In a world of fast food and big businesses, monks and nuns are quietly praying and working. They work to support themselves — and because manual labor is edifying to the soul. St. Benedict said, “To truly be a monk, one must work with his hands.”
By buying your Christmas gifts from monasteries, you’re not only supporting religious life, you’re also buying products of the highest quality — prayerfully made. In this guide (not an exhaustive list) you will find the most delicious fruitcakes you’ve ever tasted (really!), peanut brittle, creamy fudge, spicy hot sauce, ceramics, music, candles and even sandals — plus a whole lot more.
At Subiaco Abbey in Subiaco, Ark., Benedictine monks sell crunchy Abbey Brittle. The brittle is an original Arkansas recipe that includes a large measure of peanuts and is made slowly — one skillet at a time (search “Abbey Brittle” on YouTube.com to watch Father Richard Walz make it). The peanut brittle comes in a shippable gift box and an enclosure card, by request. $25 (32-ounce tin), subi.org or (479) 934-1001.
For those who like to put a little fire in their food, Subiaco Abbey offers Father Richard Walz’s Monk Sauce. Father Walz came up with his fiery concoction while stationed in Belize, Central America.
“The thing that sets our Habanero Pepper Sauce off from others is the generous amount of peppers we use in making the sauce,” says Father Walz. “The Jesuits in Belize used to tell us we should label it ‘Industrial Strength Hot Sauce!’” One drop of the sauce is enough to give food a kick. Both the red and green varieties of Monk Sauce are sold. $8 (5-ounce bottle); for 4-12 bottles, $4 per bottle plus $12 for shipping, from subi.org or (479) 934-1001.
The Sisters of the Holy Spirit in Cleveland are a small community of nuns who happen to have an “accidental celebrity” as a member. Sister Mary Assumpta has her picture on a 1997 Upper Deck trading card (she’s the only non-sports person on the cards), and she appeared in two scenes of the movie Major League; she also had the honor of being a World Series Correspondent. Her celebrity status began with her love of baseball — and an unlikely friendship with the Cleveland Indians. She started making cookies for the players and out of this act of kindness, Nun Better Cookies was born — and her celebrity persona. Sister Mary’s cookies are made with real butter and eggs. Choose from nine different kinds, including the superb Butterscotch Coconut Toasties and Lemon Crinkle, or try an assortment of cookies. Proceeds from cookie sales help pay for the building of the nuns’ new motherhouse and their ministry to the elderly. $12.95 (18 to 24 cookies), from monasterygreetings.com or (800) 472-0425.
The cloistered Carmelite monks in Clark, Wyo., have been selling Mystic Monk Coffee since 2007. The monks roast, blend, flavor and package all their coffee; they also did all of the design work for the packaging. “Monks need to work with their hands in order to keep a manly way of life,” says Brother Elias. Income is also needed to support their growing monastery. “Our final goal is to acquire a property in the mountains where we hope to accomplish our full vision [a monastery for 30 monks, a convent of Discalced Carmelites nuns, and a retreat center for the lay faithful],” he explained. The coffee comes in light, dark and medium roasts; they also sell fair trade and flavored coffee. $9.95 (12 ounces) from mysticmonkcoffee.com or (877) 751-6377.
Lift Up Your Voice
The Carmelite monks also have their own chant CD, “Mystical Chants of Carmel,” which includes 14 Latin chants praising the Mother of God. $15, from mysticmonkcoffee.com or (877) 751-6377.
Fifteen miles south of Amarillo, Texas, is St. Benedict Monastery, in Canyon. A small community of nuns support themselves by making chewy “Praylines” with real butter, fresh cream, Texas pecans — and prayer. $17.95 (12-ounce box), from monasterygreetings.com or (800) 472-0425.
Candy from the Abbey
Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey, in Wrentham, Mass., has the distinction of being the first monastery of Cistercian nuns in the United States. The sisters make and sell candy to support themselves; they’re also raising funds to build a much-needed candy production facility and gift shop. The nuns make chocolate walnut fudge, maple walnut penuche and hand-decorated chocolate bars. Their Butter Nut Munch (light and crunchy — and not too sweet — toffee-coated with filbert pieces) is perfection. $23.50 (sampler), from abbey.msmabbey.org or (866) 549-8929.
At Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Va., Trappist monks make fruitcake, but it is their world-famous dark chocolate-covered fruitcake slices — called Fraters — that are most renowned. They come nicely packaged in a silver-topped gift box. $19.95 from monasteryfruitcake.org or (540) 955-9494.
The monks also harvest a clover honey which they cream (crystallized) to the consistency of butter. The honey is sold in packs of four; one assortment features natural, cinnamon, brandy and almond flavors, and another offers natural, cinnamon, lemon and raspberry. $19.95 (4-pack of honey), from
monasteryfruitcake.org or (540) 955-9494.
At the Priory of Our Lady of Consolation in Amity, Ore., Brigittine monks, cloaked in dark gray habit, live a monastic lifestyle of prayer and contemplation, according to the Rule of St. Augustine. The community supports itself by making and selling gourmet confections. Their famous fudge is made with real chocolate, fresh cream and dairy butter. It comes in five flavors. $10.95 (1-pound box), from
brigittine.org or (503) 835-8080.
The Cistercian nuns at Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa, make Trappistine Creamy Caramels and other candies. “We aim to keep our sales level high enough to support us, but not so high as to place great strains on the contemplative quality of our life — not always an easy balance to maintain,” say the nuns. Try their Christmas Assortment of vanilla and chocolate caramels and milk and dark chocolate-covered caramels in a festive Christmas box. $17 (24 ounces), from trappistine.com or (866) 556-3400.
Monastery Creamed Honey made by the Cistercian nuns of Redwoods Monastery in Whitethorn, Calif., is not your typical honey; it is so thick and creamy in texture, you’ll need willpower not to eat it straight out of the jar. Comes in original, ginger, cinnamon, orange, lemon and almond flavors. $27 (gift box of three) from redwoodsabbey.org
Flower Garden Notes
Redwoods monastery also sells Sister Victoria Serra’s floral note cards. The floral cards (done in mixed media: colored pencil, water color and ink) are based on the wild and domestic flowers found at the monastery. $2.50 each from redwoodsabbey.org
Divinely Original Mustard
The Benedictine Sisters in Mount Angel, Ore., make flavored mustard (the best this writer has ever tasted). The sister’s Glorious Garlic won a silver medal at the Napa Valley Mustard Festival World-Wide Mustard Competition in 2006 and 2008. Their unusual Jubilant Blueberry variety is made with blueberries grown on the monastery grounds. They also make five other tangy flavors, including Divinely Original. $5.50-$6 from monasterymustard.com
St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Mass., has been perfecting preserve-making recipes and techniques for 30-plus years. They use a low heat cooking method called vacuum pan cooking, which results in truer color and better flavor. Trappist Preserves are pure — no artificial colorings, flavors or preservatives. There are 28 different flavors to choose from, including new flavors like hot pepper and pomegranate. $12.95 (three 12-ounce jars), $45 (12, 12-ounce jars), from
The Trappist monks of Assumption Abbey in Ava, Mo., sell a traditional fruitcake, whose recipe came from a world-class chef, Pierre Augé, who once cooked for the duke and duchess of Windsor. The monks are responsible for all of the cake’s production; they marinate the fruit and bake and package the cakes themselves. They say, “Assumption Abbey is not a commercial enterprise. It is a way of life, and that way of life, combined with the careful work of the bakers, insures a dedication to high quality.” Their fruitcake is especially good because it is more “cakey” than most fruitcakes; it’s made with butter (no trans fat), and it includes a lot of cherries. $28, from -assumptionabbey.org or (888) 738-0117.
Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Ky., was Thomas Merton’s monastery. The monks are known for their fruitcake soaked in Kentucky bourbon (The Wall Street Journal dubbed Gethsemani’s fruitcake the “best in the land”), but it’s their Butter Walnut Bourbon Fudge that really wows the taste buds. The monks also make handmade cheeses using milk from their herd of prizewinning Holsteins. Their semi-soft cheese comes in four varieties: mild, aged, smoky and basil pesto. A gift pack including a 20-ounce fruitcake with four 12-ounce wedges of cheese and 1 pound of Butter Walnut Bourbon Fudge is $68, from gethsemanifarms.org or (800) 549-0912.
The Monastery of the Holy Spirit, in Conyers, Ga., puts a new twist on fruitcake and fudge — especially for peach-lovers. The Monk’s Fruitcake contains not only the usual dried fruits, but also peaches, peach brandy and sherry. Their Southern Touch Fudge is flavored with peach morsels, pecans and peach brandy. They also make chocolate and maple walnut fudge. $32.95 (gift basket of three 6-ounce boxes of fudge and 1-pound Monk’s Fruitcake), from abbeystore.com or (800) 592-5203.
At the Abbey of the Genesee in Piffard, N.Y., contemplative Trappist monks make a variety of cakes: fruitcake, pound cakes in rum, burgundy wine, coconut almond, vanilla and butterscotch flavors, and whiskey cakes in date nut, blueberry and chocolate chip flavors. They also make brownies. The cakes range from $3.25 to $20; they come in plain foil pans with the exception of the fruitcake — which comes in a decorated tin.
Available at geneseeabbey.org. To order directly from the monks, send a check to: Abbey of the Genesee, 3258 River Road, Piffard, NY 14533, ATTN: Brother Theodore; for credit card ordering (only chocolate chip and blueberry flavors, which come in decorated tins) go to monasterygreetings.com or (800) 472-0425.
At Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey in Lafayette, Ore., Trappist monks live in a cloistered -atmosphere of prayer, spiritual study, reflection and work. They make old-style dark fruitcake soaked in brandy. $27.50 (three 1-pound cakes) from trappistabbey.org or (800)294-0105.
Brandied Date-Nut Cake
Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey also makes a date-nut cake with brandied dates, cashews and a touch of ginger. $21.95 (two 1-pound cakes), from trappistabbey.org or (800) 294-0105.
Cleaning and Healing
The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration have three monasteries: San Benito Monastery in Wyoming, Benedictine Monastery in Arizona, and the motherhouse in Missouri. The sisters make soap, salves, lotions and wax candles. Each batch of their Premium All-Natural Handmade Soap contains a dash of holy water and a prayer for those who will use the soap. Their unprocessed beeswax salves in lavender, eucalyptus and wintergreen are great for moisturizing and for healing — bacteria does not grow in beeswax. The sisters also make shea butter lotion and hand-poured palm wax candles in a variety of fragrances. $25 (soap gift box); $6.95 (2-ounce salve); $5.95 (4.5-ounce lotion); $14.95 (4.5-inch pillar candle), from
monasterycreations.com or (877) 672-7627.
For 40 years, St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo, Calif., has been producing ceramic plaques and ornaments designed by Father Maur van Doorslaer. Father van Doorslaer has more than 425 different creations that are entirely made by hand with natural materials. “We have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of collectors who look forward to each year’s new designs,” says the abbey. Prices range from $8-$60, from standrewsabbeyceramics.com or (888) 454-5411.
Passionist nuns from St. Joseph Monastery in Whitesville, Ky., make Austrian Aurora Borealis-beaded rosaries and crosses. It’s the Passionist crucifix that makes their rosary unique; on the back, there is an image of Our Mother of Sorrows, with the letters “OPN” (Ora Pro Nobis or “Pray for Us”). $60 from passionistnuns.org
Infant on the Cross
The nuns also craft and paint plaster of paris crosses which they call “Infant on the Cross Resting in the Father’s Will.” The cross comes with a small leaflet describing the spirituality of the image. $10 (6 inches by 3 inches); $5 (3 1/4 inches by 2 inches), from passionistnuns.org
Women in Chant
The contemplative Benedictine nuns of the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn., have three of their musical performances on CD — all recorded live at the Church of Jesu Fili Mariae at the Abbey of Regina Laudis. Their most recent album, “The Announcement of Christmas,” takes the listener on an auditory journey in time through Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. The album includes ensembles and solo pieces, with a spoken recitation of the English translation of the Medieval monastic text of the “Announcement of Christmas” by Mother Dolores Hart, the prioress, a former actress who left a thriving film career to enter monastic life. $18 each from
The Cheese Nun
Go inside the Abbey of Regina Laudis with Mother Noella Marcellino in her PBS production, The Cheese Nun, where she explores the science of cheese making. $29.98 (DVD), from abbeyofreginalaudis.com
The Benedictine Monks of Christ in the Desert Monastery in Abiquiu, N.M., make leather sandals. The monks call their line of sandals Forerunners after St. John the Baptist. The sandals are constructed with Birkenstock soles and the straps are made of leather. $85 (available in black or brown for men and women) from
The Benedictine Monks of Christ in the Desert Monastery’s all-natural lip balms are also handmade by the monks. Made from almond oil, beeswax and peppermint, the balm comes in a tub or a jar. $3 each from christdesert.org
Tidings of Joy
Listen to the Legionaries of Christ Choir sing chant on their new Advent and Christmas CD, “Tidings of Joy.” Hear “Ave maris stella,” “Ave Maria,” “Ecce nomen Domini,” “O Sanctissima” and many other beautifully sung hymns. All proceeds support the seminarians in Cheshire, Conn. $14.95 from circlepress.org or (888) 881-0729.
Lori Hadacek Chaplin is
based in Forest City, Iowa.