Location

Panel 05: Basil 210

Start Date

26-10-2012 3:30 PM

End Date

26-10-2012 5:00 PM

Description

Throughout the long history of the Cistercian Order each foundation would attempt to become self sufficient by establishing an industry which was linked to the life of the monastic community. Not only did this practice encourage independence from the mother-house but also discouraged overdependence upon assistance from the secular world. The Abbey of the Genesee was founded in 1951 as an offshoot of Gethsemani Abbey (home to the famous Thomas Merton). These early Trappist communities were among 10 others in the United States that had their roots in most strict observances within the Cistercian order. The Genesee monks chose several commercial endeavors which included cattle raising, refurbishing of furniture and their most successful venture, the production of a line of breads and baked goods.

Bread production at the Abbey of the Genesee began as a suggestion from lay volunteers who were helping with the early construction of the abbey. Laborers who took their meals with the brothers particularly enjoyed their bread and asked whether or not they might purchase some of it to take home to their families. Brother Sylvester (from among the founding group of Genesee monks) had served as a cook in the navy and was used to producing as many as 400 loaves at a time for his shipmates. Initially Sylvester used the community kitchen to bake the popular bread. Given the numerous requests, he began to craft the bread into high-crowned loaves that were about three pound each and wrapped them in coarse market paper. He used an old oven in the kitchen of a farmhouse on the site which served as an early retreat center. Guests and retreatants who came to visit the monastery would also request loaves. Neighborhood stores soon began to ask for the famous bread so they could sell it to local customers. In 1952 a wooden structure behind Bethlehem House was renovated, and it was there that the monks first began to produce (smaller) two-pound loaves for distribution. Loaves were taken to churches in the Conesus Lake area which could be sold after masses. Soon a business plan was developed to assist in a more profitable program for wider dispersal of the product. By October of 1952 the Genesee monks were selling thousands of loaves weekly. In the Spring of 1955 the Genesee community had begun a new bakery facility. It was decided that a more modern operation was needed if the monks were going to continue to engage in the large scale commercial production of bread. At this time they were still using an assembly line process for the cutting, wrapping and packaging of the bread.Most of the work in the bakery was done in the kitchen by the lay brothers, although the choir monks did assist in the clean-up. By 1956, construction of a modern mechanized bakery was completed (at the site of the present facility). The lay brothers worked through an 8 hours overnight process and by 1957 were producing 52 loaves a minute. It soon became necessary to work with a distributor as bread was being sent as far away as New York City. In 1959 they began to franchise the product to keep up with demand. During the 1960’s their major distributor went bankrupt so it became necessary for the monks to purchase their own fleet of trucks to continue operation. Through the decades the Genesee monks have persisted in the updating of their facility and continue to produce the famous bread on the premises to this day.


My paper will be based upon research for my doctoral dissertation (and forthcoming book) A History of the Abbey of the Genesee. The presentation will include a rich array of photographs from the Abbey Archives as well as interviews with the monks and documents from commercial partners. I will trace the history of bread production at the Abbey of the Genesee and discuss the implications and directives for community involvement and the philosophy behind their business model. The commercial bakery not only became a major source of income for the Genesee monks but at the height of the popularity of the spiritual writing of Thomas Merton and later coupled with Henri Nouwen’s Genesee Diary, it became a way of “advertising” their order.

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Oct 26th, 3:30 PM Oct 26th, 5:00 PM

Monk’s Bread: The History of the Commercial Bakery at the Abbey of the Genesee

Panel 05: Basil 210

Throughout the long history of the Cistercian Order each foundation would attempt to become self sufficient by establishing an industry which was linked to the life of the monastic community. Not only did this practice encourage independence from the mother-house but also discouraged overdependence upon assistance from the secular world. The Abbey of the Genesee was founded in 1951 as an offshoot of Gethsemani Abbey (home to the famous Thomas Merton). These early Trappist communities were among 10 others in the United States that had their roots in most strict observances within the Cistercian order. The Genesee monks chose several commercial endeavors which included cattle raising, refurbishing of furniture and their most successful venture, the production of a line of breads and baked goods.

Bread production at the Abbey of the Genesee began as a suggestion from lay volunteers who were helping with the early construction of the abbey. Laborers who took their meals with the brothers particularly enjoyed their bread and asked whether or not they might purchase some of it to take home to their families. Brother Sylvester (from among the founding group of Genesee monks) had served as a cook in the navy and was used to producing as many as 400 loaves at a time for his shipmates. Initially Sylvester used the community kitchen to bake the popular bread. Given the numerous requests, he began to craft the bread into high-crowned loaves that were about three pound each and wrapped them in coarse market paper. He used an old oven in the kitchen of a farmhouse on the site which served as an early retreat center. Guests and retreatants who came to visit the monastery would also request loaves. Neighborhood stores soon began to ask for the famous bread so they could sell it to local customers. In 1952 a wooden structure behind Bethlehem House was renovated, and it was there that the monks first began to produce (smaller) two-pound loaves for distribution. Loaves were taken to churches in the Conesus Lake area which could be sold after masses. Soon a business plan was developed to assist in a more profitable program for wider dispersal of the product. By October of 1952 the Genesee monks were selling thousands of loaves weekly. In the Spring of 1955 the Genesee community had begun a new bakery facility. It was decided that a more modern operation was needed if the monks were going to continue to engage in the large scale commercial production of bread. At this time they were still using an assembly line process for the cutting, wrapping and packaging of the bread.Most of the work in the bakery was done in the kitchen by the lay brothers, although the choir monks did assist in the clean-up. By 1956, construction of a modern mechanized bakery was completed (at the site of the present facility). The lay brothers worked through an 8 hours overnight process and by 1957 were producing 52 loaves a minute. It soon became necessary to work with a distributor as bread was being sent as far away as New York City. In 1959 they began to franchise the product to keep up with demand. During the 1960’s their major distributor went bankrupt so it became necessary for the monks to purchase their own fleet of trucks to continue operation. Through the decades the Genesee monks have persisted in the updating of their facility and continue to produce the famous bread on the premises to this day.


My paper will be based upon research for my doctoral dissertation (and forthcoming book) A History of the Abbey of the Genesee. The presentation will include a rich array of photographs from the Abbey Archives as well as interviews with the monks and documents from commercial partners. I will trace the history of bread production at the Abbey of the Genesee and discuss the implications and directives for community involvement and the philosophy behind their business model. The commercial bakery not only became a major source of income for the Genesee monks but at the height of the popularity of the spiritual writing of Thomas Merton and later coupled with Henri Nouwen’s Genesee Diary, it became a way of “advertising” their order.