Monks at Assumption Abbey in Ava, Mo., fill their lives with quiet prayer, studies and fruitcake.
Though the Trappist monks spend much of their time in religious activities and contemplative thought, they produce and sell the fruitcakes to support themselves.
“Manual labor for self-support is part of our vow and our life,” Father Cyprian Harrison said.
The five monks, along with five employees from outside the abbey, spend five hours each day baking, preparing and packaging their fruitcakes for sale. Their living costs and the abbey’s operational costs are covered entirely by the profit from their cakes.
The abbey produces 125 fruitcakes a day, five days a week. Annually, the abbey produces approximately 25,000 cakes that sell out every year.
“The cakes pretty much sell themselves,” bakery manager Michael Hampton said. “We’ve been building this business for 25 years. We never advertise — we don’t have to.”
The cakes are popular because they are made with fresh ingredients, Harrison said. Each cake is made with wine-soaked fruits, fresh eggs, pure butter and spices. After baking for two hours they are injected with rum and then aged for three months so the “flavors can meld all into one.”
The monks pray over the cakes for about five minutes before they are wrapped and shipped. In their prayer, they ask that the cakes be blessed and be received with love.
Though orders come in through their website and mail year-round, most of the shipping takes place in November and December.
“It gets pretty hectic around here,” Hampton said.
This year the abbey is celebrating 25 years of fruitcake production with a special silver tin and a photo of the monks. Before they relied on the cakes for a living, the abbey produced cement blocks.
“We had to change the recipe a little when we made the switch,” Harrison said.
When the monks are not working in the bakery, they follow the quiet and prayerful traditions and routines of traditional Trappist monks. Though Trappists are best know for their vow of silence, the monks of Assumption Abbey do not take a vow but use words sparingly.
“The atmosphere is like a library,” Harrison said. “But sometimes we have to have communication with our brothers.”
Every day the chapel bells ring at 3:15 a.m. to call the monks to Lauds, the morning prayer. After chapel, the monks have free time.
During their free time, many read scripture, walk through the woods or study the Greek and Latin fathers of the Roman Catholic Church. However, not all activities must be religious. Harrison enjoys reading mystery novels while other monks jog, study psychology or listen to music.
The rest of the monks’ days are spent baking and in various forms of prayer. In total, the monks spend six to seven hours in prayer each day.
The monks retire to bed at 8 p.m. to prepare for another day of baking and prayer.
Contrary to popular belief, Harrison said life at the monastery is not bleak or boring.
“People think our life is gloomy and serious,” Harrison said. “And though it is serious, we have our lighter moments. A sense of humor is a saving grace.”