Tucked off a two-lane highway in a hilly, wooded section of central Massachusetts, a group of Roman Catholic monks has embraced a centuries-old tradition they hope can sustain their aging members in a world of rapidly rising health costs.
The 60 monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey still rise at 3 a.m. for prayers and pass most of their days in silence. But when it is time for work, a handful head down to the monastery’s new brewery, the first outside Europe to produce certified Trappist Ale.
The venture has proven to be less labor-intensive than the monks’ other businesses, making religious vestments and fruit preserves. More importantly, they believe it can generate enough money to sustain a community of men with an average age of 70 who now spend about a third of their budget on health care.
“We’re trying to reinvent our economy,” said Father Isaac Keeley on a recent tour of the abbey’s low-slung stone buildings and starkly modern 30,000-square-foot brewery, nestled in a wooded property some 60 miles (97 km) west of Boston.