Funeral Parlay

The Batesville Casket Co. in Tinley Park, Illinois, makes customized caskets faster, cheaper, and better than anyone else. Just more than 200 miles away, at New Melleray Abbey near Dubuque, Iowa, about a dozen trappist monks are hard at work producing “simple wooden caskets” that cost up to $1,800.

But the business was not the monks idea. Sam Mulgrew started the casket business five years ago but sold only 40. “Who wants to buy a casket from Sam Mulgrew?” he asks.

People do, however, want to buy caskets from monks, it seems. The caskets are beautiful, and, well, they’re made by monks. By combining his business with the abbey’s name and labor, Mulgrew was able to expand his operations — and improve the finances of the abbey. This year, the 150-year-old abbey is expected to bring in $1 million in revenue. “We can’t make any money on the farm,” the abbot says.

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