The Catholic Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance—commonly known as “the Trappists”—traces its roots all the way back to the sixth century. It was then that Benedict of Nursia wrote The Rule of St. Benedict: A detailed list of spiritual laws that specifies how its members should live. These laws dictate when Trappist monks and nuns can sleep, how much to pray, when and what to eat, and how to work. The two tenets that guide their lives are “ora et labora,” or prayer and work. Members are expected to engage in manual labor to balance their hours spent in spiritual reflection, and all monasteries and nunneries should be financially self-supporting. To this day, Trappists are known for the many goods they produce within their cloistered communities, like jams, jellies, and their infamous fruitcake. The product most people associate with the Trappists, though, is beer, considered by many to be the finest in the world. And in America, there is only one monastery where Trappist beer is brewed: St. Joseph’s Abbey, the home of Spencer Brewery.
What does it take for humble monks to run a moneymaking enterprise in a 21st-century capitalist society? America: The Jesuit Review of Faith & Culture traveled to Spencer, Massachusetts to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the brewery, as well as interview Brother Isaac Keeley, the contemplative Trappist who runs the show. This fascinating article tells the story of how the former hermit became a businessman, and what it takes to balance faith and tradition with beer and business. (If it’s too early in the day for a cold one, you can always pair this great read with a thick slice of fruitcake.)