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Abbot puts love into making monks' coffins

Published: November 24, 2007   
Courtesy of Subiaco Abbey
Abbot Jerome Kodell, OSB, displays in late September one of the pine coffins he made for deceased monks at Subiaco Abbey.

When someone asks, or a questionnaire includes a space for "occupation," a monk likely does not list his occupation as "seeking God in the monastic way of life."

Like their lay counterparts, religious priests and brothers identify themselves to a large extent with the jobs they do. Many monks don different hats in their free time or in times away from their primary duties.

Abbot Jerome Kodell wears an abbatial miter in his official capacity. In his free time, he might be seen in a baseball cap, most often engaged in carpentry work. He is a craftsman in wood, but he got his start at, and continues in, the production of the coffins used for monk funerals.

"In the early 1970s several monks came up with the idea that we should be making our own coffins," he wrote in the Fall 2007 issue of The Abbey Message. "We had our own pine timber, our own sawmill and our own carpenters and could make something beautiful but simple which would reflect our love and respect for our deceased brothers and the dignity of Christian death."

The abbey's carpenters were already too busy so the idea "languished," the abbot wrote.

"After several years of deaths and burials with the same old commercial coffins, I asked Brother Jude (Schmitt) if I might try to make a coffin with his help," Abbot Kodell said. "Under his tutelage, I first made a small prototype, and then we together made the first coffin, in which Brother Gerard 'Jerry' Kaufman was buried in 1978."

Since 1989 the task of making coffins has rested solely on the abbot.

"In the process, I discovered I loved to work with wood and continued with other projects besides the coffins," he said. "We have racks available to stack up to six coffins, in two general sizes, in a locked room in one of the barns. I experience a wonderful blessing in working carefully to build a coffin which I know will be for one of my brothers, and then to see a brother lying in it, and then as abbot to lead the community in laying him to rest."


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