Prayer, Contemplation, Study - and a Booming Business

Monks have traditionally worked to support themselves. St. Joseph’s Abbey that we used to live by in Massachusetts was very well known for their Trappist Preserves carried by a number of supermarkets. We here at the monastery, besides running a Catholic bookstore, make CD clocks with "Make Time for God" on the clock face. We got the idea from seeing a similar clock advertising a medicine on its face.

My Internet work has earned me the title "Cybermonk." Now there are "LaserMonks" your source for new compatible and remanufactured ink, toner, fax and copier supplies at lasermonks.com!

The Cistercian Abbey in Sparta Wisconsin began this endeavor in 2001. There gross revenue was only $2,000 in 2002. In 2003 it soured to $500,000 and they are expected to have sales three or four times higher this year.

I immediately grew interested when learning this, not only because of the monks’ work, but because I want to save money like everyone else. Here at the monastery we have a laser printer and inkjet printer that we bought, along with two laser printers and a photocopy machine that were all donated. Of all these machines, we use only one laser printer. This is because replacing the cartridges is so expensive – $80 to $100 for remanufactured cartridges for the laser printers and photocopy machine. And remanufactured inkjet cartridges aren’t cheap either. That is actually one of the reasons why laser and inkjet printers have fallen so much in price — the companies make most of their profits on the ink.

Fr. Bernard McCoy, O. Cist., like me, was looking for a toner cartridge for one of their monastery printers. He was struck by how expensive it was just to buy a little "black dust and a few squirts of ink." Fr. Bernard decided there just had to be a cheaper way to sell it. He did some research in imaging supplies. What he found shocked him — mark up on ink supplies reaching in some instances 1,000-2,000% levels. He did a little digging and found manufacturers of compatible new or remanufactured ink cartridges at a fraction of the cost of the big name brands. So the problem, he concluded, must be with the "middlemen." What if he could negotiate deals with these manufactures directly thereby cutting out the markup of the middleman? He could save churches, schools and organizations lots of money. And so LaserMonk.com was born.

Every monastery has a monk in charge of all the temporal needs and activities of the community. Among Fr. Bernard’s duties as Steward of Temporal Affairs was developing and managing ways to support the community’s life and charities. At the time, the Abbey was looking into various new income projects including growing Shitake mushrooms, raising Christmas trees or building a golf course and conference center. The toner and ink cartridge business seemed like the answer to prayer. The manufacturers were elated. Not only did they want Fr. Bernard to schools, churches and non-profits, but especially to businesses. With the monks image of providing trustworthy and top quality products coupled with cheaper prices and the profit going to the monks and other charities, who would refuse?

A college friend of Fr. Bernard put him in touch with a Marketing and PR company in California. That led to one story after another, radio shows and speaking engagements giving great exposure to the monks’ work. Added exposure led to added sales. Soon the Abbey was scrambling to keep up with the business growth. I’m sure this was a difficult time as the monks could not let the business demand cut into their life of prayer, spiritual reading and study. Then, help appeared. Two ladies in Colorado had a website selling ink cartridges and wanted to sell their business. They offered to come to Wisconsin to help the monks get their business organized and running well at no charge. This led to a merger whereby these two ladies decided to reside in one of the Abbey houses on the corner of the Abbey property to handle order processing, customer service, and manufacturing relations under the company name of MonkHelper Marketing. This left the monks free to focus on developing the business, media relations, advertising, speaking, and to find creative ways of using their income to help others.

The Abbey monks continue their tradition of hospitality online. They offer website visitors an invitation for prayer requests. Thoughtful phrases and quotations are provided that offer the visitor a moment of reflection and growth in the midst of their busy day. A weblog offers reflections on both monastic and business topics of interest. Fr. Robert, the Superior, offers a humorous view of the monks’ life through the eyes of the Abbey mascots, our Egyptian Pharaoh Hound and Doberman Pinscher. A monthly e-newsletter provides useful articles and hints relating to efficient management of printing and printers. It also provides an interest feature on the monks, which shares a little of their life with their customers. A handwritten note of thanks and encouragement from the monks is included with each shipment. Those who telephone in orders are greeted with a cheerful, encouraging and thankful telephone service that includes their own Cistercian Gregorian Chant for those put on Hold.

Perhaps you might consider buying your next ink refill from the Laser Monks. After all, monks had for hundreds of years copied and illuminated manuscripts, especially Sacred Scripture, in Scriptoriums where they had to refill bottles of ink for their quill pens. So they are old hands at this!

For this month’s web picks I thought I would give a sampling of monastic websites online.

I mentioned St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts is known for their Trappist Preserves. You can visit them online at spencerabbey.org. Learn about their history, retreat house, daily schedule and find links to other Trappist monasteries.

St. Leo Abbey at saintleoabbey.org is a Benedictine community near us here in Florida. They run a University, have a guest house, retreat center, gift shop, oblates, newsletter and photos on their website.

The Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky is well known for one of its members, Thomas Merton. You can visit them online at monks.org and learn of their history, monastic life, retreats, food gifts, bookstore and read Fr. Matthew’s homilies.

The Brigittine Monks at The Priory of Our Lady of Consolation in Amity, Oregon revived after being extinct largely due to the European wars in the middle of the 19th century in 1976. They are known for their excellent and hard to resist Chocolate Fudge Royale. Give them a virtual visit at brigittine.org.

Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my community’s website at monksofadoration.org. With over 1,400 pages of information, photos, games, chapel webcam, video, audio etc. it will take you a while to see it all!

Brother John Raymond welcomes
e-mail at john@aplusconsultingnow.com.

He is author of Catholics on the Internet: 2000-2001,
Webmaster of www.monkofadoration.org