Saint Benedict is very clear in his Rule that ‘the brothers should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading.’ (RB 48:1) And, later, ‘when they live by the labor of their hands…then they are really monks.’ (RB 48:8). Each weekday morning a small group of Saint John’s monks experiences these teachings of our Holy Father, Benedict, in a unique way: they put down their prayer books and pick up the tools of woodworkers. Along with men from the area, and young men and women student workers from CSB/SJU, they are the team of Abbey Woodworking.
Using techniques and machinery both ancient and ultra-modern, they carry on a tradition of excellence in furniture building that dates to the founding of Saint John’s Abbey in 1856. Throughout those years, Abbey Woodworking has transformed thousands of trees from our Arboretum into many thousands of chairs, desks, beds, bookcases and tables to be used by campus residents and guests alike.
Alums returning to campus often recall that solid and simple red oak furniture that is ubiquitous in dorms, classrooms and offices at Saint John’s. Others recall with great fondness the opportunity to learn woodworking from and work side-by-side with Br. Hubert Schneider, OSB and Br. Gregory Eibensteiner, OSB, two of the most memorable managers of the woodshop.
While the pieces the woodworkers craft are often complex, and the work, hard, the simplicity and down-to-earth-ness of woodworking brings a deep sense of peace and satisfaction at the end of the day to these woodworkers. There is joy in knowing that this is the noble work of God; this was the trade of Joseph and Jesus of Nazareth. With reverence for wood and for each other, the Bread of Heaven is being broken in the sacrament of these woodworkers' lives.