Andy Manis for The New York Times

The Rev. Bernard McCoy, the superior of a Cistercian abbey in Sparta,
Wis., which makes money from the sale of ink and toner cartridges,
barbecue and Benevolent Biscuits, or dog treats.

Published: June 1, 2009

SPARTA, Wis. — At the ringing of a bowl-shaped
bell, five monks at a remote monastery congregated in the chapel here
for the fourth of their seven daily rounds of prayer, their voices
murmuring a Gregorian chant in Latin.

At the same time, in a nearby
house on the monastery’s property, the phone was ringing in a small
office where two women and an office manager run a multimillion-dollar
business that generates the money to run the monastery.

morning, LaserMonks. Greetings and peace,” answered the office manager,
Victoria Bench, a patient sort who often hears callers remark, “You
don’t sound like a monk.”

Monks in Roman Catholic monasteries are
expected to support themselves, balancing a life of prayer and work
according to the sixth-century Rule of St. Benedict. Some monasteries make cheese, others make jam, chocolate or wine.

The monks here at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Spring Bank make their money from the sale of ink and toner cartridges, and little of the labor is their own.

The Rev. Bernard McCoy, the monastery’s superior, had the idea for
But the enterprise really took off when the monks turned it over to two
entrepreneurial laywomen who originally came from Colorado to give them
advice and never left.

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