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Monks at Kentucky abbey find sweet way to support themselves

SPIRIT OF THE BLUEGRASS


NELSON COUNTY- Every day, seven times a day, 44 Trappist monks go to a chapel to pray at the Abbey of Gethsemani. It's a practice that's been unbroken since 1848.

"It's just part of the total energy of the church that there be people giving themselves body, soul and heart to a life of prayer," said Brother Paul Quenon, a monk who's been at the abbey for more than 50 years.

It's a peaceful, structured life, with the first prayers coming at 3 a.m.

Brother Paul said "To get at up 3 a.m., It's quiet. You don't have pressures to get work done."

Yes, he mentioned work. The monks have to support themselves, and they've found a sweet way to pay the bills-- making fudge so good it's almost sinful.

"These products are our living. We sell them to pay our hospital bills, doctor bills, electric bills, all that. The needs the monks require," said Brother Roger Kaler, manager of Gethsemani Farms.

Every monk who is able spends time in the bakery or the shipping room. They turn out rich fudge in many flavors. Many of the recipes include a favorite local ingredient, Kentucky bourbon. And this time of year, fruitcakes are popular. They come out of the oven dozens at a time.

Brother Roger said they make about 70,000 pounds of fudge a year and about the same amount of fruitcake.

Their work is not just for income. The monks at the Abbey of Gethsem,ni see manual labor as a requirement for their lifestyle.

"If we're sitting around all day praying, prayer would tend to dry up," said Brother Paul. "So the value of work is not only to give you variation in activity, but it's very important to engage the body and rest the mind."

This ancient place has very modern touches. In fact, the fudge and fruitcake business wouldn't thrive if not for a first class shipping operation and Internet sales have been a Godsend.

In recent years, the abbey has added a gift shop. Even though much of the monastery is off limits, the monks welcome nearly 9,000 visitors a year, many who come on retreat for a taste of the peaceful life.

And the brothers have learned the value of marketing… even for fruitcake, something you either love or hate.

"Even if you don't like it, you might know someone who does," said Brother Roger, who devises marketing campaigns year-round.

The sweet products are a link to the outside world —maybe a way to let people know that that the men who made these treats are praying for them, every day inside the gates of Gethsemani.

" We live close to God., " said Brother Paul. "That's why we came here and hopefully that's what we're finding."

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For more information on the abbey and its products, visit monks.org


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