an existing Province, then becomes a Commersariate which is sort of self governing but under a Province, then it becomes a Province. Our constitutions state how this occurs. It is both the numbers of solemnly professed friars and the number of established houses. They also need to be financially independent.

Now our houses, we we call Priories (not Monasteries), do have their own funding and accounting but any access that the house has is considered the property of the Province and can be taken at anytime for any reason by the Province though we tend to leave it to the house to do what it needs to care for the house and its friars.

Rather then giving money to individual Provinces (which does occur on a limited basis) we support each other in other ways. My Province, for example, gives room and board in our student house in DC for other Provinces to send their men to achieve advanced degrees here in the DC area.


#16

The Monastery of the Holy Spirit (Cistercian) in Conyers, GA, has a fudge factory, sells bonzai trees and there is a stained glass workshop where they make stained glass windows for local Churches.

You can see one of their windows in my parish Church in the video at fiveblocksawaymovie.com/.

-Tim-


#17

A Trappist monastery around the corner from me (St Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts) still keeps the tradition very alive. They grow much of their own food, and make the 'Trappist Jams' you'll see in supermarkets across New England (once in a while you can find them elsewhere too). They also make great vestments, and the Holy Father even owns a few set. There's also talk of them starting to brew beer.


#18

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