The Sin of Selling Caskets

A while back on the blog, we had an interesting discussion about Catholic funerals and paring back the lavish accretions that seem a mandatory part of the modern funeral industry. By way of an alternative, several commenters mentioned St. Joseph’s Abbey in Covington, LA — a monastery that supports itself in part by building and selling simple caskets, providing a saner and simpler burial alternative that appealed to many readers.

Now, however, the state government is threatening the livelihood of the monks of St. Joseph’s, saying it’s illegal for them to sell their caskets without government approval:

Before they were able to sell even a single casket, the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors told them that their sale of caskets violated state law, which says that you cannot sell “funeral merchandise” unless you’re a licensed funeral director. Were the monks to sell their caskets, they would risk both fines and imprisonment.

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In order to sell caskets legally, the monks would have to apprentice at a licensed funeral home for a year, take a funeral industry test, and convert their monastery into a “funeral establishment,” installing equipment for embalming.

“We are not a wealthy monastery, and we want to sell our plain wooden caskets to pay for food, health care, and the education of our monks, said Abbot Justin Brown.”

The Institute for Justice is representing the monastery in a suit against the state’s funeral board so that they can continue their work. The monks and their IJ representatives talk more about their mission and the case here: [video: 635×355]

As IJ points out, “It’s just a box.” To require state certification to sell a box profits no one but the funeral industry, which doesn’t need any help securing its monopoly over the business of dying. 

Walker Percy is buried on the monastery grounds of St. Joseph’s. Let’s hope he’s interceding on their behalf.


  • Margaret Cabaniss

    Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at

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