What do nuns do all day when we aren’t praying?  It is easy to imagine our life as very leisurely, with plenty of unused time.  In reality, it is a constant struggle for us, just as it is for most people, not to be consumed by all the work to be done.  The monastic discipline of laying aside the task at hand when the work-period has ended does not come easily.

Some monastic traditions depend on alms for their day-to-day needs, but our Cistercian tradition places a high priority on manual work.  Our work is always a response to community needs.  We do not choose our own work, instead community jobs are distributed by the abbess.  

Then are they truly monks, when they live by the labor of their hands.

Rule of St Benedict, Chapter 48, The Daily Manual Labor

Some of our work is familiar to everyone: cleaning, cooking, laundry, washing dishes.  Like other home owners, we mow lawns, rake leaves, paint walls and maintain appliances. We sew and mend our habits, and practice the music we sing and play in the liturgy.  

Some sisters do pastoral work: teaching and guiding new sisters, caring for sick or aging sisters, or ministering to guests.  There is also administrative work: bookkeeping, correspondence, planning the liturgy, managing our lands, handling insurance, and maintaining records. 

The monastery should, if possible, be so constructed that within it all necessities, such as water, mill, and garden are contained, and the various crafts are practiced.

RB, Chapter 66, The Porter

In addition to all this, nearly every sister in the community helps with our candy industry, our primary source of income.

We may be asked to take on jobs quite different from those we would normally gravitate towards; or even jobs where we have none of the required skills.  Here we need to rely on God’s grace to see us through, and the only way to grow in reliance on God is to be in a situation where we are unable to rely on ourselves.  

As we work, we participate in God’s act of creative love.  Work that is disciplined and done for the service of others can be amazingly joyful and satisfying.  We try to live simply and make do with what is at hand, which can be an opportunity for using our natural creativity.


Cistercian monasteries traditionally support themselves through manual labor. At Mississippi Abbey our main source of income is the candy business we operate, Monastery Candy, and our candy can be purchased on the web.

Nearly all of us work at candy, particularly during the months of September – December, when we make and ship out the majority of our products in time for the holiday season.

We are blessed to have an industry that supports us financially. Another blessing is that we all work at candy, so it draws us close in a common effort. During the fall “Candy Season” each sister must put her own work and responsibilities second to the priorities of the candy work, trusting that God will take care of all that is truly needful.

Our goal as a business is not maximum growth, but simply to provide our living expenses. The amount of candy we can produce is limited by the size and health of the community, supplemented by a few employees who share our monastic values. We aim to keep our sales level high enough to support us but not so high as to place great strains on the contemplative quality of our life – not always an easy balance to maintain.

We command and exhort all persons in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

2 Thessalonians 3:12

Running our own business is hard work but also great fun. We try to work in a prayerful way and to offer products whose quality reflects who we are and whom we serve. And we can say in all honesty, we have never tasted any caramels as good as our own!