Including rising health care costs.
In an isolated section of rural Massachusetts is St. Joseph's Abbey, a Roman Catholic order. It is home to 60 monks. And a lot of them are getting older. The oldest member is 99. Father Dominic Whedbee, the prior (second in command) is 65. The monastery has a 12 room infirmary, and it's usually full. About a third of their annual budget goes to taking care of them. Plus, the cost of living continues to go up, as does health care costs. The mission of Catholic monks is, you are taking a vow for life, if you are pledging your life to Jesus, you should be taken care of for life (Protestants have a much higher dropout rate because they do not do the vow for life thing). And time is running out. The Retirement Fund For The Religious is a Catholic group that helps fund such individuals. In 2010, it had a fund of $8.64 bil. The number of retired clergy, from priests to nuns, is expected to be four times the number of active laity by 2023. By 2026, the fund is expected to run out.
The monks have tried various ideas to offset the dwindling funds, making religious vestments and fruit preserves. But that's not selling, and can be quite labor intensive, more so as you get older. So what to do?
Well, the monks have just become the first monastery outside of Europe to produce certified Trappist Ale.
The monks sent a fact-finding commission to tour European abbeys. In addition to finding a recipe they liked, they also studied how the brew was made. Back home, the brewery is 30,000 square feet and not traditional, but highly automated. As a result, it requires less manual labor from the aging monks to make the stuff.
So how's it doing?
It's selling out.
The initial goal was to produce 124,000 gallons of beer for distribution around Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island. They are now expecting to expand production to 310,000 gallons within five years, and expect it to single-handedly support the monastery and all its charities within ten years.
So raise a glass. Or two. Tell people it's for a good cause and shut the fuck up.