Everyone's Doing It

Divine Calling

While its rep leans toward the secular, entrepreneurship can be more sacred than you'd expect. Indeed, most monasteries and abbeys depend on business skills to survive. And while start-ups may come and go, most monasteries and abbeys run established businesses with longevity that would impress even the most successful entrepreneur.

The 50 sisters in residence at Mount St. Mary's Abbey in Wrentham, Massachusetts, support themselves with a 43-year-old candy business. "We're cloistered sisters, and this way we can keep the base right here. It allows us to keep our life the way it is," says Sister Rita Rodrigue of Trappastine Quality Candy, the abbey's mail order and e-commerce candy business.

The monks at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, a Cistercian monastery in Conyers, Georgia, are veteran businessmen, running a number of enterprises: a gift shop, a stained glass manufacturing operation, a pine tree plantation and one of the largest bonsai suppliers in the United States.

"One of the conditions of any business we get involved in is that it must protect our way of life," explains Father Methodius, the monastery's business manager. "If the businesses were too worldly, it wouldn't be consistent with our life."

Each business developed naturally as an extension of the community's pooled talents and circumstances. The late Father Paul Bourne began the bonsai supply as a hobby. The land dictated that the monks start a pine tree farm rather than any other agricultural venture. And when the monastery was built in the 1950s, lack of funds led the monks to create their own stained glass. "There's an old Latin phrase, `Contemplata tradere,' which [essentially] means `to pass on the things which you contemplate,'" explains Father Methodius, who adds that much of their stained glass is religiously themed for churches. "Hopefully, that's the art we put into our stained glass."

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This article was originally published in the January 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Everyone's Doing It.

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